Why are nonprofit groups critical to tree survival in cities?

Urban and Community Forestry/Green Infrastructure

Why are nonprofit groups critical to tree survival in cities?

By Dana Karcher | March 30, 2017

In my prior life (before ADF, which in my world stands for “before I started my work at the Arbor Day Foundation”), I was the Executive Director for a small tree nonprofit group. I lived in a town that was hot, dry, and dusty. With all my heart, I believed that trees were the answer to that community’s woes. After over 15 years working in trees, I KNOW that trees provide a myriad of benefits that can make a difference to communities. The program that I manage at the Arbor Day Foundation is the Alliance for Community Trees (ACT); a network of tree nonprofits across the United States. I would venture to say, and go so far as to guarantee, that as a collective group of tree planters and advocates, the Alliance for Community Trees members also believe that trees are essential in communities.

I also believe that organizations that are ACT members are critical to supporting urban forestry programs in cities across the country. But why? Urban trees live a perilous life. Threats of bugs, diseases, and human destruction make their long-term survivability questionable. We know the benefits that trees provide – clean air, clean water, cooling shade among them – so we strive to help them survive day to day life in cities and towns. Tree advocates, such as groups that belong to the Alliance for Community Trees network, are the voice and the foot soldiers in the fight for trees. They are the volunteers who plant, advocate, and sometimes care for the trees along our city streets and parks.

Recent research was conducted by Dr. Richard Hauer of the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point and Ward Peterson from the Davey Tree Expert Company on Municipal Tree Care and Management in the United States. This extensive study was a census of tree care activities in the US throughout cities and towns that have formal urban forestry programs. One question the census asked was about work that is performed by volunteers within the urban forest. The top four tasks that volunteers performed in the urban forest were planting trees, watering trees, outreach activities, and pruning. All four of these activities point towards supporting urban forest survivability.

Why are nonprofit groups critical to tree survival in cities? First, these groups are very “nimble”. They can rally support quickly, and don’t have to wait for the municipal machine to move. They can ask “how high” when it is time to jump at an opportunity or to support a city in a crisis. Additionally, many nonprofit organizations have certified arborists on staff, or on their boards, or among their volunteer supporters. Therefore, they bring a credibility to the work that they do within a community. And in most instances, they are under the direction of city staff and work to support the needs of the community. Lastly, engaged citizen volunteers have a natural love for the tree resource in communities. They want to assure its health and well-being, not destroy it. They are the advocates that are needed to assure that the voice of the tree is heard.

Interested in getting involved with your local tree planting organization? Check out the members of Alliance for Community Trees here. They would love to have you support them in their work to create better, healthier communities through trees.

Alliance for Community TreesUrban Forestry



Dana Karcher

Program Manager and Certified Arborist, Program Services

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