urban forest

The trees that grow along our streets, in our front and backyards, in our municipal parks and surrounding our schools are sometimes referred to as an “urban forest.” The term simply refers to trees that are part of our community’s developed environment. Various sources of expertise are readily available to municipalities seeking to improve their tree resources.



Funding and Do's and Dont's
Ordinances and Planting Programs
Tree Inventory Approaches
Additional Programs
Tree Planting and Management Funding and Do’s and Don’ts of Tree Purchases

The New York State Department of Conservation's Urban and Community Forestry Grants Program provides monetary grants and grants "in kind" of free bare-root and seedling trees and shrubs.

These grants can fund: (1) Tree Inventories, (2) Community Forest Management Plans, (3) Tree Planting, (4) Tree Maintenance, and (5) Education Programming for those who care for public trees. Westchester's New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Senior Urban Forester, George Profous, is happy to answer questions and work with grant applicants. He can be reached at (845) 256-3082.

Title: Urban and Community Forestry Grants
Sponsoring Organization: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Description: Grant information including goals, eligibility, application materials and guidance.

Title: Search the New York State Urban Forestry Council site for “grants”
Sponsoring Organization: New York State Urban Forestry Council
Description: This publication lists up-to-date grant opportunities including those from the Arbor Day Foundation, United States Forest Service, and United States Department of Agriculture. New York State’s Urban Forestry program is a partnership of public, private and volunteer organizations and individuals that fosters comprehensive planning, management and education throughout New York to create a healthy urban and community forest and enhance quality of life.

Title: New York State Green Innovation Grant Program
Sponsoring Organization: New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation
Award Size: Up to $90,000 (Includes ~10 percent cost-sharing)
Description: This is a program aimed at green infrastructure projects to improve water quality by reducing and treating stormwater and its source through infiltration and/or evapotranspiration (e.g., trees). Within this program, there is a specific stormwater street tree/urban forestry program. Municipalities, private entities, state agencies and soil and water conservation districts are eligible.

Title: Trees for Tribs and Hudson River Estuary Trees for Tribs program
Sponsoring Organization: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC)
Description: Excellent State-run program that provides bare-root trees for planting near waterways. This is not a grant program, but rather a source for free trees for planting, as well as technical advice.

Title: Buffer in a Bag
Sponsoring Organization: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Description: The Buffer in a Bag program provides organizations and private landowners with free tree and shrub seedlings to help establish, or improve a stream buffer on their property. Anyone who owns or manages land in New York State with at least 50 feet along a stream or waterbody, is eligible to receive a free bag of seedlings. Organizations or individuals with permission to plant on a given property with stream or waterbody access may also participate. Plantings alongside water bodies create wildlife habitat and improve water quality. Each bag holds 25 tree and shrub seedlings.

Title: Tree Planting for Stormwater Treatment
Sponsoring Organization: East of Hudson Watershed Corporation
Description: Organization tasked with removing phosphorus from the NYC watershed will plant and maintain trees that meet certain location specifications. .Contact the Director of Engineering, 845-319-6349

How to buy trees

How to choose a tree at a nursery
Title: Buying High Quality Trees
Sponsoring Organization: Treesaregood.org is an educational website managed by the International Society of Arborists.
Description: Terrific two-page guide to bring with you to a nursery - helps you avoid problems and end up with healthy trees.

Beware of tree giveaways
You may be tempted to pick up a free tree during a promotional program. Please make sure that this tree species fits within your planting objectives, can survive your site’s conditions and will not harm our ecosystem.

Municipal Tree Ordinances and Tree Planting Programs

Tree ordinances are an essential tool by which a community can protect their existing trees. One-half of Westchester’s municipalities have enacted tree ordinances. To find out whether your municipality has a tree ordinance, go to your municipal website and look at your municipal ordinance code. Below you will find a link to the Town of Greenburgh’s newly adopted and comprehensive Tree Ordinance.

Tree ordinances can help protect your community tree resources in many ways. Some provisions that may be useful include those that:

1. Protect trees by establishing a tree removal, pruning and permitting process and parameters for legal versus illegal tree removal on private property by individuals, utility companies and others.
2. Identify a tree program manager, for example a municipal forester, responsible for administration of the ordinance.
3. Institute a tree removal replacement requirement, such that removal of non-hazardous trees brings with it tree replacement requirements.
4. Establish a tree fund to finance future tree planting into which funds can be directed in case tree replacement is impractical.
5. Adopt penalties sufficient to deter violations.
6. Designate who has enforcement authority.
7. Establish an appeal process.

