Barb Neal on the Urban Forest Strike Team Training

Barb Neal (right) with UFST training team-mate, NYSDEC Forester Garrett Koplun
Barb Neal (right) with UFST training teammate, NYSDEC Forester Garrett Koplun

Urban Forest Strike Teams (UFSTs) are a means for city foresters, state foresters, commercial arborists, and others to quickly come to the aid of a region whose urban forest has been impacted by a natural disaster. UFSTs conduct assessments that help communities plan needed recovery work and document to FEMA the amount of damage and cost of clean-up. You can read all about the UFSTs on this past blog post.

Organized by our state DEC UF coordinator Mary Kramarchyk, a UFST training for professionals from the Northeast area of the US Forest Service took place in Syracuse on Sept 30-Oct 1.  

Tioga County Cornell Cooperative Extension Horticulture Educator Barb Neal took the training along with many other Council members. She has an extensive background as a consulting arborist.  

Barb Neal:

It sounded interesting to me and worthwhile, especially after seeing the damage from Superstorm Sandy and how much need there was for the UFST then. My executive director, Andy Fagan was on board and supportive of the UFST training to enable me and others to help out our local NY communities in the future.

It’s always good to meet other arborists and foresters in New York, and the training was a very good a blend of class presentations and going out in the field to practice both risk assessment  and using the equipment: GPS Trimble and data logger. In the field, things that seemed simple were actually a little more nuanced than you would think. For instance, we kept having to think about the documentation requirements for FEMA and how we would record appropriately to fulfill those requirements.

Sometimes we would talk for ten or fifteen minutes about one tree in light of FEMA requirements. In the real world, you don’t have time to do that, but it was really valuable to slow down and work through that during the training. We all had to separate in our minds what FEMA requires from you vs. what you as an urban forest manager might do.

Barb Neal
Barb Neal

It was very well run and also very interesting hearing some of the war stories, like from the forester from Springfield, MA, whose city got hit with three storms in one year including an ice storm and a tornado that ripped a 40-mile swath of destruction from Springfield to Sturbridge. He was a big believer in the UFST after they came and worked for his jurisdiction.

My big takeaway was that municipalities have to be prepared with storm management plans in place prior to a storm event. The more you prepare, the faster the response will be and the more likely you will get reimbursed by FEMA. Also the better your existing documentation is, the more likely FEMA will pay something toward the removals of trees that were standing hazards at the time of the storm. Or if you have good documentation about how you currently manage your street trees, FEMA will reimburse for structural pruning as long as that’s documented as a normal part of your work. I will be advising the urban foresters in my area to get organized with all these things in mind.

I would wholeheartedly recommend the training to other arborists and urban foresters. It’s one of those things where hopefully we don’t ever get deployed or only very rarely, but the more people we have that we can call in, the more responsive we can be after a federal emergency. The training was fun, too.

The Story of the Urban Forest Strike Teams

USFS-Strike-TeamThe Urban Forest Strike Teams (UFSTs) are a means for city foresters, state foresters, commercial arborists, and others to quickly come to the aid of a region whose urban forest has been impacted by a natural disaster. Here’s the backstory. 

Team Specialists discuss tree loss (and near miss!) with homeowner after Hurricane Gustav. Because it impacted a public street, the tree was marked for FEMA removal and reimbursement.
Team Specialists discuss tree loss (and near miss!) with homeowner after Hurricane Gustav. Because it impacted a public street, the tree was marked for FEMA removal and reimbursement.

by Paul Revell, Urban & Community Forestry Coordinator, Virginia Department of Forestry ♦ Photos Courtesy Urban Forest Strike Teams

In 2003, Hurricane Isabel cut a devastating path across Virginia, leaving lots of damaged trees in its wake. Several of the Tidewater cities were hit hard. Further inland, the state capitol of Richmond lost more than 10,000 public trees. Between 2002 and 2005, North Carolina and South Carolina suffered several hurricanes that also caused tremendous tree damage and loss.

Urban foresters were frustrated that there was no way to adequately respond to these disasters in order to qualify for FEMA reimbursement. Even communities with established urban forestry programs lacked the staff or a methodology to document tree damage in a timely manner, given all the other clean-up activities that were taking place. Similarly, state forestry agencies lacked a method for assisting communities from an urban forestry perspective. Then, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused widespread tree damage in the Gulf States. One of the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina was that contractors destroyed thousands of healthy trees in the aftermath of the storm.

The Urban Forestry Coordinators of Virginia and North Carolina, Paul Revell and Leslie Moorman, decided that some sort of urban response capability needed to be developed by state agencies in advance of the next disaster. They consulted the U. S. Forest Service for assistance. Dudley Hartel, a technology transfer specialist with the Southern Research Station, was eager to help. He had assisted several communities after Hurricane Katrina and was ready to use his experience to develop a storm response methodology.

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