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Forestry in urban setting equally beneficial


Robert Seemann, right, is director of operations of Baton Rouge Green and Christopher Cooper is program specialist for BRG.

Forests provide much to Louisiana’s rural landscape, with clear benefits of improved water quality, wonderful habitat for wildlife and the trees provide resources for products we use every day.


In an urban setting, however, the benefits are similar, but certainly just as important to the people who choose to live in municipalities large and small. Several groups are working on that in Louisiana’s metropolitan areas want to improve their environment for their communities through good forestry practices.


Baton Rouge Green (BRG) for the past 30 years has increased the number of trees and green space areas in the state’s capital city.


Robert Seemann, whose earned his forestry degree from the University of Montana, has led Baton Rouge Green since 2012 (he also earned a master’s degree in landscape architecture from LSU). He also is the state coordinator for Louisiana Community Forests (LCF), a post he’s had since 2016. His colleague, Christopher Cooper, is partnership coordinator for LCF and program specialist for BRG. His background includes studies in horticulture at LSU.


The Community Forests program is partly funded from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for urban and community forestry and LCF works directly with the U.S. Forest Service. BRG offers technical help, but it also has educational and community outreach efforts, especially for the state’s urban areas.


“We direct-message to the end user and consumer; that’s the everyday people of all age ranges,” Seemann said. “We also have the ability to give technical assistance to municipal arborists and urban foresters.”


Some of that help is for cities that do not have a trained urban forester on staff, but has assigned duties of caring for the municipality’s trees usually handled by an urban forester.


“Maybe that’s a building inspector, maybe it’s a director of maintenance; it can be anything. We work with those folks, too, to give them the technical assistance they need or they can apply for financial assistance for certain things,” he said.


Working with such a variety of folks is necessary, Seemann said, because cities handle the care of trees through different departments. Parks and recreation departments take of the urban canopy within its facilities, for example, while a different department might handle trees on public rights of way. LCF has to be flexible in handling the different ways municipalities handle urban forestry.


“If we have a rigid statewide program, that’s typically an information or education program,” Seemann said. “We do try to build some flexibility for anything that’s interactive so communities can use it the way they want to use it.”



Christopher Cooper with Baton Rouge Green

Grants given by LCF offer municipalities opportunities to improve upon stewardship of the assets they have or expand their landscape capacities.


In practice, cities like Alexandria have a workflow that is geared toward handling complaints, said the city Urban Forester Darren Green. Most of his time, and much of his $150,000 annual budget, is used trimming or removing trees. Most of that work, however, is handled by third-party contractors.


“Hazard removal is a big deal,” Green said, because clearance is necessary for large trucks and buses (municipal and school), especially along main routes. “We start with the main roads then branch out to less traveled streets.”


Most of that work is generated by complaints, which Green said isn’t necessarily the best approach, but bus and garbage trucks need to be able to perform their services.


Ideally, cities could plan how its canopy is handled at the time a new municipal development is in the planning stage, but Seemann said how or whether that’s done is up to the individual municipality. Most often, that approach would be in a city’s planning department and is part of a unified development code.


“That regulates how you expand,” Seemann said. “Another part of that, though, is how you deal with what you already have. That would be an urban forestry plan.”


Green said Alexandria has ordinances that specify green areas, including trees, for developments. A developer is required to include some things, for example planting a tree per so many parking spaces, before it is given a building permit. Then it has to show how it complied with the ordinance before being granted its license to open.


“We actually end up with more trees than before the development,” Green said.


Forestry in rural areas often has the goal of harvesting for the forest products industry, which provides the revenue to enhance good forest management, Green said. In urban areas, its different. It isn’t about the product the trees can make, it’s the benefits to the community.


The benefits of establishing a healthy urban canopy cannot be overstated, said Dr. Yadong Qi, professor in Urban Forestry, Forest Ecology and Environmental Science at Southern University. And it is more than aesthetics, which in themselves offer psychological benefits to the community by encouraging outdoor activities and filtering harmful UV rays from the sun, to name a couple.


“Trees take out carbon dioxide, ozone and air pollution,” Qi said, adding that a hundred trees can help remove 5 tons of carbon dioxide and 1,000 pounds of pollutants in a year.



Savannah Burley or Save Our Urban Landscape (SOUL)

Trees also delay water reaching the ground, allowing for absorption and drainage so that drainage systems are aided during some rainstorms. That’s an important aspect for New Orleans, said Savannah Burley, founder of Save Our Urban Landscape (SOUL), a relatively new organization, that has started off small, but its goal is to increase the number of trees along the Crescent City’s streets. More trees help mitigate storm water runoff.


“New Orleans is actually incredibly under-forested and we lost 100,000 trees from (Hurricane) Katrina,” Burley said, which has resulted in a 15.2 percent coverage in tree inventory.


Over the past five years, Burley and an increasing number of volunteers have planted almost 5,000 trees, mostly savannah hollies. Its goal next year is to plant 2,000 trees. That’s hardly a dent, she said, but part of the grant provided through Baton Rouge Green that paid for the tree inventory is to develop a reforestation plan. That’s next, she said.


That goal, which will be SOUL working with New Orleans city officials, will be to achieve 50 percent canopy by 2030. That would mean an additional 350,000 trees. To achieve that, it would mean the city would have to increase its budget or reduce the percentage goal.


Whatever the goal, however, more trees will have to be planted than the intended target number. Qi said tree management is another difference for urban forestry. They have to be managed by individual tree or neighborhood.


“The environment (in a city) is much harsher,” Qi said, “that’s why trees have a shorter life span.”


Still, like in rural forestry, sustainable management is possible in an urban setting.


For more information about Baton Rouge Green, check out its website at batonrougegreen.com.


For more about SOUL check out soulnola.org.


If you want to learn more about the Urban Forestry and Natural Resources at Southern University, go to www.subr.edu/subhome/89.




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