If any town is going to be called Tree City USA, it ought to be Roseburg, figures city Councilor Bob Cotterell.
“We are the tree city of the West, have been for years,” he insists.
Maybe. But more than 3,400 cities in America, including 54 in Oregon, have something Roseburg doesn’t: The title of Tree City USA bestowed by the Arbor Day Foundation.
Cotterell wants to change that. He’s working with city officials to meet the foundation’s requirements.
The city already does most of the things the foundation requires, including managing trees on city property. A well-maintained urban forest has practical benefits, such as cooler surfaces, cleaner air and even higher home values, said Paul Ries, urban forest manager for the Oregon Department of Forestry.
“Studies have shown people paying 10 to 12 percent more for goods in districts that have trees than in districts that don’t,” he said, citing research by University of Washington social scientist Kathleen Wolf.
“If you own a business in downtown Roseburg, you want trees shading the area in front of your shop.”
To Cotterell, it’s also a matter of civic pride.
“We’ve got a lot of beautiful trees, and we need to recognize our roots,” he said. “I live in town, and I live half a block from a forest. Five nights a week, I sit on the front porch and watch some red tail (hawks) and read my paper.”
The Arbor Day Foundation touts more than a dozen reasons for becoming a Tree City USA — everything from burnishing public image to enjoying shadier strees on a hot day.
Cotterell said he became interested in getting the label for Roseburg after seeing “Tree City” signs while driving through Sacramento on his way to visit relatives in Southern California.
He said it just irritated him, knowing he lived in a town that once called itself the “Timber Capital of the World.” Sacramento isn’t nearly as tree-filled as Roseburg, Cotterell said.
About a year and a half ago, just after joining the City Council, Cotterell suggested the city apply for the “Tree City” designation.
To qualify, the city will designate the parks commission as its “tree board” and will hold an Arbor Day ceremony. National Arbor Day is the last Friday in April. Oregon goes all out, designating the entire first week of April as Arbor Day
The city already spends the required $2 per city resident on trees — everything from planting and pruning to collecting leaves, said Public Works Director Nikki Messenger
The final hurdle will be adopting a tree ordinance that lays out the city’s management plan for its urban forest. Messenger said the city hasn’t really set rules for tree care before. The ordinance applies to trees on public property only. Private landowners’ trees aren’t affected, except where trees enter city right of way.
The ordinance is making its way through the city’s committees and is expected to be voted on by the City Council in late October. Messenger anticipates the city will submit an application to the Arbor Day Foundation in December.
She said she believes the designation will be a plus for Roseburg, even though the city won’t have to change much of what it’s already doing.
“I think it says something about your community — that you are invested not just in the pipes and the streets but also in the green infrastructure,” Messenger said.
The characteristics of an urban forest are different than timberlands, but still provide important economic and social benefits, Ries said.
People living in tree-filled neighborhoods are likely to sell their homes for more money and more likely to know their neighbors, he said.
Also, trees reduce the heat soaked up by the city’s asphalt and rooftops. In a rainy climate, like Western Oregon’s, trees reduce stormwater runoff.
“There are really so many different benefits to trees. We take most of them for granted,” Ries said.
All these benefits make an urban forest worth paying attention to and becoming a Tree City encourages a city to do that, Ries said.
It may also make Roseburg more attractive to businesses scouting for new locations and can be a plus when applying for grants for civic projects, he said.
The state’s most recent addition to the ranks of Tree Cities, Creswell, joined the list two years ago. Creswell Community Development Director Steve Dobrinich said having a tree board has spurred creative ideas, including “tagging” trees with signs explaining why they are important to the community.
“One of the big things is just getting the community involved,” he said. “It gets a lot of the community to pay more attention to the trees.”
•You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or email@example.com.