FONTT comments on draft Urban Forest Master Plan

Photo credit: “Eastern bluebird on shagbark hickory tree” by hmclin is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

FONTT members discussed the draft Urban Forest Master Plan in an online discussion and by email. The following comments were submitted to the Urban Forest Manager on July 12, 2022.

The plan has many excellent elements, for which the Urban Forest Manager deserves a round of applause.  In the interest of brevity, we will highlight three of these elements and then give nine suggestions to make the plan even better.

The praiseworthy elements in the draft plan include:

  • Emphasis on planting native trees:  The plan emphasizes planting native trees, which we take to mean trees native to Maryland and suitable to Takoma Park conditions.  This emphasis places the Council’s biodiversity goal (Resolution 2020-15) front and center with a plan for the City administration to plant 250 native trees annually on city and private land.
  • Additional program for planting native trees on private property:  Most of the land available for additional trees is on private property.  A new program to incentivize property owners to plant trees is a good initiative.  The strategy to target low-canopy areas and multi-unit residential, institutional, and commercial properties seems an efficient approach.
  • Online tree permitting process:  This effort to ease the burden of resident compliance with the Tree Ordinance is welcome.

We have the following nine suggestions for the revised plan.

1. Indicate the location of planned tree plantings.

Residents are more likely to be engaged with plans for the urban forest if they know how these plans will affect their neighborhoods and improve people’s lives.  We suggest:

  • give the street address or park name for the planned planting locations,
  • show these locations on a map of the city or each ward,
  • indicate what problem led to a particular location being selected, and therefore what result is expected, e.g., stormwater runoff, lack of shade.

Also, the Annual Urban Forest Manager Report would be improved by providing the location of the trees that have been planted.  Up until 2021, this information was provided.

2. Improve tree installation practices.

Residents continue to see mulch volcanos and unnecessary staking of newly planted trees.  The contracts with tree service vendors should prohibit these practices.

3. Plan more actions to combat invasive species.

The problem of invasive plant species should have a higher profile in the plan.  Actions can include both direct measures to remove invasive species from city land, and education for residents and other property owners about why invasives are a problem and what to do.  Collaboration with Montgomery County Weed Warriors might be one means to do this.

4. Encourage residents to plant one- and three-gallon sized native trees.

The programs in the plan focus on trees that meet the standards for replacement trees under the permitting regulations: “nursery stock trees with a size of one-and-one-half to three inches in caliper for deciduous trees, or six to 10 feet in height for evergreen trees and guaranteed for one year.”  However, these trees are relatively expensive.

Many people who are not required to plant replacement trees will be more willing to plant a small tree that costs $40 rather than a larger one at $400.  Encouraging people to plant small trees could be a great way to get people to plant more native trees and a greater diversity of native tree species.

For example, one- and three-gallon-sized native trees could be,

  • offered (at full cost) through the Plant-A-Tree Program,
  • added to the Private Property Tree Planting Program, and
  • offered through native tree and plant sale events, for example as part of the Arbor Day celebration.

5. Celebrate Arbor Day with more activities and a focus on planting trees.

First, let us explicitly celebrate Maryland Arbor Day.  We suggest that Takoma Park’s celebration take place the weekend after Maryland Arbor Day. 

The State of Maryland changed our state celebration to the first Wednesday in April because this is a better time for planting trees than National Arbor Day (the last Friday in April).  For the same reason, Maryland Arbor Day is better timing than around Earth Day, April 22. 

Second, we suggest having more activities and a more explicit focus on planting and caring for trees.  These activities could include, in addition to a tree walk:

  • provide free native tree seedlings, as was previously done in our Arbor Day celebrations,
  • hold a native tree sale featuring a wide variety of one- and three-gallon native tree species (combined with a sale of other native plants to draw in more people),
  • invite a wide range of environmental groups to host tables, and organize a series of panel discussions, Q&A sessions, and short films in the community center auditorium (the Neighborhood Services Department team organized an excellent event along these lines in 2016),
  • organize a Maryland Arbor Day poster display and awards ceremony, featuring submissions from Takoma Park public elementary and middle schools, and
  • hold an official tree planting ceremony.

6. Propose collaboration with community groups and Montgomery County.

Takoma Park has numerous community groups that are interested in planting native plants, including native trees, and in otherwise helping trees.  These groups represent opportunities both to engage residents at the grassroots level (similar to the Navigator program) and to mitigate the staff capacity constraint.

Regarding collaboration with such groups, the plan states only, “Other events and classes are hosted occasionally as staff time allows and partnership opportunities present themselves.”

Our Arbor Day suggestions (see No. 5) are events where community groups could shoulder a great deal of the work burden.  By this we mean identifying, designing, and organizing events, not simply showing up to provide volunteer labor.

7. Include private property sites in the inventory of street-side planting sites.

This information can help the Private Property Tree Planting Program to target opportunities to provide street shade and mitigate stormwater runoff where there are not enough sites available on city land.

8. Explain how the urban forest goals and master plan will be integrated with other City administration planning and development efforts.

The City administration has initiated or is involved in numerous planning development projects with implications for the urban forest, for example, the Public Space Management Plan, Adventist campus Minor Master Plan, Purple Line corridor plan, the Library re-build, and so forth.  These projects represent opportunities to increase the tree canopy but have the potential to reduce it.  There needs to be a process for incorporating urban forest considerations into these other plans.

9. Include a proposal to engage consultants with expertise in using LIDAR analysis to produce a community-driven master plan by 2024.

The Urban Forest Master Plan is a key element in the overarching principles and policies laid out in the Council’s 2020 resolution on the urban forest.  If that resolution is to be taken seriously, the Council and City administration must devote the necessary resources to develop an Urban Forest master plan on par with the plans mentioned under the previous suggestions

Meanwhile, the City administration has been contracted repeatedly for LIDAR analysis.  The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and its collaborators have developed methodologies for incorporating LIDAR results in community-based urban forest planning.

It doesn’t make sense to continue spending money on LIDAR data collection and analysis without taking that next step toward using the results to improve planning.  Of course, we particularly appreciate that that USFS methodology puts community groups front and center in the planning process.  In the long run, this could be the way to weave collaboration (see No. 6) into the fabric of the next Urban Forest Master Plan.

Comments prepared by

Diane Ives, Lizz Kleemeier, Larry Lempert, and James Miles