Urban Forest Master Plan

Urban Forest Master Plan Cover

The Urban Forest Master Plan serves as a roadmap for how the Syracuse community can work together to protect, preserve and grow our urban tree canopy.

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Why Trees?

There are an estimated 1.5 million trees within Syracuse's city limits. This collective urban forest covers 27% of the city and provides approximately $9.1million in benefits every year.

Tree Benefits

> Urban trees reduce pollution on entering waterways.
> Urban trees remove carbon dioxide from the air.
> Urban trees reduce energy usage and costs.
> Urban trees alleviate heat stress.
> Urban trees clean the air and improve health.
> Urban trees build stronger, more vibrant communities.
> Urban trees can contribute to a decrease in crime.
> Urban trees provide buffers for noise and pollution.
> Urban trees boost property values.
> Urban trees create more successful business districts.
> Urban trees make streets safer and more walkable.
> Urban trees provide essential wildlife habitat.



Citizens of Syracuse will enjoy a high quality of life through an abundant, resilient and safe urban forest that is integrated into city-wide planning and our everyday lives. 


To grow and sustain an urban forest that is cherished by its citizens.


We intend to advance Syracuse's urban forest master plan by working towards three goals:

Goal 1: Grow Canopy Equitably

This plan recommends increasing canopy from 27% to 34%. This 7% increase (an estimated 984 acres) would place Syracuse just above the national average of 32% for cities its size. It would require an additional 57,400 trees be planted over 20 years or 2,870 trees per year*. This does not include trees that need to be planted to account for losses. The City can lead the way on this effort as a significant amount of this goal can be achieved on a variety of publicly-owned lands. Since the public input process revealed a consistent desire to expand canopy, an implementation team of committed stakeholders could propose more aggressive canopy goals focusing on lands not controlled by the city.


Goal 2: Improve Urban Forest Safety And Resiliency

Syracuse can achieve a safe urban forest through regular inventory intervals, consistent pruning cycles and systematic removal of structurally compromised and unhealthy trees. A resilient urban forest is realized through strategic planting to ensure species and age diversity and improved site condition to optimize survival, growth and benefits across all neighborhoods and business districts. Fully funded forest operations, improved design standards and construction practices, increased tree protection and better enforcement of rules on the books will protect what we have. At public meetings and through surveys, residents indicated that the city should prioritize increasing canopy where it is needed most.


Goal 3: Connect The Entire Community To The Urban Forest.

This plan strives to connect the whole community to the urban forest through equitable canopy distribution, information and resources that are easy to find and education and training that is readily available. This will improve opportunities for Syracuse residents to value, care for and preserve trees and forests in the city. Robust education and stewardship programs are a keystone to increasing tree canopy on the 80% of lands not controlled by the city.



Achieving the desired forest of the future requires long-term vision and a commitment to work in “tree life-cycles”⁠—not electoral or administrative cycles. Creating a sustainable urban forest and a proactive management program requires coordination, collaboration, and expert input from multiple disciplines, including planning, engineering, urban design, landscape architecture, economics, and sustainability. Likewise, the community’s sense of place and capacity for change needs to be understood and included in decisionmaking to ensure a responsive approach when managing Syracuse’s urban forest. The following 12 strategies are offered as a means to achieve stated goals and to be responsive to the needs of the citizens:

Strategy # 1: Assemble A Plan Implementation Team

This plan suggests many improvements for the management of public trees, but as only 20% of the city’s tree canopy is on public property, real progress will require the efforts and support from the community at large. A team approach to implementation of this plan is critical to long-term success. It is recommended that the City and OEC harness the existing momentum and interest from stakeholders and the public that was generated during the development of this plan. Many organizations represented in the stakeholder group (see full list in Appendix B) expressed genuine interest in continuing on with this effort, and many made substantial offers of support they could give and to ensure this plan is implemented. These people could form the core of a “Plan Implementation Team.” This informal team/group can convene regularly and build working groups based on their strengths and interests. An implementation team can also provide avenues for further public engagement. It can serve as a way for the public to get involved (through organized volunteer events) as well as engaging new partners through invitations to this team based on the players identified as missing from the process or lacking engagement. An implementation team can also provide the larger structure necessary to engage and direct individuals. focused on individual strategies.


