How to Fund Community Forestry
Community forestry programs require more than enthusiasm and dedication. They require technical skills, modern equipment, time, and materials - not the least of which is planting stock. All bear a cost. But throughout America, communities are finding ways to pay. Cost, or lack of money, should never be considered a barrier to more trees and better care.
It has been said with eloquence, with statistics, and in words as plain as "there's no free lunch." Any way you look at it, there is no escaping the fact that all good things have a cost. Trees are no exception. If we want the benefits and the contributions that trees make in our communities, we must find ways to pay the price.
It has been estimated that municipalities with forestry programs spend between $8 and $11 per tree each year. The graph on this page developed by J. James Kielbaso and Vincent Cotrone of Michigan State University shows the array of expenditures necessary to protect a community's green assets. The figures are for public trees only, including those on streets (61%) and in parks (26%), cemeteries (2%), city-owned nurseries (2%), and other public property (9%).
Kielbaso and Cotrone also estimated the total value of the nation's street trees at some $30 billion. Add to that the economic advantages of energy savings, pollution control, enhanced shopping areas, and higher property values, and it clearly illustrates the need for investing in tree care. On top of that we must plant more trees as cities grow and older trees die.
Fortunately, the citizens and leadership of this nation are responding to the need to fund tree programs. In the past decade unprecedented funding has been made available for this purpose. From local donations to major federal grants, dollars are available to fund community forestry.
In the following pages, some of these funding methods are highlighted. This is not a complete guide, but it can serve as a starting point for anyone not familiar with the variety of sources available to assure trees for the future.
Thanks to a provision in the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 ("Farm Bill"), state governments nationwide have received financial assistance to establish or strengthen community forestry programs. The funds enable the hiring of urban and community forestry coordinators and volunteer coordinators. They also include annual allocations that can be passed on to local communities. These grants must be matched on a 50-50 basis, but the local contribution can include administrative time, donated professional services, volunteer help, and donated trees. The funds can not be used to substitute for funds normally supplied by the municipality.
Only a small percentage of funds from this source can be used to purchase planting stock. Nonetheless, the money has provided valuable assistance for on-the-ground improvements, public education, volunteer projects, and building a commitment to long-term urban forest management. A few of the first funded projects have included:
Contact: Urban and community forestry staff in your State Forester's office
Subtitle G, Title 23 of the 1990 Farm Bill offers a special opportunity for communities with under 10,000 population and located within 100 air miles of a national forest. Other criteria include economic dependency on natural resources (15% of labor and proprietor income) and evidence of economic hardship due to the loss of jobs or income derived from natural resource enterprises. Funds of up to $15,000 are available for planning (with a 20% match), and $50,000 for implementation.
Eligible projects include:
Some national forests offer other kinds of assistance to local cities and towns that can be applied to improving the community forest. For example, in one area 50-50 matching funds for street tree inventories and planning have been offered when Forest Service employees are active in the community as volunteers.
Contact: Nearest Forest Supervisor's Office or Regional Office of the USDA Forest Service.
Here is a source of funds for the actual purchase of trees. For a number of years the SBA has offered assistance to buy and plant trees on public property. The purpose of this program is to help small businesses, so a requirement is that any purchased or donated trees must be planted by a company employing less than 100 people. A 45-55 match is also required, but contributed trees or the pro bono services of an architect in planning the project would count.
Contact: Urban and community forestry staff in your State Forester's office.
The National Tree Trust was another result of the 1990 Farm Bill. Congress created the Trust with an endowment of $20 million. This money is intended primarily for supporting community tree organizations and projects. Municipalities and non-profit organizations can apply for assistance.
Contact: The National Tree Trust, 1120 G St. NW, Suite 770, Washington, DC 20005 (202/628-8733).
Still another provision in the 1990 Farm Bill established the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council. The Council reports directly to the Secretary of Agriculture. Among its projects are grants for specified purposes. The focus of these grants changes annually, but has included funding for such activities as demonstration and information relative to the environmental costs and benefits of urban forests, and the development of model municipal or volunteer urban forestry programs that serve under-represented, diverse publics.
