By Daniella Pereira, VP of Community Conservation
The Chicago Urban Forestry Advisory Board hosted its inaugural meeting on June 22, 2023, at City Hall and all board members were present. The meetings are under the Illinois Open Meeting Act and were voice recorded with the plan of live streaming for future meetings. There were no public comments made, but there is seating available for the public. As TreeKeepers and tree stewards, I hope you will be able to join us in the future and feel free to participate in public comments about all the good work you do and any concerns. The Board is planning to host a total of three meetings this calendar year with the next one in August.
The Board’s duties are to:
- Develop and update the Chicago Urban Forest Management Plan.
- Review, assess, and advise on city plans, policies, and procedures.
- Recommend legislation to City Council.
- Facilitate public education.
- Establish a Heritage Tree Program and ordinance.
This list is not exclusive and we have already expanded upon this with recommendations to further discuss issues with 311 and update the Chicago Landscape Ordinance which hasn’t been updated since 1991!
The agenda was modified at the beginning of the meeting and the topics about “lead pipes and city trees” and the “1990 Mayoral Live Tree Removal Policy” were tabled until the next meeting. After introductions, Senior Forester from the Bureau of Forestry, Joe McCarthy, introduced the Chicago Urban Forest Management Plan, completed in January 2023. (Openlands TreeKeepers newsletters will take pieces of this plan and discuss it more thoroughly in future newsletters too.) Rosa Escareño, General Superintendent and CEO of Chicago Park District was impressed with the plan and said that she would like to have an urban forestry management plan for CPD too. I acknowledged that the reason all the different city departments and agencies are on the advisory board is that we need to work together to have united goals and one plan for the entire urban forest in the city of Chicago and not siloed plans for each individual land manager.
Environment Board Chair, Alderperson Maria Hadden, spoke about all the new trees that have been planted and are suffering from the drought. According to the City’s planting contract, it does not mandate that trees need to be watered by the contractor, only that they need to keep them alive by the end of their contract which is for two years. However, the Deputy Commissioner for the Bureau of Forestry, Malcom Whiteside, can announce when a drought is happening and have contractors stop planting trees and begin watering. On June 2, 2023, Deputy Commissioner Whiteside sent out the following email to contractors and other departments to water trees:
The U.S. Drought Monitor Group has declared the Chicago area as of May 30, 2023 as a moderate drought condition status, with that declaration I’m requesting all of our tree planting contractors per contract to begin watering the City of Chicago pkwy trees. Chicago is currently at a D1 status (Trees show drought stress). Please notify all of our tree planting partners.
Alderperson Hadden also mentioned that the newly planted tree door hangers that buildings receive when new trees are planted, were not sufficient to educate neighbors about watering trees. Many times, the door hangers blow away or only one is delivered at a multi-unit apartment building. Door hangers are also a concern when parkways are marked for new trees. A different door hanger with an opt-out of having a tree planted is hung. Many times the resident didn’t see the hanger and they were not contacted about having a new tree. This has upset many residents who are surprised when a new tree is planted and so alderpersons are now hearing the brunt of it. This began a longer conversation about watering and public education.
- The first recommendation is to add in requirements to the tree planting contract that stipulated watering trees by the contractor even when there is no drought. This was countered about the costliness of watering contracts, but frankly, other major cities do it, so should we. Trees have a lot of energy in their root systems that could make them sustain and stay green for two years with limited water, however, this does affect them to truly become established and many of these trees, without regular watering won’t make it to year five. -More to come on watering and the planting contract in the future.
- We discussed public education and the need for more of it. First to educate City Council. When the ordinance was first proposed to start an advisory board, Deputy Commissioner Whiteside and CDOT Senior Forester, Jeff Brink were brought into a City Council meeting and asked many questions about city trees. Now that the advisory board is running, there should be an annual portion of one of city council’s meetings to educate alderpersons and fix any inaccuracies. Second, there is a lot of education that needs to be made available to the public about trees. The CUFAB should also share and when needed, develop electronic and physical education materials that alderpersons can share with their constituents. Alderperson Hadden is pulling a couple of us together to work on and education subcommittee of CUFAB. – More to come about this in the future.
- The City has Tree Ambassadors that do go door to door to ask people if they want to have a tree planted and mark the site. However, sometimes more education is needed for homeowners, and a great way to do this is to make sure that the 22 community areas receiving at least 40% of the trees through Chicago’s “Our Roots” program, also have one of more TreePlanters grants. This way the community not only requests trees but will be led by TreeKeepers and Openlands’ arborists to plant their tree own tree and learn how to care for their new tree over the next three years. As a community development tool, the TreePlanters grant connects neighbors to one another and is a communications tool about their neighborhood development and ownership. The community becomes aware of all the new trees their community receives and how they can also care for the newly planted city trees too.
On June 22, the long-awaited “Request for Proposals to inoculate healthy ash tree Emerald Ash Borer treatments finally came out! This means that companies can bid on the contract and are due back 7/28. A vendor that I spoke with recently mentioned that they are cautiously optimistic that vendors will be able to get everything together this season to make injections a success. It could be difficult for a single company to find enough employees to get started and enough of the chemical mix too. Since this year has us experiencing a drought, trees will probably be slow on the uptake of product and could hamper expectations for the number of trees to inject the remainder of the year. More to come once this is awarded.
It was an auspicious meeting and I do believe the CUFAB will be able to make things happen. I started to create my own parking lot list of items to discuss and take action on in the future. Openlands will set up a meeting in the next few months to hear from you all on any ideas and concerns for the CUFAB to address. Until then, thank you for all the work you do to educate neighbors and care you give our city trees.