The Asheville Urban Forestry Commission (AUFC), Asheville GreenWorks, and the Tree Protection Task Force have stirred up a lot of community interest in recent months about the need for the City to hire a professional urban forester and develop an urban forest master plan. Why is there such interest in urban forestry management in Asheville? Don't we already have a city arborist who takes care of tree-related matters?
The second study was an urban forest canopy assessment. This study was conducted to identify changes in total tree cover over a 10-year period from 2008 to 2018. Canopy cover can be thought of as the “canary in the coal mine” for cities, because science-based models equate changes in canopy to environmental conditions important to our daily lives and for fighting climate change impacts locally. These conditions include air quality, urban heat island, management of stormwater runoff, energy conservation and carbon sequestration.
Both studies pointed to the same overall conclusions. Our urban forest is in trouble, urban tree canopy is decreasing, there is the need for better, planned and coordinated management of our urban trees, the need for stronger tree protection policy, and the overall need for the City of Asheville to change its urban forestry mindset.
We no longer have the luxury to take our urban forest for granted, but instead have to make it a priority in our everyday decision making.
In order for this to happen, the City must do two things immediately: 1) Hire a professional urban forester to enable this priority “eyes on” approach to decision making; and 2) develop a comprehensive urban forest master plan to embark on a coordinated and strategic approach to improving the condition if this critical natural resource.
Why an Urban Forester?
Unlike an arborist, who focuses on the management of individual trees, an urban forester employs a systems-based approach to urban forest management. The urban forest is an ecosystem, and its management focus is on maximizing the forest’s ability to provide us its life supporting benefits, while minimizing its risks.
An urban forester for the City of Asheville would provide cross-departmental coordination, review of development plans for tree protection, field enforcement of tree regulations, maintenance of a tree inventory database and oversight for the implementation of the City’s Comprehensive Urban Forest Master Plan.
None of these activities currently exist within the city’s ability today, and without this capacity, the city’s tree canopy will continue to decline.
Why an Urban Forest Master Plan?
The Urban Forest Master Plan will enable a strategic and coordinated approach to managing our urban forest. The product of a community-wide urban forest planning effort will allow for these following types of strategies:
Again, none of these activities currently exist within the city’s current capacity.
While the City is taking steps to strengthen its tree protection ordinance, this step is not enough to restore our urban forest and provide for its future health. We all have to impress upon our elected officials the importance of protecting our urban forest as the most cost-effective way to offset both the negative impacts of extreme land development pressures and the localized impact of climate change.
Urban Forest Consultant
Member, Asheville Urban Forestry Commission
Member, Asheville GreenWorks Board of Directors
Chair, Tree Protection Task Force