We requested that the City post a hyperlink to our native tree selection guide (see FONTT’s presentation to the City Council, June 1, 2022). Below is the history of the City’s response to that request.
Below is an email to the City Council summarizing a meeting (June 27, 2022) with the Urban Forest Manager about this issue. The email was sent by the guide authors who attended the meeting.
Mayor and Councilmembers,
Thank you for making time for Friends of Native Trees in Takoma (FONTT) to present our native tree guide during your June 1 Council meeting. We have gotten positive feedback from people who watched the meeting, which makes us doubly appreciative of the opportunity that you created for us to publicize the guide.
Marty Frye, the Urban Forest Manager (UFM), kindly invited FONTT to discuss concerns he had about the guide and linking to it from City webpages. Two of us were able to attend a cordial meeting, which nonetheless left unchanged his decision against including a hyperlink.
We suggested a compromise of accompanying a hyperlink to our guide with a disclaimer to the effect that the views presented in the guide do not represent any City policy or position.
The UFM rejected this solution for the following reasons (our responses in italics):
1. The website shouldn’t provide duplicative resources.
The guide offers a wealth of information about specific native tree species and their contribution to biodiversity that is not available on the webpages or in the Approved Tree Species List.
2. It would be confusing to make both the Approved Tree Species List and our guide accessible from the website.
Any confusion can be handled through clearly written text on the webpages.
3. The City’s doesn’t have a default policy of posting links requested by residents.
Good resources should not be ignored because links to them were suggested by residents.
Dr. Karin Burghardt described the guide in an email to the UFM and FONTT as “based on the best available science and should provide an important tool and educational opportunity for the residents of Takoma Park.”
4. The UFM has concerns about the science behind the biodiversity indicator explained in the guide. [further elaboration provided by UFM in email extract below]
The science in question is based on multiple research studies published in reputable scientific journals. The guide itself has been reviewed by three University of Maryland faculty members. A disclaimer would resolve any concern that a hyperlink would be interpreted as a City endorsement.
We are disappointed but not discouraged by the UFM’s attitude toward the guide. FONTT will continue to look for ways to collaborate with the City and Council on education and outreach in pursuit of the Council’s three urban forest goals.
Thank you for the time and attention that you have given to the concerns of FONTT members.
Lizz Kleemeier and Larry Lempert
We did not receive a reply to the preceding email.
The guide authors sent the following email (September 6, 2022) to the City Manager suggesting a way forward on this issue. We did not receive a reply, and the suggested solution has not been implemented.
We would like to bring your attention to the following example of how a well-managed website handles external links. The screen shown below pops up when a visitor to the U.S. Forest Service website clicks on an external link.
We suggest that this is a good method for the City of Takoma Park website to handle all external links, including one to our native tree selection guide. It would allow residents access to an important resource for planting native trees — a city goal — while making it clear that the city bears no responsibility for the guide’s content.
As we noted in our presentation to the City Council, our guide “…is based on the best available science and should provide an important tool and educational opportunity for the residents of Takoma Park.” Dr. Karin Burghardt, University of Maryland, joint appointment in the Department of Entomology and Extension Service.
TKPK Native Tree Selection Guide authors:
Below is an extract from an email sent by the Urban Forest (September 7, 2022) in which he elaborated on his fourth reason (see email above) for not providing a hyperlink to the FONTT guide from the city website.
“I noticed that you wrote an article that you have published on your website where you have provided a representation of my concerns from our last meeting. I want to emphasize again that the main concern is with how the data is presented and discussed, which is your item number 4. I still haven’t heard a clear response from your group regarding this concern, which I will detail once more below to give you an opportunity to make the case for if you’d like:
- Calling your indicator a ‘biodiversity indicator’ implies that it is an all-encompassing rating of a tree’s biodiversity value. I understand that there is a balance to be struck between specificity and accessibility for the user and you have chosen to use the more accessible term ‘biodiversity indicator’ instead of something more specific like ‘caterpillar support indicator’. If you are going to do this, I think the narrative portion of your guide needs to make the case that the number of caterpillar species supported is the best available indicator of a tree species’ total biodiversity value. In my own email correspondence with Tallamy he suggested that he did not feel that caterpillar species should be used as the sole indicator of biodiversity value. I really think that the way you have presented your numbers as an all-encompassing biodiversity indicator, rather than as one of many factors that contribute to the ecological or biodiversity value of a species, risks the user thinking poorly of the trees that rank low on your list. This is not to downplay the value of this research and of caterpillar numbers, but merely to say the data should be presented in the appropriate context and with the appropriate terminology so that the user is able to arrive at balanced conclusions about the comparative value of the tree species you are ranking.
- I still am uncertain if tree genus-level data consistently translates to tree species-level support for lepidoptera. Large genera and more genetically diverse genera are likely to support a greater diversity of lepidoptera species than smaller and less genetically diverse genera, even if the tree species within those genera are equally supportive of lepidoptera species. The discussion in the paper by Narango et. al. touches on this consideration very briefly towards the end. In my phone call with Dr. Burghardt, she assured me that her observations working at the tree species level supports the notion that most species of Quercus are consistently strong performers, commensurate with the genus as a whole. However, she did not give me the same assurances for all of the other species on the list. I just haven’t heard someone make the case that all species within a given genera are consistently strong or weak performers in terms of lepidoptera support based on the totals across the genus. This would be extremely convenient if it were the case but it’s just a question that I haven’t heard answered yet and I think it’s not a great idea to hang our hats on the primacy of genus-level caterpillar numbers for biodiversity until we do. I understand that no data is perfect and we do need to take action with the data we have at times. That is a judgement call that we all need to make as we choose where to hang our hats. I invite you to engage with the science here and provide a case for why my concerns here are not warranted. Neither Tallamy nor Burghardt provided me much of a response in the end. This isn’t to say that there isn’t likely some correlation between strength at the tree genus level and strength at the tree species level, but more that the uncertainty of how strong that correlation is should give us pause when deciding whether or not to so rigidly state the centrality of genus-level lepidoptera numbers to a tree species’ biodiversity value. Once more, a clearer explanation of the caveats and a less all-encompassing term than ‘biodiversity indicator’ would go a long way towards hedging against any uncertainty. Again, what is at risk here is devaluing some of our beloved native tree species unnecessarily.”
A panel of scientists and other urban forest experts discuss the science behind the indicator, and the native tree selection guide generally, on the Native Guide & Discussion Panel webpage.