Connecticut's urban and community forests provide a host of benefits, but in many communities, perhaps even your own, this essential resource has been neglected and is unhealthy. You may decide that you want to do something about it. Don't be afraid to tackle such a project. You need not be a politician, a community planner or a forester, but you do need to be motivated and committed. Ordinary people in cities and small towns across the country are changing the very face of their communities by working in "biological partnership" with their forests and are improving the health of our planet through local action.
WHERE DO I BEGIN?
All community forestry programs begin with ideas, but the fact that most people love trees doesn't mean that, ipso facto, everybody will support your particular program. In every community, different groups have different agendas. If you want to establish a community forestry program, your goals and objectives must benefit the whole community, and you must be able to demonstrate this clearly. Consider the following questions:
- In what specific ways will your program affect the community?
- What, specifically, do you hope to accomplish by launching a new program?
- Who stands to reap the greatest benefit?
- In your estimation, will most citizens support it?
When you have answered these questions thoughtfully, you are ready to develop your goals and objectives.
WHAT ARE GOALS AND OBJECTIVES?
Goals and objectives are the foundation of your program. A goal is the end you and your group hope to achieve; it is, in other words, your destination, purpose or vision. For example, a tree-lined main thoroughfare, the writing and passage of a community forest ordinance, the hiring of a community forester, the creation of a greenway or park, and so forth. Objectives are the activities you'll perform or the efforts you'll need to make in order to reach your goal. Goals can be a simple or as grand as your imagination permits, but they must be realistic and clearly established from the start.
HOW DO I DECIDE ON GOALS AND OBJECTIVES?
To decide on goals and objectives, you need to consider what tree and people resources your community already has. To formulate precise goals, accurately describe the difference between the present situation and the situation that you envision for the future. To illustrate, imagine that 90% of the trees in your community are Norway maple, an undesirable, but not unlikely, situation in many Connecticut communities. Your goal is to plant trees for greater species diversity. Specifically, no species should constitute more than 10% of the total tree population. This is an easily evaluated goal.
- Clearly describe the specific end you hope to achieve.
- Clearly indicate when you hope to achieve it.
TO WHAT EXTENT MUST MY GOALS AND OBJECTIVES BE ENVIRONMENTALLY SENSITIVE?
No program can be successful if it is not sensitive to the community's ecosystem as a whole. Roger Hoesterey, a resource manager in Washington state, notes that the ideal "ecosystem strategy" should be an effort to:
- Protect the well-being of residents.
- Increase the value of municipal property.
- Protect the forest ecosystem.
- Conserve unique natural features.
- Provide places for recreation and environmental education.
- Buffer varying land uses.
- Minimize soil erosion and runoff.
WHAT INGREDIENTS WILL MAKE MY COMMUNITY FORESTRY PROGRAM WORK?
According to the National Urban Forestry Assessment Working Group, the following features are important to the success of any program:
- A person, persons or agency is responsible for the care of trees and this is established by ordinance.
- Money is regularly budgeted for tree care.
- Tree care workers are professionally trained.
- A master plan involves all the major segments of the community.
- As the community grows and develops, the master plan is updated accordingly.
- Environmental education is designed to reach everybody, from community leaders to schoolchildren.
- Residents and leaders plan and implement tree care programs together.
- The media covers the community forest, the community forestry program and program events that involve residents.
Additionally, it is essential that people from all walks of life be fully integrated into urban and community forestry programs. To succeed, forestry programs must tap into the diverse cultural roots of the community.
HOW IMPORTANT ARE INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE TO MY PROGRAM?
Without the support of the important people in your town, your program is unlikely to get off the ground. Involving key people will give your program the official sanction it needs, and you should not proceed without it. Who are the political and social leaders in your town? Invite your selectman to sit down with you and your group and ask him or her to help you list the names of people whose support is vital to your program. Bear in mind that different people will be important according to the goals of your program. If your objective is to prevent roadside spraying, then you'll want to involve local chapters of, say, the Sierra Club. If your program is an effort to promote downtown business through tree planting, then it might not be critical to invite environmental leaders.
HOW CAN I WORK MOST EFFECTIVELY WITH LOCAL OFFICIALS?
The executive director of Trees Atlanta, Marcia D. Bansley, makes every effort to approach governing officials in ways appropriate to their positions. Because you need their support and influence, you need to cultivate relationships with them accordingly. Bansley points out that:
- Elected officials are in office only as long as voters vote them in so they take the short view. Appeal to them by demonstrating that the action you wish them to take is likely to garner votes. Use the media to their advantage.
- Bureaucrats are primarily concerned with job security. As a result, they fear change and are sometimes unwilling to take risks. Use their connections to existing programs and do most of the work, making them look good.
- Appointed officials serve on public boards. Meet with these officials before you approach a board. Ask for guidance on how to win the support of other board members.
Keep in mind that:
- Persistence pays off.
- You may need to get tough. For example, one group that worked for three years without success to hire an urban forester canceled the Arbor Day festivities that local elected officials exploited for public relations purposes. Bansley reported that the urban forestry position was approved in weeks.
SHOULD I WORK THROUGH A COMMITTEE?
When important people have contributed their ideas to your program or have indicated their willingness to support it, you're ready to inform the whole community about it. How should you proceed? Don't invite the whole town to general meeting. The best way to get your forestry program off the ground is to create a committee. A committee is the most efficient way to use people's skills and talents. A committee can inform the whole community of a new forestry program, orchestrate resident involvement and implement it efficiently.
HOW DO I CREATE AN EFFECTIVE COMMITTEE?
American Forests, Inc., refers not to a "committee" but to an Action Team committed to a plan of action on behalf of the community forest. The committee you select to plan and implement your community's forestry program is indeed an "action team", and it should consist of individuals who can bring a variety of skills, talents and resources to the job. The most important qualification is enthusiasm, but enthusiasm in and of itself does not make a successful program. Select people for your community's action team who will bring to their committee work:
- An ability to work with people
- Technical skills
- Diverse cultural viewpoints. Select people who reflect the full cultural dimensions of your community.
HOW DO I APPROACH PROSPECTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBERS?
Speak to them personally. Appeal to them by telling them how, specifically, their participation will help the committee to reach a particular goal. In detail:
- Explain why you believe their membership is vital. Mention their particular assets.
- Communicate clearly the overall objective of your program and the particular tasks you want them to tackle, and how long you would like them to serve.
- Invite them to participate in planning.
When everyone you have invited to serve has accepted your invitation, you are now a core group - an Action Team - and you are ready to forge ahead with your community forestry program. If appropriate, host a Tree Summit -- a first meeting of the action team -- and begin your work.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
about Connecticut's Urban Forestry Program contact:
Robert M. Ricard, Ph.D., CF
Senior Extension Educator
* Urban and Community Forestry
* Human Dimensions of Natural Resources
West Hartford Extension Center
1800 Asylum Avenue
West Hartford, CT 06117
Tel: (860) 570-9257
Fax: (860) 570-9008