Title: Tree Ordinances
Sponsoring Organization: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Description: A guide to help communities determine whether they need a tree ordinance, setting out basic components of a tree ordinance, and providing three generic sample ordinances.

Title: Town of Greenburgh Tree Ordinance-Chapter 260 Trees, Community Management
Sponsoring Organization: Town of Greenburgh, NY
Description: The text of the newly adopted and comprehensive Greenburgh municipal tree ordinance effective 01/04/2021.

Sample municipal tree planting programs
Pleasantville, NY has the “50-50 Tree Planting Program” through which residents can apply for a street tree to be planted in their street fronting property, splitting the tree cost with the Village. The Village pays 50 percent of the tree cost and provides the labor to plant the tree. The resident pays 50 percent of the tree cost and eventually owns and maintains the tree (except that permission is needed to remove the tree).

Title: Village of Pleasantville 50-50 Tree Planting Program FAQs
Sponsoring Organization:
Village of Pleasantville, NY
Description: A Frequently Asked Questions fact sheet and application form for the 50/50 Tree Planting Program that is designed to supplement and enhance the aging street tree stock.

Scarsdale, NY operates an Annual Tree Planting Program, to replace removed street trees in the municipal right of way abutting residents’ property. In 2020 the program was expanded to include residents who have not lost a tree, but merely requested one.

The Scarsdale program:

  1. Maintains a tree list and plants only tree species that are native to the northeastern United States.
  2. Provides four different tree species from which to choose each year, to avoid creating a concentration of too few tree species which can exacerbate damage from insects and disease.
  3. Offers residents with utility wires on their side of the street a choice between two understory (shorter) species of trees to avoid creating a future conflict between the tree and the utility wires.
  4. Offers residents without utility wires on their side of the street a choice among four tree species, two understory (shorter) trees and two canopy (taller) trees.
Tree Inventories

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recommends that municipalities conduct a tree inventory in order that they can create a data-based tree management plan. In general, there are four approaches to conducting a tree inventory, each with its strengths and weaknesses. These approaches are divided into top-down approaches that include satellite and airplane (or drone)-supported methods and bottom-up approaches that include on-the-ground scanning or digital photography and field surveys.

Top-down approaches
For municipalities interested in quantifying total canopy cover in their community, spatial variations in canopy cover, and how canopy cover is changing over time, top-down approaches are ideal. These top-down approaches are great for efficiently looking at spatial and temporal variations in canopy cover. However, they will not provide information regarding tree size, tree species, tree health, or other information to inform individual tree management.

Title: Canopy Cover
Sponsoring Organization: The Multi-Resolution Land Characteristic Consortium (MRLC; a partnership between the USGS, NASA, NOAA, BLM, and USFS)
Description: This is an excellent freely-available canopy cover product that is fairly easy to use. It is derived from satellite imagery and provides information on percent tree canopy cover across the entire U.S. The data appear as pixelated maps comprised of 30 m x 30 m pixels that are color-coded by percent canopy cover. The viewer allows users to select an area they are interested in to view and download data. The viewer can also be used to click on specific locations to see the percent canopy cover. This product is currently available for 2011 and 2016 (expect another iteration in 2022), which allows for quantifying changes in canopy cover over time.

Title: i-Tree Canopy
Sponsoring Organization: U.S. Forest Service
Description: This is another easy-to-use, freely available resource for quantifying canopy cover. This product only provides estimates for a defined area, rather than providing spatially-resolved maps like the MRLC product above.

Bottom-up approaches
For municipalities interested in tree-specific data such as tree health, species, tree size, etc. bottom-up approaches are most appropriate. These approaches are essential for developing tree management strategies and assessing their effectiveness, but are also time consuming and can be expensive. These approaches most commonly involve a field-based survey--i.e., trained field crews visiting trees and using standardized approaches to collect data. In the absence of gaining permission to access private property, these surveys are often limited to trees on publicly accessible land (e.g., street trees, parks) or those easily visible from publicly accessible land (e.g., trees in front yards). There are many private companies that will conduct these inventories, but a wide range of apps and software products make it possible for municipalities to also conduct surveys themselves using paid employees and/or volunteers.

