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June 08, 2001   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
June 08, 2001

Scores of cities and towns across Alabama are seeking progress under the shade tree.

As many mayors and city planners have learned, enhancing a community's scenic appeal often is as valid a factor for growth as expanding the local industrial or recreational park.

For many of these communities, tree planting has become an essential part of this process.

As one small-town mayor once observed, trees transform the hard look of concrete to actually "soften a city."

Thanks to a federal grant program, cities and towns throughout Alabama can apply for grants to enable them to enhance scenic beauty through tree plantings and related projects.

Known as the Urban and Community Forest Financial Assistance program, the grant program helps communities in a variety of ways, such as helping them chart long-term forestry plants and better manage existing resources.

"These grants can provide communities with lots of opportunities -- even at the most basic level of improving the way trees are plants," says Neil Letson, the program's coordinator.

In many instances, communities have used the grant money to hire a full-time urban forester to manage resources more effectively.

Birmingham is one such community. Until a few years ago, the city's forestry management functions were spread over several departments. Thanks to a federal grant, the city was able to hire a full-time urban forester and consolidate all these functions under his supervision.

The city's decision to hire a full-time forester also enabled it to make further improvements to its Greenscape program, a project aimed at improving the city's overall natural beauty.

"I believe the grant money has enabled Birmingham to develop one of the best urban forestry programs in the Southeast -- one that will be one of the best in the country in just a few more years," Letson says.

Another success story is Eufaula, which used the money to hire a forester and to establish an educational arboretum.

To many people, "urban forestry" may seem like a contradiction in terms. But, as Letson explains, it reflects an emerging trend in many parts of the state.

"Alabama is urbanizing," Letson says. "As cities expand into what was rural countryside, they are absorbing many forests and natural ecosystems."

"These new resources have presented municipal leaders with the challenge of managing these resources in a way that enhances the life of the citizens of the community."

In fact, as many municipal leaders have learned, effective of these resources not only can improve the quality of life but also can even enhance the community's economic profile.

City leaders already are looking for ways to make their attractive and unique in order to attract more business and tourism," Letsons says. "Urban forestry projects are one way can be done. In fact, an effective urban forestry program may even plan a crucial role in where an industry decides to locate."

The Urban and Community Forestry Financial Assistance Program is administered by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in conjunction with the Auburn University School of Forestry, Alabama Forestry Commission, Alabama Urban Forestry Association and the Forest Service.

A total of $282,049 of cost-share funds is available in Alabama through a competitive selection process for county and city governments, nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher learning. To qualify, nonprofit organizations must be a federally exempt 501 C3 or related organization.

For more information, call Neil Letson at (334) 240-9360. You also can access the Urban and Community Forestry Web site at www.aces.edu. Applications should be postmarked no later than June 22.

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