Ian Leahy, Director of Urban Forests Programs

The Cleveland, Ohio skyline.
The Cleveland, Ohio skyline. Credit: Erik Drost via Flickr.

Cleveland is a city undergoing dramatic transformation, but it remains burdened by the same issues that afflict every industrial legacy city: a declining population and tax base, large social service needs and lack of resources to maintain — much less upgrade — aging infrastructure.

One such infrastructure is its trees. While Cleveland was once known as the Forest City, the need to maintain, remove hazards and plant new trees is so great, yet budgets and staff are so limited. The tree canopy has declined to a mere 19 percent. In 2015, the City and local partners, with technical support from Davey Resource Group, a Division of The Davey Tree Expert Company, worked together to create the Cleveland Tree Plan that lays out an ambitious vision for addressing Cleveland’s tree canopy and reclaiming the Forest City identity.

American Forests, with support and volunteers from our partner Bank of America, is providing the first investment to kick off its implementation. This Community ReLeaf project is different than our other 16. In two underserved neighborhoods — Cudell and Buckeye- Shaker Square — we have conducted a comprehensive street tree inventory to identify hazardous trees, pruning needs, stump removals and opportunities for new tree planting.

Leveraging a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant the City was able to secure thanks in part to our investment, we have begun implementing comprehensive street tree care in portions of each neighborhood to encourage the City and others to make more investments in this important infrastructure, including a volunteer tree planting in the spring of this year. Our work includes removing the most hazardous trees and branches, grinding stumps out of the ground and planting trees in every space large enough. These projects are models of sound urban forestry collaboration that we hope to use to generate more support from both the City and elsewhere to prioritize investment in maintaining and growing Cleveland’s tree canopy.


Christopher Horn, Director of Communications

The site of American Forests’ planting in the Audubon Greenway outside of Pittsburgh.
The site of American Forests’ planting in the Audubon Greenway outside of Pittsburgh. Credit: Christopher Horn.

Every once in a while, the communications staff at American Forests has the chance to join our programs team in the field at one of our restoration projects. Last fall, accompanied by our multimedia intern, I attended a volunteer tree planting near Pittsburgh on a project funded by our longtime corporate partner, Alcoa Foundation.

While we viewed the trip as an opportunity to gather photos, video, partner interviews and other materials we could use in the future, we were also interested in a few technical aspects that our local partner, Tree Pittsburgh, had planned for the project.

In a section of the Audubon Greenway, a 161-acre swath of previous agricultural land that has been transformed into a network of trails and woodlands used by hikers, cyclists and equestrians, nearly 60 volunteers helped plant 2,670 seedlings on a half-acre hillside of former horse pasture. If you know about some of our other planting projects, you may be wondering how we were able to fill such a relatively small space with so many seedlings.

The answer: the project incorporated a dense planting technique, known as the Miyawaki Method. To absorb tsunami impacts, ecologist Akira Miyawaki densely planted seedlings along the coastline of Japan and found that very close spacing between newly planted trees helped them out-compete non native and invasive plants that would normally slow the seedlings’ growth. He also found the trees grew faster by competing with each other, resulting in both a rapidly growing native forest and a low-maintenance technique for establishing a forest where one hadn’t been.

Our friends at Tree Pittsburgh will monitor the Miyawaki site’s progress over the next few years, especially regarding the improved habitat for small mammals and birds, and who knows — maybe we’ll try this technique again at a different site. One thing we do know, however, is that we’ll continue to have projects that reduce habitat fragmentation and improve watersheds by reforesting large tracts of former farmland.