Council sets vision for addressing the needs of Austin’s trees

Austin City Council planted a vision for the city’s trees after adopting an Urban Forest Master Plan at its March 6 meeting.

“A plan is needed if the city wants to place the same priority on green infrastructure and urban forestry as other major infrastructure,” said Angela Hanson, urban forester with the city of Austin.

Austin has more than 300,000 trees on public lands, according to a 2008 tree inventory cited in the master plan, and the plan states that the city’s urban forest “increases the quality of life” for residents.

Work on the Urban Forest Master Plan began in 2011. The goal of the adopted plan is to provide coordinated goals for various departments to strive for, Hanson said.

“There’s a lot of really great work going on within the city. It’s just not necessarily coordinated or guided by one strategic vision,” Hanson said. “That’s the purpose of this plan.”

The master plan does not dictate how the various departments will address the policy elements but does establish some elements that departments should address including protecting trees during development, creating tree canopy cover goals and recycling green waste.

City staff said there are 14 different departments that deal with trees in some capacity, and there are 20 priority actions in the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan that relate to urban forestry.

Hanson said the plan’s scope is only on public trees, but there has been discussion on how to include private trees into the plan.

The lack of provisions for private trees was one of multiple concerns raised during the meeting by council members and residents. Residents also cited the lack of public comments and performance benchmarks in the plan as well as minimal updated data.

“While this is a good effort, it could be much improved if a couple of things were added to the plan,” said Michael Fossum, executive director of the Austin Heritage Tree Foundation.

Fossum suggested the city add stipulations for private trees, update the plan as new data becomes available and include public input when determining performance indicators.

Councilwoman Kathie Tovo asked city staff when additional data collection could be incorporated into the plan to help inform management decisions. Councilman Chris Riley pushed to ensure that data incorporate information on the city’s entire tree canopy and not just the public trees.

One of the first implementation actions in the plan is to gather data within 18 months of the plan’s adoption on the city’s urban forest, Hanson said. She added that the collected information would pertain to both public and private trees and be useful for all 14 different departments that affect the urban forest.

“It’s going to be a long process if we want the right data and comprehensive data,” Hanson said.

City staffers said they are still considering options when it comes to a private tree plan.

“This is a very significant achievement,” Riley said. “To be able to have a plan for dealing with the trees on public property is extremely important, and I’m so grateful for all the work that has been invested in getting us as far as we gotten.”


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