As we make our way through the month of April, drawing nearer to Arbor Day, I can’t help but think about the history of the holiday. Over the last 144 years, people across the country — and around the world — have been planting trees on Arbor Day. It’s exciting to see a universal desire to celebrate trees and all they do for us. It’s also exciting to watch the continued revitalization of America’s forests.
But how do you define “forest”? Many think of forests as expansive wilderness, most likely National Forests and Parks. Places where bears, moose and wolves roam free. Places for camping and fishing and wildlife excursions. These forests are critically important for watershed protection, air and water quality, wildlife habitat and much more. But today I’d like to address another kind of forest, the forest where you live, work and play every day: the urban forest.
Now perhaps you’re asking yourself, “Wait, what’s an urban forest?” It’s a common question with an easy answer. Walk outside and look around. See all those trees? That’s an urban forest — a culmination of all the trees in your town or city. And don’t think the term “urban forest” can’t apply to smaller communities; urban forests exist everywhere from quaint villages to small towns to expansive cities.
An urban forest is always hard at work reducing energy costs by shading homes, improving air quality, controlling stormwater runoff, making neighborhoods safer and beautifying public spaces. Many of these trees, such as street trees and trees in public space, are managed by the city municipality and need ongoing care and maintenance. That’s where the Tree City USA program comes into play.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary, Tree City USA helps towns and cities develop a plan to plant and care for the trees of their urban forests. More than 3,400 communities of all sizes are involved in this program — from New York City (population 8.4 million) to Sibley, North Dakota (population 28). To receive Tree City USA certification, municipalities are required to meet four core standards of sound urban forestry management. Meeting these core standards means a community is committed to keeping its trees healthy and public spaces green.
Everyone benefits when elected officials, volunteers and committed citizens make smart investments in urban forests. Trees are a natural solution to helping create vibrant and resilient communities. They frame our neighborhoods and help to create a sense of place for us. They are also the most effective tool for protecting cities from devastating storms and helping them withstand emerging changes in weather patterns.
This year National Arbor Day falls on April 29. Regardless of where you live, I encourage you all to celebrate by planting a tree and exploring the wonders of the forest surrounding you…urban or wilderness. After all, we have a lot to thank our trees for.