Strategy # 2: Obtain Updated Tree Canopy Data

Urban tree canopy assessments (UTCs) should be updated every 10 years to gauge progress and identify areas and reasons for any losses that may be occurring (see Appendix A for more information about various types of UTC methods). The last assessment was completed in 2009. This data will enable identification of not just trends of gains or losses in canopy, but also where the largest canopy changes are actually occurring. An updated UTC will also help identify areas of concern, along with ways to rectify losses and get back on track to reach future canopy goals. As this is extremely valuable information, is it recommended to plan and budget for this update in advance. To that end, we recommend taking these steps in the near-term:

  • Plan for a UTC Update in 2019. Syracuse’s last complete UTC was completed using 2009 aerial data. A 2019 high resolution UTC assessment (using LiDar) will provide information on areas that are gaining or losing canopy and allow the city to plan accordingly to achieve an even distribution of benefits. A comparison of the canopy levels to the distribution of the population might reveal areas that need more attention. This information can also be used to provide a more accurate measure of the several of benefits provided for each of the citizens by the trees in Syracuse. Tampa is one example of many cities which requires the regular update of the UTC in their tree ordinance (Tampa Ord. No. 2006-74, § 9, 3-23-06); Syracuse may want to consider this approach or cite it as a requirement in the next update of the comprehensive plan or sustainability plan, and include it in long-range, citywide budgeting discussions.

  •  Explore Partnerships and Secure Funding in Advance. Generally, after an initial UTC is performed, it becomes easier and less expensive to follow through with updates. However, funding should still be secured in advance as this expense is above the normal scope of an annual forestry budget. UTCs can be implemented on a larger scale, like on the county or regional level, which also has the potential to save costs through partnerships. Funding from Onondaga watershed groups or New York State DEC may help also defray costs while gaining valuable land cover data to gauge progress and trends both among the trees and watersheds, allowing both groups to make more educated decisions about how to protect these important ecological resources. State and private grants are also a source of funding for all or part of a UTC project.


Strategy # 3: Set Goals And Prioritize Areas of Need

Once canopy data is updated, a number of objectives can then be accomplished which will move Syracuse closer to achieving its urban forestry goals.

1. Identify areas of highest need for canopy. The new and older canopy data can be compared to identify specific areas of losses or gains. Canopy can also be overlaid with socio-economic census data and other statistics to identify areas of Syracuse where canopy is needed most. Other factors the community thinks are relevant to tree canopy equity and quality can be combined with the UTC analyses to identify areas of need for canopy improvement (whether adding trees or improving tree maintenance for existing trees). Weighing the factors selected for the UTC analysis helps set priorities.

2. Set a canopy goal. This can be formed by setting realistic goals for each neighborhood and, from those numbers, determining a citywide goal, or using relative canopy as an aid to set goals. The most important aspect of setting a canopy goal is determining how many trees need to be planted to create an acre of canopy and over what time scale that estimate will be based on (e.g. 200 trees for every acre of canopy assuming 100% survival after 20 years). The committee can research how cities are increasing canopy and the rationale for canopy goal and planting targets are chosen.


Strategy # 4: Officially Adopt And Incorporate Community Goals

This plan defines a city mission to maintain and grow existing canopy while increasing canopy quality, equal distribution, and diversity (see the detailed community vision in Appendix D). It is vital to incorporate these goals into city policy to ensure their survival and momentum during inevitable transitions in leadership and staffing in the coming years. By including urban forestry goals in multiple and relevant policies and code, the city establishes tree canopy as a priority from the outset and into the future. Adoption and incorporation of the plan and the urban forest into city policy can be done in the following ways:

1. Adoption by City Leadership. It is recommended to have the city leadership commission (Common Council, other appropriate bodies) officially adopt, or otherwise recognize, the full urban forest master plan, including the canopy goals and vision.

2. Referenced in Comprehensive Plan Updates. At a minimum, the vision and goals related to tree canopy should be incorporated into the next update of Syracuse’s comprehensive plan. In the most recent update, adopted in 2014, entire new sections were added to the comprehensive plan, including a sustainability plan as a component. The Urban Forest Master Plan should be incorporated as well.

3. Incorporation into Appropriate Development Regulations. City tree ordinances, regulations, and policies should include a general reference to the canopy goal and future vision/goals for the urban forest. This helps property owners and developers understand why the regulations are in place and sheds light on how tree canopy is critical to a healthy community. It also serves to reinforce Syracuse’s commitment to trees as valued city infrastructure. Note that an exact canopy goal (if chosen) number should not be referenced in ordinances and regulations, as it may change over the years.

4. Inclusion in Other Relevant Documents. Inclusion and mention in other relevant planning projects used by the community (i.e., Capital Improvement Program, Long-Range Transportation Plan, etc.) should be considered as they develop and are updated. Keep in mind that this should extend beyond plans that focus primarily on greenspace, but also target those plans aimed at improving areas of the community overall, such as mobility plans, business district improvements, public health initiatives, and more.

Generally, the city should consider adopting a “trees in all policies” philosophy. Since trees provide benefits in terms of public health, safety, and welfare, and can present risks if not properly maintained, all policies should also protect trees. Ultimately, a government that acts in the interest of its people would also have to act in the interest of the trees producing tangible benefits to those people.


Strategy # 5: Fully Implement Proactive Management And Risk Reduction Programs

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

    Year Two

    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.






