An Important Book for this Challenging Moment


As mentioned in the previous post, Jill Jonnes’s heralded 2016 book, Urban ForestsA Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape, is a key resource for educating and inspiring ourselves, our fellow citizens, and our legislators as we seek to protect our urban forests. Here’s a review.

Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Landscape by Jill Jonnes 

Reviewed by Allison Craig, BioForest Urban Forest Health Specialist 

Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Landscape published by Viking Press (2016) is a wonderful read for anyone wanting to travel back in time and immerse themselves in the journey of urban forestry in America. Jonnes takes the reader on a nostalgic and well-thought out tour of iconic urban American trees and landscapes, telling stories of nineteenth-century New York City streets once lined with the exotic and vigorous tree-of-heaven, Washington, D.C.’s love affair with flowering Japanese cherry trees, the lamentable nation-wide decline of the great American chestnut, the death and re-birth of the stately American elm from suburban roadways, and the marvelous recovery of the striking dawn redwood from the depths of China’s forests.

Contemporarily, she recounts the environmental, economic, and emotional strains of the relevant and on-going battles with invasive Asian beetles, highlighting the havoc wreaked by the Asian longhorned beetle and the emerald ash borer to date in America. Her retellings of the original detections and realization of the implications of these pests accurately summarize and reflect a collective feeling of dread, shock, and unease that anyone who has dealt with these beetles has surely experienced. 

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President Trump’s FY19 Federal Budget Cuts UCF to Zero

Urban-Forests-book-coverEven as the FY18 federal budget picture for UCF is unclear, President Trump’s FY19 proposed budget zeroes out urban and community forestry. We who treasure this world of endeavor–urban forestry–are charged with communicating its value (economic and intangible) to our legislators, and to do so year-round. We can educate our legislators at every level–town, village, city, county, and state–about the myriad ecosystem benefits of well-cared-for urban forests. Doing so will help keep our local funding strong and mitigate against funding threats at the national level. Our calls, visits, and letters to the editors matter.

For many legislators, the concept of urban forestry is still new. In 2016, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s wife Connie Schultz gave him a copy of Jill Jonnes’s heralded book, Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscapefor his 64th birthday. It was one of Brown’s top three reads in 2016; in a meeting with UFC advocates, he said he loved the book and now “gets it” about the value of urban forests in our nation. If you can afford to, consider sending or taking a copy to one of your legislators! You could include a note about what the urban forest means to you, as well as information about the economic value of city forests.

Here is the statement from American Forests in which the organization responds to the FY 19 proposed federal budget.

And here is the statement from the National Association of State Foresters.


Green-Wood Cemetery Employs Drone to Assist with Oak Wilt Diagnosis

A drone’s aerial perspective on a red oak (Quercus rubra), infected with oak wilt, in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

NYSDEC recently launched its use of drones for things like monitoring coastal erosion on Lake Ontario, exploration of bat caves in Mineville, restoration of beach dunes on Fire Island, and monitoring Southern pine beetle in pine stands on Long Island. There are few known instances of drone use in the urban forests of New York; it’s thought that this is because people are worried about safety and are uncertain about the potentially prohibitive laws at work in populous areas.

However, the Council’s own Joseph Charap has begun using drones in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn with the help of his colleague, Vice President of Operations, Eric Barna. (Charap is Green-Wood’s Director of Horticulture and Curator.) Their first use of Barna’s Phantom 3 drone was to get aerial imagery of a veteran red oak (Quercus rubra) tree at Green-Wood that Charap suspected might be infected with oak wilt. 

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Getting to Know the Multitalented James Kaechele

melbourne taking pics
James taking tree pics in Melbourne. All photos courtesy James Kaechele

New York Tree Trust Development Director James Kaechele joined the Council Board last summer. The Council is lucky to have the contributions of this powerhouse who has achieved so much at 33! Here’s James in his own words. 

From Scouts to Manhattan Forester  
Growing up in suburban Connecticut, I spent my childhood camping and scouting, eventually becoming an Eagle Scout. My family had a trailer in the White Mountains of New Hampshire on a lake; the best time of my childhood was being totally free to explore the forest.

When it was time to go to college in the early 2000s, I thought about going into plant biotech, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to work in a lab all day. I was always most interested in connecting people to the natural world. I majored in environmental and forest biology at SUNY ESF and while I was still a student, I worked at Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford, Connecticut as an educator and then interim education director.

When I graduated I continued working at the arboretum as the education director. I was in charge of both child and adult education, so I was doing things like teaching busloads of first graders about the parts of a flower and putting “bee goggles” on them so they could see what a bee sees. I organized classes on all sorts of interesting topics for adults in the evenings and did some of the teaching myself. It was an exciting and fun job. 

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Urban Tree of Merit: American Hophornbeam

ostrya gallery

Tree of Merit: Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)

Story and photos by Cene Ketcham, Extension Arborist, Casey Trees 

Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) is an attractive small to medium tree with big urban credentials. However, compared to other urban-tough trees like red maple, ginkgo, and honeylocust, hophornbeam has been regrettably underutilized.

