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Developing a community forest management strategy



Many community tree ordinances have been developed in response to public outcry over specific perceived problems. Unfortunately, a "band-aid" approach to developing tree ordinances often leads to ordinances that are not consistent with sound management practices, and which can actually thwart good management. We believe that communities need to develop or review their overall urban forest management strategy before considering a new or revised tree ordinance. Policy makers must recognize that the primary goal is effective management of local tree resources, not simply regulation.

Tree ordinances provide the legal framework for successful urban forest management by enabling and authorizing management activities. However, methods for managing the urban forest ecosystem are continually evolving, and the input of trained professionals to the management process is critical. Therefore, we believe that ordinances should facilitate rather than prescribe management. Successful tree ordinances follow this guiding principle.

If the role of a tree ordinance is to facilitate resource management, the tree ordinance must be part of a larger community forest management strategy. Most of the shortcomings attributed to tree ordinances can usually be traced to the lack of a clearly thought-out management strategy. Poor planning leads to poor ordinances, and even the best-written ordinance is unlikely to succeed in the absence of an overall urban forest management strategy. We have found that few existing tree ordinances have been developed as part of a comprehensive management strategy.

How to develop a management strategy

We have generally followed Miller's (1988) model of the management planning process. More recently, the descriptive term adaptive management has been applied to this process. Miller (1988) presents the management planning process in terms of three basic questions:

Developing an appropriate tree ordinance may be a partial answer to the third question, i.e., it is one way of trying to get what you want. However, it should be clear that the first two questions need to be answered before the third can be addressed. Thus, assessment (determining what you have) and goal-setting (determining what you want) should precede any consideration of an ordinance.

In practice, answering the first two questions is often an iterative process. Communities may have ideas about what they want before they fully assess what they have. However, an assessment of existing tree resources can help point out needs that might not be obvious, and will help the community to establish appropriate goals.

Since the urban forest resource and the external factors that affect it are continually changing, developing a management strategy must be an ongoing process. Asking a fourth question helps to bring the process full circle:

Miller (1988) represents this phase as a feedback step which connects the third question back to the first. If the planning process is to be effective, it is necessary to determine whether you actually achieve what you want. If not, methods for getting what you want may need to be changed. Alternatively, it is possible that what you get is no longer what you want, and goals will need to be revised as well.

We can define a number of specific steps that address each of these four basic questions. These steps have been defined in similar ways by various authors (Lobel 1983, Miller 1988, Jennings 1978, McPherson and Johnson 1988, World Forestry Center and Morgan 1989). For the purposes of our discussion, we recognize seven distinct steps which are discussed below.

Working through these steps need not be overly complicated or arduous. The entire process is driven by the specific resources and goals of the individual community. By following the process outlined below, a small community with very modest tree management goals can develop a simple ordinance that addresses its limited goals. On the other hand, communities seeking to develop a comprehensive tree management program or expand their existing programs can do so following the same process. Ordinances developed through this process will be uniquely suited to the needs of each community.

 

WHAT DO YOU HAVE?

Step A. Assess the tree resource.

An assessment of tree resources provides the basic information necessary for making management decisions. It also provides a baseline against which change can be measured. Ideally, this assessment should include all tree resources within the planning area of the municipality. However, in communities that are just starting to consider municipal tree management, an incremental approach may be more practical. In this case, the assessment may be focused on a certain portion of the urban forest, such as street trees or trees in a particular geographic area.

Tree resource assessments are based on various inventory methods, most of which require some type of survey. Complete tree inventories of all public trees are relatively common, and play a central role in many tree management programs. However, for the purposes of setting goals and initiating a management strategy, information from a representative sample of the urban forest will often suffice.

Information that may be useful for management planning includes:

Inventories vary in complexity depending on the size of the community and the nature of the data collected. They can be made by city staff, consultants, or trained volunteers. In one small community, an inventory of street trees was conducted as an Eagle Scout project. However, it is important to ensure that the data collected is valid and reliable, since this information provides a basis for decisions made in later steps in the process. Several simple sampling and evaluation techniques applicable to urban forestry are described in the Evaluation pages.

Step B. Review tree management practices.

An important part of understanding the status of the urban forest is knowing how it has been managed. This requires information on both past and current management methods and actions, such as: The specific types of information involved will vary by jurisdiction, depending on the level of past and current tree management. Municipal records are the most reliable source of this information. However, records on maintenance or ordinance enforcement may not exist in some cases, and the information may have to be obtained by interviewing local government staff involved with these activities.

The point of this step is to identify all of the activities that affect trees in the community, especially those that are under municipal control of one form or other. For instance, various ordinances and planning regulations seemingly unrelated to the tree program may impinge on tree resources and their impact must be taken into account. Before trying to change community forest management, we need to consider both current and historical management practices and identify all of the players involved.

 

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Step C. Identify needs.