Strategy # 6: Update Tree Ordinance With Improved Design And Protection/Preservation Measures

Trees are city infrastructure, just as much as roads and utilities. Therefore, to be recognized as the valuable infrastructure components they are, public trees need to be treated as such by not only actions and policies, but in municipal codes and regulations. Tree protection goals and standards are frequently found in many city regulations, such as:

1. Tree ordinances: where public trees are protected from harm, and standards of planting and care are prescribed.

2. Zoning codes: where regulations and processes are defined that protect trees and require tree replacement during land development, particularly on private property

3. Sidewalk policies and regulations: where the treatment of trees and acceptable mitigation solutions are defined (see Strategy 8 for more information)

4. Design manuals: where specifications are made available that guide actions that will affect tree health and longevity, Syracuse has a long-standing tree ordinance, but it should be updated to address better tree protection and to bring other sections and administrative items in line with national standards and to reflect city goals. Revisions to the ordinance will be discussed here, along with potential related needs that will come from new code, such as education, staffing, etc.

Syracuse’s current tree ordinance does contain the basic provisions needed to establish the city’s authority, define performance standards, and enforce penalties. However, it should be updated to reflect current industry standards and to be clearer as to what is regulated, what is required of individuals and businesses to be in compliance and the costs and fines associated with non-compliance.

From the stakeholder meetings and discussion with staff during the master plan process, it became clear that having an ordinance with urban forest regulations, a permit process, and penalties was an expected and accepted responsibility of the City and was not a significant negative issue. The ordinance itself does not appear to be a barrier to doing business or owning property in the city; but what was a barrier and/or fostered frustration and negative opinions was the lack of understanding about why the ordinance was in place and how its provisions improved the safety and quality of life in the city.

A revised Street Tree Ordinance has been drafted as part of the master planning process, which has yet to undergo public review and Common Council approval. The draft as currently written has been simplified, clarifies administrative responsibility, and includes expanded Findings, Purpose, and Definitions. Other changes in the current draft include new protections for tree planting and tree removal during land development by requiring permits be obtained, replacement trees be planted on-site or off-site in publicly controlled “Tree Banks,” and/or in lieu fees be paid to the city and placed in special dedicated funding accounts. Additionally, compensation for damage and penalties for violations have been revised and increased.

Therefore, the following recommendations are made:

1. Review and officially adopt the revised tree ordinance which now has new or revised sections or sub-sections to address and clarify ordinance administration, performance standards, tree protection and mitigation during development, and penalties.

2. Complete the development of design standards manual to document improved performance standards and subsequently improve compliance with tree planting and protection regulations and policies. Ensure that updates and revisions to the Zoning Code are aligned with the tree ordinance.

3. Educate the community at-large on the updated ordinance and manual. Educating developers, commercial businesses, utilities, tree service and landscaping companies, and the general public was identified in stakeholder meetings as a key activity needed to ensure greater cooperation and compliance. The community needs simple and frequent messaging about what is regulated and what are acceptable actions, but more importantly why certain actions are regulated and how they can do the right thing within the urban forest. Simple one-page “how to” or “I want to…” guides can be written and posted on the city’s website or printed and given to permit applicants.

4. Educate appropriate city staff (such as members of code enforcement, public works, engineering, water, etc.) about the ordinance requirements so they can be more alert to potential violations


Strategy # 7: Address The Sidewalk And Trees Conflict

Trees and sidewalks present challenges in every city. In Syracuse, sidewalk conflicts with trees account for almost 20% of the street trees removals that take place each year. Addressing the sidewalk/tree conflict issue could alleviate significant tree losses and allow more tree planting, both of which would ensure continued canopy growth and maximize the greater benefits from mature trees citywide.

Based on the outreach efforts for the master plan, it is abundantly clear that the citizens consider tree and sidewalk conflicts one of the greatest challenges to better manage the urban forest, and they want to see change in the city’s current practice of requiring property owners to pay for sidewalk repair by following a narrow list of acceptable solutions. Public input also revealed that citizens assume that trees are the major contributors to the problem of sidewalk disruption and damage in Syracuse.

However, this assumption merits scrutiny and educational outreach since arboricultural research and practice indicate that other factors can be the primary reasons sidewalks fail, and tree removal may not be the only or best solution.

Trees certainly can displace sidewalks, but acknowledging this fact does not lead to the conclusion that trees are the principal reason for sidewalk failure. Science requires that we look at the problem without the bias of starting with a known problem (see “Contributing Factors in Sidewalk Failure” in Appendix E).

In Syracuse, the current regulations and standard operating procedures regarding sidewalks are in direct conflict with the desire to preserve existing trees and the goal to provide more trees and canopy benefits for the citizens. City staff recognize this and are currently considering significantly revising the city’s sidewalk policies and program.

In support of a more modern and proactive sidewalk program that considers trees as an equally valuable infrastructure asset on the right-of-way, the city is encouraged to consider how other cities address this issue and then make changes or take appropriate further action to find customized solutions for Syracuse and its citizens. Case studies from other cities related to trees and sidewalk policies, various approaches to funding, and strategies to reduce tree and sidewalk conflicts are found in Appendix E.

