Four Communities Kick-Start Urban Forestry Programs With DNR Assistance

By Don Kissinger, DNR Urban Forestry Coordinator based in Wausau, Don.Kissinger@wisconsin.gov or 715-348-5746 

In 2018, I had been covering the Northwest part of the state for three years due to a vacancy and saw first-hand a lack of proactive community forestry management in some areas, but also a lot of potential.

To help kick-start new urban forestry programs in the region, I proposed that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) use some of our US Forest Service funding to contract an urban forestry consultant to work one-on-one with selected communities. The consultant would meet with community staff, collect tree inventory data and develop individual operations plans.

The selected communities would then agree to apply for our 50-50 matching Startup Grants to implement the developed plan. A similar strategy (minus the startup grant commitment) had worked well in southern Wisconsin in 2012: out of five selected communities (Adams, Elroy, Hillsboro, Mauston and Necedah), four have become Tree City USA communities, three have had staff complete the Community Tree Management Institute (CTMI) and one has hired a full-time forester responsible for their community’s street, park, and cemetery trees.

DNR staff reached out to communities that might be a good fit for this project to judge their level of interest and engagement. Four communities were chosen: Barron, Hayward, Shell Lake and the Village of Frederic.

We proceeded with the bidding process for a consultant. After a kick-off meeting with all four communities, the consultant began working with each community individually on tree inventories and operations plans, including selecting priority projects for their 2020 Startup Grant applications. The operations plans were reviewed and approved by DNR Urban Forestry Coordinators, and all four submitted Startup Grant applications by the Oct. 1, 2019 deadline.

While we asked for a commitment to apply for the Startup Grants, we could not hold these cooperating communities to a minimum dollar amount. Yet, all four opted for the maximum $5,000 or a project cost of $10,000. For many of these communities, it was a monumental, but logical commitment to procure that level of funding and not leave money on the table.

All four communities were awarded 2020 Startup Grants and are now working on completing the following project components:  

  • Removal of trees with identified risk (this was the most significant component for all four communities).
  • Pruning of risk situations with larger dead limbs or vision/vehicular obstructions (this component took a close second).
  • Training pruning for establishing trees.
  • One community has a wonderful ash tree component and is purchasing emerald ash borer (EAB) treatment equipment to protect this resource.
  • Two communities planned to participate in the DNR’s 2020 CTMI program, enabling the community forestry manager to learn administrative and technical skills to facilitate a pro-active forestry program. The program has been postponed until 2021 due to COVID.
  • A couple of communities have earmarked a small number of tree plantings to replace a portion of the trees removed, but they understand that maintenance of their current population should take precedence.
  • One community is building a gravel bed as part of their tree planting component.

We have also confirmed that two of the communities have applied for 2021 Startup Grants. This ongoing commitment heartily endorses our efforts and the use of US Forest Service pass-through dollars.

The concept is age-old: “Teach a person to fish and they’ll never go hungry.” By assisting these communities in the early stages of developing their urban forestry programs and offering ongoing support, we aim to equip them with the knowledge and resources they need to create healthy, sustainable urban forests over the long term.

The cities of Barron, Hayward, and Shell Lake and Village of Frederic are becoming increasingly aware of the value of their community forest, the importance of making it safer and more aesthetically pleasing, and the need to maximize the environmental and health-related benefits it can provide. We hope that residents and neighboring municipalities will take notice and make this a trend in Northwest Wisconsin.

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