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Tree City USA: what does it mean?

Posted: January 23, 2014 8:41 a.m.
Updated: January 24, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Tree City USA is a designation we can be proud of, particularly since the city has achieved and continuously maintained this status for the past 26 years. Tree City USA is a national program under the auspices of The Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters and provides the framework for community forestry management of public trees in cities and towns across America.

Communities achieve Tree City USA status and must annually recertify it by meeting four core standards or criteria of sound urban forestry management. The standards were established to ensure that every qualifying community would have a viable tree management plan and program and it’s important to note that they were also designed so that no community would be excluded because of size.

The first criteria is maintaining a tree board or department, we have both. The Parks and Trees Commission has been in existence at least 26 years and during that time, has provided invaluable advice and assistance regarding trees and beautification. The city’s Public Works Department has been the department responsible for working with the Parks and Trees Commission as well as to coordinate and conduct tree maintenance activities.

The second criteria is to maintain an active public tree care ordinance. This past summer, Camden City Council adopted a totally revised and expanded tree policy, which I’ll write about next month. In short, the tree ordinance facilitates for comprehensive public tree planting, maintenance and management of the resource and designates authoritative responsibilities to city staff (that would be me) to implement. During the past three years, tree planting by the city has remained steady at 60 trees in 2011, 70 trees in 2012 and 65 trees in 2013. Non-utility line pruning has varied from 55 trees in 2011 to 125 trees in 2011 and 152 trees in 2013, but we still have a long way to go in this category! Tree removals have also remained somewhat constant at 86 in 2011, 65 in 2012 and 55 in 2013.

The third criteria is to maintain a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per person. Many communities often shy away from the program at first when reading this, but in my experience when working for the S.C. Forestry Commission providing assistance to communities, this really is quite do-able. Camden has averaged $60.00 per capita. This includes expenditures for tree planting, watering, removing, pruning, Arbor Day and city staff. However, the largest public investment falls under utility line pruning. We’ve actually been able to reduce this cost during the past three years through more accurate tracking and specific designation of funds.

The fourth criteria is to observe and proclaim Arbor Day. Camden has done this faithfully with the assistance of the Parks and Trees Commission and The Camden Tree Foundation. Each year for the past 26, a tree has been planted in commemoration of this American holiday started over 135 years ago in Nebraska.

Tree City USA communities have demonstrated a commitment to caring for and managing their public trees. Together the more than 3,400 Tree City USA communities serve as home to more than 135 million Americans. Here in South Carolina, Camden is one of only 41 communities out of more than 250 incorporated municipalities to earn this recognition status! The largest Tree City at 130,000 people and who also happens to be the oldest continuous Tree City at 30 years is Columbia and the smallest is McClellanville with a population of 499 people.

I am proud to work in and be a part of managing a Tree City USA and send out a word of thanks and gratitude to city council, the Public Works Department staff, the Parks and Tree Commission, The Camden Tree Foundation and the Camden Garden Club as well as the many individuals who are always uplifting and provide support in my role as urban forester.

Lastly, I leave you at the end of the year with these words of wisdom from a little book that a colleague gave me titled All I Need To Know About Life I Learned From Trees:

It’s important to have roots.

Grow where you’re planted.

Don’t pine away over old flames.

It’s perfectly okay to be a late bloomer.

To be politically correct, don’t wear firs.

Get all spruced up when you have a hot date.

It’s more important to be honest than poplar.

If the party gets boring or dangerous, just leaf.

Avoid people who would like to cut you down.

In today’s complex world, it pays to branch out.

If you want to maintain accurate records, keep a log.

Be flexible so you don’t break when a harsh wind blows.

Sometimes you have to shed your old bark in order to grow.

If you really believe in something, don’t be afraid to go out on a limb.

You can’t hide your true colors as you approach the autumn of your life.

-- Anonymous

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