What is Forest Friendly Development?
Each year, over 1.5 million acres of land in the U.S. is developed. Conversion of rural land to urban and suburban uses often results in significant forest loss, particularly where mass clearing is a standard practice at construction sites. The Forest Service estimates that nearly 1 million acres of forest were converted to developed uses each year in the 1990’s, and projects that by 2050, an additional 23 million acres of forests may be lost due to development. Municipalities and developers in urbanizing areas can take steps to protect existing forest resources and prevent forest loss while still allowing for development. Forest friendly development includes a set of practices that protect forests by:
1. Directing growth away from large, ecologically intact forest land using zoning and urban growth techniques
2. Permanently protecting valuable forest land (e.g., streamside corridors) through purchase of land and conservation easements
3. Limiting overall forest loss during development through local regulations that:
- Limit clearing of native vegetation
- Require forest conservation
- Require forested stream buffers
- Promote development that conserves open space
- Include provisions for physically protecting trees during construction
- Provide stormwater credits for tree conservation and planting
- Require tree planting in landscaped areas or as part of reforestation requirements
4. Developing municipal programs for community reforestation projects on public lands, providing incentives for planting trees on private property, and establishing procedures for long term maintenance of the urban forest.
Why Conserve and Plant Trees at Development Sites?
Individual developments that are ‘forest friendly’ are often highly desirable properties that provide shade and greenery, increase property values, reduce heating and cooling costs, and provide a host of other benefits. Additional benefits of trees at development sites are summarized below.
How Do I Know if My Community is Forest Friendly?
In some communities, it may be obvious from the tree-lined streets, extensive greenways and wooded subdivisions that forest friendly practices are being used. However, most communities have more subtle indicators of how effective their local programs and regulations are at protecting trees and forests. A review of your community’s suite of local programs and regulations related to forest conservation and tree planting is a useful way to a) see how your community measures up, and b) identify specific areas to improve. The types of programs and regulations you may need to review include:
- Urban and community forestry programs
- Public education programs
- Watershed protection programs
- Zoning regulations
- Natural resource protection regulations
- Stormwater management regulations and design guidance
- Subdivision regulations
- Erosion and sediment control regulations
- Landscaping requirements
- Street and sidewalk standards
- Parking lot design standards
- Requirements for utilities, signs and lighting
A program/code review can identify specific things the community is actively doing to promote or require forest conservation and tree planting. It can also identify potential barriers to forest conservation and tree planting that are often buried within local codes and ordinances related to land development. These barriers may not outright prohibit trees, but can still act as disincentives to tree conservation or planting, or otherwise affect tree health. For example, many communities’ street and sidewalk design standards specify a four foot wide planting strip in between the street and sidewalk. When large street trees are planted in this small space, their health is compromised because they receive only a fraction of the soil volume needed to support healthy tree growth. Click here for a summary of potential regulatory barriers to conserving and planting trees at development sites. A checklist for conducting a review of your community’s programs and codes for forest friendly development is provided here.
The ultimate goal of a program/code review is to make the recommended changes to programs and regulations that result in increased forest cover in the community. This type of review can be done though a site planning roundtable process. Site planning roundtables typically focus on reviewing a municipality’s codes and ordinances with the end goal of revising these regulations to be more environmentally friendly. A major strength of the roundtable process is that it involves a diverse group of stakeholders (e.g., planners, environmentalists, developers, parks, utility, and public works staff) who come to consensus on the recommended changes. This provides a sense of ownership and credibility to the recommendations. Additional guidance on site planning roundtables is provided in the Center for Watershed Protection's Better Site Design Handbook including a Codes and Ordinance Worksheet to use in evaluating your community’s development regulations.
- Forest Friendly Development. This Powerpoint slideshow summarizes the range of forest friendly development practices and potential barriers to implementing them. Click on the link above to view the slideshow using Slideshare or to download the Powerpoint from Slideshare so you can give the presentation yourself.
- Urban Watershed Forestry Manual Part 2: Conserving and Planting Trees at Development Sites by the Center for Watershed Protection and USDA Forest Service, 2006. This manual reviews the various ways to incorporate more trees into development sites, using conservation and tree planting techniques.
- Forest Friendly Development: A Case Study from Oak Terrace Preserve, North Charleston, South Carolina This case study outlines the extensive tree preservation process used in the Oak Terrace Preserve, a new sustainable development community located in North Charleston, South Carolina.
- Forest Friendly Development by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. This publication profiles 20 forest-friendly developments in the Chesapeake Bay region.
- Conservation Design for Subdivisions: A Practical Guide to Creating Open Space Networks by Randall G. Arendt. Published by the Natural Lands Trust, American Planning Association, and the American Society of Landscape Architects.
- Growing Greener: Putting Conservation into Local Plans and Ordinances by Randall G. Arendt. Published by the Natural Lands Trust, American Planning Association, and the American Society of Landscape Architects.
- A Citizen's Guide to Forest Conservation in Maryland by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
- Better Site Design: A Handbook for Changing Development Rules in Your Community by the Center for Watershed Protection. 174 pp.
- Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances, by the International Society of Arboriculture.
- Protecting Water Resources with Higher Density Development by L. Richards. 2006. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA 231-R-06-001.
- Louisiana State University Green Laws Website: Landscape Ordinance Research Site.
- Conserving Wooded Area in Developing Communities by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2000.
- A Guide to Protecting Trees in Development Projects by Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension, 2005.
- Protecting Trees During Construction: A Homeowner's Guide by University of Minnesota Extension, 2008.
- Removing Market Barriers to Green Development, by the Delta Institute, Northeast-Midwest Institute and EPA, 2008.