PRB Articles


Planting For The Future

The phone rings for the fourth time, and it’s only 8:30 a.m. A lady has heard from a neighbor that free trees are available for planting. Who should she talk to?

The volunteer who takes the call explains that all the information and forms she needs are available online, but the homeowner does not own a computer.

It’s the beginning of a typical day at the Forestry and Beautification (FAB) office, a division of the city’s parks and recreation department in Arlington, Texas.

Created in January 2008, FAB focuses on four primary areas:

• Maintenance of high-profile landscaped areas

• Care and growth of the urban forest

• Reforestation

• Environmental conservation and education.

Maintenance Of Landscaped Areas

FAB serves at the frontline for making the area more attractive to residents and visitors. The city’s national and international exposure is increasing by leaps and bounds due to development of the entertainment district, and two high-profile sporting venues -- the Dallas Cowboys Stadium and Texas Rangers Ballpark.

FAB is responsible for more than 30,000 square feet of flower beds at 26 prominent locations throughout 145 miles of medians and right-of-ways. These aesthetically landscaped areas serve as visible reminders of the city’s commitment to quality of life for its 370,000-plus residents and more than 6.5 million annual visitors.

Over the past few years, the city’s focus has been on downtown redevelopment and continued growth of the entertainment district. Recent projects include:

• Center Street trail -- A significant tree canopy was added to this corridor to improve aesthetics and enhance the usability of the street and trail. New landscaping at the entrance to the corridor, along bridges and on strategically located areas on the trail encourage walking on Center Street.

• Johnson Creek restoration -- This portion of the creek is located between the Rangers ballpark and the new Cowboys stadium. Upon completion of restoration efforts and judicious plantings, this natural waterway corridor is expected to have smoother water flow to control flooding, reduce erosion and silting of the banks, and improve usability for recreation purposes. Phase 2 of this project began in late 2010.

• Interstate-30 corridor -- This monumental project covers 2 miles of roadside along I-30. Amenities being added include 45,000 plants, irrigation, decorative historical panels, bridge amenities and lighting. New and existing landscape areas will be supported by a complex irrigation system that will provide water to flowers, shrubs and trees.

Care And Growth Of The Urban Forest

City leaders, increasingly concerned over heat-island effects and air quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, made a commitment to maintain and enhance Arlington’s urban forest. FAB maintains more than 10,000 trees in public spaces and medians in the city, and oversees the reforestation program aimed at ensuring a sustainable and healthy tree canopy for residents.

Under FAB’s direction, tree contractors assist with trimming or removing sick, damaged or hazardous trees throughout the city. Simultaneously, FAB maintains a tree farm to grow suitable species for those trees that must be removed due to age, disease or safety concerns. To assist with successful and healthy tree replacements, FAB has implemented a program for residents and businesses to replace trees at no cost.

The city also participates in Tree City USA, a program designed to promote natural beauty throughout urban areas. Arlington has been a member city since 1999, and has won six Growth Awards. These awards are given by the National Arbor Day Foundation not only to recognize achievement, but also to communicate new ideas and help leaders of all Tree City USA cities in educating their community on proper tree care.

As the first step in managing its urban forest, FAB personnel undertook a baseline tree inventory in 2009. Data were collected from 233 field plots randomly selected within city boundaries. The trees in each plot were characterized by species, size, approximate age, condition and location.

Data were analyzed using the Urban Forest Effects (UFORE) model, a U.S. Forest Service-developed software employing standardized field data, combined with local hourly air pollution and meteorological data to quantify urban forest structure and its environmental effects. UFORE’s cost-benefit analysis calculates the costs of servicing street and park trees.

These services include planting, pruning, removal, sidewalk repair, storm- and liability-management and pest-management expenses, versus the benefits derived from trees through energy conservation, atmospheric contaminant removal, stormwater-runoff control, carbon storage and increased property values.

The UFORE software specifically puts a dollar value on trees in an urban/suburban setting. Among the city’s key findings:

Number of trees: 2,965,000

Tree cover: 22.4 percent

Pollution removal: 515 metric tons/year ($2.94 million/yr)

Carbon storage: 374,000 metric tons ($8.54 million)

Building energy savings: $2.8 million/year

Structural values: $2.75 billion.

Armed with the UFORE analysis and other tools, such as aerial mapping and GPS canopy data, FAB is able to:

• Develop a management plan and budget for its charges

• Track changes in species diversity, tree condition and distribution

• Target specific areas for remediation

• Proactively recommend measures to improve the health of the urban forest.

This vital information will allow policymakers to make educated decisions regarding land use, resource allocation and long-term city goals.

Reforestation

Let’s Enhance Arlington’s Forest (LEAF) is the flagship program of FAB, designed to bring quality trees to neighborhoods, businesses and public spaces at no cost to the recipient. The idea for the program stemmed from the principles of:

• Reinvigorating neighborhoods while educating citizens on the benefits of trees

• Increasing the attractiveness and livability of the city

• Building community through civic and environmental responsibility

• Improving air and water quality.

Since its inception in fall 2007, more than 2,000 trees have been provided to Arlington taxpayers through LEAF. Each planting season, the program grows in popularity with increasing numbers of households, commercial establishments and non-profits seeking the free trees. Everyone is quickly learning that trees help with energy bills, water runoff and heat islands, and that shading and beautifying property with trees saves money and adds to the property’s value at the same time.

Another important aspect of Arlington’s reforestation effort is the tree farm. Here many varieties of native and well-adapted trees are cared for until they are needed to replace public trees lost elsewhere. The container-raised trees at the farm are watered by drip irrigation, and volunteers keep them free of weeds and are well-supported to withstand high winds.

Environmental Conservation And Education

One of the newest endeavors of FAB is preserving natural habitats through education of citizens and decision-makers. When fully developed, this program will involve the recruitment and training of volunteers to help spread the word in the community about the benefits of trees and proper land use. Additionally, FAB will seek out partners and design programs to ensure that the natural areas remain natural.

In 2009, FAB staff began working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to create an environmental education component for schools, events and forestry camps, focusing on conservation of trees, water, prairies and wildlife. Seed money for program development is available through USFWS or grant sources. As in most FAB activities, volunteers play a critical role in planning and implementing this program.

Future Goals

FAB has a list of goals to be added as the division grows:

• Convert to drip irrigation in all applicable areas

• Use drought-tolerant plants in city parks and medians

• Turn off seasonal water meters

• Establish median standards, and develop a median-certification program

• Create an organic program for fertilization and pest control

• Develop environmentally sustainable maintenance practices

• Evaluate the existing tree ordinance.

Matt Churches is the city forester. For more information, visit www.arlingtontx.gov/park/forestry/index.html.

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