Tree Advocacy Information

The Morton Arboretum provides the expertise and tools for you to become a tree advocate.

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Advocate for Trees

Community leaders, including government officials, nonprofits, and grassroots organizers, are important advocates for local green infrastructure. Here are steps you can take to ensure that your community takes full advantage of the many benefits of trees.

Be a Tree Champion

The Morton Arboretum provides the expertise and tools for you to become a tree advocate. Communities and individuals have the power to make a difference for trees.

Why advocate for trees?

Simply stated, advocacy makes a difference.

Threats facing trees range from climate change and invasive pests to shrinking government budgets. It takes concerted efforts from organizations, such as the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, individual citizens, and communities to protect individual trees and advance broad-ranging, tree-friendly policies.

By talking to neighbors, elected officials, businesses, and the media about key issues, individuals can make progress for trees.

Municipal leadership also has a very important role to play in protecting trees. Learn more

Trees need people to protect them and their many benefits. Learn more

 

Five Threats Facing Trees Today

Trees face many threats. Here are five key threats facing trees today.

  1. Invasive species: The emerald ash borer pest and buckthorn tree are two examples of invasive species that reduce the health and diversity of the Chicago region tree canopy. In the Chicago region, buckthorn now makes up 36% of total tree stems and the emerald ash borer has killed nearly 10 million trees in the past decade.
  2. Shrinking government budgets: With more strain on government budgets, hard-pressed officials may cut funds allocated to tree planting and maintenance.
  3. Development: New large-scale development may clear-cut mature trees, but smaller projects can also have an impact. Widening streets because of changed traffic patterns, replacing single-family homes with apartment buildings, and redeveloping established business parks can shrink tree canopy.
  4. Losing mature trees faster than new ones can grow: Many of the environmental and economic benefits of trees don’t maximize until the tree matures, but maturity can take awhile. When mature trees come down, a newly planted sapling doesn’t replace its benefits for years to come.
  5. Climate change: As temperatures increase and rainfall amounts shift rapidly, trees will have difficulty adapting and surviving. Warmer winters can prevent harmful pests from dying off, increasing the amount of time when they can damage trees. Learn more about trees in a changing climate.

You don’t need to be a tree expert to be a successful tree advocate.

Some people are inspired to become tree advocates because of a personal connection to or love of trees. Some are inspired by a specific moment, such as witnessing the destruction of an impressive tree or reading an article in a newspaper.

But what do you do when that inspiration hits? How can you turn inspiration into advocacy action?

If you are interested in advocating for trees, determining your goal and the type of advocacy you would like to engage in is a good place to start. Begin by reflecting on the following.

What is your goal?

Are you trying to save one specific tree or generally increase how much your community values trees? Are you trying to change your town’s tree policies or increase budgets for tree plantings and maintenance? From your answer to this question and others you can start to determine the audience for your advocacy.

What type of advocacy would you like to engage in?

Do you want to organize groups or participate in existing groups? Do you want to write private letters or speak at public meetings? Are you interested in government advocacy or building community support? Your answer to this question influences the type of advocacy to pursue.

Learn how community leaders can help protect trees.

Determine which type of advocacy is right for you.

Regardless of your current comfort level or skill set, there is a tree advocacy path for you. All of the types of advocacy listed below are important and can play a role in improving tree health.

Type of advocacy, how it works, and why it’s important

  • In many cases, municipal staff have direct knowledge of the issue that you are concerned about. They are the people who implement legislative decisions, issue permits, and manage budgets. Municipal staff can often answer direct questions, or at least point you in the right direction for an answer. Because they are the people implementing tree ordinances, it is important that they hear from you about real-life tree situations.

    Contact your community’s public works, planning, or forestry departments and ask for information on the tree maintenance plan. If your community does not have a plan, this could be a great goal for your advocacy efforts.

  • Communities typically have regular public meetings and input sessions as part of the decision-making process. Often, it is mandatory that they host public meetings. By simply showing up at the public meeting, you can learn a lot about what is happening in your community and why some decisions are made. Many public meeting hosts provide opportunities to write comments or questions down on paper; some distribute surveys for participants to fill out. Public meetings often also offer an opportunity for residents to voice questions or make comments. If you intend to make a public comment, it can be helpful to prepare your brief (2-3 minute) comment in advance. This will ensure that you say what you intended to say and don’t get sidetracked by the crowd or other people’s comments.

