Proactive urban forest management programs that include a focused risk management objective increase resiliency and longevity, and greatly reduce risk and storm hazards through proper planting, preventive maintenance, and systematic risk reduction.
Syracuse has diligently acquired knowledge of its urban forest, and is working toward a proactive care program. However, funds and staffing are currently inadequate to fully pursue a proactive management program. It is strongly recommended that Syracuse officially adopt a proactive care and risk management program, and that the city works toward fully funding an incremental and realistic program of proactive care.
This recommendation is one of the most important steps to providing effective care and lowering costs of care in the long term. This will, however, require additional resources in the short and mid-terms to realize long-term cost benefits.
The following recommendations are part of the strategies needed to implement a proactive urban forest and risk management program.
1. Create a Management Plan for Public Trees. Unlike master plans, management plans are created to guide the regular operations of an urban forestry program. They are typically written for a five-year time frame and contain information and analyses that are important for projecting maintenance priorities and costs and developing short-term plans of action to be implemented daily, monthly, or yearly by the urban forest management program. Management plans also prescribe metrics and benchmarks for production and achieving goals.
A management plan uses accurate and comprehensive tree inventory data to map out a plan of action for trees on public land. An official management plan better defines and more specifically details what resources are needed for the urban forest management program to function using available resources in the given timeframe and current best management practices.
A proactive management plan will address the 61% trees in the public urban forest that are currently ranked as being in “fair” condition. If neglected, even in the short term, the majority of these fair trees could easily become “poor” or “worse” in condition, causing risk and unnecessary financial burden. With proper proactive care, fair trees can improve to good condition and continue to provide ecosystem services benefits for many years to come.
In Syracuse, the current management approach to tree care is mostly reactive given the large scope of trees and limited budget. This style of reactive care is not ideal for risk management, efficient budgeting, and overall tree health. For instance, the trees in most need of maintenance for public safety reasons may not be attended to first in a reactive approach, as shown in the data analysis case study of Largo, Florida (see “The Case for Proactive Care” inset below). Tree populations on a 6- to 10-year maintenance cycle are less prone to severe storm damage, and, in the long term, maintenance program costs are reduced once the cycle is established.
An important component of preserving and expanding tree canopy in Syracuse is to ensure that all public trees are properly and proactively cared for. Proactive tree management programs have been shown to reduce long-term care costs, increase public safety, provide more predictable workloads and budgets, reduce utility outages from storms, and improve the health and appearance of the urban environment. DRG recommends that the city commit the resources needed to firmly establish an ongoing, cyclical management program for the city’s set management sectors to methodically inspect, prune, care for, and plant new trees. A sample basic cyclical tree care program is shown below:
- Year One Sector 1: Inventory Update
Sector 1: Tree Care (Pruning, Removals, Health Care), Planting, and Public Engagement ¶ Sector 2: Inventory Update ● Year Three ¶ Sector 1: Year 1 of Young Tree Care ¶ Sector 2: Tree Care, Planting, and Public Engagement ¶ Sector 3: Inventory Update ● Year Four ¶ Sector 1: Year 2 of Young Tree Care ¶ Sector 2: Year 1 of Young Tree Care ¶ Sector 3: Tree Care, Planting, and Public Engagement ¶ Sector 4: Inventory Update ● Year Five ¶ Sector 1: Year 3 of Young Tree Care ¶ Sector 2: Year 2 of Young Tree Care ¶ Sector 3: Year 1 of Young Tree Care ¶ Sector 4: Tree Care, Planting, and Public Engagement ¶ Sector 5: Inventory Update ● Subsequent Years ¶ Restart cycle from beginning
2. Develop a Risk Management Policy and Plan. A defensible risk management program establishes and defines the level of care that is appropriate given a community’s available resources for a specified time horizon. When properly developed, documented, and executed, a more robust tree risk management program will elevate the effectiveness and responsiveness of the city’s overall community forestry program. Trees provide many benefits whose values exceed the costs to plant and maintain them, but as living organisms located in areas of high human use, utilities, and valuable built structures, trees can present risks that, if unmanaged, can have catastrophic results. Syracuse’s top priority should be to minimize risk in the urban forest. Currently, Syracuse has identified and prioritized the highest risk trees in its population using ISA and U.S. Forest Service tree risk assessment protocols and plans to address them as resources allow. However, the city does not have a written risk management policy or plan. Likewise, other departments and the general public do not fully acknowledge or understand how their actions can cause risk—thereby increasing the liability of the city. A defensible risk management program has a plan and/or policy that establishes and defines the level of care that is appropriate given a community’s available resources for a specified time horizon. A risk management plan or policy will help the city set goals, determine metrics, and answer questions that are essential to public safety, such as:
● Are all trees in highly trafficked areas visited annually?
