Working together to manage our community tree resources has never been an easy task. Regulation and shrinking budgets have forced many small and large utilities to seek better ways to manage vegetation and educate customers.

Despite these challenges, many utilities are leading the way in customer outreach and education, and supporting the planting and replanting of suitable trees within their service territories. In 1994, the Arbor Day Foundation created the Tree Line USA recognition program to honor electric utility providers that demonstrate best practices in utility arboriculture, tree planting and public education. Through the Tree Line USA and Tree Campus USA programs, the Foundation also recognizes communities and college campuses for their work in planting, pruning and caring for millions of trees yearly.

Strengthening the Community

While the recognition programs have brought national attention to the work of foresters, managers and tree care workers, bridging the gaps between the many groups that care for community trees has remained a challenge. When sustainable partnerships between utilities and their service-area partners — such as municipal foresters, public works officials, tree-planting groups and state forestry agencies — are developed and enhanced, the payoff is economic and public relations benefits for each partner.

As federal and state regulatory agencies have adjusted and tightened their requirements for line clearance and rights-of-way maintenance, other tree care groups have taken particular notice of the work being performed by Tree Line USA utilities companies. Safe, reliable electric service is of critical importance to all communities, and each group owes the urban forest their best collaborative effort to increase the canopy, and educate and engage the public. Because of changes in regulation and tree management practices, the need to find common ground on the issues facing these groups has never been more crucial. The Arbor Day Foundation has embraced the opportunity to help connect both traditional and non-traditional urban forestry groups to foster a broader sense of community.

Partners in Community Forestry

One way that the Arbor Day Foundation is creating a sense of cooperation is through its annual conferences. For 17 years, the Trees & Utilities National Conference provided strategic opportunities for learning and sharing with utility foresters and vegetation managers. Today, the Foundation is proud to present the Partners in Community Forestry National Conference. This event enables the urban forestry community and its supporters and managers to listen, learn and share their biggest challenges and greatest opportunities, and to find ways to work together to strengthen their community's tree canopy.

In 2007, the Arbor Day Foundation hosted its first Partners in Community Forestry National Conference. For this event, the Foundation brought together local, state and federal urban forestry managers and non-profit tree-planting groups with the goal of creating a climate of sharing and collaboration. Last year, the Arbor Day Foundation added the Trees & Utilities conference content to the Partners Conference, exposing hundreds of urban forestry decision makers to the monumental task facing utility vegetation management and the critical role they play in taking care of community trees.

During the past five years, the Partners in Community Forestry National Conference has grown in scope and scale, serving as the national platform for groups to exchange ideas about the best ways to create sustainable urban forestry partnerships and projects. None of that would be possible without the support from membership and governance of urban forestry's leading organizations, such as the Utility Arborist Association, the Society of Municipal Arborists, the National Association of State Foresters, the Alliance for Community Trees and the International Society of Arboriculture. The Partners Conference has provided opportunities for everyone to explore the issues and viable solutions to the most significant issues facing community trees, but also best practices in communications, marketing and sustainability.

Our Trees, Our Future

The utility industry continues to make significant strides in outreach and public education despite ever-increasing challenges and stringent oversight. The greater challenge remains, as all members of the broader urban forest community must demonstrate leadership in order to move our collaborative efforts to the next level.

The Arbor Day Foundation remains inspired and committed, through the Tree Line USA program and the annual Partners in Community Forestry National Conference, to expanding the impact of urban forest collaboration for the benefit of all residents, customers and their trees.


Randy Gordon (rgordon@arborday.org) is a program manager for the Arbor Day Foundation.