EXPAND URBAN FORESTRY PROGRAMS

Nevada could benefit from a statewide urban forestry strategy that would bolster current efforts across communities, building on the Urban and Community Forestry Program in the Nevada Division of Forestry (NDF).

Planting, growing, and maintaining urban trees and community forests can sequester carbon and help cities adapt to higher temperatures and other climate change impacts, as well as urban heat island (UHI) effects. Shading provided by trees can also reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and cool nearby buildings.

Trees take time and continuous care to grow large and provide optimal benefits to people and communities. However, urban and community forests in Nevada have been in decline for over a decade.

Although Nevada does not have a specific policy to address urban forests or tree protection—NRS 528.098 only has a definition of Urban Forestry and NRS 527.050 provides some protection for vegetation, but mostly state and federal listed species—NDF manages a federally funded Urban and Community Forestry Program that provides technical and financial assistance throughout Nevada.

Many Nevada cities and towns have urban tree programs with staff experts, tree ordinances, and management plans, and 12 cities are currently recognized under the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA Program. The City of Las Vegas is updating its Master Plan, and outlines specific steps for the city to expand its urban forestry program (Box 1).

Statewide tree planting programs or initiatives can also be very effective ways to promote, engage, and involve the public and private industry. In New York City, for example, over 50,000 people were engaged in a citizen science effort to plant 1 million trees across the area.

An integrated statewide strategy could support adoption of these programs across Nevada, with a particular benefit to underserved communities. Such a strategy could include, for example, requirements for increased tree coverage when constructing residences and commercial buildings. This increase in canopy coverage would help reduce UHI effects, if strictly enforced.

Box 1. The City of Las Vegas Master Plan Update: Urban Forestry Section 

The Master Plan update includes many recommendations for the Las Vegas area that could be adapted, as needed, and applied statewide. Key actions from the Master Plan Update: as well as the Shades of Green Dec 07 NDF Best Management Practices for Urban Trees in Southern Nevada.

  • Maintain Tree City USA recognition.
  • Plant 60,000 “bulletproof” native and adaptive trees on public and private property that are tolerant to heat, cold, and wind; water-efficient; low-maintenance; non-invasive; and pest and disease resistant. (Note that these are mostly novel forest ecosystems in Nevada, meaning forest ecosystems where forests don’t normally grow, and therefore, the need to understand which trees and plants are appropriate for a changing climate in any given region is important.) 
  • To further reduce extreme heat and the UHI effect, support and accent trees with heat- and water-efficient native and adapted plants, including shrubs, groundcover, vines, agaves, cacti, succulents, yuccas, ornamental grasses, and perennials. 
  • Strengthen landscaping requirements within LVMC Title 19 to ensure trees and landscaping are not lost due to exceptions and waivers of codified standards.
  • Institute resilient urban design best management practices to ensure high-quality landscape architecture for public facilities and private developments.
  • Have tree experts/arborists/urban foresters on staff for policy guidance, enforcement, and to provide technical assistance to the public.
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GREENHOUSE GAS IMPLICATIONS

Urban forests’ have the ability to achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions through carbon sequestration, as well as providing shade and cooling effects that can reduce air conditioning demands of nearby buildings. However, Nevada-specific data and research are needed to understand the carbon sequestration and energy-saving potential of Nevada’s urban forest ecosystems. With a current LiDAR and Multispectral remote sensing dataset, which Nevada does not have, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) iTree software can generate these estimates along with other urban forest benefits. 

There are tools available to estimate urban forests’ current carbon sequestered and rates of carbon sequestration, but these estimates require data on the current urban forest to have any acceptable accuracy. With up-to-date tree data, the iTree software can make a number of estimates of the value of a single tree and entire urban forest, including carbon sequestration. There are a number of other climate change and carbon tools here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/tools/list?tools_tab=1.

There are estimates in academic literature. However, since Nevada is the driest state in the United States and most of its cities and towns are in areas where natural forests do not grow, the challenges and outcomes to urban forestry practices are relatively unique, and any estimates applied to Nevada’s urban forests should come from site-specific, Nevada data. 

Indeed, there are assumptions that can be made regarding relative impact and timeframes, but this will require site-specific data for those assumptions to have validity and utility toward understanding urban forest climate impacts in Nevada.

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CLIMATE JUSTICE

Urban and community forestry can improve public health by reducing exposure to extreme heat, which is most prevalent in low-income communities

For example, as part of a case study identifying the ways in which ecosystems contribute to the well-being of people living in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) researchers modeled the impact of trees on public lands within the Urban Growth Boundary of Corvallis. Impacts included reductions in four air pollutants (O3, NO2, SO2, PM10), carbon sequestration, decreased stormwater runoff, building energy savings due to shading, and—thanks to city trees—increased real estate values (Phillips, 2011). Boise, Idaho, had similar results.