Contact: USDA Forest Service, Cooperative Forestry, P.O. Box 96090, Washington, DC 20090
Here is a non-traditional source of assistance from an organization with an increasing interest in community forestry. RC&D councils are found throughout the United States. Technically, most are non-profit corporations made up of local farmers, business leaders and units of government to coordinate projects in primarily rural areas. The program is administered by the Soil Conservation Service and receives professional support from that agency. Projects undertaken are the decision of each council. Some discretionary funds are usually available to assist, but the real opportunity is that RC&D is a highly flexible organization with personnel who are masters at putting together partnerships. They have an impressive record of securing grants, donations and meeting cost-sharing requirements for the projects they select. The key point, then, is to learn about the RC&D in your area and present a convincing case for community forestry needs. Even better, volunteer to become active on the council's forestry committee.
Contact: Your local USDA Soil Conservation Service office.
|Federal resources and other grants help, but the long-term maintenance and other mainstays of community forestry must continue to rely on local tax dollars.|
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is an organization you don't want to have to deal with - but it is nice to know about it, just in case. FEMA is the branch of government that steps in after a disaster area has been declared. Typically, tornados, floods and hurricanes bring FEMA to town, but its staff also responded to a vicious ice storm that did some $97 million of damage to the trees of Monroe County, New York, in 1991.
A key to receiving maximum funds through FEMA to replace lost trees is being able to prove that your community regularly maintained and replaced lost trees under more normal circumstances. Street tree inventories are a big help, and a record of planting costs in Dade County, Florida, more than doubled the per tree reimbursement first offered by FEMA. Provisions in a tree preservation ordinance established replacement requirements based on canopy coverage (rather than one to one replacement when trees are lost). This resulted in payment for about four trees for every large tree that was destroyed.
For more tips about working with FEMA and being prepared before a disaster, contact American Forests (P.O. Box 2000, Washington, DC 20013) for a copy of the February/March 1993 issue of Urban Forests.
The acronym, ISTEA, is pronounced "ice tea" and stands for the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. It also stands for a good but little understood federal program that can help plant trees.
The problems with ISTEA - besides remembering its full name - are that it is relatively new, somewhat complex, and introduces some new players to the field of community forestry. As one Washington newsletter proclaimed, "The new highway bill is packed with recreation programs. $500 million per year in 'enhancement money'...But states have been sluggish about spending the money." A state urban and community forestry coordinator put it this way: "Some state highway departments hate it. It puts added strain on their staff and they are not used to dealing with tree planting. They wish it would go away!"
Others view ISTEA quite differently. It has been called "a renewed vision for American transportation," "very flexible," and a "federal commitment to move out of the Interstate Age and into an era of balanced investment in transportation which better reflects the social, environmental, and energy goals of the nation."
While some states have yet to fully utilize ISTEA provisions for tree planting, others have been quick to take advantage of this legislative mandate. The Nebraska Department of Roads, for example, has produced a clearly-written guide booklet to help local communities apply for ISTEA funds.
ISTEA is a $150 billion, 5-year program to improve America's highways and transportation systems. Approximately $3.3 billion of these funds may be allocated to state highway departments under the auspices of a Surface Transportation Program. Importantly, under a section of the law called the Transportation Enhancement Program, 10 percent of that money must be earmarked for projects in the following categories:
Tree planting qualifies as part of all three enhancement categories. ISTEA can help plant trees at historic sites, and along trails, bikeways, scenic byways and elsewhere, depending on state criteria. All projects require 20% matching funds, must be maintainable, and must meet any state landscaping standards. Eligible applicants include state and local governmental agencies including park departments, public corporations, state colleges, tribal governments, and many other governmental units.
Although enhancement funds offer the best route to dollars for trees, several other provisions included in ISTEA can benefit the environment. These include mitigation of damage to ecosystems and wildlife habitat, carpool projects, and fringe parking facilities. In all, ISTEA heralds a new era to design and build transportation facilities that fit harmoniously into communities and the natural environment. In the words of a policy statement issued by the Federal Highway Administration, the need has been recognized to:
act creatively and decisively to minimize environmental degradation and protect environmental quality while enhancing lives by improving mobility.
