A Partnership for Urban Forestry

Tom Tidwell, Chief
Philadelphia Flower Show
Philadelphia, PA
— March 10, 2011

Good morning! It’s a pleasure to be here.

I represent the Forest Service. In the past, when most people thought of the Forest Service, they thought of Smokey Bear and fighting fires or maybe camping and fishing on a national forest. But today, more and more people have become aware of the work we do to restore native forest ecosystems, including right here in our cities. They have come to see this as some of our most important work because it takes place in metropolitan areas, where 80 percent of our population lives.

Forests aren’t out there somewhere, far from where most people live. Forests extend across the landscape. They reach from remote wilderness areas … to forested campgrounds … to a farmer’s “back forty” … to quiet suburban neighborhoods … to shady urban parks and streets. Rivers are ribbons that bind these landscapes together, like the Delaware River watershed—or the Chesapeake Bay watershed west of here. What happens in upstream forested watersheds affects downstream water quantity and quality. Together, these landscapes form a critically important green infrastructure—a strategic resource vital to the future of our nation.

The lynchpin of that green infrastructure, in many ways, is the urban forest. Because they are right where most people live, urban forests provide ecosystem services directly to people: the conversion of sunlight into life-giving energy … soil protection … stormwater regulation … air and water purification … carbon sequestration … energy savings … habitat for native plants and animals … aesthetic beauty and health benefits … opportunities for outdoor recreation … outdoor learning laboratories for school kids … and more. Studies have shown that urban forests in cities like Philadelphia can save millions of dollars in stormwater runoff costs—in air pollution costs—while storing and sequestering thousands of tons of carbon.

Our job at the Forest Service, working with partners, is to protect that vital resource. There are about 750 million acres of forest across America, roughly one-third of our nation’s land area. The Forest Service, in partnership with others, is charged with protecting all of America’s forests, both public and private. About 100 million acres of forest are in cities and towns, an area roughly the size of California. The Forest Service plays a role, both direct and indirect, on about 80 percent of those lands.

As your Chief Forester, you can count on me. Today, we are marking a major milestone in our partnership with Philadelphia. Last December, we completed a major analysis of Philadelphia’s tree canopy in support of Mayor Nutter’s Greenworks program. Our study showed where the best opportunities are to achieve your goal of reaching 30-percent tree cover citywide by 2025. Philadelphia Parks and Recreation is also in the midst of a joint project with the Forest Service using economic recovery funds to restore forests and watersheds in Fairmount Park while creating jobs for Philadelphia’s youth.

The expansion of the Plant One Million Trees Initiative to include Delaware and New Jersey is a fitting setting for signing a memorandum of understanding between the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. This public/private partnership to increase tree canopy cover in the Greater Philadelphia Region will improve the environment, create jobs, strengthen communities, and improve air and water quality. It’s a pleasure to be here to witness the signing.

By establishing a Philadelphia Urban Field Station, we will strengthen that partnership. The station is designed as a center of excellence in urban natural resources stewardship. It will serve to promote adaptive management, technology transfer, and science to improve people’s lives and to improve the environment in the Greater Philadelphia Region. The station will be both a physical place for federal research and technology transfer and a virtual network of relationships among scientists, educators, practitioners, university cooperators, and facilities for urban ecology.

Without further ado, I’d like to turn the program over to Michael Rains, director of the Northern Research Station; and to Drew Bucher, president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The two of them will formalize our partnership.