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Why Chicago Needs an Urban Forestry Advisory Board

By Openlands Vice President of Community Conservation, Daniella Pereira

Chicago needs its trees. 

Chicago’s trees have always provided respite in its shade on a hot day, a connection to nature where we live, and health benefits by cleaning our air and reducing flooding. 

But our tree canopy faces threats that make Chicago susceptible to flooding, heat islands, and environmental inequities.  Pests like the emerald ash borer alone are killing 11% of the city’s trees with at least half of the 409,000 ash trees (USFS Tree Census) already removed. The current lack of environmental strategy, poor or incorrect maintenance, and misinformation among Chicago residents to the necessity and benefit of trees, will lead to unnecessary injury, mortality, and removal of otherwise flourishing trees, which affects the health of the larger urban forest and our city’s residents. 

In the last few years we’ve seen the most net tree loss of trees than the last 30 years. Current City tree maintenance is on an “as-needed” basis that creates gross inequities between neighborhoods. Funds to prune trees and plant new ones have been constrained. Meanwhile, we continue to see the removal of public trees due to new development, infrastructure updates, and Aldermanic privilege – with no public policy direction to deter their removal. 

This shrinking canopy affects all Chicagoans – from the value of our homes to the safety of our neighborhoods to the quality of air we all breathe. We must advance policies and actions to protect Chicago’s trees, and recognize that they are critical infrastructure to combat climate change. 

An opportunity exists to rebuild a healthy and resilient urban forest, one that demonstrates Chicago’s leadership on environmental sustainability, transparency, and equity.

For the City of Chicago to sustain and grow its urban forest, City Council must pass an ordinance to create an Urban Forestry Advisory Board. The Board will be able to affect immediate changes by enacting policies and practices to improve the urban forest and centralize planning with all agencies that interact with trees. It will also identify opportunities to supplement public with private funds, and better coordinate partners’ efforts. Appointed Board members, made up of Department Commissioners, industry leaders, and community members will be expected to contribute their time to attend Board meetings and share associated administrative functions without monetary compensation.

Trees need care, and they need management just like our streets and buildings do. With the urgent challenges Chicago faces with air pollution, flooding, and excessive heat – our urban forest is one of our strongest strategies to curb the effects of climate change.  

An Urban Forestry Advisory Board will put us on that path. 

There are ways you can help – You can sign this petition to show your support of the Urban Forestry Advisory Board, and if you live in Chicago, you can send an email to your Alderman saying you want them to vote “yes” on the Urban Forestry Advisory Board ordinance. Please share this message to gain others’ support!

Update:

The City Council voted to advance the ordinance out of the Rules Committee and Alderman Waguespack is guiding it through the legislative process. Under his leadership, and support from its many co-sponsors and your advocacy, we are confident that this ordinance will pass City Council in the coming months.

10 comments

  1. We should start with the proposed Obama Presidential Center, which will remove around 800 trees from Jackson Park. A 235 foot tall mid-rise building, along with four other, lower buildings on twenty acres of this historic, National Register listed public Park. We need to move the OPC out of the Park.
    We should look at our urban parkway trees, which currently have a survival rate of under fifty percent. They do not, currently, get watered enough.
    We need to consider our choices, as far as replacements, and avoid planting just one or two species. Enough of the locusts. Bring back the oaks.

    1. Hi Ross,
      These are all very important considerations. With the UFAB in place, the city will finally have a board of experts to advocate for the tree canopy and take care of issues such as the ones you listed. Thank you for your insight!

  2. Hi Daniella, my comment is in support of Ross Petersen’s to you. Where is the vehement statement from you-all about saving the 800-1,000 trees the OPC plans to remove from Jackson Park? Yes, there should be an oversight board, but save Jackson Park’s trees now!

    1. Hi Stephanie,
      Openlands does oppose the removal of any healthy trees on public land. Unfortunately there are no protections for these trees and nothing currently illegal with removing them. We have seen 19K trees removed solely on parkways in 2019. Until a Board is established to discuss unnecessary tree removals and come up with a solution, our opposition to tree removals will be piece meal. Thank you for your service as a TK!

  3. Seattle created an Urban Forestry Commission 11 years ago. It role is to advise the Mayor and City Council on legislation and actions affecting trees and the urban forest. Nine city Departments have oversight on trees but many of the decisions are still made behind closed doors. A basic need of all cities is to have a strong Tree and Urban Forest Protection Ordinance as well as to create an Urban Forest Management Plan which gets updated every 5 years. Its also critical to have strong citizen support through non-profits. See https://www.seattle.gov/urbanforestrycommission.

    1. Hi Steve,

      Yes, Seattle is one of many cities with a forestry commission/board, and Chicago is quite behind other cities when it comes to having governing bodies that advocate for our urban canopy. Thank you for sharing this info!

  4. An (anonymous) Chicago Alderman is looking around for an example of highly protective legislation concerning the protection of urban forestry and Parks. I think the suggestion to build on Riis Park may have something to do with this. We keep seeing Parks given over to development, ‘imminent domain’; consider Adam Clayton Powell Charter School.
    That used to be a lakefront Park.
    The Hudson River Valley Park system has been cited as an example.
    If anyone is aware of any legislation that is protective of urban forestry / Park preservation, please share it on this site.

    1. Hi Ross,
      Thank you contacting Openlands regarding trees and protecting park land. These are broad topics and we want to be responsive to your questions. The best way to do that is for you contact Andrew Szwak, Manager of Government Affairs, aszwak@openlands.org, who can discuss your request and connect you with the expert on staff.
      Thank you,
      OL

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