Trees in our downtowns and village centers not only contribute to the aesthetic character of a place, but provide a suite of environmental, social, and economic benefits. The health and longevity of these trees is directly linked to their maintenance: proper planting and species selection, a systematic pruning regime, and proactively addressing hazardous conditions. To assist 20 Vermont towns in moving their municipal tree programs forward, in 2013 the Vermont Urban & Community Forestry Program received funding for the Care of the Urban Forest Project to support tree inventory, management plan development, and technical tree care trainings for town staff. While the project has been completed, its impact has continued beyond its initial scope, highlighting the needs of municipalities and demonstrating the effectiveness of a well-designed project.
The 20 Vermont municipalities identified as partners of the Care of the Urban Forest Project received three specific levels of support: 1. A complete public tree inventory and associated report, 2. A strategic tree management plan, and 3. An in-house technical tree care training. As VT UCF staff saw the positive impacts of this three-pronged approach in the initial 20 communities and word spread of the innovative web-based tree inventory tool developed through the project, additional municipalities reached out to participate. By adapting our approach to the tree inventory data collection (relying on volunteers instead of contracting out), we have been able to support these additional communities. Additionally, as the technology around our inventory tool has progressed since the start of the project, we have been able to offer more autonomy around inventory data management to all participating towns.
Beyond the initial scope of the Care of the Urban Forest Project, we have seen the benefits of this project manifest in several ways:
- 9 additional communities have worked with VT UCF staff to coordinate a public tree inventory, utilizing our web-based ArcGIS Collector tool. In total, we've assisted VT communities in inventorying over 17,000 public trees.
- Our partnership with the GIS team at the VT Agency of Natural Resources has continued to grow; when the technology became available in early 2017, we developed the Urban Tree Editor Tool, a password-protected tool that will allow individuals in each community make edits to all data associated with the inventoried public trees. This transitions the inventory from a snapshot in time to a live, manageable database.
- So far, 9 or the 29 towns we’ve worked with to inventory public trees have requested their version of the Urban Tree Editor Tool; we developed a robust guide detailed the functionality of the tool and are conducting in-person trainings for each town.
- 10 of the 20 grants awarded by VT UCF through our 2017 Caring for Canopy grant program went to Care of the Urban Forest Project participants, specifically to move forward objectives identified in their strategic action plans, or to act upon needs identified through the process of inventorying the town’s public trees.
- At least 4 of the communities have seen significant increases in their budget for proactive, municipal tree care.
- At least 1 of the communities will be supporting a town employee in becoming an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist
- At least 3 of the towns are working on tree policies, ordinances, or adopted specifications to strengthen tree protections and operations in-house.
- At least 1 town will be applying for Tree City USA status in 2017
- Finally, largely because of our work on this grant and the local-level needs identified over its duration, the VT UCF team decided that direct technical assistance should be an embedded part of our programming. Appropriately, we changed staff member Elise Schadler's official title to Technical Assistance Coordinator and transitioned her role to be primarily focused on working directly with municipalities on technical tree care and management issues.