Austin Heritage Tree Foundation
Protecting trees

Urban Forest Plan

 

                    THERE IS NO COMPREHENSIVE URBAN FOREST MANAGEMENT PLAN
                           AND
 
THE STRATEGIC PLAN ONLY ADDRESSES PUBLIC TREES,
                                      WHICH ARE LESS THAN 5% OF THE URBAN FOREST
 
                                          


Consequently, City Council approved in August 2014 a resolution directing staff to develop a strategy for the City Arborist Office to lead the development of a COMPREHENSIVE URBAN FOREST MANAGEMENT PLAN  with assistance from the Watershed Dept.  A report with the strategy is due in 90 days.

This resolution was sponsored by CM Cole and includes all of the recommendations from the Environmental Board who met several times with City staff, UFB representatives and the community, and proposed these excellent recommendations.  

An experienced independent consultant is crucial to lead this plan with the City Arborist, because staff doesn't have time for such a large task (due to their regular duties), and community participation and buy-in is critical for the plan to be successful.  This consultant should lead the collection of data with appropriate standard protocols and analysis of such data.


        The Austin Urban Forest Plan Was Approved In March 2014 With Much Of  AHTF's Input
                                      But This Is Only A Strategic Plan For Public Trees Only                                 
                              There Is No Comprehensive Urban Forest Management Plan Yet

Urban Forestry board (UFB) members Nick Classen and Peggy Maceo led the review of the Austin Forest Plan written by the City's Parks Department Forestry staff.  They successfully included meaningful public input and were able to improve the plan significantly.  For instance, the plan now includes "watering prominent trees during periods of insufficient rainfall'.  It was a monumental task for Nick and Peggy to add these improvements. 

The Environmental Board approved the plan with several recommendations.  PARD Forestry incorporated some of these.  The remaining recommendations that should be included are discussed by Dr. Tom Hayes, Environmental Conservation Alliance, an expert in GIS and management plans.

Staff didn't provide a draft copy of the plan to the UFB and public until June 2013.  Staff and UFB leadership restricted public input to the minimum so that the plan would be approved quickly.  At the end, the public process was successful in spite of the opposition and difficulties, and the result is a much improved STRATEGIC PLAN FOR PUBLIC TREES.

A strategic plan is a very high level plan that directs the 14 city departments that share the responsibility for sections of  the public urban forest to develop their own DEPARTMENTAL OPERATIONAL PLANS (DOPs) within the next 5 years.  

This means that there is only a strategic plan to write 14 additional plans sometime in the future.  PARD Forestry is collecting some GIS data not using a random stratified approach, consequently the data analysis may not be valid.     
     
03/24/14  http://impactnews.com/austin-metro/central-austin/city-adopts-urban-forest-master-plan/

10/17/13  http://austin.twcnews.com/content/news/295804/board--city-s-urban-forestry-plan-not-complete
                             

                                                                ARCHIVES - 08/04/2012

Did you read the article (http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/city-board-crafting-plan-to-manage-austins-urban-f/nZDgx/ ) regarding the Urban Forest Plan? 

The information was provided by the PARD Forestry staff and their unconditional supporters, and it is NOT accurate. 

The plan (see pages 3-8 in the document) is so vague that it will not provide any improvements.  The plan's goals section ("Policy Elements"), the heart of the plan, is only 6 pages long in a plan that has at least 80 pages.  

It is a wasted opportunity to protect the trees and the urban forest.  

In spite of what the article says, there are no specific goals and public input was only requested last week, after the plan and goals were written, as a formality since the boards and City Council will be asking if there was public input. 

                                         THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR THE TREES

Please, email any concerns you have with trees and the urban forest ("what should be done for trees and vegetation in public spaces”) to urbanforestplan@austintexas.gov

Ask for a real Urban Forest Plan that will protect and increase our Urban Forest and public trees, for an implementable plan that makes action items from the concerns brought up by the community, for a plan that has action and not vague words, for a plan that will be executed in the short and long term, for a plan that will make improvement.

The issue is not who is writing the plan.  It is OK that Forestry staff writes the plan as long as the plan has specific goals and an action plan (what, who, when, how, how much) that will be implemented, all of Urban Forestry board members get to review the full plan, and public input is included and acted upon in the plan (not just included as "recommendations that are not goals and will not be acted upon as is planned currently).

These are examples of concerns provided by the public to the Heritage Tree Foundation that you should provide Forestry staff. 

Are these specific goals, as the article claims?  The article says that the plan includes a "framework for gauging adequate funding and staffing."  Where?  The only goal for funding is the goal below:              

    goal “UF-2 Resource Needs.- Ensure adequate resources are dedicated to the management of Austin’s urban forest and its 
                                                    ecosystem function to support the City’s urban forest vision”.  

What are the "adequate resources needed"?  How much is needed?   Who will do the work, what will be done, when, how? 