The city’s urban forestry program already takes action to reduce sidewalk conflicts and maintain safe rights-of-way by planting the appropriately sized tree (at maturity) in the space available, performing tree risk assessments before and during sidewalk repair work, and removing trees when needed and then replanting as appropriate. The urban forestry staff should be a key contributor to the city’s ongoing discussion about revising sidewalk policy, standards, contracts, and construction specifications.

While this issue is currently in review, the following recommendations are made to consider when discussing changes to the city’s sidewalk policies:

1. Investigate Alternative Materials and Construction Techniques. Currently, only standard concrete is allowed, though many other pavement options are available today. Alternative construction materials and methods to protect already-developed and developing root systems will allow greater flexibility for planting as well as for preserving mature trees as long as possible.

2. Sidewalk Repair Contract Changes. Changing the two-year contract term to a one-year term, and/or incorporating greater flexibility in the sidewalk construction specifications, would allow the city to use new construction and tree protection technologies and options as needed.


Strategy # 8: Create A Purposed-Based Planting Plan That Reflects City Goals

Continual tree planting is essential for the growth and sustainability of Syracuse’s urban forest. Tree planting is also essential for the city to reach a number of its goals. For the urban forestry program to be more efficient and effective, responsive to the citizens, and address important issues in the city by expanding the tree canopy cover, a planting plan should be developed.

Any new tree is an asset to the city. But, when faced with restricted funding and resources for new tree planting, a plan based on overall citywide goals and crafted with clearly defined objectives will assure that efforts and funds invested in new trees will provide the most returns.

As the citizens clearly expressed, one of their top priorities for Syracuse is to increase the urban tree canopy where it is needed most, with the goal of a more equitable distribution of tree cover within the city.

During the public engagement process, citizens demonstrated that they know trees improve human health, decrease pollution, decrease urban heat, and beautify the neighborhoods they live in. For these reasons, equitable distribution of the benefits associated with trees is a priority for the public.

The urban forestry program is well-prepared to respond to the citizens’ need by creating a purpose-based citywide planting plan. The city has access to a vast amount of GIS mapping and other geospatial data to create a practical plan. Using tree inventory data, land cover data, underground and aerial utility locations, and right-of-way information, the city could identify all potential planting areas on public lands. Using similar information for commercial and institutional private lands, including ownership contact information, planting opportunities can be identified on private lands as well.

A master tree planting plan will make tree canopy expansion “shovelready” when city funds, grants, mitigation funds, fund-raising projects, and partnership agreements are available. And, all tree planting locations identified can be prioritized, based on stated goals of the city and its residents. Those goals include planting trees to support and encourage education at schools, enhance Syracuse’s parks, complement economic growth, improve the quality of the tree canopy, and ensure equal access to trees and their associated greenspaces for all citizens.

The Plan Implementation Team (Strategy #1) should lead the initiative to create a prioritized planting plan and to decide the values that will determine which areas are in most need of new tree planting. For instance, the Implementation Team will need to consider the data and get information on:
● Which neighborhoods have the lowest tree canopy percent?
● Where are the city’s greatest stormwater problems?
● What areas have the highest surface temperatures in the summer?
● What locations or land uses are experiencing the greatest canopy losses?
● What should our urban tree canopy percentage goal be citywide and/or for various land use types?

It is recommended that a purposed-based master tree planting plan also contain these operational and administrative elements:

Climate Adaptation: Prepare for future climate changes by expanding the selection of species to plant in the city; consider experimenting with tree species that may be better adapted to future climates (suitable for the plant hardiness zones 5 and 6) and are not currently present in the municipal forest. Select species that are resistant to storm damage.

Species Diversity: Create a species recommendation list for municipal use that represents a variety of proven high-performing yet uncommon species (species representing less than 5% of the population). Continue to increase species diversity in Syracuse’s street and park tree resources so that no single species is greater than 10% of the population. Design street and park tree plantings that complement diversity needs on a neighborhood basis.

Partnership Development: Define roles for existing partners, such as OEC, and search for new partnerships, such as public healthfocused organizations, Students of Sustainability at Syracuse University, etc. to fund, develop, and implement the plan.

Citizen Involvement: Foster partnerships with neighborhood groups to be a liaison between residents and the city to educate residents about the importance of trees in their neighborhood and encourage tree planting on both private and public lands. Consider OEC establishing itself as a point of contact/guide for neighborhoods looking to start their own planting projects. Focus tree planting and maintenance education and outreach efforts and messaging to the citizens.

Funding: Based on current contractual and volunteer-based planting costs, determine the funding level(s) needed to achieve the priority planting projects identified in the plan over the next ten years. Funding sources will need to be identified to replace, and even exceed, the support provided by the Save the Rain program.

