By Michelle Werts

As the old adage goes, it takes a village to raise a child. I don’t know how true this is for child rearing, but I do know it takes a village to raise a forest in a city. I’ve spent the last week in Sacramento, California, and Portland, Oregon, meeting with the dedicated men and women who help keep their cities’ urban forests in tip-top shape — and what a job that is.

sacramento urban forest
American Forests’ Lea Sloan and Urban Forestry Manager Joe Benassini in Sacramento’s William Land Park. Credit: American Forests.

In Sacramento, every tree that the city possesses — we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of trees — was deliberately placed there, beginning way back at the city’s founding in 1850. This is because Sacramento’s climate isn’t so tree-friendly. Hot and dry, the Sacramento landscape doesn’t naturally support the elms, oaks and other species that one finds in the city’s many parks and neighborhoods. And even though Sacramento has a lovely tree canopy, it’s only through the continued efforts of the city’s residents, employees and dedicated partners that the trees thrive.

The City of Sacramento’s Urban Forestry Services, the Sacramento Tree Foundation and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). I like to think of these guys as the trifecta of tree lovers in Sacramento — together, they are working to make the city’s urban forest even stronger. The Urban Forestry staff is responsible for maintaining the city’s trees on public lands, not to mention permitting concerns and tree plantings. The Sacramento Tree Foundation works with neighborhoods and residents to plant trees throughout the community. SMUD works with the Sacramento Tree Foundation, putting up the funds to plant trees in people’s yards across the city to reduce energy demands in their homes. Each of these groups plays a vital role in Sacramento, and all three do their best to work in tandem to enhance the city’s forest, while also engaging the people of Sacramento in their work.

Washintgon Park, Portland
Maintenance workers in Portland’s Washington Park. Credit: American Forests

In Portland, growing trees isn’t as difficult as it is in Sacramento — Portland gets plenty of rain to support lush greenery around the city. Portland’s issue, though, lies in the fact that the city is growing — as are most urban centers in the U.S. And in Oregon, natural spaces around cities are protected by Urban Growth Boundaries (UGB), designed to keep urban sprawl within the urban space, protecting the landscape beyond the city. However, this also means that protecting trees from development within the UGB can be difficult.

From Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services to the Bureau of Transportation to the Portland Water Bureau to Parks and Recreation to the Bureau of Development, all five of these bureaus touch the city’s trees in some way. As a result, representatives from all five bureaus meet regularly to discuss all things tree-related. Add on nonprofit partner Friends of Trees, plus Portland’s tree-loving neighborhoods and citizens, and you have a pretty formidable team in place working to protect and expand Portland’s urban forest.

The work these people do in Sacramento and Portland isn’t easy. Budgets are constantly under pressure on the city level, creating more and more work for less and less staff. Caring for a city’s trees is a never-ending job, but a worthwhile one. All of the people I’ve spoken to this week have expressed their love of and passion for trees: They clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, provide shade on hot, summer days. Trees’ benefits know no bounds, which is why the work of our urban foresters, city arborists, tree-planting nonprofits and others need to be supported. Together, we can all make our cities greener and more beautiful.