Urban Forestry in 5 U.S. Cities

Urban Forestry in 5 U.S. Cities —

Ecological & Social Outcomes of Neighborhood & Nonprofit Tree Planting: NUCFAC Grant

In September of 2012, BUFRG received a National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council (NUCFAC) Challenge Cost-Share Grant through the U.S. Forest Service to evaluate the ecological and social outcomes of tree planting in five cities across the East and Midwest United States (map below). Since this award, our funding sources (see below) have expanded to include a national set of stakeholders and partner organizations.

Read the IU press release 

Our two main research objectives are:

  1. Evaluate the ecological outcomes (benefits) and success (survival and growth) of trees planted by urban nonprofit tree-planting programs. 
    • Does the design of the nonprofit tree-planting program affect planted-tree survival and growth?
    • Does the design of the neighborhood tree-planting project affect planted-tree survival and growth?
    • What are the ecosystem services (benefits) provided by planted trees, given observed survival and growth rates?
  2. Evaluate whether tree-planting programs have social effects on neighborhoods and individuals. Are there changes in:
    • Community capacity (Social cohesion, neighborhood ties, trust)?
    • Local collective activities?
    • Individual knowledge about the environment and about urban trees?

 In other words, how do people influence trees and how do trees influence people? 

Figure 1. Location of nonprofit tree-planting partner organizations (blue) and main investigators (red). Source: Base map from Google Maps.

Our first objective

The first objective relates to understanding the ways that tree-planting programs can maximize the biological outcomes (i.e., ecological benefits) of the program: planting successful urban trees that survive and grow in the urban landscape. We will address three broad categories of variables in the social-ecological systems (SES) framework that might influence the success of the urban forest.

  1. Vegetative resource (trees) and the biophysical environment: What types of trees planted (e.g., planting stock, species) are the most successful under various urban growing conditions? What effect do various local environmental factors (soil volume, light availability, competition with other trees, etc.) have on tree success?
  2. The surrounding community: What characteristics of the neighborhood (social/cultural, economic, demographic, etc.) are related to tree success?
  3. Institutional and management practices: What role does management and maintenance (e.g., watering, pruning, etc.) at the neighborhood level play in tree success? What management institutions (i.e., rules-in-use, norms) are the most important to tree success?

We utilize the urban forests as SES perspective to better understand the biophysical, social, and management factors that influence urban tree success. 

See more on the urban forests as SES perspective

Our second objective

The second research objective relates to the social outcomes of tree-planting programs by asking about the indirect social impacts on the neighborhood of these programs. This question considers tree-planting programs from a different direction than the first question. We ask, how does tree planting impact the characteristics of the community? The theoretical justification behind this question is based in theories that collective action—tree planting and early maintenance (i.e., watering), in this case—may impact other forms of collective action taken by the neighborhood or other characteristics of individuals, such as a sense of neighborhood ownership or engagement in civic environmentalism or adaptation to climate changes. Interest in the social impacts of tree-planting programs on communities or individuals is growing, and in this study we search for specific, quantifiable effects of urban tree-planting programs and consider how these effects can be related to climate change adaptation strategies.