Urban Forestry Program Policies: Refine program policies to reflect goals. For instance, set a policy that states municipal trees will be replanted after removal on at least a 1:1, 2:1, or greater ratio; gather data on the success rate of tree plantings three years after installation and develop strategies for minimizing loss; and maximize tree benefits by planting large-growing species wherever space allows within street rights-of-way, parks, and other public properties.

A purpose-based planting plan, whether on citywide or neighborhood scales, will be a useful tool to advance the urban forest management program and maximize the co-benefits that trees provide the city. The value of the many ecosystem services derived from Syracuse’s urban tree canopy provides compelling cost-benefit data in support of additional tree planting throughout the city and in target neighborhoods. Trees are a proven solution for achieving many of Syracuse’s sustainability, public health, economic development, pollution abatement, and equity goals.

Benchmarks should be set by forestry staff, the Plan Implementation Team, and citizen input, and can include metrics such as: the removal planting ratio; how many schools were engaged in planting; the number of trees given away; the number of trees planted in each neighborhood.




Strategy # 9: Increase Public Awareness Of Value And Importance Of Trees In Syracuse

The lack of information flow between citizens and city, or between different agencies of the city, was cited as an area for improvement multiple times through the input received to develop this plan. All parties asked for better education, engagement, and communication. Public outreach showed multiple times that many of the roadblocks to tree planting and preservation in neighborhoods disappear once people have their concerns listened to and are informed about why tree canopy is important.

The following recommendations will begin to provide and improve avenues for better ongoing communication:

1. Establish a Central Information Hub. As mentioned in Strategy 8 in more detail, creating one primary source for “all things trees” in Syracuse—on private or public lands—is key to better communication.

2. Improve Urban Forestry Pages on City Website. There are two main areas for improvement related to city’s web site: the process of finding the right pages, and then getting the information needed.

Finding the Page. Once on the city web site, it is extremely difficult to find the page that provides information on trees and work by the urban forestry division. There is no reference to trees or tree canopy on the home page (Figure 1), which admittedly is not always possible.

However, there is not a link to the Forestry Division in the “I want to…” drop down menu, nor is it clear where to look next. Additionally, when using the “search” function at the top right, it sends the user to a page that looks like an error page (Figure 2).

The relevant pages are actually located in the Park Department section of the site (Figure 3), but a citizen with questions about their street tree is not necessarily going to seek out this page. If a user did happen to know that urban forestry pages are located within the Parks Department section of the site, and thus used the departments links on the left-hand navigation of the site, the Parks page also does not reference trees. There is, however, a small Forestry Q&A link at the bottom left side, though it appeared as an ad and was difficult to find.

Once at the current Urban Forestry page within the city website (Figure 4: http://www.syracuse.ny.us/parks/forestry.html), there is content on the renewal of ReLeaf Syracuse and the master planning process, but no reference or place to get questions answered.

Getting the Information Needed. Once access to the relevant pages on the city web site is improved, the following recommendations are suggested for enhancing content on the urban forestry page itself:

● Address the citizens’ most common questions first. Regardless of what department does the work, the hub page should address the top five to ten questions that consumers (citizens) have. Examples of common questions from users when they are looking for tree information within the city are:

  • I’m concerned about the condition of my street tree. Who do I contact? 
  • I saw a tree in a park that looks dangerous. What should I do?
  • I’m looking for a reputable contractor for tree maintenance on my private property. 
  • I would like to have a street tree.
  • Why are trees being removed on my street? Links to city and county development pages.

Two examples of city urban forestry web pages that address users’ questions will include (see figure 5 on following page):

● NYC Parks, https://www.nycgovparks.org/services/forestry
● City of Cambridge, Massachusetts, https://www.cambridgema.gov/Services/urbanforestry.

● Consider sharing success stories. In many cases, the public only sees or notices negative actions (removals, tree hazards, etc.), but in actuality there are many positive efforts and projects going on throughout the city all the time. Highlight the processes and work currently being done by all parties, if possible, and show examples of the OEC/City partnership. Also consider featuring success stories as neighborhoods start to engage in this city-wide effort. These are important stories to share.

● List out city initiatives and priorities with explanations of each. Linking to a PDF of this master plan is an obvious content choice, but also consider featuring the Vision, Goals, and list of Strategies directly on the site. This is important to share so a user can absorb the basic ideas without having to read through a large PDF document.

● Keep a disaster response/update page updated at all times. A link to a disaster preparedness and response page specifically focused on trees is a good page to always have in place. This can include how to prepare for storms with minimal tree damage (proactive care, etc.) as well as information on what to do after a storm and who to contact if they have questions. An example from New York City can been seen at https://www.nycgovparks.org/services/forestry/ storm-response

3. Consider hosting an annual public meeting. Another way to improve two-way communication with the public is to consider hosting an annual educational and entertaining forum on the “State of Syracuse's Urban Forest” each year. This gathering can be for all those active or interested in the urban forest to gather and summarize efforts in place currently, progress updates and accomplishments, and inform the public of new programs and initiatives, while providing a venue for neighborhoods and other organizations to share success stories and learnings. This can also be an established opportunity to get regular feedback and input on concerns from the citizens as well as providing an opportunity for one-on-one conversations which can make great strides in tree canopy progress.

