Milwaukee – Securing Greenbacks

One of the biggest challenges that any public program faces is always its budget. In lean times and times of plenty, finding funding to continue work — let alone increase it — is never an easy proposition, which is why Milwaukee’s forestry team makes sure it’s always ready for those debates.

One way is through its diverse staff. Beyond being trained in snow and ice for the winter months, Milwaukee’s forestry staff is trained across environmental disciplines from gardening to tree pruning, meaning fewer seasonal workers, but also a work staff that is responsible for a lot more of the city’s maintenance.

“Any time that you have an employee that can do more than just one thing, it makes it a lot harder to cut those positions,” says Jeff Boeder, Milwaukee urban forestry district manager.

Arborist in tree. Credit: City of Milwaukee

Arborist in tree. Credit: City of Milwaukee

What helps maintain this cross-disciplinary approach, and also helps the team’s diversity, is Environmental Services’ training program. Beginning in the early 1980s, all new employees to the forestry team had to conduct a six-month training program. Degree or no degree, every individual goes through the program, which is a combination of classroom work for topics such as soil science and dendrochronology to in-the-field tree climbing and pruning. Every member of the forestry team is equipped with the skills to handle myriad functions.

With a solid staff in place, Environmental Services next focuses on researching Milwaukee’s urban canopy because if the team can quantify the benefit of the city’s trees, they can secure funding to maintain them.

“Our budget’s defined by the resource needs of our tree population. Much of what we do is supported by our research studies,” says Forestry Services Manager Sivyer.

Over the years, the city has partnered with universities to study its canopy in order to create working goals based in science — even the city’s pruning cycle is based on scientific research of the biomass produced by the city’s trees. Research, such as a 2009 analysis by American Forests that revealed that the city’s trees and greenspaces provide approximately $15 million to the city in stormwater savings, helped the Forestry Services team acquire additional budget sources. That same year, because of the well-documented stormwater benefits provided by Milwaukee’s tree population, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council began funding forestry programs such as tree pruning, tree planting, tree protection through the city’s stormwater fee. This decision, based on the research results and other budgetary considerations, means that half of the program’s budget is no longer dependent upon the city’s general tax levy. As Sivyer puts it, the forestry team uses its research to define its budget, instead of defend it.


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