With information on the status of their tree resources and tree management in hand, a community is in a good position to assess its urban forestry needs. Urban forestry needs can be grouped into three broad categories, although many needs may actually fall into more than one category. Biological needs are those that are related to the tree resource itself. Typical needs in this category include the need to: Management needs refer to the needs of those involved with the short- and long-term care and maintenance of the urban forest. Some common management needs include: Community needs are those that relate to how the public perceives and interacts with the urban forest and the local urban forest management program. Examples of community needs include: The needs listed above are common to many communities. However, the specific needs of each community will vary, and may include others not noted here.

Step D. Establish goals.

Now that we know what we have and what we need, we are ready to set goals to address local urban forestry needs and to guide the formation of the management strategy. To establish realistic goals, it's important to consider limitations posed by the level of community support, economic realities, and environmental constraints. Because of limited resources, communities may be unable to immediately address all of the needs identified. If this is the case, it will be necessary to prioritize goals. In setting priorities, it is important not to neglect goals that require a long-term approach in favor of those that can be achieved quickly.

At this point in the process, it is absolutely critical to get community involvement and support. Most tree ordinances rely heavily on voluntary compliance by the public. Such compliance is only likely to be achieved if members of the community support the goals which have been set. Management goals reached through public involvement are likely to reflect community values and therefore enjoy public support. Public participation in the goal-setting process also serves an educational function, providing an opportunity for citizens to see how urban forest management affects their community.

Goals are the tangible ends that the management strategy seeks to achieve. It is therefore important to set goals which are quantifiable in some way, so that progress toward the goals can be monitored. For example, while it is admirable to seek to "improve the quality of life" or "protect the health and welfare of the community", such goals are generally too diffuse to be measured in any meaningful way. However a goal such as "establish maximum tree cover" can be made quantifiable by setting canopy cover or tree density standards. Typical tree program goals which are consistent with good urban forest management are discussed in more detail on the Ordinance Goals page.

 

HOW DO YOU GET WHAT YOU WANT?

Step E. Select tools and formulate the management strategy.

The objective of this step is to develop a management strategy that addresses your specific goals. There are many approaches that can be used to address each goal, and the pros and cons of each approach should be considered. Feasibility, practicality, legality, and economics should be considered in selecting the appropriate management tools. Some typical tools include: Community involvement and support continues to be important in this phase of the process. Management approaches and tools that are unacceptable to the community are unlikely to succeed. If a local government intends to push for more progressive tree management than local citizens are ready to accept, it should choose tools that will build community awareness and support, including educational and incentive programs. Your assessment of current and past management practices, should provide ideas about the effectiveness of various methods that have been used in your community. Public input and comment should be sought for any new approaches that may be contemplated or developed.

In analyzing the approaches or tools that may be used, the role of the tree ordinance in the overall strategy should become clear. In some cases, ordinance provisions will be necessary to authorize various management approaches, such as establishing the position of municipal arborist, requiring the development and implementation of a community forest master plan, or mandating a program of public education. In other cases, ordinance provisions may directly provide necessary parts of the strategy, for example by outlawing destructive practices.

The provisions placed in the tree ordinance should be directly related to the goals your community has established for its community forest. As noted earlier, these provisions should designate responsibility, grant authority, and specify enforcement methods. They should set basic performance standards, yet allow for flexibility in determining how these standards can be met. You can follow this link to see our goal-driven Guide to Drafting a Tree Ordinance, but be sure to read about the last two critical steps in the management process below.

Step F. Implement the management strategy.

Although a plan may appear ideal on paper, it clearly cannot achieve anything unless implemented. This requires the commitment of resources necessary to hire personnel, enforce ordinances, run educational programs, and carry out other components of the management strategy. The number of steps involved in implementing the management strategy may differ between communities. Steps typically involved in implementation may include:

Since a number of steps are usually involved in implementing the management strategy, it is useful to map out an implementation schedule. This time/action schedule should show the steps that are involved and the time frame within which they should be completed. Progress checks should be built into the schedule to ensure that delays or problems are detected and dealt with. These progress checks could be in the form of required progress reports to the city council or county board of supervisors. It is important to maintain a high profile for the management program during implementation to foster public interest and maintain the commitment of the local government. If interest and support dissipate before the strategy is implemented, the efforts spent to get to this point may be for naught.

 

ARE YOU GETTING WHAT YOU WANT?

Step G. Evaluate and revise.

Even a successfully implemented management strategy must be monitored to ensure that progress is being made and standards are being met. Evaluation provides the feedback necessary to determine whether the management strategy is working. Periodic evaluation also provides an opportunity to reassess the needs and goals of the community. The management strategy may need to be adjusted to reflect new or altered goals. By providing for regular evaluation as part of the management process, the need for change can be identified before a crisis develops.

If you have set quantifiable goals, evaluating progress will be a relatively straightforward process. The types of evaluation techniques you will use will vary with the goal being evaluated. The Evaluation Methods page describes a number of simple techniques that can be used to monitor ordinance effectiveness.


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