Cost-Share Grant Stories: Village of Scottsville Forestry Board

Scottsville Main Street
Trees on Main Street in Scottsville NY that were planted in the mid-80s thanks to a citizen-driven planting initiative. Photo by Elizabeth Murray

Elizabeth Murray is a former Village of Scottsville Trustee and a past chairperson of the Village’s Forestry Board, and now serves as the Forestry Board’s clerk. She provided this background narrative about Scottsville’s two successful cost-share grant awards and their implementation. Following that is a quick Q&A with Elizabeth.

Background
In late 2009, the Village of Scottsville assembled an ad hoc “Forestry Committee” comprised of several residents, an Eagle Scout candidate, two Village Board trustees, the mayor, a local member of the U.S. Forest Service, and the Village’s Superintendent of Public Works. This committee was formed in response to concern over the village’s aging tree population and tree work recently conducted by a utility company on right-of-way trees.

The Forestry Committee was asked to assess the Village’s forestry status (spanning a 3.1 mile corporate boundary, 10 miles of interior streets, two parks, and approximately 600 trees). The committee identified numerous concerns with current practices, including the absence of a comprehensive inventory as well as a written forestry plan. Over the course of several months, the committee reviewed the Village’s (then) most recent tree inventory (conducted in the 1990s); analyzed present maintenance practices; and considered how the aforementioned complemented the Village’s Parks Master Plan, Historic Preservation Ordinance, and recent studies including “Preparing Village Main Streets for Planning Study” and “Village of Scottsville Main Street Improvement Study.”

Red maple in Scottsville. Photo by Jeremy Rittenhouse
Red maple in Scottsville. Photo by Jeremy Rittenhouse

The committee determined that the Village must establish an accurate forestry baseline by
conducting a complete tree inventory. To help fund this, the Forestry Committee applied for and was awarded cost-share grant assistance from the DEC during the Urban Forestry Round 10 cycle. In 2011, a comprehensive inventory of all village-owned trees (streets and parks) and planting sites was conducted by urban forester Andrew Pleninger of Urban Forestry LLC. The results were presented to the Forestry Committee in Fall 2011.

To maximize the benefits of the inventory, increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the DPW, and foster ongoing usage of the data, the Forestry Committee researched several urban forestry inventory and management software systems. The final selection of the “Urforian Manager” program was based on ease of usage and breadth of functions.

In the meantime, the committee drafted an ordinance for the “Creation and Establishment of the Village of Scottsville Tree Board” and officially transitioned from a “Committee” to a “Board” in 2012. Additionally, the Forestry Board obtained financial commitment from the Village Board of Trustees for a five-year funding plan to address the recommendations outlined in the tree inventory; became a member of the NYS Urban Forestry Council; and conducted a public information session on May 5, 2012 that presented the inventory’s methodology and results.

In accordance with the Village’s long-term commitment to enhancing and preserving a healthy urban forest, the Forestry Board is currently working with Urban Forestry LLC on the completion of a tree management plan that will be presented to the Village Board for approval and adoption within the next few months. This project has also come to fruition thanks to DEC grant funding through the Urban Forestry Round 11 cycle.

Lessons Learned
Get buy-in! To have a successful urban forestry program in your community, there
must be support from municipal officials, the Department of Public Works (or Highway
Department), and the community. When decisions are made that affect budget or daily
operations, it is important for department leaders to be part of the decision-making
process.
Use the resources available to you! The DEC staff are very eager to help communities establish and expand urban forestry plans. They will meet with your forestry committee, alert you to upcoming programs and grant opportunities, and offer guidance when you are seeking funding for forestry projects. Additionally, urban forestry professionals will also offer their assistance and are often willing to meet to help navigate your community’s “next steps.”
Go for the grants! Budgets are tight and tree maintenance can quickly end up on the
back burner when there are competing projects and limited resources. Maximize your
community’s potential by seeking grant assistance that can provide 50% or more of your
project’s costs.

Former Scottsville mayor and current forestry board member Michael Souers distributes tree seedlings at an environmental expo in the Village. As mayor, Souers asked citizens to form a forestry committee. Photo by Elizabeth Murray
Former Scottsville mayor and current forestry board member Michael Souers distributes tree seedlings at an environmental expo in the Village. As mayor, in 2009 Souers asked citizens to form a forestry committee. Photo by Elizabeth Murray

Involve your community! In community-building, success is often dependent
on residential support and involvement. The Village of Scottsville Forestry Board keeps residents apprised of projects through the Village’s biannual newsletter; a “literature tree” in the Scottsville Free Library; partnership with T.J. Connor Elementary in the School’s Environmental Club; and Earth Day/Arbor Day activities. We’ve also co-hosted special presentations and environmental expos with participation from the Monroe County Emerald Ash Borer Task Force, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Monroe County Stormwater Coalition, Monroe County Dept. of Environmental Services, local energy providers, and environmental engineering firms.

Next Steps
Our Forestry Board continues to address the recommendations generated in the 2011 tree
inventory and will soon adopt a tree maintenance plan that will ensure long-term commitment to Scottsville’s urban forest. With near-completion of the tree maintenance plan, we are also poised to apply for Tree City USA distinction, which has been a goal for several years. We look forward to expanding our outreach through community education and assisting other communities who are just starting their urban forestry programs. To accomplish these initiatives, we will continue to work with the DEC and apply for funding assistance in 2015.

Q&A with Elizabeth Murray
In the implementation of the grant-funding projects, were there surprises or challenges along the way and how did the Forestry Board overcome them?
Elizabeth Murray: When we did the initial RFP for the tree inventory as part of the Village’s procurement policy, we underestimated the mileage of our city streets; we had estimated 6.5 miles but it was closer to 10. Andy Pleninger was supportive, gave us plenty of advance notification of where we were with the budget, and helped us figure out a way to still accomplish our goals while maintaining our budget. One area of the Village is a newer housing tract (for us, “newer” is 40 years old, as opposed to the rest of the Village which was built in the early 1800s). In the newer housing development, it’s much more evident where planting sites are, so we asked Andy to take that portion out of the inventory, as that is something we can do in-house at a later time. We wanted him to concentrate on the inventory of existing trees and assessing their condition.

This speaks to the need for the board or nonprofit to be flexible, which is also definitely true for timelines. When you’re talking about something like a tree inventory, there are seasonal and weather considerations. We’d planned to do our inventory in the fall, but the winter came early—all of the sudden the leaves were gone, so we had to wait until the following summer.

What was one of the most gratifying things about getting this work done in Scottsville?
EM: Although sometimes progress was slower than we’d hoped, we feel the progress we’re making is truly sustainable and will have a long-term impact on our Village’s urban forest. The other thing that’s gratifying is the partnerships that have come about with our elementary school, our library, organizations like Monroe County CCE, and local businesses. Everyone’s come together to do Earth day and Arbor Day events, for instance. In a small community, any time you can form a relationship with another organization or stakeholders, you are strengthening your chances of success while also populating your events.

Anyone you want to be sure to acknowledge?
EM: Our regional DEC forester Mark Gooding was very helpful; he came out to meet with us and provided excellent materials and online resources. Also, other communities who were further ahead of us, like Medina and Brighton, have been very collegial in sharing their best practices and lessons they learned along the way.

 

Cleaning up storm damage in the Village of Scottsville in April 2008. Photo by Len Miller
Cleaning up storm damage in the Village of Scottsville in April 2008. Photo by Len Miller

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