Steps 5 & 6: Public Relations and Education & Cost/Benefit Analysis

August 26, 2016

The following are steps 5 and 6 in our series of developing an urban forestry management plan. If you haven’t seen steps 1 & 2 or 3 & 4, check those out first!

Step 5: Public relations and education

Many urban forest managers believe that public education and relations is the true key to reaching the goals of an urban forestry program in a community. Ordinances, management plans, guidelines, policies, and procedures are nothing without an informed population of citizens, elected officials, and public agencies. The urban inventory and UFMP are not just meant for forestry department use but are also useful tools for the public.

“Most citizen callers are pleased when they have reached someone who knows their tree and can answer general questions or respond directly to their request because of quick access to information such as tree attributes and scheduled work.”

– Urban Forest Management Plan, AWPA Press

Through public outreach, the public gains a better understanding of urban forestry and in turn will be more willing to support the program. UFMPs should increase public relations and education by including and encouraging:

  • Seminar or public meetings to discuss the tree inventory project, its results, and its importance for the community.
  • Regular seminars for residents to learn about tree care and landscaping from local guest experts in the green industry.
  • Monthly tree-related articles for local newspapers and community websites and press release for each new project.
  • Letters to residents in areas where tree maintenance or planting projects will be conducted each year.
  • Tree care brochures notifying residents locations of new trees and ways to avoid damage from moving.   

Many forestry departments and UFMPs overlook the task of coordination. For urban forestry, many department’s goals are coordinating between two parties to reach a mutual conclusion. A strong coordination plan can avoid the removal and possible destruction of urban trees.Coordination can come in three flavors: public/public, public/private and private/private.

Public/public is the type of coordination where public tree care agencies face other types of public agencies with responsibilities such as sewer systems, street rights-of-way, and overhead utilities.

Public/Private – The most typical situation of coordination often comes in the form of a permit system. Any tree work, such as pruning, planting, and applying pesticides, requires a permit. Such a system coordinates the activities of homeowners, businesses, tree care contractors, utility companies, and developers.

Private/private  is the type of effort that addresses what private property owners do to their trees. It is difficult to play as direct a role as in the previous two examples, but it is still worth considering. Private/private coordination fills the remaining pieces of the urban forest, and allows a comprehensive approach to management.
Public education campaigns can stress the value of trees to the community, their contribution to property values, environmental benefits, and economic contributions and could be even more technical: proper tree care procedures, choosing a reputable tree care company, and minimizing the liability. By increasing the support from the community, you increase the success of your goals of urban forestry.

Step 6: Urban forest cost/benefit analysis and funding opportunties

“Much as we are trained to see investment in traditional infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, as a means of spurring economic development, environmental investments including urban forestry are acquiring a new status as wealth generators rather than mere externalities.”

– James C. Schwab, American Planning Association

Enhancing, protecting, and maintaining this municipal resource is not free and public works agencies annually allocate public funds for planting, removal, pruning, emergency cleanup, inspection, and administration. In the past, urban tree programs just considered costs as benefits were hard to quantify. The value of urban trees, however, cannot be understated. They provide tangible and intangible benefits for diverse services such as pollution control, energy reduction, storm water management, property values, wildlife habitat, education, and aesthetics.

An urban forest management plan that includes the use of cost-benefit analysis will help the public works manager:

  • Obtain economic evaluations of street trees using annual budget and expenditure data to assess the management program.
  • Justify funding and perform strategic planning for the urban forest.
  • Gain more public support for the value of trees to economic development, environmental health, and quality of life issues in the community.
  • Determine the annual amount of pollution removed by the urban forest, the percent of air quality improvement, the amount of carbon sequestered, the amount of energy consumption reductions, and estimated increases in property values and aesthetics.

With the advent of inventory software, benefits can now be be calculated with a certain degree of confidence. For a resource to different inventory softwares, check out UFMP Sections 1 & 2.

urban forestry trees city

Budget

Decades ago, municipal tree budgets were often increased routinely based on inflation and additional trees without close scrutiny for efficiency. Increasingly, however, city budgets are being tightened and tree managers must justify each one of their funding requests. So how do we manage with tightened budget and harder ask?

Some different ways to generate funds and receive resources are highlighted in the from “American Planning Association: Planning the Urban Forest: Ecology, Economy, and Community Development”:

  1. The forestry department for the city of Olympia, Washington, uses a capital improvement plan fund derived from real estate excise taxes and utility taxes, with interest, to underwrite its program.
  2. The department for Salem, Oregon, funds its care of street trees through the municipal portion of the state motor fuel tax, while funding some tree preservation through fines and donations.
  3. As well, Urbana, Illinois uses fines to aid its program, particularly from motorists who damage trees in accidents. Urbana has also largely established a self-supporting yard waste recycling center by selling back to property owners the soil amendments and compost it produces from the waste it receives.
  4. Other cities have carved out a role for nonprofit organizations in supplementing tree funding. For example, the Sacramento Tree Foundation is substantially funded by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

Development fees can help underwrite tree programs in newly developing areas of a community. In this regard, development regulations can support trees by establishing funds from permit processing and enforcement fees. These fees can be written into zoning, subdivision, and landscaping codes, and then linked to those aspects of the program that benefit new development or redevelopment.

So once again, with all this information, what do we do next? Well if you haven’t seen steps 1 & 2 or 3 & 4, check those out first. If you’re up to speed, here are the next set of actionable steps:

  1. Develop a public relations plan.
    • Will you get the public involved? How will you do that?
    • Do you plan on having educational workshops?
    • Newsletters?
    • Brochures?
    • Seminars?
  2. Develop cost/benefits
    • Use your tree inventory software to see the types of cost/benefits reports it creates.
    • If it doesn’t create reports, research how to create a cost/benefit analysis using the resources found in this series.
  3. How is your current budget set up?
    • Use your cost/benefit analysis to see if have enough of a budget to manage your current trees.
    • Can you allocate and restructure the budget to better suit our needs?
    • How are you funding your budget now?Are there other ways of funding?
    • Did any of the examples from above spark an idea for new funding?
    • There are tons of great case studies starting at page 43.