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What's the Plan for Boise's 'Community Forest?' Parks and Rec Update Citizens

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Three-quarters of the trees in Boise are growing on private property. Boise Community Forestry is now working on an update to the 10-year management plan, and how to incorporate collaboration between private and public landholders. - BOISE COMMUNITY FORESTRY
  • Boise Community Forestry
  • Three-quarters of the trees in Boise are growing on private property. Boise Community Forestry is now working on an update to the 10-year management plan, and how to incorporate collaboration between private and public landholders.

Boise Parks and Recreation is responsible for the care of 45,000 trees in the valley. That's just 25 percent of all the trees in the city, which grow in parks, beside the Greenbelt, and along streets. The other estimated 137,000 trees grow on private property, but it's all part of the Boise Community Forest. Only 16 percent of the city of trees actually falls under the canopy of trees, but that's a number that the city would like to—no pun intended—grow.

On the evening of June 25, several certified arborists from Boise Parks and Recreation hosted a public workshop to educate citizens on the trees around the city, and work towards updating the 10-year management plan for the community forest. About a dozen people showed up to the library auditorium, where Brian Jorgenson, the city's "tree guy," walked them through three main topics of urban forest management: vegetative resources, resource management and community framework.

After that, the attendees walked to each station, learned about the city's goals, and voted on top priorities. The presentation is now online here and can be commented on until Friday, July 10.   

Understanding the Vegetative Resource

While only 16 percent of the city is covered by tree canopy, the city would like to grow that to 25 percent over the next decade.

Another goal includes not letting any tree species take over more than 10 percent of the tree population. Right now, 20 percent of trees in the city are maple, and another 12 percent are ash. Arborists would like to see more diversity in tree species over the next few years.

One goal of the new plan includes bringing greater tree species diversity to the community forest. - BOISE COMMUNITY FORESTRY
  • Boise Community Forestry
  • One goal of the new plan includes bringing greater tree species diversity to the community forest.
Few trees growing in the city are actually native, though. The most common native trees are the willows and poplars found along the river, but those species don't do well further into the city. 

This station also focused on the health of the trees in Boise. In city parks, 60 percent of the trees are in good condition, 26 percent are considered fair and 6 percent are poor. Along streets, 50 percent of the trees are healthy, while 22 percent are only fair and 16 percent are in poor condition. 

One member of the public raised concerns over drought. Though trees can help conserve water by offering shade to grass, they still require irrigation, which might not always be available. Debbie Cook, an arborist for Parks and Rec, spoke very frankly on the issue.

"If we have drought like the one in California, we 're going to lose trees," she said. "Every tree here needs irrigation." 

Cook also said the maple population has been struggling in Boise for recent years, which she suspects has something to do with climate change. That's OK, though, because she wants to see less maples growing in the valley anyway and replace them with more species diversity.

Strengthening a Community Framework

Rather than thinking about where trees could fit at the end of a construction project, Jorgenson would like to see the trees  come up in planning of new developments from the beginning. That's one goal of the new 10-year management plan—to create collaboration between large institutional landholders like Boise State University and St. Luke's hospital when it comes to planting trees. 

He wants to extend that collaboration to interdepartmental and interagency teams as well, so any time there's a community project on the horizon, it includes more tress. 

Mark Baltes, of the North End Neighborhood Association, also shared the importance of "putting [tree care] in the hands of our neighbors."

Creating more communication between the city, businesses and citizens will keep everyone on the same page of the importance of trees everywhere. This is especially critical since 75 percent of the trees growing in the city are on private property. 

The centerpiece of community framework, according to the arborists' proposals, is to create a general awareness of the importance of trees as a community resource. They remove 260 tons of pollutants from the air every year, which is especially critical in a place that often struggles with air quality. They mitigate 54 million gallons of stormwater, keeping it from running into the Boise River and causing problems with pollutants and higher temperatures. They also reduce $381,300 in summer cooling costs across the valley.

"It's just just a nice place to sit in the shade," Jorgenson said.

Exploring Resource Management
Trees in Boise are relatively healthy, according to one city arborist, because they're not battling insects or disease. - BOISE COMMUNITY FORESTRY
  • Boise Community Forestry
  • Trees in Boise are relatively healthy, according to one city arborist, because they're not battling insects or disease.

This station was the "by the numbers" approach to the new plans priorities and goals. Goals included updating a public tree inventory and mapping the urban tree cover through aerial photographs and satellite imagery. 

It also presented the budget of the city's community forestry department, which reached about $1.5 million in FY-15. About $1 million of that went to personnel, while the rest went to maintenance. According to Dennis Matlock, a forestry specialist with the city, that's enough to get the job done. Additional funding could go towards creating a new outreach and education position. But he pointed out one caveat:

"It's enough for us right now because our trees are healthy," he said. "We're fortunate not to have any insect or disease problems. But they're coming."

Another goal in this station addresses that by creating a formal risk-assessment protocol. The foresters would also like to see more awareness among private landowners when it comes to managing and protecting the trees in their yards. 

Anyone can read through the goals for the updated 10-year community forest management plan and make comments online until July 10. After that, the Boise Community Forestry will take until September to develop a draft plan and eventually present it to Boise City Council.