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Issues of the Environment: Ann Arbor is updating its plan to protect and expand the city's 'urban forest'

Tiffany Giacobazzi
City of Ann Arbor
Tiffany Giacobazzi


  • The city of Ann Arbor, affectionately known by the nickname “Treetown,” boasts more than 100,000 trees along its streets and in parks. Taking care of this urban forest takes a dedicated team of city foresters, arborists, and committed residents. It is estimated that Ann Arbor’s city-managed urban and community forest, which includes trees growing along streets and in mowed areas of parks, provides nearly $4.6 million in benefits each year. A typical tree in Ann Arbor with a 16-inch diameter planted on a single family residential lot provides about $149 in benefits every year (National Tree Benefit Calculator).
  • Ann Arbor first adopted an Urban & Community Forest Management Plan in 2014, recognizing the environmental, economic, and social importance of the city's tree canopy while developing strategies to maintain its health and resilience. Seventeen recommendations for increasing the health and species diversity of the urban forest were outlined in this plan. 
  • Now, an update to the plan will re-engage Ann Arbor residents in envisioning the future of the urban & community forest. Together with local organizations and forestry experts, the city will outline current conditions, identify new opportunities and threats, and update the set of recommendations to establish a strong foundation for the future. The Steering Committee is made up of 16 folks representing partner organizations, city staff, and city residents. They will help guide staff through this update. The first public meeting will be Thursday, May 19 from 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM.
  • To prepare for the creep of climate change and help the city meet its A2Zero sustainability goals, Ann Arbor has launched a 10,000 Trees Initiative to get at least 10K trees planted on public and private property by 2030. Residents can request trees free of charge from the city, and they are given away annually in the spring and fall. 
  • An inventory of all street and park trees was completed in 2020. Efforts to reduce the number of maple trees which were overrepresented (especially the invasive Norway maple) appear to be succeeding. From the 2009 inventory to the 2020 update, we saw a reduction of maple (-12%), crabapple (-17%), linden (-14%) and an increase in oaks (+33%), sycamore (+27%), and elm (+35%). 7,278 “landmark” trees that are 16 inches in diameter and larger were identified. 
  • Tiffany Giacobazzi, Urban Forestry & Natural Resources Planning Coordinator for the City of Ann Arbor, says one of the greatest challenges was the removal of dead trees and wood following the destruction of all Ann Arbor’s ash trees from 2004-2008. She says, “Some of the biggest hurdles forestry has faced in the last 10 years have been trying to cope with Emerald Ash Borer and removing dead ash trees. Then we were faced with a huge inventory of stumps from those trees. In 2014, it was developing this plan and securing funding for a routine pruning cycle. Now, it's post-planting tree care, like watering.” She hopes to engage the public in watering and helping newly transplanted trees get established. 

Recommendations from the 2014 Urban and Community Forest Management Plan 

The 17 Urban and Community Forest Management Plan recommendations are listed below. The recommendations are listed in priority order based on input from the public, the UCFMP Advisory Committee, and Working Group. A description of each recommendation with their associated action tasks and implementation ideas is provided in Chapter 5.

  • Recommendation #1: Implement a proactive tree maintenance program for Ann Arbor’s publicly- managed trees, emphasizing routine pruning, removals and care to improve the health and sustainability of the canopy.
  • Recommendation #2: Develop and strengthen tree planning and young tree maintenance programs for both public and private trees.
  • Recommendations #3: Develop and implement a comprehensive program to monitor and address threats to the urban and community forest.
  • Recommendation #4: Increase the preservation and protection of landmark/special trees and native forest fragments on public and private lands.
  • Recommendation #5: Secure adequate and sustainable city-generated funding to support an increased level of service for core urban forestry services and programs.
  • Recommendation #6: Develop street tree plan􏰀ng master plans that balance tree functions, diversity, design and neighborhood character.
  • Recommendation #7: Develop and implement a grant, loan and philanthropic funding program to support additional forestry services, special urban forestry initiatives and programs beyond the core level of service to address changing urban forestry needs.
  • Recommendation #8: Strengthen and refine City ordinances to support the implementation of the Urban and Community Forest Management Plan.
  • Recommendation #9: Expand on existing practices and programs to update the tree inventory and urban tree canopy analysis.
  • Recommendation #10: Develop, communicate and follow an urban forest best management practices manual for use by city staff, partners, other entities and the community.