  • Before new laws are passed, some communities seek public comments. There is often an online form to complete. This will make your comments part of the official public record. Tree advocacy comments can be helpful during budgeting periods, discussions about specific legislation or bills, and debates about zoning or development permit requirements or processes.

  • Both print and online editions of local newspapers typically have an opinion section. You can submit a short letter to the editor about any issue, but they are more likely to be printed when the letter is in direct response to an article that recently was printed in that paper. For example, say your community’s city council is voting on the next budget proposal, and the newspaper wrote a story about the upcoming vote. You could write a letter to the editor about how important it is that funding for tree maintenance is included in the budget.

    Letters to the editor should be short and follow all of that newspaper’s letter submission guidelines, which you can find online.

  • Depending on your local community’s rules, your town government may plant and maintain trees that are on public land, but they may have no authority over trees on private land. And there are many trees on private land.

    An important form of tree advocacy is encouraging friends and neighbors to properly care for the trees they have—which includes everything from proper pruning to using mulch safely. If you are comfortable doing so, share tree maintenance information with neighbors and homeowners’ associations. Persuade your homeowner’s association to devote more money to tree planting and maintenance. Work with neighbors to encourage them to attend public meetings with you.

  • Not all trees can, or should, be saved. It’s possible that the tree marked for removal needs to be removed for health and safety reasons. You need to find out more information about this particular tree.

    First, be sure to know the address and location of the tree in question.

    Then, contact your town or municipality’s public works or forestry department and ask for details about the markings on that particular tree.

    Consider asking the following questions:

    What does the ribbon or marking mean?
    Why is it being taken down?
    What can I do to prevent the tree from being taken down?
    What is the plan for replacing this tree with new trees
    How can I find out about other trees set to be removed before they are marked?
    What process does my village use to decide when to take down a tree?

    Some communities have developed tree maintenance and removal plans that include tree canopy goals, guidelines for tree care, instructions for selecting trees, and timelines for tree trimming cycles.

Deciding who to contact and when.

Some governments have forestry departments and arborists who handle all tree issues. Other governments house their tree maintenance and planting programs within planning or public works departments. While we’ve identified some Chicago-area tree programs, you can usually find your community’s department by Googling the name of your town with the word “trees”. If that doesn’t work, try calling your town clerk or administrator.

Here are some general guidelines for figuring out who to contact.

Issue: Tree removal, maintenance, replanting

Possible contacts: Is the tree on private property? Talk to the home or business owner. Is the tree on a parkway (the grassy area between the sidewalk and street) or other public property? Talk to your town’s public works, planning or forestry department.

When to contact them: Once a tree is tagged for removal, it might be too late to save that tree. When a community develops its tree management plan, there may be a public comment period or another opportunity to voice your opinion on the value of saving mature trees and planting new ones. Check out your community’s plan now, so you can be prepared for the future.

Issue: Funding for trees

Possible contacts: City council representatives and other elected officials are in charge of creating the budgets that dictate how many trees will be planted, trimmed, or removed in a given year. Make sure they know how important healthy tree canopies are to you and your neighbors. Consider submitting letters to editors as well as public comments to make sure decision makers hear your message.

When to contact them: Community budgets are often projected years in advance. So, advocating for tree funding now might have an impact three years from now.

Visit your community’s website to find out when their budgeting process takes place.

Chicago-area government webpages for tree issues

While not an exhaustive list, here are some places to find tree information for a selection of communities in the Chicago area:

Arlington Heights

Aurora

Bolingbrook

Des Plaines

Elgin

Evanston

Hoffman Estates

Joliet

Kenosha

Mount Prospect

Naperville

Oak Lawn

Oak Park

Orland Park

Palatine

Waukegan

Wheaton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Community leaders can help protect trees.

Community leaders, including government officials, nonprofits, and grassroots organizers, are important advocates for local green infrastructure. Watch the video above to learn how trees are a community’s best investment.

Here are steps you can take to ensure that your community takes full advantage of the many benefits of trees.

Encourage stewardship

Communities can educate and encourage citizens to protect trees. Community members who understand the problems trees face in cities and suburbs are more likely to lend a hand. For example, communities can:

  • Build a community volunteer program.
  • Develop a Tree Board or Tree Commission where a community dialogue can focus on trees. The National Arbor Day Foundation has developed a series of lessons that can be used to develop an educated Tree Board or Commission, called Tree Board University.
  • Participate in Chicago Region Tree Initiative’s Community Tree Network.
  • Hold workshops on issues facing the community forest and the benefits its trees provide.
  • Offer hands-on learning opportunities about the care and management of trees.
  • Place short informative articles in local newsletters or social media.

