– Forest issues in urban areas increasingly are at the
forefront of discussions among Forest Service partners. Those issues are particularly important in
light of their implications for contributing in disparate ways to fulfilling
the agency’s role in implementing the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The management of urban and community forests
helps the nation explore alternative sources of energy, even as it encourages
cities, counties and states to maximize their benefits from such forests, to
save energy, to reduce air pollution and improve air quality, to control storm
water runoff and improve hydrology, to increase property values, and to contribute
to reducing domestic violence.
In the following conversation, James Geiger, Director of Communications
at the Center for Urban Forest Research at the USDA Forest Service, Davis,
charts the current landscape for urban forestry and maps out the future role of
governments and nonprofit agencies in maximizing the benefits of our forests to
Q: This center is valued—perhaps
revered—for the essential knowledge and the practices in urban
forestry that it transfers to its key publics. What,
is that knowledge?
We want people to
understand the magnitude and the extent of the benefits that trees provide to
communities. Specifically, we want people to know that trees conserve energy,
reduce air pollution and carbon dioxide, control storm water runoff, and
increase property values.
And what are some of the tools you use in knowledge
Such tools include
ecoSmart Design Software, a Web-based software program designed to evaluate the
tradeoffs of tree placement for energy, storm water, and fire. Another is canopy assessments that allow communities
to obtain accurate measures of the benefits of their current canopy and predict
the benefits their canopy will have, given different planting and removal
Others are air
quality estimates, community tree guides, and our model, the Street Tree
Resource Tool for Urban Forest Mangers (STRATUM).
And how is the transfer of practices in urban forestry
In other words, how
do we do what we do? The first thing we
need to understand is that the primary audience is the state urban forestry
coordinators. By distributing new technology to state coordinators, with the intent that they pass it along through their networks, we "automatically" tap into their network, and on it goes, because each of those clients has their own network. This is how we multiply the distribution of information.
We then have the
secondary audiences of state foresters; the Washington Office and research
staff; landscape professionals; and all the major nonprofit organizations,
e.g., the National Arbor Day Foundation, the Sacramento Tree Foundation, and American Forests.
We’ve always had
limited budgets, and so we try to find a way to get things to our audience that
would be useful and yet inexpensive.
Initially, we had a hardcopy newsletter, but as our readership expanded
it became too expensive to send that out.
We had research summaries that were printed in full color—everything
became too expensive. We went
all-electronic. Our Web site, of course,
has all those documents.
If we have a
special need, then we produce a publication ourselves and take it to a local
printer for multiple copies. We do that
as we need them, but we don’t distribute them worldwide as hard copy.
thing is that as we develop our Web site, we receive more and more requests for
information that we can easily refer to on our Web site. So it’s become a good place to house
things—it’s a kind of library of information with an easy access.
In addition to the
newsletters, we have research summaries and news briefs, which are one- or
two-page summaries of current things that happen between issues of our
newsletter and we place them in our e-mail alert. We also have on our Web site fact sheets,
PowerPoint slides, speeches, briefings, and information on networking by which
we encourage people to distribute our materials.
Another thing to
remember about our distribution mechanism is that people have different learning
styles. Therefore, we communicate the
same message in various formats. So, our
newsletters, research summaries and speeches all may say the same thing, but
they are presented in a different way.
We try to get the same message out there in at least three different
Other than using networks and others transfer
mechanisms to maintain your relationships with your stakeholders, what other
things do you engage in to relate to your audiences?
point here is that because our tech transfer is severely limited by lack of
staff and money, we have concentrated our efforts and outreach on the highest
level customers, namely, those customers that have the widest reaching networks
like statewide coordinators and statewide or national NGOs.
scientists and researchers have been in the forefront of modeling the values
and benefits of the urban forest. What
role does the center play in developing tools that communities use to quantify
the ecosystem services their trees and forests provide?
Our STRATUM model, a part of the umbrella i-Tree model, allows people to take a
small sample of their street trees and run it through the model and they can
get an evaluation of the benefits of those street trees. In combination with the i-Tree it can
enable them to get an evaluation of their entire urban forest. STRATUM provides simple quantitative dollar
value of annual environmental and aesthetic benefits: energy conservation, air
quality improvement, CO2
reduction, storm water control, and property value increase.
One of the challenges of urban forestry—at least from
the Forest Service
perspective—is managerial; that is, serious concerns by management about
limited public knowledge about urban and community forestry. How is this center specifically responding to
Quite frankly, I disagree with that assessment. I believe that there is a greater percentage
of the U.S. population
that is knowledgeable about urban forests than about our national forestlands. This is not to say that we don’t have a long
way to go in terms of educating urban residents on the benefits of urban
forests, but based on the vast number of community tree groups that are
flourishing today, compared to 25 years ago, we have come a long way in getting
the message to the public. What our center has done in this regard is
target these tree groups with our material and messages, to keep them and their
constituents abreast of the latest developments in urban forest research.
We both know that urban and community forestry (U&CF)
research has identified major issues—namely, statutory, regulatory, and
administrative—that inhibit the effective transfer of technology to publics in
northern California. What, specifically, are some of those
issues—and how does your center address them?
The major issue by
far is lack of dollars. This has
seriously hindered the efficient and effective delivery of our Center’s tech
transfer material. This has led to limited
commitment from the Washington Office, the Council of Western State Foresters, Forest
Service Research, and State and Private Forestry. And ultimately the net affect has been reduction
in positions, namely the center’s technology transfer position, and resources
to perform basic transfer of U&CF research technology.
capacity is not commensurate with its expanded mission of contributing
scientific resources and practices to natural resource management. In the research arena, for example, there has
been a decrease in the number of scientists, particularly during the last
decade. What are you doing to ameliorate
the impact of such dwindling capacity?
The best way to
characterize the situation is to understand that, more and more, we are losing
the distinction between urban areas and rural forestland, and that this loss of
“boundaries” is expected to increase in the future. The Chief’s threats have an urban-rural
dimension that has implications for our center, particularly the fire component
in the wildlife-urban interface. Therefore,
to survive this reduction in the number of scientists, it is in our best
interest to demonstrate the value that we add to a better understanding of the
continuum of forests from urban to rural.
By positioning ourselves in this regard within the Pacific Southwest
Research Station we will be better able to compete for research dollars that
become available that are not typically for urban forest research. And to demonstrate our commitment to
repositioning we recently conducted a retreat to investigate future
possibilities for our research and to refocus our thinking so that we are more
available to the larger effort of PSW. The
major outcome of the retreat was a new research concept that could guide our
Center’s effort in PSW over the next decade.
This concept is
best described as the “One Forest.”
That concept emphasizes the
continuity of our forests, landscapes and other ecosystems across all lands,
from the inner city forests of major metropolitan areas to the most remote
parts of our national forests and wilderness areas. The connection is demonstrated through
associations within, and across, individual watersheds and expressed in the
relationship each ecosystem has, whether rural or urban, to water, climate,
invasive species, soils, wildlife, and the restorative power of fire.
Cities were on their own in the past. But the future
holds more regional collaboration among
government agencies and nonprofit organizations—regardless
of city boundaries. There’s going to be partnering across community boundaries.