The 2014 plan also identified a need for greater species diversity in the urban canopy. Ann Arbor’s urban and community forest includes over 200 tree species. While there is diversity in the number of genera and species within the publicly managed population, the genus Acer (maple) is over-represented, making up 35% of the population. To address the dominance of maple species in the city-managed tree population, the city is taking measures to increase species diversity including, reducing the number of new maple trees planted by the city and planning more species in genera that are less abundant including Betula (Birch), Cel􏰀s (Hackberry), Gymnocladus (Coffeetree), Quercus (Oak) and Ulmus (Elm). Acer platanoides.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to a Tree Town edition of Issues of the Environment. I'm David Fair, and back in 2014, the city passed its urban and community forest management plan. Now, the city is looking to update the plan and better adapt to the changing climate and address other issues to preserve and protect the city's urban forests. Joining us today is Tiffany Giacobazzi. She serves as Ann Arbor's urban forestry and natural resources planning coordinator. And, Tiffany, thank you for making time today.

Tiffany Giacobazzi: Thank you for having me.

David Fair: Let's take a step back for a moment. When that plan was passed back in 2014, what were the objectives that were laid out and the overall mission?

Tiffany Giacobazzi: Well, back then, they were looking to really to see what they needed to do to move our urban force forward. This was our first plan. We didn't have anything in place, even to list priorities or actions and maintenance tasks that should be undertaken. So, this first plan was really a way to start officially and to plan our urban forest and our activities and what we wanted to do.

David Fair: One of the major issues that we had to encounter was invasive species. It took a huge toll on our trees. The emerald ash borer comes immediately to mind. Have we gotten a handle on just how devastating that was to the Ann Arbor canopy?

Tiffany Giacobazzi: Oh, it had a big impact on our canopy. Between 2004 and 2008, we lost roughly 10,000 trees. And since then, we've had to remove, of course, all of those stumps and then work on replanting those trees, looking to plant things back. We're looking to diversify, to really help us for the next pest or threat that attacks the urban forest.

David Fair: And one of the ways to add and to enhance the urban canopy is through the 10,000 Trees Initiative. And that's really a public engagement endeavor, too. The goal is to add 10,000 new trees on private properties throughout the city. Where do we stand on that front today?

Tiffany Giacobazzi: Yeah, our sustainability team really took that on and developed that program. And, so far, they've planted, I think, around 2500 trees. They've given away, I think, just over 2000 seedlings and planted roughly 50 landscape size trees on private property. So, they're ahead of schedule a meeting that 10,000 trees by 2030.

David Fair: Not only is that exciting, but in addition to adding trees, efforts have been increasing to protect what you call landmark trees. By definition, what constitutes a landmark tree?

Tiffany Giacobazzi: So, it's based on species. You know, you're never going to see a 20-inch crabapple tree. So, of course, a landmark threshold for a crabapple is much smaller than it would, say for a maple, but as any large tree of a particular species that we've identified. And then, of course, any tree over 24 inches automatically receives landmark and protected status.

David Fair: So, what kind of supplemental measures need to be taken to best protect these landmark trees?

Tiffany Giacobazzi: Well, during development, during site plan development, there are protections for landmark trees. There's mitigation requirements. And then, of course, any city-owned tree, meaning in the right-of-way or in a park, regardless of its size, is protected. A resident can't just go out and remove or prune or treat any of the city's trees, be it two inches in diameter or 40 inches in diameter. But really, when we get into high drought periods, you know, people think these large established trees don't need supplemental care. But, you know, if we get into a high drought where we haven't had a lot of water and there's high temperatures, watering those trees is really beneficial and will help lessen the stress.

David Fair: Issues of the Environment continues on 89 one WEMU. We're talking trees with Ann Arbor's urban forestry and natural resources planning coordinator, Tiffany Giacobazzi. And, Tiffany, I know the city wants as much public input as possible as it updates this plan. How are you engaging the public in the process this year?

Tiffany Giacobazzi: Oh, lots of ways. We have our steering committee, which is comprised half of residents because, obviously, this plan is really going to drive our goals and objectives for the city's urban forest. And so, we wanted our residents to be involved. So, half of the committee make up is residents and half is of other partnerships--so, city staff, the Downtown Development Authority, the Ann Arbor Schools, University of Michigan. And then, of course, we have on our main forestry page, if you go to a2 gov dot org slash forestry, right on our landing page, it's got a bunch of information on our plan update, as well as a link to the project page. And if you go to the project page, we have recordings of our meetings on there, and we also have surveys that we're asking residents to go ahead and fill out. Give us your thoughts on our urban forest. And then, we're having our first public meeting on Thursday, May 19th, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. This will be virtual, and a zoom link will be posted the day of the meeting. And there, we're going to present an update on what we've done since 2014 and really just ask for input on what you see as challenges and priorities.

David Fair: How much weight is that going to carry in finalizing a plan?

Tiffany Giacobazzi: It's going to carry a significant amount of weight. This is the residents' urban forest. We want to make sure that we're addressing their concerns and that we're recognizing what they deem as opportunities or challenges. It's going to have a lot of weight.

