A Description of Texas Municipal Forestry Programs: How Critical Program Elements Vary According to City Size, Expenditures, and Assistance from the State
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Purpose: The purpose of this research study was to describe how six critical program elements of urban and community forestry programs in Texas municipalities vary according to city size, expenditures, and assistance from Texas A&M Forest Service. The six critical program elements are 1) staffing levels, 2) tree ordinances, 3) advocacy, 4) urban forest management plans, 5) tree inventories, and 6) the program's status in the larger municipal structure. This study also was designed to compare current expenditure rates against benchmarks set by previous research studies found in the literature.
Method: Survey research was the sole method of data collection for this study. The survey was sent to 441 Texas city managers, parks department directors and other executive-level parks department staff, and municipal foresters in 241 unique Texas cities. Surveys were returned from 81 unique cities for a response rate of about 34% at the city level. Surveys were returned from 93 individuals for a response rate of 21.1% at the individual level.
Findings: Expenditures on urban forestry activities are low compared to the findings of related literature and represent a continued downward slide. On average, Texas cities of any size are spending less on urban forestry per capita today than the average U.S. city was spending at any period previously recorded; 1974, 1980, 1986 or 1994. If the Arbor Day Foundation's Tree City USA expenditure requirement of $2 per capita (set in 1974) is adjusted for inflation, it rises to $9.38 in 2012 dollars; only about 13% of respondents meet or exceed this adjusted value. Additionally, spending on urban forestry as a percentage of a municipality's total budget is quite low.
There appears to be a strong connection between a city receiving assistance from the Texas A&M Forest Service and those cities currently possessing the critical elements of an urban and community forestry program. Strong tree ordinances are relatively common in Texas municipalities, including municipal codes that protect trees on private property during construction activity or regulate the removal of trees on private property. Tree boards and non-profit groups are both fairly common as well. Urban forestry management plans are very uncommon and there appears to be a strong connection between high expenditure rates and management plans. The same connection to high expenditure rate can't be made with tree inventories of street trees or park trees which are also very uncommon, whether they are comprehensive or sample inventories.