NYS DEC Cost-Share Grants: The Trees New York Example

CPs at work
Advanced Citizen Pruners, trained and supervised by Trees New York, working their magic in East Harlem, NYC. Photos Courtesy Trees New York

The NYC-based environmental and urban forestry nonprofit organization, Trees New York, has trained Citizen Pruners since 1976. In light of so many years of success—including mentoring new Citizen Pruner groups upstate—they created the Advanced Citizen Pruner Program in 2012. You can see a video about the Trees New York Citizen Pruner program here.

Trees New York applied for and received a NYDEC U&CF Round 11 Cost-Share Grant for its Advanced Citizen Pruner training and work sessions. In-kind support came from NYC Parks in the form of NYC Parks foresters on hand for the training and Park staff and trucks to haul brush away. The training took place in summer of 2012 and the work outings began in November 2012. The focus was on structural pruning of young trees that were out of their two-year warranty, and the majority of the work took place in East Harlem, since it had dense plantings of such young trees.

We spoke with Trees New York’s Executive Director Nelson Villarrubia about their Advanced Citizen Pruner Program project implementation and things to consider when applying for a NYDEC U&CF Cost-Share Grant. Following the Q&A is the narrative of the Trees New York successful Round 11 Cost-Share Grant application. This successful narrative is instructive for municipalities who want to apply for the next round of grants (Round 13), the details of which should be announced later this fall.

Regarding Round 13, NYS DEC Urban Forestry Program Manager Mary Kramarchyk says, “The cost-share grant match for maintenance and tree planting will be only 25% this year. Also, applicants may receive partial reimbursements to make completing the project easier than funding the entire project up front. We hope this will make creating green spaces easier for non-profits and municipalities.”

Trees New York Arborist Sam Bishop trains Citizen Pruners
Trees New York Arborist and Director of Education Sam Bishop trains Citizen Pruners.

What was a surprise or challenge in implementation?
Nelson Villarrubia: There was a lot of interest in the program on the part of our Citizen Pruners. If not for logistical constraints such as handling brush in an urban setting, we could have held longer work sessions. We learned to keep the outings concentrated in one geographical area where there were entire blocks of young trees to prune. We kept the workshops between two and three hours and generally pruned 20 to 50 street trees per outing.

What were highlights?
NV: The collaboration between Trees New York and NYC Parks was extremely successful. Residents were very responsive and often times would come out of their buildings to thank the volunteers—they were grateful that limbs that were covering signs or windows or obscuring the sidewalk or fire escapes were being pruned. We used that opportunity to educate them about tree care, and in that way, our educational reach was extended. When people see trees being maintained, they are more likely to advocate for trees.

We would also have volunteers attend the sessions and after we pruned, volunteers would pick up litter, weed, cultivate the soil, and mulch the tree beds. We also involved many youth groups in tree bed stewardship. The tree pruning and tree bed care visually transformed entire blocks lined with young street trees.

What advice would you give other nonprofits or munis that are thinking about applying for a cost-share grant? 
NV: We always pilot a new program before we write a large grant for it, so that we can get a better idea of logistics and how well the program works. If you can secure $2500 or $5000, you can use that to test-run your program idea and work out all of the kinks before you take it to the next step and write a cost-share grant.

Another thing to be aware of is that the cost-share grants are reimbursement grants, so you have to be realistic about what you can fund yourself up front. You may want to apply for a large sum, but you have to make sure you have the financial resources to put down. We’ve learned to keep the goals and objectives clear so we know we can achieve the goals within our financial means.

Do you know what work you plan to apply for in future? 
NV: The last grant focused on funding Advanced Citizen Pruners. In the next round we will apply for a grant that will have an equal emphasis on pruning and tree bed stewardship and will focus geographically in Western Queens.

Tree Bed Stewards overseen by Trees New York.
Students volunteering as Tree Bed Stewards with Trees New York.

Trees New York Project Narrative for NYSDEC U&CF Cost-Share Grant:

Trees New York (TreesNY) will support the long-term health of New York City street trees that are past the two year warranty period by conducting targeted tree maintenance that includes structural pruning and tree bed care. TreesNY’s Advanced Citizen Pruner Project will train and certify 50 volunteers in structural pruning and maintain a minimum of 550 street trees. In partnership with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks), this project aims to maintain and increase the survivability of the newly planted street trees.

The goals of TreesNY’s Advanced Citizen Pruner Project are in line with Part II – Stewardship and Education and Part III Outreach and Education of the Greening East Harlem and the Greening Hunts Point: A Community Forestry Management Plan published in 2006. Trees New York’s programming is highlighted in Part II section C. Prune trees on a cycle that maximizes canopy health and minimizes hazards.

