Celebrating the Game-Changing Farm Bill of 1990

As we gear up for our NY ReLeaf Conference this week, it’s fitting to learn the essential history of the 1990 Farm Bill, to which all who care about urban and community forestry are indebted. This entry was written by Andy Hillman with help from Mary Kramarchyk and Nancy Wolf.

Farm Bill 25 yearsThis year we celebrate a milestone in urban and community forestry. It is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1990 Farm Bill. It is no exaggeration to say that in 1990 urban and community forestry entered a new era in the United States. The national commitment to urban forestry on the part of the federal government was a component of the 1990 Farm Bill that fundamentally changed the nation’s approach to managing urban and community forestry.

This seminal legislation started New York State down the path that has led to the existence of NY ReLeaf and the New York State Urban Forestry Council. In 1991, increased funding for urban forestry led to new rules from the USDA Forest Service for its urban forestry work. All 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, islands of the Pacific, and the District of Columbia were required to create an urban forestry program under the leadership of state foresters, to hire a volunteer coordinator who would coordinate the state’s program with local professionals and volunteers, and to establish an urban forestry council as an advisory group for the program.

The volunteer coordinator and the state council were expected to set up the statewide program in coordination with the state USFS agency. This cooperative plan would establish the capacity to promote volunteer activities related to planting, maintaining, or protecting urban forest resources and for broad-based educational projects. New York State created the program to its fullest extent and has become recognized as one of the leaders in urban forestry in the nation.

A national urban forestry research plan was also called for in the 1990 Farm Bill. The research into urban forests, human health, and environmental quality that is carried out by the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station in Syracuse is a direct result of this mandate in the 1990 Farm Bill. Today, we benefit from Dr. David Nowak’s research involving environmental or ecosystem services from the urban forest thanks to this watershed legislation.

Furthermore, owing to this legislation, this annual ReLeaf Conference has generated activities performed by over 7,000 volunteers living in 767 communities in New York being served by urban forestry enthusiasts.The 2015 New York ReLeaf Conference, with the theme of Environmental Science and Urban Forestry, serves as evidence of success of what began in the 1990 Farm Bill twenty five years ago.


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