4. Engage the public in the implementation of this plan. Whether through publishing progress reports or holding special events, engaging the public whenever possible will keep ongoing communications open as well. This is discussed in Strategy 1: Build an Implementation Team.

5. Set Internal Urban Forestry Goals. As stated earlier, no fewer than eight separate departments within the city and several county agencies impact trees and the urban forest in the city. Improvements for and solutions to better communication internally within the city depend on strong leadership and internal goal-setting. City leadership should set overarching, “top-level” urban forestry goals and priorities, so that all departments can then perform their specific work in concert and for the best interests of the citizens. Revisit progress toward city goals quarterly. Currently, urban forestry staff are housed in multiple departments. Quarterly meetings with staff of different departments would allow better communication of operation updates and give an opportunity for the city to assess if they are reaching their city goals relating to urban forestry The public input during the Urban Forest Master Plan process showed that the citizens do expect their city to maintain, protect, and plant trees regardless of where a department is positioned on an organizational chart.

6. Incorporate ReLeaf Syracuse efforts into city neighborhood planning guided by the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development office (or NBD). At the macro-scale, the Parks Department would benefit by becoming more aware of neighborhood-scale planning initiatives. Parks should continue sharing information with the public through NBD’s designated neighborhood planning structure known as Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today (TNT). TNT is comprised of eight neighborhood districts and each holds a monthly public meeting where information can be shared. Parks should not rely solely on TNT forums to share information, but this is the place to start.



Strategy # 10: Improve Lines Of Communication

Strategies #8 and #9 defined messaging and avenues of communication. This third outreach strategy focuses on making a plan to reach all players (both existing and potential). A clearly-defined marketing strategy to identify each audience is crucial, especially one that seeks out areas or topics where company and/or organization missions may coincide. Not all messaging touches are created equal. Will they be meaningful? Or, are they perceived as just a spammy “sales pitch”? Effective online messaging can include images, videos, or blog posts, etc. Messaging could also include in-person conversations, one-on-one calls, mailings, billboards, and more. The following examines the eight groups of “players” examined in the assessment (see the Sustainability & Condition of Today’s Urban Forest section), potential ways to reach each group, messages that may resonate for each, and potential synergies in missions. While the Plan Implementation Team will ultimately need to decide specific outreach priorities and avenues to pursue, the following examples can provide a starting point for developing a robust outreach plan.

● Neighborhoods & General Public. These groups are large and can have a range of focus or priorities depending on the current environment, though more often than not they are largely focused on concerns related to improving quality of life improvement. Small geographic areas, like neighborhoods, can use local knowledge from community hubs (churches, clubs, other social groups) to identify the community’s primary needs and to open up lines of communication to hear their concerns as well. Individual or small group in-person outreach is most effective at this level, while larger city-wide outreach is more suited to broad marketing/message campaigns. At both levels, consider using the updated tree canopy data (see Strategy #3) to share learnings and help each community set their own goals based on their priorities.

● Large Private and Institutional Landholders. Large land-holders have the potential to make sweeping changes in tree canopy faster than in the public realm. These can be large companies (health care campuses, industrial areas, corporations), universities, and schools. Engaging companies dedicated to health care to improve tree canopy on their own properties may be relatively easy once approached, as the benefits of tree canopy related to health has been well documented. Industrial areas encompass large areas of land, and are likely difficult to improve related to canopy, but it may be possible to find business owners that are personally passionate about this issue and willing to take steps to add canopy, especially if converting turf to forest decreases their landscape maintenance costs. Schools are another large landholder that have low canopy cover, but have the potential for much more (tree plantings at schools also serve as an education source as well). For many of these sites, often a peer-to-peer approach of high-level leadership can result in greater support and movement to improve canopy. Again, use the new canopy data during these conversations to share the latest on what they have, what is possible, and why this is important.

  •  Green Industry Groups and Businesses. Professionals with technical expertise related to all aspects of tree care, tree planting, and green infrastructure are an important part of engagement (arborists, landscapers, landscape architects, universities, extension staff, and more). Retail operations in plant and tree sales also provide a potential avenue of information dissemination. These groups may be best engaged by asking for their expertise during public education efforts. They in turn can benefit from positive, low-cost exposure to the community for business generation.

  • City Department/Agencies. Internal communication and buy-in among city and county agencies are critical for successfully implementing the master plan’s recommendations. Ongoing education and check-ins with municipal colleagues are key. See Strategies 4 and 6 for more information.
  • Funders. Funders include public entities like the city, county, and state, but also private charitable organizations and private corporate sponsors. Approach these funders after the plan is officially adopted individually to find any overlapping missions that may lead to funding the implementation of this plan.