Three (3) Structural Pruning Training Workshops, twelve (12) structural pruning and tree maintenance outings, 50 trained Advanced Citizen Pruners and 550 maintained street trees.

The primary focus of the Advanced Citizen Pruner Project will center on structural pruning, which strengthens a tree’s resistance to damage and breakage and prevents the formation of large wounds that often lead to tree failure or decay. Structural pruning also helps ensure that a tree maintains its appropriate habit (growth pattern), which is especially important in NYC, where a properly established tree does a great deal to improve the public opinion of trees. In light of the damage caused by fallen tree limbs following Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and the unusual snowstorm in October 2011, the importance of structural pruning is now more evident than ever.

Participants of the Advanced Citizen Pruner Project will remove dead, damaged and diseased limbs, crossing branches, limbs obstructing traffic signs, storefront signage, windows and overhead wires, and developing and maintaining a dominant leader. The secondary focus of the project is to provide general tree maintenance, which includes:

Tree bed cleanup and soil cultivation – Compacted soil and litter is not only unsightly, it blocks the movement of oxygen and water to tree roots. Volunteers will remove litter from tree beds and cultivate the surface soil.

Watering Trees – The most important factor in the survival of NYC’s street trees is water.  All trees, especially newly planted trees, need thorough and deep watering during the spring and summer. Volunteers will water trees using Treegators and drip buckets.

Mulching – Mulch conserves water, moderates soil temperature, improves soil structure and mitigates damage from dogs, people, de-icing salts and cleaning agents. Volunteers will mulch trees with organic mulch.

TreesNY will work in concert with Parks to develop the structural pruning curriculum. TreesNY will hold three indoor structural pruning workshops and 12 structural pruning and tree maintenance field outings over the course of 18 months. The two-hour indoor workshops will provide participants with the reasons why structural pruning is necessary, appropriate pruning techniques, general tree care maintenance, ANSI best management practices and tool safety. After the volunteers complete the indoor workshop they will participate in field outings where they will structurally prune and maintain trees under the direction of TreesNY’s ISA Certified Arborist and Parks Department Foresters. The purpose of holding three indoor structural pruning workshops is to recruit and train new volunteers throughout the project period. Prior to the field outings, TreesNY’s Arborist will site and survey the trees and determine the necessary tree maintenance. The 12 field outings will be three hours long and TreesNY anticipates 12-15 volunteers for each outing.

In addition to the tree maintenance completed by the volunteers, TreesNY will work with an outside contractor to preserve and protect mature street trees by rescuing them from life threatening conditions. Using a contractor, TreesNY will expand restrictive tree beds; remove abandoned bike locks, Christmas lights, and antiquated tree cages that are girdling trees.

Target Neighborhoods
TreesNY will focus the structural pruning and tree maintenance activities in two Trees for Public Health neighborhoods, East Harlem in Northern Manhattan and Hunts Point in the Bronx. Additionally, TreesNY will hold pruning outings in Western Queens, a neighborhood that was adversely affected by a neighborhood wide blackout in July 2006.

In 2005, East Harlem and Hunts Point were identified by the Parks Departments due to the correlation between the low tree canopy cover and high asthma rates. Currently, there are numerous block plantings with trees no longer under warranty in East Harlem and Hunts Point. The Advanced Citizen Pruner project will provide the necessary care to ensure that these newly planted trees survive and thrive and provide the long term environmental benefits to these environmental justice communities. Due to NYC Million Trees initiative these two neighborhoods extraordinary number of new trees. Nine (9) of the 12 field outings will take place in East Harlem and the remaining three (3) will take place in Hunts Point. New York City is a Tree City USA Community.

Target Audience and Outreach
The structural pruning project builds on TreesNY’s current Citizen Pruner Program. The Citizen Pruner Program is a 12-hour training course that trains volunteers in tree biology and maintenance and how to prune dead and damaged limbs. After successful completion of the course, participants receive a license from TreesNY and Parks to prune dead and damaged NYC street tree limbs.

TreesNY will reach out to approximately 50 volunteers that have already completed the Citizen Pruner program to participate in the Structural Pruning Project and certify them as Advanced Citizen Pruners. Participants will have to attend the structural pruning workshop, complete eight hours of supervised structural pruning, and pass a practicum exam. After the volunteers complete the minimum qualifications, they will be certified as an Advanced Citizen Pruner. The certification ensures that participants are proficient in tree care and pruning and creates a long-term sustainable project that empowers Advanced Citizen Pruners to continue to maintain New York City’s street trees.

TreesNY will also make a concerted effort to train and certify volunteers that either live or work in the target neighborhoods. Currently TreesNY has 45 trained Citizen Pruners in the target neighborhoods.


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