What Does “Tree City USA” Mean?

Have you ever noticed how some cities in the U.S. call themselves a “Tree City USA”? I’ve been seeing that term around for years and understood it was some kind of official designation — but what exactly does it mean?

“Tree City USA” is a program run by the Arbor Day Foundation to encourage the valuation and celebration of trees. In order to qualify for this official designation, communities must meet four standards established by the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters:

1) A tree board or deparment

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

There are a lot of good reasons to want to qualify as a Tree City USA, including raising public awareness of tree-related issues in your community, getting some good publicity, educating citizens and preserving trees as a top priority. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, there are over 3,400 Tree City USA communities (encompassing 135 million people). That all seems very positive.

In light of statistics showing how poor tree canopy coverage is in the United States and the increasing focus on trees as a viable green utility, perhaps it would be helpful to consider revamping the Tree City USA designation. A refresh to the program might consider including different tiers of achievement (for example, a higher tier for communities with ambitious soil volume minimums for trees), or adjusted standards for urban/suburban/rural areas.

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