Tennessee Urban Forestry Council connects cities, trees, and people

By KATE COIL

With spring right around the corner, the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council (TUFC) is eager to work with municipalities across the state on programs and initiatives that will enhance and benefit their communities.

Ashley Kite-Rowland is an urban and community forestry coordinator who works with the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council as well as a liaison for the Tennessee Division of Forestry. She said there is often a misconception that her organization only works with major metro areas.
“I live in Martin, which has a population of around 11,000. We have a tree board, we have two arboreta, and we are starting a food forest through our tree board,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how big a community it is as long as there are people there who want to make things happen. We are the place where people, buildings, and trees all come together.”
Kite-Rowland said TUFC works with organizations like the Tennessee Environmental Council, who sponsor Tennessee Tree Day on March 20, and the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program, to educate communities on the benefits of trees as well as support local tree boards, arboreta, municipal planners, and other projects.
She said one of the organization’s main goals is bringing various groups together to share resources, develop new programs, and connect through meetings, such as their annual conference in October and the webinar series the organization is presently putting on. One of the things TUFC is most known for is its work with local tree boards.
“I’m actually the president of my local tree board,” Kite-Rowland said. “Our goal is to give those boards the tools to advocate, to get ordinances in place, and to promote tree planting and the care of trees once they are planted. We also help them access more development opportunities and connect them to educational resources that we develop or can find. We are connected to states and councils all across the country, so we can bring in information from other places and get them out to areas across Tennessee.”
The organization also works with municipal foresters across the state.
“We are trying to organize a time to bring everyone together so it’s not just us pushing down information,” she said. “We want to create a network for the municipal foresters so they can come together, share ideas, resources, and energy, and help support the development of community forests.”
Certified Arboreta program

TUFC also offers the Tennessee Certified Arboreta program, which works to preserve the biodiversity of trees in the state. Arboreta certified through the program are located on university campuses, at schools, city parks, churches, and in neighborhoods.
“The arboretum program is typically in public spaces, though we have some neighborhoods involved in the program as well,” Kite-Rowland said. “You have to have at least 30 distinct species of trees to certify as a Level 1 arboretum. It’s not that hard to qualify. To be a Level 4 arboretum – which is the highest level, you have to have 120 tree species, and we do have Level 4 arboreta in the state.”

Kite-Rowland said many communities have areas that qualify for arboretum status and may not realize it. There are also plenty of ways to expand the diversity of trees in an area to qualify.

“Tennessee Tree Day gives out 10 different types of trees every year, and they change every year,” she said. “There are also layers to a tree canopy. They can range from oaks at the top of the canopy to dogwoods and redbuds that are in the understory. Some communities are also developing food forests that are growing fruit and nut trees. The foods from those trees can then be used by the community or donated to food pantries.”

There are multiple benefits to having an arboretum in a community.
“The arboretum isn’t just about a diversity of trees – which is good for wildlife and the environment,” she said. “It’s also educational because all of the trees have to be tagged with the trees common and scientific names. That can be educational both for the people developing the arboretum as well as the folks who are visiting. We encourage municipalities to have tours or activities in those spaces, and we can connect them with curriculum to utilize that space. We really want it to be used as an outdoor learning opportunity across generations.”

Kite-Rowland said TUFC is willing to work with any community that wants to create a certified arboretum and can connect those interested in the program with local organizations and help access free or low-cost trees.

Landmark, Heritage and Historic Tree program
Another one of the programs offered by TUFC honors specific trees and their roles in communities. The Landmark, Heritage and Historic Tree program works to honor and preserve trees that have had important roles in local history.

A tree classified as a “historic tree” may mark the place a treaty was signed or an important meeting was held while a “landmark tree” is one that was often used as a local landmark or gathering spot. “heritage trees” are former trees on the list who have since fallen.

“We don’t always think about it, but trees are a part of history,” Kite-Rowland said. “The older trees, especially, have seen so much. Old trees have a different place in the community. When people think about their community, trees can play an important role in how people envision a space. This program can also be a way to preserve these historic trees during times of development.”

Some of the trees in the program include willow trees planted by President Andrew Johnson in Greeneville, a tree outside Medina where Daniel Boone carved his name, and a group of trees in Elizabethton grown from seeds that were sent aboard the Apollo 14 space mission.

Kite-Rowland said there are numerous benefits trees can have on communities, ranging from decreasing pollution in local air and water to improving health outcomes for individuals with asthma.

“Trees in communities benefit public health at the individual level as well as bring cohesion to a community,” she said. “People are more likely to gather in areas that have trees. People spend more money in areas that have trees. There is also research that found that when trees were planted in public housing communities, people spent more time outside, children played outside more, and violence in those communities decreased. Studies have shown having trees in the area can improve mental health outcomes by decreasing depression and anxiety. There is also something known as the island effect in cities. Having trees helps cool a city.”

Overall, Kite-Rowland said the only thing needed to start reaping these benefits in your own community is a desire to help out.
“Trees do matter in your community. It’s not just about giving the access to trees; it’s about giving the knowledge to plant and care for them,” she said. “A mature tree has so much more value than a sapling. Just putting a tree in the ground is the first step. Sustaining a healthy community forest takes a community. You don’t have to be educated about trees to get involved. My background is not in forestry, but I love trees. Even if you just have enthusiasm and a love for trees, you can make a difference in your community.”
If there is a particular issue or need a community has, Kite-Rowland said TUFC is eager to help. Contact her at 615-638-8027 or email info@tufc.com.