Sometimes called “ironwood” like its bottomland cousin, Carpinus caroliniana, hophornbeam’s hard, dense wood makes it highly resistant to damage from wind, snow, and ice. Largely insensitive to site conditions, it takes indignities like air pollution, compacted soils, and droughty conditions in stride. Hophornbeam grows well in full sun to part shade, needs little pruning, and is generally free of insect pests and diseases. An excellent street tree in warmer climates, hophornbeam is intolerant of salt so should be avoided where road salting is common. 

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Impact of State Forestry Agencies & UCF Reaffirmed by NASF Survey

Title of 2016 survey
The 2016 National Association of State Foresters (NASF) Survey, “State Foresters by the Numbers,” shows that even as the funding for Urban and Community Forestry through state agencies has declined, the number of communities served has gone up.

In 2016, overall funding support for state forestry agency programs came from state government (65 percent), state forestry agency revenues (17 percent), federal government (7 percent), and county and municipal government (11 percent). These percentages varied slightly by region.

All 51 survey respondents showed their state forestry agency with the lead role in administering the Urban & Community Forestry program in their respective states. In New York State, the state forestry agency is NYSDEC, with the Urban Forestry program headed up by Mary Kramarchyk.

Spending on Urban & Community Forestry nationwide decreased 1 percent, or $0.4 million in 2016 compared to 2014. This follows sizeable declines in each of the last three survey cycles (2010, 2012, and 2014). However, communities receiving state forestry agency technical assistance for this program increased in 2016 to 8,831, with the majority of these in the Northeast (see table below).
Communities receiving assistance

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Urban Forest Ecology: Lichens! Bioindicators & Hidden Marvels, with Laura Wyeth

Lichens collage Perlmutter and Rivas Plata NC State
from Perlmutter and Rivas Plata, NC State, “Urban Lichens: Environmental Indicators” presentation

Lichens have been studied as bioindicators of air quality for more than 100 years. A terrific presentation called Urban Lichens: Environmental Indicators from NC State researchers dives deep into worldwide studies of lichens as bioindicators of pollutants.

More recently, researchers are finding that when toxic emissions are under control in urban areas, other factors affecting lichen abundance and diversity come into play, like temperature and humidity level. What is the urban heat island-lichen interplay? The theory: lichen abundance and diversity on urban trees can be an indicator of the level of urban heat island effect but also an indicator of the success of urban heat island mitigation efforts, like tree planting. More research is underway.

In this fascinating article, Council member and horticulturist Laura Wyeth explores the truly enthralling biology of lichenssimultaneously vulnerable and cannily adaptive organisms. Michelle Sutton, Ed.   

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NYC Parks’ Liam Kavanagh Brings Big-Picture Discussion to Council Board

Liam Kavanaugh
NYC Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh. Photo by Michelle Sutton, from 2016 SMA Conference 2016

Last month, NYC Parks First Deputy Commissioner  Liam Kavanagh came and spoke with the Council Board at their meeting at the NYSDEC Region 2 office on Long Island. Commissioner Kavanagh discussed three national, big-picture urban forestry projects with the Board: the Ten-Year Urban Forestry Action Plan, a report on the Impact of Urban and Community Forestry Federal Grants, and the Urban Forestry Toolkit. Let’s look at each one.

1) The Ten-Year Urban Forestry Action Plan (2016-2026) was developed by and for the urban forestry community. It was funded by the US Forest Service and developed by the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council (NUCFAC)* with extensive input from stakeholders. You can read an interesting interview with Liam Kavanagh about the Plan here.

The Plan’s purpose is to expand awareness of the benefits that our urban forests, including green infrastructure, provide to communities throughout the nation, and increase investments in these urban forest resources for the benefit of current and future generations.

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Pyrus, We Have a Problem: National Perspective on the Runaway Callery Pear

Callery pear foliage and fruit. Photo by Brett O’Brien

I moved from Rochester to the Hudson Valley in 2010. In the eight years since, I’ve noticed a steady proliferation of escaped Callery pears in the Valley. From one undeveloped bowl of land at a busy corner in my town emerges a cloud of white in the spring and some admittedly striking fall color come late October/early November. The problem is that not much else is growing there now, and many of these volunteer trees have reverted to thorniness, creating giant impenetrable thickets.

Callery pears have a mixed rating on wildlife value; on the one hand, bees and other insects visit the flowers in spring and a few species of songbirds eat the fruit after it softens in the winter. On the other hand, Callery pears do not support caterpillars in any significant numbers, so they do not provide adequate food for baby birds the way that oaks and other native trees do.

From University of Delaware Professor Doug Tallamy, Author of Bringing Nature Home
From University of Delaware Professor Doug Tallamy, Author of Bringing Nature Home

Why are self-sterile cultivars of Callery pear producing fruit? One way it happens is when fertile pear understock sprouts, flowers, and produces viable pollen. Another: by the late 1990s, the introduction of new Callery pear cultivars beyond ‘Bradford’, cultivars like ‘Aristocrat’ and ‘Chanticleer’, led to an unexpected dilemma: in areas where large numbers of Callery pears were planted, the self-sterile cultivars starting pollinating one another. Then came the fruit, then came bird dispersion of the fruit … and “Pyrus, We Have a Problem.” 

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