These questions should be answered in the plan but no details are included, just the general goal to "ensure that adequate resources are dedicated." 

The article quotes Angela Hanson , PARD Urban Forester, explaining that this plan "lays out the strategic direction PARD Forestry wants the other City departments to take and those departments have to implement their own plans". 

This means that other departments will have to write their own plans, figure out the resources they need, and implement their plans.  But there is no timeframe for the other departments to do so other than "in 1 to 20 years." 

In addition, PARD Forestry is one of the departments and they would also have to write their own specific plan according to these general guidelines, but there is no commitment for them to do so. 

The problem with a vague higher level strategic plan to guide other plans is that the mandate from City Ordinance is (for the Urban Forestry Board with assistance from Forestry staff) to develop a COMPREHENSIVE URBAN FORESTRY MANAGEMENT plan. 

This plan is not that.  It is not a plan, it is not comprehensive and it does not manage the urban forest. 

The article says that the plan is "especially necessary because of the drought." 

Will the goal below provide the trees the care and water they need during the drought, as the article says?  Will the goal below prevent more trees from dying?:           

     goal "PCM-6 Landscape Maintenance Management Plans.-  Ensure that trees and vegetation are properly cared for and survive,
              both during the plant establishment period and in perpetuity through such means as landscape management plans,
            maintenance agreements and/or monitoring."

The article explains that Forestry needs to double its staff to be able to achieve these goals and City Council needs to  appropriate the budget for this. 

If Forestry knows that it needs to double its staff, and is asking City Council for $1.7M this budget cycle (with the hope to get some money this year and a little more next year, and so on), why are those estimates not included in the plan?

                                    OUTDATED AND INCOMPLETE DATA WILL LEAD TO INACCURATE CONCLUSIONS

This plan uses 2006 satellite data that is outdated and inaccurate, and yet claims "good performance because the data is updated regularly".  This is completely incorrect.  The GIS canopy data is just being updated to 2010 (see GIS Forestry brochure).

The tree inventory used had a sample size that is too small to extrapolate and leads to inaccurate conclusions.  This tree inventory done by ArborPro (see report ) only included 14,495 trees from a few parks and major streets (see map).  This tree inventory include tree species, age, condition, maintenance needed, etc.  The street trees data, based on only 6,465 street trees, was extrapolated with the STRATUM model, underestimating the total tree population in Austin's streets and parks to be 155,762 trees.  This also produced a large statistical error when analyzed with the standard STRATUM model (click this link and look for the Standard Error column). 

                                                                   AUSTIN'S URBAN FOREST PLAN SHOULD

a) Evaluate existing tree canopy conditions,
b) Record concerns from the community,
c) Establish the goals for the urban forest (community, Urban Forestry board and Forestry staff working together),
d) Develop an action plan to achieve these goals.  

The action plan should include who, what, when and how.  The plan should have deliverables, and short and long term goals.

The plan should include:

•  Existing canopy in various areas based on reliable and recent data.  If this data is not available, the plan should include a plan to
   obtain this data with a clear deadline and responsibilities to complete this work. 

•  Concerns and desires for the urban forest from the community:   Issues like watering trees during drought, maintaining trees so that
   they don’t die, protecting heritage trees and other valuable trees, planting trees where needed including cemeteries, etc.

•  Other concerns with Forestry practices to improve tree survival, such as Forestry establishing and following recognized standards of
   care, applying uniform standards to all areas and departments, training crews, hiring experienced staff and foresters, etc.

•  Plans (who, what, when and how) to attain future canopy goals for different areas (residential, commercial, preserves, etc.).

•  Plans (who, what, when and how) to address the concerns brought up by the community.

•  Appropriate metrics that evaluate current performance.  It is absolutely necessary to be honest with current performance to be able to 
   improve.

                                 THINGS ARE NOT SO GOOD - FORESTRY FAILED A CITY AUDIT A FEW MONTHS AGO

Forestry failed a City Audit less than a year ago because of several serious operational problems, and for not having Standards of Care and an Urban Forestry plan.  The proposed plan will NOT help resolve the operational issues that made them fail the audit. The proposed plan will NOT help preserve trees and increase canopy.  

Forestry incorrectly gives itself and the urban forest “GOOD” ratings (see “Performance Indicators”) in some categories.   This is very concerning because issues that do not get acknowledged can not be improved.  

For instance: one of the Performance Indicators claims that Neighborhood Action is “good" because “there is citywide active participation of neighborhood groups and most neighborhood plans include urban forestry goals.”   However, many neighborhood plans DO NOT include forestry goals except for a mention to “plant and preserve trees,” and there is NO citywide active participation of neighborhood groups, except for a few neighborhoods. 

In fact, often, active neighborhood participation occurs when there is a need for neighbors to prevent public trees from being removed by Forestry plans (Example: 28 Barton Springs heritage trees planned removal in 2009), or when public trees are dying due to lack of adequate care from Forestry (Example: public cemetery trees).