Urban tree coverage may be disproportionately low in poor and minority urban communities, meaning that these communities are being deprived of public environmental benefits, a form of environmental and climate injustice. Indeed, during listening sessions, Nevadans living in urban areas, particularly in Las Vegas, expressed a need for additional greenscape and a desire for more trees, particularly in low-income neighborhoods.

Expanding tree planting and tree protection could benefit urban communities, but affordability of trees and tree planting, along with watering expenses, could be a challenge. This issue is complex and touches on multiple issues around urban planning.

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INTEGRATED ECONOMIC ASSESSMENT

Expanding urban forestry programs would require additional resources. Additional staff, especially tree experts, may be needed to fully implement this policy. 

Building on lessons from other states, some use reclaimed/recycled urban wood programs that generate income on the sale of wood products, which can help fund tree programs, sequester carbon in wood products, and provide jobs and potential expansion of tree service products. 

Indeed, the NDF funded Urban and Community Forestry Program can provide federal dollars to match state funds for tree programs, but not at the scale necessary to offset UHI impacts, particularly in low-income communities. In the past, Nevada’s 28 conservation districts have been an excellent partner in applying for Urban and Community Forestry grant dollars to organize community tree plantings, tree care workshops, arborist training, and participate with the NDF nursery for tree sales. Leveraging these initial investments is an opportunity to expand and protect underserved communities. 

Any upfront investment would be matched by increases in public health and the wellbeing of urban areas, particularly when connected with low-income communities. With current data, iTree software has the ability to calculate and apply monetary value to the services provided by trees and urban forests. Typically, the return on investment (ROI) is very high for planting and growing trees. 

For example, in Redlands, California, where a successful urban forestry program has been implemented (Box 2), research has shown that trees lining the streets of California produce benefits exceeding $1 billion in value. For every $1 spent on tree plantings and care, the community receives $5.82 worth of returned investment value, on average. This financial accounting does not factor the value-add of psychological and physiological benefits to humans.

Box 2. Redlands, California: Urban Forestry

The City of Redlands California has a Tree City USA designation and comprehensive Street Tree Policy and Protection Guidelines Manual, in accordance with Redland Municipal Code 12.52.070, that could be adapted into a successful statewide Urban Forest Policy for Nevada. “Importance of urban street tree policies: A comparison of neighbouring Southern California cities, analyzed the different impacts of policies in two cities, Loma Linda and Redlands. The authors described the effectiveness of policies that can maximize the benefits of street trees, and how policies that are poorly conceived, or absent, negatively impact urban forests.

The City of Redlands considers the tree canopy as one of its most-valuable assets, and the care for the community forest must be a public/private partnership. Redlands City Council established Resolution 5574 to form the Redlands Street Tree Committee comprising appointed citizens. Resolution 6249 expanded the committee’s duties to include policy advisory to the City Council and staff for planting, care, and removal of trees.

Redlands Municipal Code 5.04.90 requires landscapers, private gardeners, and arborists to be licensed and/or permitted to work on City trees using the protocols outlined in the Street Tree Policy and Protection Guidelines Manual. Policy 3.22b in The City of Redlands’ General Plan, City Design Section, outlines additional guidelines to “Maintain and improve Redlands’ tees, parks, and citrus groves.” Policy 3.29q directs the plantings of large-scale trees on arterial streets. Policy 3.10 directs for the planting of medians and other landscapes that would reduce the expanse of pavement.

Taking a top-down approach through the City Council, intertwined with a grassroots approach by citizen committee members, has ensured the City of Redlands is working in unison for the cultivation and preservation of its community forest. The policies enabled different bodies of government to work alongside the private sector to invest in and protect the urban tree canopy.

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IMPLEMENTATION FEASIBILITY

New legislation may be needed to fully implement this policy and build on NDF’s existing Urban and Community Forestry Program. In addition to the statutes and programs described above, the following may provide potential models:

  1. Heat Island Community Actions Database (searchable database of state and municipal heat island reduction policies)
  2. Miami-Dade County Landscape Ordinance, Miami-Dade County Code of Ordinances Chapter 18A
  3. Clark County Unified Development Code
    1. Design and Layout of Parking, Clark County Code of Ordinances 30.60.050(c)(9) (parking lot landscaping to reduce heat island effect)
    2. Site Landscape & Screening Standards, Clark County Code of Ordinances 30.64 (one purpose is to reduce heat)
       

There appear to be no conflicting federal laws that govern public lands use and federally owned land, but more research on this issue would be required.

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