There are more than 3,200 Tree City USA communities in the United States, and about 120 million people make their homes in such a place. Alabama certainly has its share, and Cullman has been so-named for more than three decades. Now is the time for growth.
Only 5 of Alabama’s nearly seven dozen Tree City USA communities have achieved the Tree City Growth Award, but such an advancement is now on Cullman’s horizon — with a lot of dedication from our community.
But let’s back up. What makes a city a Tree City USA and how did Cullman get there?
To become a Tree City USA, a community must meet four benchmarks. It must have a tree board or department. It must have a tree care ordinance. It must have a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita. It must issue an Arbor Day observation and proclamation.
Though not exactly low-hanging fruit, such standards are not hard to achieve, are beneficial to communities and also lay the groundwork for urban or community forestry programs — which is why we have so many of them across the nation. Cullman has checked these boxes for more than 30 years.
This brings us to the benefits. We seem to intrinsically know that having abundant, managed trees in a community is a good thing, and the Tree City USA designation certainly adds positive value to the public’s perception of an area. Who wouldn’t want to live in a community designated as a Tree City USA? For many, it’s a matter of civic pride, and not only for our foresters, arborists, managers, volunteers and tree board members, but for all of us who live and work here.
But beyond what we innately know, there are tangible, measurable advantages to a well-managed tree community, and those include such things as reducing airborne dust particles and greenhouse gas emissions, lowering energy consumption, capturing storm water runoff and keeping rivers and lakes cleaner , cooling parking lots and extending pavement surfaces, providing shade that can help prevent conditions leading to skin cancer and boosting business in commercial areas.
Given all of this, and an opportunity to reach the upper echelons of managed forestry, why would a community not strive for the coveted Growth Award — which is exactly the right path the Cullman City Tree Commission is beginning to tread now. Beyond the four standards that can designate a community a Tree City USA, there are five categories within which are various benchmarks that, if achieved, are awarded points. Once a Tree City USA community reaches 10 points for that year, it is eligible for the Growth Award designation.
Where the dedication comes in this: Some of the activities within the categories are one-time only points and others are eligible annually. To not only get, but maintain the Growth Award, a community must reach 10 points each year.
For example, a community could knock-out an ecosystem services assessment and earn 10 points out of the gate, but this is only eligible for points every 10 years. Similar, we could hire a professional urban forester to lead a community forestry program for 10 points — a one-time only eligibility. Other activities, such as creating an annual work plan, worth 3 points, are eligible annually.
But you get the idea. And so do, rightly, Cullman officials involved with getting our community to the top designation. Already, we’ve earned two points when our tree commission welcomed a new board member — an achievement in the category of “building the team.”
Other categories will touch the entire community — “performing the work” and “the community framework” offer abundant opportunities — and with dedication and no small amount of civic pride, we’ll get there. It’s time Tree City USA Cullman branched out.