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________                                                   
                           
                               
07/2012  Please, provide feedback via email to urbanforestplan@austintexas.gov:       
                                        “what should be done for trees and vegetation in public spaces”

as feedback for the Austin Urban Forest Management Plan that is being written by PARD Forestry with approval from the Urban Forest board.   

The proposed plan is so vague that it is NOT a plan and will NOT provide improvements.  Click here to see the draft plan, the Performance Indicators and the plan's outline and vision statement.  More details on the issues with the plan below.  Tree inventory data below. 

There will be "a more in depth" community workshop in August 13th for individuals and groups selected by Forestry.  Please, contact angela.hanson@austintexas.gov if you would like to attend.  

In this workshop, participants will be given stickers to rate the Policy Element (plan goals already written by Forestry staff without public input) they support the most so that Forestry can determine which one to do “if the City could do only one.”

                  THE DRAFT OF THE COMMUNITY PLAN HAS ALREADY BEEN WRITTEN WITHOUT COMMUNITY INPUT

What will Forestry do with the community’s comments?  They will be included in the plan, under “Urban Forest Plan-Recommendations” (read plan outline).  The community input will NOT affect the goals of the plan (the Policy Elements) because these have already been written by Forestry.  The community input will not affect the priorities for the goals of the plans since the community input will NOT affect the goals. 

    A VAGUE, GENERAL AND INEFFECTIVE PLAN WITHOUT AN ACTION PLAN, TO BE IMPLEMENTED IN 1 TO 20 YEARS

There is no mention of who will execute the goals, or more importantly WHAT, WHEN, AND HOW the goals will be implemented.  Some of the goals are so vague that they can NOT be implemented.  There will be no real improvements because of the vagueness. 

The timeline for implementation "from 1 to 20 years" is too vague and long.

For instance: goal “UF-2 Resource Needs.- Ensure adequate resources are dedicated to the management of Austin’s urban forest and its ecosystem function to support the City’s urban forest vision”. 

The goal does not say what resources are needed, when they are needed, how they will be obtained and who will provide the resources.  If the idea is for some departments to develop the "details" later, the plan does not say that an action plan will be developed by a specified date by a specified department.  There is no commitment to implement this goal.

Goal “PR-2 Protection of Public Trees During Development.- Evaluate and enhance urban forest protection during and after development to promote the long term health and survival of urban forest elements retained during development.” 

Who will do this?  What will be done?  When will it be done? How will it be done? 

          LACK OF ADEQUATE COMMUNITY NOTIFICATION, EXCEPT TO SELECTED GROUPS THAT FORESTRY FAVORS

This is just about the only opportunity for the community to provide your feedback since this “community plan” has already being written WITHOUT public input. 

I am attaching the draft of the “Policy Elements,” that are the goals and heart of the plan.  There has been NO COMMUNITY INPUT for the plan other than to review the Vision and Vision Components in the only Open House in April 2012 (after these were already written by Forestry staff), and the 6 community engagement events of last week that occurred after the plan was already written by Forestry staff. 

The schedule for the 6 Open Houses from last week were not announced to the public or to the Heritage Tree Foundation, even though we asked for the schedule twice in the last month.  We found the schedule at this web site www.austinurbanforestry.org but Forestry told, many weeks ago, other groups they favor to tell their members and friends about that website.  This may result in Forestry getting much more “community” feedback from the groups they prefer.

The Heritage Tree Foundation has been asking for the public to be able to provide input to the plan from the beginning, 2 years ago.  Patrick Brewer, a citizen then Chair of the Urban Forestry board and now leader of the plan, supports Forestry staff unconditionally.  This plan is his legacy. 

He said back then when the public asked to participate that the public will be able to participate not with the defining the vision, not with reviewing the outline, but once "we get to the meat of the coconut."  That never occurred even though some board members repeatedly asked for public input.

The board members were supposed to rotate in the working group formed to review the plan as Forestry staff wrote it.  As time passed, only the board members that supported Forestry staff were chosen to participate in the working group.  The remaining members were not even notified of the progress. 

The plan and its progress were the best kept secrets in town all of last year.  A couple of months ago, Forestry started to present the progress during the monthly Urban Forestry board meetings, as a formality, to be able to claim that the public and all of the board members participated in the development of the plan, while actually the public has been prevented from participating even though some board members and the Heritage Tree Foundation asked repeatedly that the public be included.

There was even a board retreat meeting a year ago where the Urban Forestry board insisted that the public be allowed to attend and participate in the meeting.  Three days before the meeting, Forestry claimed that the public could not attend because it violated the Open Meeting Act even though the City's Public information Office had informed them that it did not. 

Forestry then stipulated that the public could attend but could not eat the food provided at the meeting because there was only enough for the Urban Forestry board and city staff.  No one from the public attended that meeting, not because of the food but because the public did not feel welcomed.
   

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