Turning Over a New Leaf

Providence Monthly originally published this article on January 9, 2019.

It is January. The autumn leaves have already fallen, leaving behind ghostly branches. Few of us give much thought about the thousands of well-maintained public trees we have here in Providence.

But for the city’s Forestry Division, that healthy vegetation is cause for celebration. On November 1, the department announced that the City of Providence had received the Municipal Forestry Accreditation from the Society of Municipal Arborists, an association made up of communities around the world that all meet the highest municipal forestry standards. This means that Providence – the only community in Rhode Island that received this award – exceeds rigorous international standards and can join the ranks of cities like Aspen, Santa Monica, Palo Alto, and Surrey, British Columbia, honored for “implementing excellent and comprehensive management practices.”

Providence is eligible for the accreditation partly because it has earned “Tree City USA” status for 32 straight years, a title awarded based on several factors: the successful maintenance of a tree department, spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry, having a community tree ordinance, and, of course, celebrating Arbor Day. Providence also boasts Tree City USA Growth Awards in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

According to Doug Still, the City Forester, the division manages all of the city’s street and public trees – more than 27,000 in total – overseeing pruning, planting, and removal. And a large part of their success stems from their collaborative nature. The department partners with the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program to plant 500 trees each year, and works with citizens who are eager to care for the trees in their own neighborhoods through the Providence Citizen Forester Program.

For the upcoming year, Still says the department plans to branch out and examine “the whole urban forest, not just the publicly owned trees,” to encourage a broader tree canopy throughout the city of Providence. In addition, the city has “identified neighborhoods that [have] the lowest tree canopy, which also coincides with some of the neighborhoods that have some of the lowest per capita income.”

For Still, the Forestry Division is at its core rooted in a fierce commitment to “improving the quality of life in Providence,” since trees help the environment and provide clean water and air, but also because seeing greenery interspersed with infrastructure is “so important to our psyche.”

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