The term "Urban Forestry" seems to be rather oxymoronic - How can a forest be in a city?
Well, there certainly are the native forests in the mountains all around us but all the trees and associated vegetation in our yards, parks and elsewhere in town also make up a real, live forest ecosystem that is not that dissimilar to native forests in many respects.
Urban forests, sometimes also called community forests, aren't the forests we travel to visit, they are the forests where we live and ultimately, managing our urban forests means not only managing trees, but managing the relationship people have with trees.
Just like managing native forests, urban forestry involves establishing landowner objectives, maintaining road systems, improving stand conditions, maintaining forest health and mediating user conflicts. Forestry tools such as inventories, management plans, GPS units and Geographic Information System maps are all equally applicable to urban forestry. There is an entire green ecosystem inside the city limits that can and should be managed as a system, as a forest.
And, native forests and urban forests are inextricably linked ecosystems. Wildfires don't stop at the urban growth boundary and insects can't read city limits signs. Many salmon-bearing streams pass through urban areas on their way to the Pacific Ocean.
The Oregon Department of Forestry and other agencies provide incentives for rural forestland owners to manage their forests to improve water quality for fisheries. But all that work can be completely undermined when the stream enters the urban growth boundary if we don't manage the urban forests and allow lots of junk from town to enter the streams.
"Every faucet is connected to a forest" is a favorite saying of Pat McElroy, retired Washington state forester.
One of the concerns in the Pacific Northwest is the tremendous population growth in places like Bend, the Willamette Valley and Seattle. The urban and suburban residents that have migrated here don't have the same connection natural resources that earlier residents did - they are too often people who have lost connection to the rural land and the natural resources that sustain our existence.
And it's the urban residents in the big population centers who hold the key to the social license to practice forestry on federal, state and private rural forests. They are the ones who hold sway over citizen initiatives regulating forestry practices. If these folks don't understand the management of the trees that are literally in their own back yards, how can they be expected to understand forestry practices in the "wild" forests?
Urban forestry is just as important as traditional forestry, maybe even more so, in preserving our environment. One of the great policy questions of the next decade for forestry agencies will be how to deal with an urbanizing population that puts increased pressures on traditional forest management, and puts growth pressures that inundate previously rural forested areas. Part of the success with that effort may just be how well we integrate urban forestry as a part of the bigger picture of natural resource stewardship.
Bob Parker is an OSU Extension Service forestry agent.