The resources below collectively describe the utility of tree inventories and the different approaches (particularly field approaches), their pros and cons, and descriptions of the resources and software that might be required or beneficial.

Title: Urban Forestry Toolkit
Sponsoring Organization: Vibrant Cities Lab
Description: Vibrant Cities Lab was created through a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service, American Forests, and the National Association of Regional Councils. This link (and Vibrant Cities Lab, more broadly) is an excellent resource for all things green infrastructure. There are in-depth descriptions of why inventories are important, the different approaches, how to conduct your own inventory, and relevant links including those for inventory software.

Title: Conducting a Community Tree Inventory
Sponsoring Organization: Penn State Extension
Description: Provides an overview of the utility of conducting inventories and a description of the inventory process including the planning, implementation, application, and maintenance components.

Title: Urban and Community Tree Inventories
Sponsoring Organization: North Carolina Forest Service
Description: Provides an overview of the pros and cons of different approaches to conducting field-based inventories (i.e., volunteer, municipal staff, consultant).

Title: A Step-by-Step Guide to Taking Urban Forest Inventory Measurements
Sponsoring Organization: Mississippi State University
Description: Comprehensive document that describes how to use the i-Tree suite of toolsto conduct municipal tree inventories. The document also includes example data sheets and recommended equipment. i-Tree is a peer-reviewed, open-source software developed by the U.S. Forest Service for assessing many aspects of the urban tree canopy and the ecosystem services provided.

Title: Community Forestry-Conducting a Street Tree Inventory – Inventory Methodology
Sponsoring Organization: Cornell Community Forestry Program
Description: Describes the i-Tree methodology that the Cornell Community Forestry team has used to conduct tree inventories in municipalities across New York State.

Tree inventory software options
Title: Treekeeper Inventory Management Software
Developer: Davey Trees
Description: Comprehensive, cloud-based urban forestry management program. It streamlines data access and management and quantifies benefits and economic value of trees. Video demo of the software is available here.

Title: Tree Mapping Software
Developer: Plan-it Geo
Description: Commonly used software for mapping trees and conducting tree inventories. It uses a web-based GIS platform and is optimized for mobile and desktop devices. Provides real-time access to an unlimited number of users. Integrates with other spatial analysis software such as ESRI products.

Additional Programs

New York State assistance for municipal tree management
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) Land and Forests Program staff includes urban foresters to assist your municipality develop the components of a well-managed community forest. Westchester County is in DEC Region 3. The phone number at which you can leave a message for the Land and Forests Program is: (845) 256-3076. DEC’s Senior Urban Forester who covers Westchester is currently George Profous, who can be reached by calling (845) 256-3082 or sending an e-mail to .

Title: Managing Your Community Forest
Sponsoring organization:
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
Explains four important elements of municipal tree management, gives an overview of where to find funding for your urban forest, and has contact information to reach the DEC Westchester County senior forester. The four elements are:

  1. A tree board
  2. A tree ordinance
  3. A tree management plan and
  4. A commitment to keeping up with the newest science and best management practices using professional staff or consultants.

Tree city USA
One-half of Westchester’s 48 municipalities are recognized annually as a Tree City USA. The benefits of this program include providing a framework for focusing community energy and resources on tree education, planting and maintenance, as well as earning eligibility to apply for certain tree grant funding. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) tree grant applications inquire as to whether municipalities are a recognized Tree City USA and give credit for this recognition.

Title: Tree City USA Standards
Sponsoring organization: Arbor Day Foundation
Description: Arbor Day Foundation is a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to planting and nurturing trees, and educating communities about their trees. Their program, Tree City USA, provides a framework for creating community tree programs. This site explains the four standards a community must meet to become a Tree City USA and has links to the application process and the benefits of the program. The four standards are:

  1. A Tree Board or Department
  2. A Tree Care Ordinance
  3. A Community Forestry Program With an Annual Budget of at Least $2 Per Capita
  4. An Arbor Day Observance and Proclamation (in New York State it is celebrated annually on the last Friday in April)