David Fair: Once again, this is 89 one WEMU, and our Issues of the Environment guest today is Tiffany Giacobazzi from the City of Ann Arbor. And let's talk about some of those opportunities. The economics of the environmental initiative. I've read that the city managed urban forest contributes $4.6 million in benefits each year. Is that right?

Tiffany Giacobazzi: Yeah, that's pretty close to right. Between all the benefits we've got, the carbon storage, the carbon sequestration, the runoff pollution removal. Yeah. Provides a lot of money for us.

David Fair: For those who are considering adding trees to their personal or their business property and contributing in that way, I would assume then there is also an economic benefit.

Tiffany Giacobazzi: Sure. Yeah. They're going to see, depending on how they place them, you're going to see shade on your home, which leads to reduction in cooling costs. And then, of course, trees add value to your property overall. And you're going to be contributing to the urban forest as a whole. So, you can get trees if you have room for trees on private, and you can get them. It's always a good thing.

David Fair: So, if we take these free trees or if we purchase our own and we put them on our properties, how vital is it that we then have a management plan of our own? Sapling protections, proper pruning, and other care measures.

Tiffany Giacobazzi: You're really going to give your tree the best chance to survive if you're providing that maintenance for them, that protection for them. You're providing the supplemental, watering. You're putting mulch around them to help cool the root system and keep the moisture there and protect the trees from mower or weed damage. You're really setting your tree up to provide the maximum benefit possible.

David Fair: As we look at the A2Zero Climate Action Plan and the goal of community wide carbon neutrality, how big a role does the urban forest play in helping achieve those objectives?

Tiffany Giacobazzi: I think it plays a significant role. We have a lot of carbon locked up in our trees, and the more trees we plant, the more carbon we're going to sequester and lock up. The 10,000 Trees Initiative is really a result of the A2Zero plan--the plan and the initiative. They recognize that urban forests play a critical role in helping with climate adaptation and really helping to pull that carbon out.

David Fair: Now, I'm sure that you've heard some of what I've heard from community members. There have been some complaints about overly aggressive pruning by DTE because it's trying to prevent power outages. There have been some complaints about a lack of maintenance by the city and a lower-than-desired tree survival rate in some places. So, as you formulate and put together this plan with the community, how are those concerns going to be addressed?

Tiffany Giacobazzi: We're really going to take a listen to what they have to say. We do have DTE sitting on the steering committee of our management plan updates, so that they can be heard, and they can hear us more importantly, so that they're involved from the beginning. They know the goals and objectives of what our residents and what our city wants from our trees. And then, we're looking at our aftercare maintenance programs. In the past, we've asked residents to do supplemental watering. Our contractor--planting contractor--waters that first year. But, after that, we just don't have capacity to go out there the way it is. So, we've asked residents, and we recognize that that's a challenge. So, we're looking at hiring a watering contractor to simply go around and water trees for the two years after they've been planted. And then, we're asking for the residents in our community to provide anything that we're not thinking of--ideas, suggestions, programs, things like that--for consideration. And then, we're looking at, of course, our planting and how we're planting and where we're planting, because a lot of this conflict with the utility lines is trees that shouldn't have been planted so close to the power lines, you know, the trees that are going to get really large. Now, we're having to have those pruned. If we plant trees that are compatible with the power lines, we shouldn't have that issue.

David Fair: It is an investment of time. It is a community commitment, and it is a financial investment. If we consider the environmental health benefits, enhanced property values, aesthetic benefits, even positive impacts on public health, when we consider everything on a balance sheet, does the community come out in the black when weighed against that financial investment that's being put forth in Tree Town?

Tiffany Giacobazzi: Yeah, it does. From our 2009 inventory to our 2020, the annual benefit has come ahead of the carbon sequestration. We're sequestering more carbon than we were in 2009. Our storm-water runoff is a big one. The trees are intercepting a lot of storm-water and lessening the impact on our critical infrastructure. So, the minimal amount of care that the trees require is certainly outweighed by the benefits they provide.

David Fair: So, when will this plan be finalized, adopted, and ultimately implemented?

Tiffany Giacobazzi: So, it's going to take about a year to get this all done up. We anticipate having a final plan that will take to council for adoption in March of 2023. Shortly thereafter, we will probably be taking it to council.

David Fair: Well, thank you so much for the time and sharing all the information today, Tiffany. I appreciate it.

Tiffany Giacobazzi: Thank you very much for having me. It was a pleasure.

David Fair: That is Tiffany Giacobazzi. She serves as Ann Arbor's urban forestry and natural resources planning coordinator and has been our guest on Issues of the Environment. For more information on the Urban and Community Forestry Management Plan and how you can participate, visit our website at WEMU dot org, and we'll get you linked up. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the Office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. And you hear it every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM and HD one Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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