By Mark McPherson

Three weeks ago, I attended one of the seminars on “Asset Management for Community Trees” offered by our State Urban and Community Forestry Program. Three points emerged for me:

  1. The information and resources in that seminar were extremely valuable;
  2. Stakeholders of urban forestry in Washington are as dedicated as they are diverse;
  3. Our own state Urban and Community Forestry Program is funded with only a modest allocation of federal grant dollars from the USDA Forest Service.

The first two items are not a surprise. But it may not be well known among Washington urban forest stakeholders that our own state urban forest program receives very little state funding.

It take a village to raise a child, the saying goes. It takes many stakeholders to grow and maintain the urban forest:

  • Scientists to study and quantify the benefits of urban forests;
  • City and county employees to lead local urban forest governmental efforts;
  • Utilities to plant and prune urban trees to maintain both canopy coverage and safety;
  • Non-profit organizations to protect landscapes, advocate for trees and educate the public;
  • ISA Certified Arborists to employ and promote best practices in tree care;
  • Volunteers for everything from tree planting to invasive plant removal to community advocacy to planning; and
  • Informed residents that plant, care for, and advocate for trees in our urban forests.

I am sure I’ve omitted some important stakeholders in this list, but there is one clear and gaping hole. Urban forestry in Washington, while it has many stakeholders, has no statewide organization, no single voice that advocates for urban forestry at the state level.

If organized, Washington stakeholders could advocate and work closely with the Commissioner of Public Lands or other elected officials to support urban forestry in Washington. For example, such advocacy could reinvigorate support for the Evergreen Communities Act, which was enacted in 2008 to help Washington cities and towns develop community tree inventories and urban forest management plans. The Act exists on our legislative records as an enacted statute but has not received any funding from the state legislature since 2008.

In California, urban forestry stakeholders came together 27 years ago to form their own advocacy group, California ReLeaf. California ReLeaf now has a very active presence in the California State Legislature, and in fact, was instrumental in getting over $17M allocated to urban forestry from the first allowance revenues generated by California’s carbon cap and trade law.

With carbon legislation of some kind approaching here in Washington, there may well be carbon revenues coming to our own legislature. Will Washington’s advocates for urban forestry be at the table for discussion of those policies and allocation of those revenues?

If all of the urban forestry stakeholders in Washington begin to think about this and talk about this, we may be able to make progress on two key issues: 1) bringing together our diverse and mostly local stakeholders, and 2) assessing and deciding our priorities. One voice, with thousands of stakeholders behind it, could be a powerful force to produce additional and much needed funding for urban forestry in Washington.

Imagine a thousand emails dropping in to the inbox of an elected official to advocate for a specific action in urban forestry. Urban forestry may not have a lot of money to support it, but it does have voters who care about our urban trees. And elected and agency officials do care very much about voters, particularly those who are organized around a topic or issue.

If you are interested in the potential for forming a statewide advocacy group for urban forestry, contact Mark McPherson at mark@ufregistry.org.

Mark McPherson is a lawyer/business person in Seattle who has been active in urban forestry for many years. He is currently starting a non-profit organization to enable urban tree planting projects to earn carbon credits for sale.