States have been given an unusual amount of flexibility for developing policies to implement ISTEA programs. However, John Barnes, planner with the Idaho Transportation Department, offers these suggestions:
|Randy Harris, arborist for Baton Rouge Green, inspects a Shumard oak planted with ISTEA funds to improve an interstate interchange.|
As a program, ISTEA is relatively new. But Lynn Morris, executive director of the non-profit organization, Baton Rouge Green, lost no time in taking advantage of its possibilities. The result was a $360,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and a matching $90,000 grant from Louisiana's Department of Transportation and Development.
Louisiana's pioneering ISTEA project was dedicated to using trees and other vegetation to reduce the impact of three interstates that bisect the capital city. Baton Rouge Green put up the money for a concept plan, solicited a broad base of support for the idea - including local businesses and the director of the state transportation department - and carefully studied the criteria for receiving ISTEA enhancement funds. These criteria included making sure the project would not only improve the travel experience in Baton Rouge, but could serve as a model for use elsewhere. Other project highlights included:
The Baton Rouge project should inspire communities everywhere to compete for ISTEA funds. And to Baton Rouge Green - a debt of thanks for what the planning firm of Johnson Johnson & Roy called a ground breaking effort in a new age of transportation planning that looks beyond pure function to a larger quality of life issues."
"Trees are something we can't do without. They need to be viewed as essential infrastructure along with streets, utilities and crime prevention. A sustainable tax base is a must."
Urban and Community Forestry
Local taxes must be at the heart of support for community forestry. Trees serve important local needs and should be viewed as an essential service. Everyone who cares about trees must work together to assure that this concept is reflected in municipal government and results in an adequate amount budgeted each year as a line item.
The City of Milwaukee has set a good example of how trees can be even more than a "line item" in a municipal budget. This is by making trees part of all street and road improvement projects. Using this approach, a project tally may look something like this, with trees being an essential - but relatively inexpensive - part of the project.
About a dozen cities in Ohio, both large and small, fund their street tree programs with a special assessment on all properties abutting public rights-of-way. This assessment, similar to that which funds sidewalk repair, is authorized by Ohio Revised Code Section 727.011. Check your state's codes to see if you have something similar. Cincinnati, through a 12 cent per foot assessment, generates about $1.25 million per year, which is restricted for use on trees along its 1,000 miles of streets.
Assessments are supplemented with compensatory payments made by people who damage or remove street trees, either by accident or design. The amount of compensation is determined using the appraisal formula sanctioned by the International Society of Arboriculture (See Bulletin No. 28) and the money is given directly to the city forestry department for planting trees.
Every state and community should have a tree trust. This is essentially a fund that can accept private and commercial donations earmarked for tree programs. At its best, the principal is invested and never spent, with the interest used for projects and when matching money is needed for a cost-share grant. It is a method of raising funds that appeals to people who want to maximize the benefits of their donation over time. Publicity about the trust can suggest cash donations, insurance policies, property for resale, and bequests.
Sometimes trusts are established by individuals and committees for parks or general use, then forgotten as the years pass. Check with your city treasurer and local bank officials for information about existing or potential trusts.
Wildlife interests had this idea first, with more than 60 percent of all states now letting taxpayers donate from their tax refunds or add to their tax payment. Minnesota raises more than $1 million a year in this way for its nongame wildlife program. Tree interests are following the example. In predominantly rural Idaho, $4,500 was raised during the first year of its checkoff system, even with no advance publicity.
From Austin, Texas, to Shelby, Ohio, another "painless" way is being used to let citizens donate to assure trees for the future. In some cases, a specific amount (15 cents, for example) is added to each utility bill. If a resident wants to pay, he/she voluntarily includes it in the payment.
Another method is to ask bill payers to round the amount due to a higher figure of their choice. Thousands of dollars are raised in this way and used for special tree projects. All it takes is the cooperation of your local utility.
At times of loss and times to celebrate, the question is often: "How best to remember special people?" In Greensboro, North Carolina, Greensboro Beautiful provides the answer for all occasions. The system is simple. A well-publicized program is in place so anyone may purchase a tree to memorialize or honor someone at any time. $35 buys a listed tree; $50 will purchase a larger one or one not on the list. The donor can suggest a location or designate "where needed." $100 buys an arboretum tree. There is even a general pool for those who prefer. Notification of the bereaved or honored is sent, as appropriate.
