A proposed tree and shade plan sets a goal of doubling Yuma’s tree canopy from 3.5% to 7% by planting 100,000 trees. The City Council heard an overview of the proposed plan, which promoted a councilor to question the cost and whether it requires more regulations.

Naomi Leeman, long range planning consultant, provided the overview of the proposed 2020 Tree and Shade Master Plan during a Jan. 14 work session. The council is expected to vote on the plan in February.

The plan, developed with the guidance of a task force, touches on three goals: create a vision for the urban forest, establish comprehensive policies and procedures around the urban forest and establish partnership and outreach programs.

Urban forest refers to all the trees in the urban environment that are cared for or planted by people, not natural trees, Leeman explained.

The plan would be used by city staff and the general public. “To make a measurable increase in our urban tree canopy, we really will need action by the public. There’s no way the city can do this alone,” Leeman said.

WHY CARE ABOUT TREES

In explaining why Yuma should care about trees, Leeman pointed to the health and safety, environmental and economic benefits that trees provide. For example, she said, trees increase walkability, calm traffic, lower crime and improve psychological health. Trees absorb pollutants and stormwater runoff and provide habitat for wildlife. They also increase property values and customer traffic and extend pavement life

She noted that a study of Smucker Park showed that the 198 trees at the park provide a benefit of $12,127 each year.

Currently, the tree canopy coverage in Yuma is at 3.5%. The city manages 7,500 trees, about 8% of the overall urban forest within the city limits.

The most important part of the tree analysis was the public outreach: hearing what residents have to say and how they perceive trees, Leeman said. The task force’s 26 active members met monthly. Members represented various groups, such as the garden club, as well as professionals, developers, etc.

“Their input was invaluable,” Leeman said.

A survey drew 445 responses, which showed that overall Yumans “really support and value trees.” She noted that 74 percent indicated they are willing to pay a bit more each month to have trees in common areas.

Receiving free trees would inspire residents to become more involved in caring for trees, they said. They also expressed an interest in learning more about tree care, such as proper watering techniques.

THE BIG GOAL

To double Yuma’s tree canopy by planting 100,000 trees, the city will need community support, Leeman said.

She noted that many areas have opportunities for increased canopy, including along streets, rights of way, parks and open spaces, and private property. The plan looks at strategies and specific plans that target each of those areas, taking into account walkability, safety, equity, aesthetics.

“The city can’t achieve it alone. It will take a lot of community support and a lot of involvement to reach that goal,’’ Leeman said.

Based on recommendations from the task force, the plan proposes 20 unique tree planting and outreach projects. Each project suggests a partnership with a city department and a local organization, business or private partnership. Some projects could be built over time, with different groups adopting different sections.

The city is in the process of forming a Trees for Yuma Consortium to spearhead efforts. It will be made up of residents, organizations, businesses and the city. Anyone interested is welcome to join.

The underlying principle is the “right tree, right place.” The city wants to make sure trees can thrive where planted. It includes a five-year tree care and maintenance plan mainly for the city trees.

Funding for trees will come from a variety of sources: community sponsorship and support, incentives for planting trees or donating trees, grants, a municipal tree fund, maintenance improvement districts, departmental funding and capital improvement projects.

Outreach and education will include conducting a communitywide information campaign, providing classes on tree care and hosting a regular radio show on tree topics.

COUNCIL DISCUSSION

After the overview, Mayor Doug Nicholls asked whether the plan proposes new regulations. Leeman said that there would be no new rules. Nicholls clarified that the city is “not trying to put more restrictions on the community.” Rather, he said, it’s trying to guide tree health.

Councilman Chris Morris questioned wording that said that lots 5,000 square feet or larger require a tree to be planted. Leeman explained that the rule is currently part of the landscape regulations now.

Morris asked about the additional personnel and cost that would come with reaching the plan goals. Debbie Wendt, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said she would know more when crews start planting trees and they’ll take that information to the council.

Morris also asked whether the plan would require larger roads in subdivisions to leave room for trees. Leeman said that the city’s current complete streets policy already calls for roads large enough for bike lanes, sidewalks and trees and does not necessarily mean larger roads nor larger right-of-ways.

He asked how many trees would have to be planted by residents to reach the 100,000 goal in 10 years. Leeman replied that to reach the goal, with about 40,000 households in Yuma, each household would need to plant one tree per household, with two trees planted in other public places.

To achieve this, the city will invite groups, such as garden clubs, schools and businesses, to become involved. As far as residents, the city might offer free trees and other incentives.

“I like trees as much as the next guy,” Morris said. “I just think we need to be as council very cautious moving forward, just for the sheer cost of this plan.”

He said that in his estimation, the cost to maintain trees would be $1.7 million annually, not accounting for the initial cost nor additional staff.

“I like trees too,” Nicholls said. “It’s great to have a plan because plans are trying to figure out where you want to go.”

The mayor added that the incentives are based around the private sector, encouraging private homeowners and business owners to increase their canopies.

“That’s really the right approach as a government, to try to encourage private sector involvement.

Plans don’t always need to be funded by the government,” Nicholls said.

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