  • Utilities. Engaging utilities often happens at the city level and they can be great partners in urban forestry. The local utility companies were engaged in the development of this plan, and should be willing partners for various aspects of plan implementation. Messages related to getting the right tree in the right place, decreasing energy use, and improving safety often resonate with utility entities. 

  • Developers. Often, developers only engage in urban forestry issues as they relate to meeting building and zoning codes. However, there may be developers in the city that are more interested in promoting preservation and green infrastructure in their work. Partnerships can start through meeting with the local homebuilder/developer association for a candid discussion and exploration of how they want to get involved. One-on-one conversations may produce results as well, especially if high-level peer-to-peer strategies are used.

  • Regional Entities. Regional groups like watersheds and planning organizations have a wide range of missions and must be examined individually. Regional planning agencies often have an air or water quality goal that may coincide with urban forestry efforts in Syracuse. Watershed groups may have problem areas they would like to improve where a partnership may make sense. Allowing these groups to use the ReLeaf Syracuse messaging or branding within their networks may be an effective way to spread the word


Strategy # 11: Create And Implement An Outreach Plan To Reach Multiple Audiences

During the development of this plan, it became clear that the public was not fully aware of the value and importance of trees in cities. This is an area that, if improved, has the potential to make significant progress in tree canopy growth and preservation, as 80% of the tree canopy is located on private land. Raising awareness requires planning to establish a unified voice, better define partnership roles, create one central information hub, and establish branding and messaging that can be used across the City of Syracuse. These are the tools that will be used in ongoing communication (see Strategy 9) and outreach to all groups (see Strategy 10).

1. A Unified Voice. Syracuse has a number of entities currently working to improve the urban forest; however, most are acting independently and with varying goals and messages. There is a long-standing concept in marketing and communications termed the “Marketing Rule of Seven.” It states that a person needs to “hear” an advertiser’s message at least seven times before they’ll take action or truly internalize a concept. And in today’s world of information overload and social media, many say that number has increased. This means that each message needs to be heard seven times. Without a clearly-defined, unified set of messages available to all to use, it is unlikely that the public will hear any one set of messages the required seven or more times.

There are already multiple groups and people active and interested in growing and preserving tree canopy currently, but with varied focus. This can serve to dilute the message. For example, the OEC crew is talking to people in communities about getting a street tree, the county is promoting trees as a way to “Save the Rain” and better manage stormwater, the City Parks Department is providing information to residents and businesses daily about services provided and rules around trees. It is essential to have all these parties active and promoting urban forestry advancement topics; however, the movement of urban forestry must be unified in nature, so that all voices can be “singing the same tune” but within their own organization/neighborhood’s mission and environment. A unified voice and message are critical to get all the players working toward a single larger goal, but at their own pace and in support of their own mission.

This voice can be shaped by the Implementation Team (see Strategy #1), with a unified set of messages and branding detailed further in the next pages.

2. Create a Central Information Hub. It was clear during outreach that people have questions, frustrations, and suggestions about trees. Additionally, most citied not knowing where to go for answers, nor were they differentiating between trees on public and private lands or understanding who is an authority in each case. Depending on the topic, conversations may need to happen with the City’s Urban Forestry Division, Planning, Zoning, Engineering (sidewalks), or Onondaga County, the sewer district, extension office, or other source. No matter which department or organization handles the work, the community needs one place to go with their tree issues/questions.

It is important to remember this basic maxim of community outreach tactics:

Effective campaigns do not put the onus on the public to figure out who to talk to about tree topics.

A central hub that can help a user figure out where to go for answers or help is critical to unifying a community campaign. This hub can be directly connected to the brand (described later in this section). This central site would also be a great place to promote efforts underway already, and potentially a place to record progress on the master plan’s implementation. There are a lot of great efforts going already in Syracuse, but the public would be hard pressed to find mention of them online.

3. Review Partnership Roles. Public/private partnerships provide a reasonable and sustainable way to achieve urban forestry goals in today’s current fiscal environment. To date, the Onondaga Earth Corps has become a substantial partner to the City in supporting and advocating for the urban forest through their efforts in public outreach, tree planting, and in young tree establishment (watering, mulching, pruning). As the years progress, the OEC and the City may want to consider further partnership opportunities, especially in the area of outreach and communications. OEC could be well-suited to serve as the central hub described above. Significant outreach efforts are often beyond the capacity of city staff. Having a non-profit partner spearhead outreach and education campaigns has shown to be effective and can be done with a certain degree of flexibility. Additionally, non-profit partners can also aid in raising funds (often easier for tree plantings vs. tree maintenance), and administering tree planting and establishment programs that are appealing to the public and can be done with minor equipment needs. Tree steward training, which includes tree care for the first years during establishment, is already underway at OEC. In the last two years, OEC has planted 70% of the trees installed by the city/county and pruned almost 4,000 young trees.

