This guest blog post is written by Bill Toomey, The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Forest Health for the North America Region. Mr. Toomey is leading the Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities Initiative that works with many Certified STAR Communities, including Louisville, KY and Washington, DC.
Around the globe, people are moving into cities at an unprecedented rate. By 2050, there will be more than 9 billion people on Earth, and a staggering 75 percent of them will live in cities. Investing in nature will help ensure that communities have access to clean water and air, cooler cities and safer coasts needed to thrive and withstand flooding, storms and other threats. Engaging youth and communities in environmental stewardship will inspire the next generation of leaders to tackle the challenge of making cities safer and more sustainable places to live.
The Nature Conservancy knows that demonstrating the power — and value — of nature can help cities manage the challenges they face. Our goal is to fundamentally change the relationship between cities and nature, so that both can thrive. By bringing the power of nature into cities, we can simultaneously help cities use nature to address the challenges they face while also connecting people with the natural world.
Where We Work — Making Cities More Resilient
In 2014, the Conservancy launched our North America Cities program, a network of 21 cities across the United States to advance nature’s role in providing clean water, healthy trees, strong coasts and conservation leadership.
The Importance of Urban Forests: Healthy trees and forests are essential to healthy communities and are a critical component of a city’s natural infrastructure. They produce oxygen, purify drinking water, clean and cool the air, and provide ecological, economic, social and health benefits to urban residents. In the US alone, urban forests consist of approximately 130 million acres containing about 4.9 billion trees, and represent a huge investment in green infrastructure with an estimated value of $4.1 trillion.
Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities: The Nature Conservancy’s Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities initiative seeks to protect the health of our nation’s trees, forests, and communities by creating a culture of stewardship that engages people in the planting and care of urban trees. We work to maintain the health of urban trees and forests through a suite of strategies and actions designed to improve the long-term health of urban forest resources and to address the threat that non-native tree pests pose to our trees and forests. This initiative helps inform municipal tree-planting efforts, assesses the vulnerability of urban trees to potential threats and develops information, training materials, and tools to monitor and care for trees in and around cities. In addition, the Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities initiative engages corporations, community members, and youth volunteers to plant and steward trees, monitor tree health, and provide maintenance of the urban forest. The program also includes comprehensive outreach and communications approaches to raise public awareness about the importance of trees and what people can do to ensure we have vibrant and healthy urban forests for generations to come.
We work to achieve the following outcomes:
- Improve the health, diversity, and sustainability of urban forests and facilitate their regeneration and resiliency.
- Deliver practical and applicable science through urban forest assessments that highlight the ecosystem services provided by trees and forests and the strategic management needed to sustain their critical benefits to environmental quality and community well-being.
- Enhance municipal efforts to protect cities’ green infrastructure by increasing the capacity of community volunteers and urban youth to plant, adopt, steward, and monitor the health of urban trees and existing urban forests.
- Improve forest stewardship by involving thousands of community members to plant, adopt, maintain, and monitor the health of community trees.
- Engage and train urban youth through two of the Conservancy’s Youth Engagement programs:
Leaders for Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) and Nature Works Everywhere (NWE) school networks to progress along a career ladder of pre-professional opportunities which will prepare them for successful careers in conservation.
- Establish citizen science as a practical means of connecting people to nature, supporting conservation actions that people can take in their own backyard, neighborhood and community using new tools and apps including: Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities phone app and Habitat Network on-line tool.
Trees and urban forests provide a suite of benefits to people and can help cities address some of the challenges they face. The Nature Conservancy’s and our Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities initiative works in a collaborative and cooperative way with many communities within our growing Cities Network. To learn more about our urban forestry work please go to the Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities website. To learn more about our work in cities check out Nature.org.