Urban Forestry: Closest to the People
By Don Outen, AICP, Natural Resource Manager
Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management
Baltimore County, Maryland
If Tree City USA
communities are a measure of the state of our urban forests, the good news is
that street trees, parks and other urban forests are being cared for in 3,100
communities that house about 120 million Americans. And $238 million is spent annually on tree
care in these communities, at the minimum expenditure of $2 per capita. Larger communities, of which there are 131
with more than 150,000 people, house some 59 million citizens and invest more
than $117 million annually.
But Tree Cities are only a subset of America’s urban
forests. There are more than 39,000
local governments in the United States, including 3,100 counties and
equivalents and, within them, 19,400 municipalities and 16,500 townships. There are 217 counties with more than 250,000
people, totaling 160 million and encompassing 158 million acres. The 82 largest counties with densities of
more than 1,000 per square mile include 95 million citizens living on 28
million acres, with a mean density of 2,150 per square mile. Few counties are Tree City USA communities.
Urban forestry is a challenge due often to inhospitable
conditions for tree survival. But urban
and community forestry is concerned with more than caring for street trees and
municipal parks. From a systems view of
urban forests providing multiple ecological and socioeconomic benefits, urban
forests are under siege from land development in cities and on the urban
fringe. The real challenge for urban and
community forestry is retaining and increasing the forest base, as well as
caring for urban trees.
The Forest Service has embraced urban and community forestry
and forest sustainability as policy, has committed to research and developed
useful assessment tools (i-Tree,
etc.), and has partnered with local communities to provide much-needed
technical and financial assistance. The
Forest Service understands the importance of a sustained presence at the local
level and the need to transfer technology and local successes for others. Support for the American Planning
Association’s forthcoming Planners Advisory Service guidance manual on planning
with urban forestry is exemplary.
In Maryland, the Forest Service is a leader and active
partner in Chesapeake Bay restoration, including setting Urban Tree Canopy
Goals, conducting Urban Forest Effects assessments, and partnering with
Baltimore’s Long-Term Ecological Research study. The Forest Service helped build local
capacity for forest sustainability in Baltimore
County through sponsorship of our
Linking Communities to the Montréal Process Criteria and Indicators project,
culminating in the preparation of a Forest Sustainability Strategy and the
signing of a partnership Memorandum of Understanding for Sustainable Forest
Management. Baltimore County, with
801,000 people and 134,000 forested acres, is also an example of using zoning
to reduce forest fragmentation, promoting forest sustainability for reservoir
protection, regulating development to protect streams and forests, working with
rural landowners on reforestation, and using education and coupons to increase
The Forest Service needs to continue working with counties,
especially, to view forests as strategic environmental tools. Hundreds of urban counties have
responsibility under National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System MS4 permits
to control urban runoff. Many older urban
areas have inadequate storm water management and urban forests can help assure
compliance. The same is true for
implementing Total Maximum Daily Load programs, which will affect most urban
jurisdictions due to nutrient and sediment impairments to water quality.
Counties have the greatest influence over the vulnerability
of forests to loss from development through their power over land use by
implementing comprehensive master plans; using zoning and subdivision
regulations and landscaping requirements; ensuring the availability of
growth-serving infrastructure and of environmental restoration projects; and
promoting education and engagement of their citizenry.
The Forest Service is well positioned to influence
significantly the awareness by urban counties about the strategic use of their
forests for multiple environmental programs.
Urban forests are forests where the people are, and local governments
are those closest to the people.
Don Outen, a geographer-planner, has worked for the past 33 years
in Maryland in land use planning and environmental management with state,
regional, and local governments and in academia. Don has worked since 1987 for the Baltimore
County Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management, where
among other duties he is coordinator of the County’s Forest Sustainability
Program, an outcome of the national “Linking Communities to the Montreal
Process Criteria and Indicators” project.
He was invited recently to serve on the Core Group of the Roundtable on
Sustainable Forests as a community/local government representative.
He earned a B.S.
degree in Geography and Environmental Planning in 1972
from Towson University and an M.S. degree in Urban Planning from The Johns Hopkins University in 1977.
He was also a doctoral candidate in Geography at the University of Maryland at College
left the program in 1988.