4. Branding. A brand starts with “a visual and emotional connection to a product, service, or movement” and is a key piece to creating the unified voice concept. During the public outreach work undertaken to develop this plan, OEC and the City of Syracuse were fortunate to have funding available from The Gifford Foundation to work with a branding/marketing firm to start this process of building a brand. The result: a campaign named “ReLeaf Syracuse.” The brand, though updated, is a name that has been used in the past and thus is already somewhat familiar to some residents. This is an important first step. This brand, ReLeaf Syracuse, can also serve as an effective hub web site to help answer questions and direct people to the right place— whether City, County, OEC, Extension or other source. Currently there is a ReLeaf Syracuse Facebook page, and mention of ReLeaf on the OEC, County, and City websites, but still no central place for all topics related to trees in Syracuse. Consider a site, such as “www.ReLeafSyracuse.com”, that could be managed by OEC as an information hub site only.

5. Messaging. The next step is to develop the branded messaging that will be delivered to the public. It is important to create a limited number of messages that will resonate with the public.

Limit Quantity. Referring back to the concept of the Marketing Rule of Seven that each message needs to be heard seven times, logic follows that the number of messages need to be limited to avoid information overload. To start, it is recommended to limit the number of key messages from three to five times.

Resonating with the Public. Another marketing adage dictates that a successful campaign “sells the problem you solve, not the product you offer.” In this case, the product being pitched is trees. But, as detailed in the “Why Trees?” section, trees are really a solution to many issues facing the city and individual citizens. The most effective messages are ones that resonate with challenges or priorities of the public; they need to sell the solution—not the trees themselves. For example, urban forestry efforts often tout that “trees are critical city infrastructure, required for a vibrant, healthy community.” But this statement does describe the problems of the public that are being solved through trees. Nor does this tell a story or create an emotional connection. Consider instead the problems and subsequent message examples below:

Problem: Children with high asthma rates in cities.

Potential Message to Sell the Solution: Children have less issues with asthma in neighborhoods with trees. Trees clean the air!

Problem: Brick and mortar business districts in Syracuse are struggling.

Potential Message to Sell the Solution: People shop longer and spend 11% more in business districts with shade from trees. Boost your business – plant and preserve your trees!

Other topics that emerged during plan development included how to plant and care for trees. Consider, however, that the central information hub can help provide this type of education as the citizens requesting this information have already decided they are interested in taking the next steps




Strategy # 12: Encourage Tree Planting And Preservation On Private Property

On average, a city’s urban canopy is only 20% publicly owned, so the amount and quality of the city’s UTC is extremely dependent on the existence and longevity of trees on private properties. When the public was asked, they said the number one way to increase tree cover on private property is through a public education campaign to encourage property owners to plant and maintain trees. The OEC and the Plan Implementation Team should identify key groups and develop customized ways to reach them, such as the general public (adults and children), neighborhood groups, developers, staff/city departments, universities, health care companies, large landholders, city leadership, etc. Recommendations for educating the citizens and diverse stakeholders include:

  • General Public: Create messages about the importance of trees and the difference they will directly have where they live (better air quality, summer cooling, reduced energy bills). Deliver these messages in a variety of media, on a regular basis, and in venues where large numbers of people are (festivals, concerts, sporting events, etc.). Additionally, a shorter, graphic-rich public version of this plan would be well-received by the general public and will also be appropriate to give to elected officials and department heads and their staff.
  • Developers: Attend their industry events and meetings and give them information on the value of trees for business districts, property values, etc.; initially reach out to a few key developers and ask them to get involved. 
  • K- 12 Schools: Use existing messaging, curricula, and activities geared for younger students to educate them about the benefits of trees and how to plant and care for them.
  • Universities: Get students to help spread the word and volunteer for neighborhood planting projects. Ask professors in the public health, economics, biology, and sociology fields to be campus leaders. Develop a canopy goal on university properties and provide tree preservation information to facility managers.
  • Large companies: Heads of companies often respond better with peer-to-peer approaches. Determine which leaders are tree advocates, provide them with tree benefit information, and ask them to reach out to their peers with the ‘ask.’
  • Neighborhood Groups: Establish OEC as a guide for neighborhood groups looking to start their own planting programs. 
  • Urban Agriculture Proponents: The desire to have more fruit trees in the city was expressed several times in the public meetings. Fruit tree planting is problematic on the right-of-way and even in parks for many reasons (fruit litter, liability during harvesting, application of pesticides, etc.) but is perfectly suited for privately-owned properties. Urban agriculturalists and even food bank volunteers can spearhead initiatives to encourage fruit tree planting.
  • For All Private Landowners: Frame tree plantings and tree preservation projects in terms of tree benefits specific to the type of landowner to influence large and small landholders. For example, hospitals might be encouraged to start their own planting programs on the basis that trees reduce the rates of childhood asthma. Landlords may be enticed to plant their trees because trees improve tenant retention and business profitability