Fund raising is limited only by the imagination. The City of Boise, Idaho, "sells" public rest benches with engraved labels. The benches are sawn from street tree removals. Other cities sell firewood, or even lumber. Volunteers set up tables at fairs and shopping malls to sell perennial bulbs, cookies, trees, you name it. A cleaning establishment donates 1 cent per hanger returned, gaining from it great publicity, a way to recycle hangers, and dollars for trees. And in England,The Financial Times lined up more than 50 famous artists and personalities to donate paintings, drawings, sculptures or photographs of "my favourite tree" for an auction. Funds went to the Countryside Commission to plant trees east of London.
Here are some of the ways communities are maximizing funds available for tree programs:
Tree City USA Bulletin will inform readers about helpful, up-to-date materials that provide more depth, serve as good models, or are readily available for community distribution. The editor welcomes sample copies to consider for inclusion in revised editions of this and other Bulletins.
A new program has been developed to help you calculate quantifiable costs and benefits of community trees. Information about a community's trees is combined with variables such as air pollutant concentrations, local utility rates, and tree maintenance costs to arrive at the net value of trees in a community. This is an exciting new tool to help justify forestry budgets and educate residents about the value of the community forest. Available in hard copy or computer format. For information, contact:
International Society of Arboriculture
P.O. Box GG
Savoy, IL 61874-9902
Federal Highway Administration
Attn: Noreen Bowles
Environmental Analysis Division, HEP-42
400 7th St., S.W.
Washington, DC 20590
As the title implies, this brochure summarizes the various provisions of ISTEA that relate to environmental protection and enhancement. This and any other current literature obtainable through the above contact would be good "homework" before pursuing ISTEA funds.
Michael J. Walterscheidt
Texas Agricultural Extension Service
302 Horticulture and Forest Sciences Bldg.
College Station, TX 77843
There are lessons in this 25-minute video for anyone looking for ways to fund an urban forestry program. The video begins with an explanation of urban forestry, then uses five Texas communities of various sizes to illustrate how funding was put together for tree programs. Price: $12 ppd. Make checks to: "TEXFAC Account #235000."
A program is available from The National Arbor Day Foundation that gets trees planted and can put money in the coffers of any organization. Groups can solicit tree orders, earning a 35% profit on each tree sold. Trees are shipped directly to the purchaser. Species include: red maple, black walnut, weeping willow, sugar maple, redbud, thornless honeylocust, tuliptree and pin oak. For free information, including a sample sales kit, send your name and address to: Fund-Raising Trees, The National Arbor Day Foundation, Nebraska City, NE 68410.
Many of the best funding ideas in community forestry -including how to compete for local tax dollars - come from what is being successfully used elsewhere. An excellent way to get these insights is to attend conferences and training sessions. For a free schedule of upcoming conferences and workshops sponsored by The National Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska City or elsewhere throughout the United States, write: Conference Schedule, The National Arbor Day Foundation, Nebraska City, NE 68410.
Previous issues of the Bulletin that contain additional tips or information related to funding urban and community forestry include:
No. 16: How to Recycle Shade
No. 18: Tree City USA Growth Award
No. 19: How to Select and Plant a Tree
No. 22: Tree City USA: Foundation for Better Tree Management
- 1992 Annual Report and Directory
No. 28: Placing a Value on Trees
No. 29: How to Plan for Management
- 1993 Annual Report and Directory
For a complete listing of Tree City USA Bulletin titles, write The National Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, NE 68410.
To receive a subscription to the Tree City USA Bulletin, and to become more involved in the community forestry movement in your town and throughout America, send a $10 dues-donation to Friends of Tree City USA, The National Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, NE 68410. Make your check payable to "The National Arbor Day Foundation."
Tree City USA Bulletin ©1994 The National Arbor Day Foundation. John E. Rosenow, publisher; James R. Fazio, editor; Gerreld L. Pulsipher, information designer; Gene W. Grey, William P. Kruidenier, James J. Nighswonger, Steve Sandfort, technical review committee. Special reviewers for Bulletin No. 34: Ed Macie, USDA Forest Service, and John Barnes, Idaho Transportation Department.
Although copyright is vested with the Foundation, permission is hereby granted for the contents of this bulletin to be reproduced for non-commercial educational or public-service purposes provided the source is acknowledged.