In the last ten years, since 2005, urban and community forestry has grown from an infant profession that often needed to justify its place at the table to a young adult that is often, but still not always, invited to the community planning table—though many thought leaders noted that UCF should have a seat at the head of the table. Urban population centers are growing, with 83% of Americans now living in cities. Urban forests in the United States are estimated at 138 million acres, and are expected to continue to grow. To put this in perspective, urban forests are approaching the size of our national forests, which encompass 177 million acres. But in some ways, urban forests could be said to exert a far more profound influence on American health and welfare because their circle of influence is both extensive (through impacting four-fifths of our nation’s population) and intensive (through repeated exposure on a daily basis). Thought leaders expressed a range of ideas about the areas of the most significant progress in the UCF field in the past decade, primarily around the following ideas.
Technology, Tools and Resources
Many thought leaders suggested the NUCFAC grant program has been helpful for strategically supporting innovation and addressing real needs in urban forestry. However, there were mixed feelings about NUCFAC’s cost-share grant program. Some felt that the grant program has greatly improved in the last four to five years by placing an emphasis on strategic priorities. However, others noted that the grant process is cumbersome and doesn’t sufficiently help build the capacity of fledgling initiatives or urban forestry maintenance programs. Others noted and applauded the recent effort by NUCFAC to support grants for communities that haven’t been previously reached. However at least one thought leader felt that NUCFAC has lost the ability to fund new and innovative ideas and is now only funding green infrastructure. Outside of NUCFAC, another change in the last ten years is that private foundations have increased their funding for urban forestry. Virtually all interviewees noted that funding is not keeping pace with the either the physical growth of our urban forests or the rising importance of urban forests as a core tool for improving urban health. One example given by several interviewees is that, without funding for maintenance, urban forests may limp along and fail to provide needed community benefits in air quality, water management, or human health. Thought leaders noted the need to look to new funding sources for UCF, to look to public/ private partnerships for new opportunities, as well as making connections around the benefits and needs of UCF with non-traditional sources of UF funding.