Urban Forestry Management Plan Steps 3 & 4

August 19, 2016

A large part of the reason why we plan for anything is to reduce risk. We want to minimize the chance that something detrimental will happen and maximize the chance of a positive outcome. This is no different for urban forestry. How do we reduce risk in case an emergency, like a storm, happens? How can we minimize the damage urban trees might cause to infrastructure or maximize the likelihood of survival after some type of natural disaster? This is where section 3 in an urban forestry management plan comes in:

Tree risk reduction/emergency storm response plan

An urban forestry management plan (UFMP) must have sections devoted to information about general tree risk reduction as well as information and directions to public works agencies to reduce risk during extreme storm or other natural disaster emergencies. The latter will be more directly addressed in another post.

A general risk reduction plan addresses threats to public safety, health and public works operational responsibilities and issues that are non-storm emergencies, such as:

  • Clearing leaves and woody debris from gutters and storm drains
  • Sidewalk, street, and building clearance standards
  • Line-of-sight conflicts for street and safety signage
  • Blockage of street lamps and traffic lights
  • Conflicts with overhead and underground utilities

Natural disasters can include tornadoes, ice storms, hurricanes, and severe straight-line winds, causing thousands of cubic yards of debris. Trees and vegetation can account for approximately 30 percent of debris volume.


Natural disasters can cause and addressing the above responsibilities reduces the likelihood of:

  • Threat to life from hanging limbs and uprooted trees
  • Hindrance to life-saving efforts by blocked streets and driveways
  • Power outages and restoration efforts
  • Personal and public property damage

Some of these risks can sometimes be difficult to quantify but are important to consider in the long and short term recovery processes. That is important to address in an emergency response plan.

Having a UFMP can greatly reduce these storm hazard risks because it ensures proper planting, preventive maintenance, and general systematic risk reduction. And if/when a disaster occurs, an emergency plan can be an addendum to the UFMP and will be based on solid data, facts, and protocols to assure service continuity and timely recovery and restoration.

It is important to keep in mind that for both the emergency response plan and the general risk reduction plan all key agencies and stakeholders in the community should be addressed. Information and input from police and fire, parks, purchasing, city or county administration, controlling utility companies, local and state emergency management agencies, and contractors should be obtained and considered when developing these plans.

A number of communities have attempted to pass liability for trees to adjacent property owners, while retaining regulatory authority over anything done to the trees. It is important to distinguish ownership of responsibility for trees and maintenance. This can become political and addressing the issues correctly from the beginning can make all the difference.


Tree Board or Advisory Board Development

Successful urban forestry programs around the nation have something in common. They exercise the political process to attain their goals…It’s no surprise that technically competent people sometimes choose to avoid politics. But without some political involvement, it is unlikely that tree programs will receive the support they need.”

                    World Forestry Center in Portland, Oregon and Robin Morgan, Urban Forestry Consultant


For urban forestry, there are typically two types of groups in action: short-term groups (project specific ones) and long-term groups (dedicated to the care and maintenance of the trees). Their members can overlap and sometimes can be difficult to distinguish between the two.

Project-specific groups are dedicated to saving a group of trees threatened by new construction, providing additional funding for a specific tree planting program, implementing a hazardous tree removal program, developing a planting project with a local school, and much more.

The best way this is typically achieved once the group is formed is to:

  • Identify key players and their roles
    • Can be technical, financial, or administrative
  • Determine the person or people who will make the final decision
  • Match each role with the goal
    • Energy and resources can be focused on by team members with the right areas of influence
  • Devise a strategy
  • Decide how best to persuade the decision makers

Determining key decision-makers and players are paramount to the outcome of the group. Local officials are often swayed by organized movements, however small they might be, and encouraging well-known communities members to get involved is imperative.

Long-term groups are more often associated with tree boards and urban forestry councils. Having a strong urban forest is a long-term commitment and can require individuals and organizations other than a community’s designated forestry department to be involved. Unlike fire hydrants and sidewalks, an urban forest is a public asset that can generate both positive and negative emotional responses. An important step in dealing with the unique characteristic of an infrastructure component is forming and supporting a group of local citizens who are dedicated to the care and maintenance of the community trees while assisting the public works agency in its mission.

This group is often called a tree board or an urban forestry advisory council but can also be non-profit organizations involved with the forestry of the area. They can educate the citizens at large on the importance of trees, interact directly with elected officials in support of the program, assist in maintenance tasks like small tree maintenance, mulching, planting, and watering, and apply for grants and generate private financial donations.

Still, the ultimate responsibility for the community’s urban forestry program rests with the public works agency. The urban forest management plan should include information on creating a local community forestry program in areas that do not already have one, and for sustaining one that already exists.

So now you might be saying, what next? You’ve thrown all this information at me, Chris, and I don’t know what to do with it!

Like last week, I’m here to help with some actionable steps.

1. Determine your community’s biggest risks and sketch up a general risk management plan

  • Clearing leaves and woody debris from gutters and storm drains?
  • Sidewalk, street, and building clearance standards?
  • Line-of-sight conflicts for street and safety signage?
  • Blockage of street lamps and traffic lights?
  • Conflicts with overhead and underground utilities?

2. Determine likelihood of natural disasters in your area and sketch up information and directions to public works agencies to reduce risk during said natural disaster

  • Here is a great resource for getting started
  • Determine if your community has a tree board or urban forestry advisory council
  • Using the questions below to start developing how a tree board may affect your community
  • What is their role?
  • How do you see them impacting the UFMP?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Next week in 5 & 6 we’ll start going over public relations and education and urban forest cost/benefit analysis.