A recent Mississippi State survey finds that civic leaders around the state support the establishment of urban and community forestry projects to enhance their communities.
Urban forestry specifically focuses on the management of trees and forests in urban settings to foster social, environmental and economic benefits.
The university canvass of city and town government leaders, as well as other community planners, was conducted by Forest and Wildlife Research Center scientists to identify community needs and issues relative to urban forestry.
"About one-third of the 159 respondents had initiated an urban and community forestry program prior to the survey," said lead investigator Steve Grado. "However, the fact that the 74 percent majority realized the need for such projects is good news for Mississippi's cities and towns."
The forestry professor said trees provide benefits that include air quality improvement, annual carbon dioxide reduction, increased annual net energy savings, storm-water runoff reduction, flood water storage, and erosion prevention, among others.
The survey found that funding was the most important factor in addressing urban and community forestry program needs, but most respondents had little awareness of funding sources for adopting their forestry plans.
"It's clear we need to do a better job of communicating funding opportunities to city governments," Grado said. "Our survey results also indicated a need for technical expertise in addressing tree care and implementation of community forestry programs."
To assist municipalities in managing urban forests, the Mississippi Forestry Commission, in collaboration with MSU's Forest and Wildlife Research Center and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, developed a Mississippi Urban and Community Forestry Management Manual and companion compact disc.
"The manual addresses issues and provides management guidance about urban and community forests," explained Walter Passmore, the forestry commission's urban forestry partnership coordinator.
The guide's comprehensive information is one tool for civic and community leaders, municipal officials, and citizens interested in community forestry needs, Passmore added.
Establishing urban and community forests often can generate immediate economic benefits and outweigh the initial costs, the forestry experts said. As a model city, they cited Hattiesburg, which recently developed an affordable approach to assess street tree populations in small communities.
"The return on investment can be significant," observed MSU's Grado.
Based on a Forest and Wildlife Research Center analysis of fiscal year 2003-04, publicly maintained street trees produced nearly $1.25 million in tangible benefits for Hattiesburg, primarily through energy savings and improved air quality, he said.
"In Hattiesburg, benefits amounted to an average of $111.24 per publicly maintained tree or approximately $22.73 for every resident," Grado said. "The city's street trees returned $4.10 to the community for every $1 spent on their management."
NEWS EDITORS/DIRECTORS: For more information, telephone Dr. Grado at (662) 325-2792 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.