Forest Service Chief Tidwell Tours New York City’s Urban Forests

Leo Kay
Office of Communication, U.S. Forest Service
April 15th, 2013 at 2:45PM

When most people think of urban forestry in New York, they usually evoke Central Park, Frederick Olmstead’s crown jewel that covers 843 acres in the middle of bustling Manhattan.

Most people, however, would only have a small part of the overall picture  – New York City manages 29,000 acres of parkland and urban forest overall. That includes nearly 600,000 street trees, more than 1,400 acres of wetlands and more than 5,000 acres of forest.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell visited Forest Service staff working in New York recently to learn of the wide range of lands and issues that the agency is partnering on to provide a better quality of life to the tens of millions of people who call the Big Apple home.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and Forest Service staff briefed the chief on everything from phyto technologies – the science and application of using plants to deal with environmental problems – to links between tree stewardship and civic engagement. Chief Tidwell toured a community garden, a “green streets” demonstration project that captures 10 times the stormwater runoff nearby fields of pavement do, and yes, even Central Park.

As the Forest Service’s Erika Svendsen explains, the agency is trying to strike a balance between the “gray, the green and the human.” She pointed to a stronger environmental ethic exhibited by more New Yorkers than most people realize, explaining that a taste for tree planting usually signals a larger ethic in civic pride.

“A woman sweeping the steps outside her house is a ‘cue to care,’ much like we look at indicator species in a national forest as being representative of overall forest health,” she said.

“We’re looking at New York City as a forest,” said the Forest Service’s Lindsay Campbell, pointing to the interconnectedness between the city’s trees, its waterways, its vacant lots and its people.

The city – in partnership with the nonprofit New York Restoration Project – is 662,000 trees along on its MillionTreesNYC initiative, and has reduced urban tree mortality by 50 percent. The city is also working with the Forest Service on building a network of scientists and practitioners engaged in research and application on the urban forest.

And yes, the U.S. Forest Service – so often known primarily for its 193 million acres of forests and grasslands across the country – is right in the middle of these urban efforts. Considering that 80 percent of the American public now lives in urban areas, a renewed emphasis on America’s 100 million acres of urban forests is altogether fitting for this conservation agency.