Enact laws

Municipalities can practice tree advocacy by enacting legislation through tree preservation ordinances. These laws guide preservation, protection, maintenance, and replacement of a community’s trees.

Plan ahead

A tree management plan, like a municipal stormwater, street, or sewer management plan, protects the important infrastructure.

Below are some common tree-related questions and answers to help you take action.

  • The Morton Arboretum equips and encourages citizens to advocate for trees by providing science-based tree expertise, insight on key issues facing trees, and resources for communities and individuals. Due to the sheer number of challenges facing trees, the Arboretum can have the greatest impact by equipping citizens with the knowledge and tools to advocate for trees in their communities.

  • Some communities have developed tree maintenance and removal plans that include tree canopy goals, guidelines for tree care, instructions for selecting trees, and timelines for tree trimming cycles.

    Advocacy Action
    Contact your community’s public works, planning, or forestry departments and ask for information on the tree maintenance plan. If your community does not have a plan, this could be a great goal for your advocacy efforts.

     

  • Many communities have requirements for replacing trees that have been removed., Replacement does not always have to be in the same spot as the tree that was removed. Some communities dictate the minimum size, location, and type of tree that can be used to replace removed trees. Some communities give homeowners the chance to select replacement street trees in front of their property from a predetermined list.

    Tree replacement ordinances also often apply to builders and developers who remove trees during the construction process.

    While the removal of any one tree can be sad, the long-term goal is for our communities to have healthy and expansive tree canopies. By setting up a tree management plan, communities can ensure they will have trained professionals to care for trees, will plant diverse species,  and will have the funds for tree maintenance and planning.

    Advocacy Action
    One way to preserve trees and promote a healthy tree canopy is through tree preservation ordinances. These laws guide preservation, protection, maintenance, and replacement of a community’s trees. They also can protect the public from trees that pose a threat or danger due to disease or hazard conditions.

    Visit the public works or forestry department section on your community’s website and search for “Tree Ordinance.” Once you know what is in the tree ordinance, you can contact your city council representative, staff of the public works department, or other officials to advocate for better policies that promote a healthy tree canopy.

    The Chicago Region Trees Initiative can help with drafting such ordinances. Check out these Tree Ordinance Guidelines from the International Society of Arboriculture for examples.

  • Tree marking can mean different things in different communities. They sometimes indicate that a tree is marked for removal or trimming. Trees often need to be removed because they are dead or dying, or because they are infested by an invasive species, such as the emerald ash borer. Once a tree is marked for removal, depending on the reason it is being removed, it may be too late to save it.

    Tree removal decisions are often made months in advance of their actual removal. If you can’t save this particular tree, consider using your efforts to advocate for tree policies that nurture trees instead of cutting them down.

    Advocacy Action
    Not all trees can, or should, be saved. It’s possible that the tree marked for removal needs to be removed for health and safety reasons. You need to find out more information about this particular tree.

    First, be sure to know the address and location of the tree in question.

    Then, contact your town or municipality’s public works or forestry department and ask for details about the markings on that particular tree.

    Consider asking the following questions:
    What does the ribbon or marking mean?
    Why is it being taken down?
    What can I do to prevent the tree from being taken down?
    What is the plan for replacing this tree with new trees?
    How can I find out about other trees set to be removed before they are marked?

  • A neighborhood typically has both private property—individual yards—and public property, like parkways.

    To increase your neighborhood’s tree canopy, try talking to and sharing resources with neighbors. The Morton Arboretum’s Plant Clinic provides resources to help landowners select trees that are right for the space and learn proper tree maintenance.

    If your neighborhood has a homeowner’s association (HOA), consider advocating for tree plantings and maintenance to be part of your association’s annual landscape plan.

    Advocacy Action
    To increase the number of trees planted on public property, such as the parkway, contact your community’s public works, planning, or forestry department to find out if there is a tree planting plan in place for your neighborhood.

    If there is no plan in place, work with staff and elected officials to get one. To build support for the development of a tree management plan for your neighborhood, consider having your HOA or neighborhood write a group letter or attend a public meeting together. More voices are louder than one!

  • Professional arborists can help you improve the health of your trees with regular pruning, advice on mulching, and assessments of health. You can also call the Arboretum’s Plant Clinic with plant questions or send plant specimens to the University of Illinois Plant Clinic to have them diagnosed.