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Sandpoint’s Urban Forest Program Gets Strategic

A new vision, new programs and a renewed dedication to our city’s trees

By Abigail Thorpe

Drive through Sandpoint, and one of the first things you’ll notice—even subconsciously appreciate—are the beautiful variety of trees that line our streets and dot our public and private lands. Sandpoint’s tree canopy is one of the things that make our downtown and residential streets so special—and that’s for good reason.

Trees have long been prized and valued by the local community, and the City of Sandpoint has been a member of Tree City USA since 1996—soon celebrating its 25th anniversary of caring for our urban canopy through membership with the national program. Sandpoint has a long history of participating with the Tree City USA program and protecting its urban canopy—a passion that comes from the community and members stressing the importance of our local trees.

“Our trees—and particularly with the mature urban canopy that we are fortunate enough to have in Sandpoint—they are a connection with history; many of these trees are decades old,” explains Jennifer Stapleton, Sandpoint’s city administrator. “Having a good tree canopy is important overall for air quality and environment, as well as the character and charm of our community.”

Sandpoint’s Tree Committee was established back in 2008 with the purpose of serving as an advisory committee to the mayor and city council, working with a designated city forester on the preservation, protection and management of the city’s community forest, predominantly trees in the public right of way.

“One of our priorities for the City of Sandpoint has been the protection of our tree canopy and our urban forest in the city,” says Stapleton. “Where we’re looking at the expansion of this is having a more proactive role and plan surrounding the trees and public parks that are owned by the city.”

The driving force behind the expansion and restructuring of the Urban Forest program is the slate of new revitalization projects in the downtown core. As the city has discussed the strategic plan for the downtown, a central part of this is treating the downtown as a park.

“Our trees are one of the draws for visitors and community members to come into the downtown,” explains Stapleton. “The trees, the flowers basket programs, the lighting of the trees in the winter—those are all activities that are generally managed by our Parks and Rec and Open Space division.”

Last fall, the decision was made to move the Urban Forest program oversight to the Parks and Recreation division in order to take a more strategic approach to the urban tree canopy and increase community engagement and education.

As part of the new programming, the city will be entering into a review and master planning of the Urban Forest program for the city, engaging the services of the Urban Forest Consulting Service to maximize the Urban Forest program. They’re kicking off by doing a full review of the urban forestry plans, including staffing, resources and the management of the urban forest in the public right of way, in an opportunity to gain feedback on what the city is doing well, and where there is room for improvement.

These efforts will also involve community engagement through town meetings, an anticipated public survey, and increased educational opportunities. “We’re excited to kick off this program in conjunction with Arbor Day,” says Stapleton.

One potential addition of the program will be offering best techniques and advice from an arborist to the community, in addition to improving the training of city staff. A current weakness of the Urban Forest program is that the information the city has gathered on city trees and their health has been made available on a public website, but hasn’t been communicated to the property owner who is taking care of that tree.

Communicating warning signs and what can be done to properly extend the health and life of a tree are central to preserving the urban forest we so value. “It’s about improving community engagement and involvement and more proactive outreach on our urban health than we have had in the past,” adds Stapleton.

Taking a more strategic approach to the urban tree canopy will extend to the annual NeighborWoods tree distribution program the city holds every year. They hope to be more strategic about areas where trees are needed, doing more target research for those areas, and paying attention to the different ages of trees that are spread out throughout the city.

In addition to getting involved with upcoming community engagement opportunities, Sandpoint locals and visitors can also learn about the various outstanding trees in the community through the Sandpoint Outstanding Trees booklet available online, or at the City Hall. The 40-page, full-color booklet is a tribute to some of Sandpoint’s most incredible trees, with the aim of increasing the public’s awareness and appreciation of our beautiful trees, in addition to functioning as a self-guided tour of some of the most outstanding trees in Sandpoint.

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