● What is the city’s threshold for acceptable risk?
● Is there a tree emergency management process in place?
● Is it part of a larger disaster or storm response plan? When properly developed, documented, and executed, a more formal and robust tree risk management program will elevate the effectiveness and responsiveness of the City’s forestry program.
3. Resources Needed for Proactive Care. Adequate funding for a proactive urban forest management program represent an upfront cost but will save the city money in the long-term when compared to continuing with a reactive approach. The funding needed to implement proactive care and risk management is detailed below, along with a strategy for gradual changes to meet those resource needs. An assessment of current staff resources has also been performed, and recommendations are made to successfully implement a proactive management program—particularly for plan review, development inspections, code enforcement, pruning and removal operations, and public education.
a. Funding. Based on the current inventory data, and regional average costs for tree maintenance and planting, the estimated annual urban forestry budget needed to provide cyclical maintenance on a five-year rotation and perform routine maintenance, stump grinding, young tree maintenance, and replacement planting is $2,758,000. The annual budget required for a 10-year proactive cycle and all other urban forest management tasks is approximately $1,380,000. Considering the city currently allocates approximately $897,000 annually for urban forest management, a significant budget shortfall is apparent and is a barrier to implementing a proactive, cyclical maintenance program for any time frame under 10 years. While a proactive program can raise current budgetary needs in the short term, over the long term this level of care will reduce municipal tree care management costs, increase tree benefits, and likely minimize the costs related to other city infrastructure such as stormwater management, energy use, sidewalk repair, etc.
b. Staffing. Syracuse staff perform their duties and tasks well, but need additional support to perform important functions that benefit the urban forest and other city departments as well.
i. Specifically, two full-time positions are recommended; one dedicated to perform timely and thorough inspections of construction and land development projects, and the other dedicated to responding to service requests, damage claims, illegal removals, and performing other non-emergency tasks. One to two full-time positions to create a second fully-equipped field crew would also increase response time for service requests and allow the city to accelerate its proactive maintenance cycle. If the city personnel compliment cannot be increased immediately or at any time in the future, then contractual professionals can be retained to perform these functions in the interim.
ii. If the goals and recommendations of the Urban Forest Master Plan are to be reached, the program needs more crews to perform tree maintenance, and needs technical and administrative support staff so that the skilled workers can perform more specialized work. Additional forestry staff with clearly defined job responsibilities will provide better and faster response to citizen and interdepartmental requests. Increased responsiveness will reduce public tree risks, increase customer service, elevate the professionalism of the program, and improve operational efficiency.
iii. Staff should also receive training so that they can acquire and maintain professional credentials that are the recommended minimum standards in the industry and are commonly required and/or supported by other municipalities. These include the ISA Certified Tree Worker, Certified Arborist, Municipal Specialist, and the ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualification. Training can be provided by a variety of sources such as other city and county employees, National Grid, equipment manufacturer representatives, and local and regional professional organizations. Depending on the topic, training can be offered annually, seasonally, at weekly “tailgate” sessions, or as needed. Training does more than just educate workers. Training supports professional development and job advancement, and positively influences attitudes and morale. By providing a variety of quality training programs on a consistent basis, urban forestry staff can stay motivated about learning new concepts and performing their work responsibilities in the best, safest, and most effective possible ways.