The benefits of urban forests are numerous – from improving the overall quality of life for citizens, through mitigating severe weather conditions such as strong winds, floods and hot weather, to reducing the effects of climate change by means of carbon sequestration and storage. Yet, despite all the potential benefits, there is still a profound lack of an integrated approach toward management of urban and peri-urban forests. FAO’s aim is to remedy that by developing and introducing guidelines on urban forestry in July 2012, which will contain a selection of good practices as well as an overview of successful initiatives around the world.
Urban forestry is a relatively new discipline and therefore the rules for successful management and preservation have not yet been well defined. The roots of urban forestry may be traced back to North America, where in 1896 the first tree warden law was passed in Massachusetts, and the other five New England states quickly followed. Therefore, the US experience may be taken as a starting point in developing a comprehensive international approach to urban forestry management. In 1990, a special body, or the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council (NUCFAC), was established with the US Forest Service in order to promote a consistent vision for urban forestry practices.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the European Union also takes some steps toward urban forestry development. The EU Forestry Strategy emphasises the importance of sustainable forestry management (SFM), however, forest policy is to a large extent dealt with on a national level as it falls within the sphere of competence of EU Member States. This also refers to the area of urban forestry management, where Member States have the authority to decide how to apply measures and how to allocate financial resources for urban forestry projects.
Yet, the need to promote sustainable urban forestry has been acknowledged on a community level and in 2010, the European Commission introduced its initiative “European Green Capital”, with the purpose of encouraging cities to pay more attention to their environmental development and create “role models” for other European cities to follow. This initiative of the European Commission seems to reflect the need to motivate local authorities to increase the amount of forestry investments intended for the improvement of environment in their respective urban areas. Improving of urban environment and quality of life is also supported with the assistance of the LIFE programme of the European Commission.
However, the variety of EU initiatives and strategies related to urban forestry are applicable more or less on a voluntary basis and integrated community policy seems to be missing on a European level. According to the European Environment Agency’s publication “10 messages for 2010 Forest Ecosystems”, about three quarters of the population in the EEA region live in urban areas and expectations are that numbers will rise up to 80% by 2020. This constitutes the need for more comprehensive actions directed at establishing European standards in the area of urban and peri-urban forestry.
Establishing of standards or guidelines in the field of urban forestry, regardless whether they would take the form of a common EU policy, or be applicable on a global scale, as envisaged by the FAO, is quite a challenging task. By default, urban forestry refers to management of more or less limited spaces and has to take into account a variety of circumstances such as light and water supply, poor soil quality, urban planning, etc. There are also cultural and social specifics to consider and they differ greatly from one region to another. Therefore, initiatives for creating public awareness about the importance of urban forests are quite important as well as encouraging authorities to plan forestry investments in their budget when focusing on the development of urban and peri-urban areas.