When the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service announced a historic $1.5 billion investment in urban forests, Scott Altenhoff, Manager of Urban & Community Forestry for Oregon’s Department of Forestry,  recognized a key opportunity for state foresters to take a step back and consider a whole-system approach to making the work of urban forestry more sustainable.  The funding, made available through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), coincided with Altenhoff’s involvement in developing the Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s (SFI) new SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard, which he believed could be leveraged to help outline key indicators for improving sustainability and connecting forests to communities.

“We, as municipal arborists and urban forestry professionals, are tasked with maximizing the benefits of trees and minimizing their liabilities. However, very few practitioners think about what we can do day in and day out to minimize our carbon footprint, model best practices, and lead by example. We should look at the net impact of our activities and how we can do more good and less harm. And the SFI initiative was one of the few forums that I know of that was discussing these issues, especially with regard to wood utilization and biomass utilization and creating regenerative systems,” says Altenhoff.

Oregon isn’t the only state that has used the SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard as a blueprint for department improvement. The New Jersey Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program also saw an opportunity to use ideas and themes from the SFI standard as part of their process to update New Jersey’s Community Forest Management Plan Guidelines.

“What the Sustainable Forestry Initiative aims to do on a broad national and international scale, New Jersey aims to do on a smaller statewide scale. The themes of resiliency, sustainability, and using trees and forests as solutions to community health and to address climate change are the same here…Communities in New Jersey have been managing their urban forests under Community Forest Management Plans for more than 30 years and it was important to the NJ Forest Service that the new plan guidelines align with these industry standards,” shared Brian McDonald, Program Coordinator for the New Jersey Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program.

Other state foresters are exploring certification to the SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard and using the framework as a tool for sector development and increased community engagement. “We followed the development of the standard closely and have been impressed with how it lattices in amongst the array of other Urban and Community Forestry standards, such as Tree City USA and the Urban Community Forestry Society Accreditation program. This new standard celebrates and recognizes these other important contributors to urban forest stewardship; it does not displace them. This makes the new SFI Standard an important contribution to the community of practice, and Washington, D.C. eagerly anticipates pursuing certification!”said Earl Eutsler, Associate Director for the Urban Forestry Division for Washington, D.C.’s District Department of Transportation.

Resolved to advance urban and community forestry

Interest in and support for the SFI standard is growing amongst municipal foresters as awareness spreads. The National Association of State Foresters (NASF) has approved a resolution in support of the SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard, which means this important new certification tool for urban and community sustainability will be able to reach directors of forestry agencies across NASF’s vast network.

NASF has served as a leading authority on forest management in the United States since 1920 and is composed of representatives across all 50 states, five U.S. territories, three nations, and the District of Columbia. Members manage and protect state and private forests, which cover almost two-thirds of all forests across the United States. State agencies have been helping communities for many years, and you can find their ongoing efforts highlighted in their forest action plans. The SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard is one more tool that state agencies and communities can use to better care for the forests and trees that care for people.

“This SFI standard is excellent work and getting all NASF’s membership on board to support established work like what SFI has done is exactly what the NASF resolution process is all about,” says Keith Wood, a member of NASF’s field staff, who heads the association’s Committee on Urban and Community Forestry.

For state foresters and other key stakeholders, endorsing the SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard presents a tangible opportunity to champion sustainability within their communities. By promoting awareness and facilitating the certification process, they can empower organizations to adopt best practices and cultivate thriving urban forests.

A collaborative tool for sustainably managed forests

The support from NASF on the SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standards allows for a larger effort to manage urban forests regionally and more efficiently throughout the nation. The importance of urban forests and their benefits cannot be understated, and compounding these benefits on a regional or multi-state scale will have a huge impact on our daily lives.

“I look forward to seeing cities and towns in our state seek third-party certification through SFI’s Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard. State foresters have long provided technical and financial assistance to help communities develop urban and community forestry plans, programs, and capacity to manage trees in cities and towns, using programs like Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA and Growth Award. Now, [we] have the ability to assist communities in taking the next step to develop sustainable, enduring, priority urban and community forestry programs through the new SFI standard,” shared President of NASF and South Carolina State Forester Scott Phillips.

“Cities and towns are key stakeholders for states to work with on this program, but the certification is also designed for other organizations or campuses that own, manage, or are responsible for urban forests. State foresters can support the implementation of the SFI standard in their state by raising awareness about this new opportunity and providing technical assistance as they seek to become certified,” says Phillips.

At its core, the SFI standard encapsulates a comprehensive approach to nurturing urban and community forests, and “NASF support was critical during the two-year standard development process,” says Paul Johnson, SFI’s Vice President of Urban and Community Forestry and Career Pathways. Developed collaboratively with NASF and other leading urban forestry organizations (including American Forests, Arbor Day Foundation, the International Society of Arboriculture, and the Urban and Community Forestry Society), the standard has 16 objectives addressing important issues like community engagement and disaster readiness. Through its implementation, the standard will bolster the resilience and sustainability of our urban ecosystems across the United States, regardless of their size or location.

“We are thrilled to deepen our work with NASF to deliver resources to support the implementation of the new standard and are grateful for NASF’s long-time service to municipalities and diverse membership. By collaborating together, we can better serve urban forests with the world’s first forest standard for communities,” said SFI Director of Urban and Community Forestry in the U.S., Mike Martini.

Aligned with NASF leaders, the SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard aims to not just sustain urban forests but also foster community cohesion through the influence of trees. Learn more about the world’s first forest standard for communities and how the SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard is leading the way to greener, healthier urban and community forests with the support of NASF at forests.org/UrbanStandard.


SIGN UP to receive our Monthly Newsletter.