Virginia Urban Forestry Roundtable, December 8, 2016

I attended the Northern Virginia Urban Forestry’s Roundtable on “Home Owner’s Associations: Strategies to Increase Tree Canopy” at NOVA’s Loudoun County campus.   An urban forest may seem an oxymoron, but as urban areas expand and urban style living creeps into the country, urban areas are the new forestry frontier.  I wrote an article about that for Virginia Forest Magazine earlier this year.

You can see the agenda here. The room was full with a diverse group of people.  Some were foresters, many represented HOAs, there were developer representatives and several “tree stewards,” who made it their business to protect and preserve individual trees.  What we all had in common was love of trees. I was interested in this program because of my tree interest but also because I am now on the HOA board, so I thought I might learn something.
The first speakers talked about how HOAs deal with their trees.  It is complicated in Northern Virginia because there are lots of rules and even more stakeholders.  The speakers talked about some of the challenges.  One of the most important was lack of consistent planning.  Much of this problem stemmed from instability in HOA boards.  Sometimes one board makes plans that the new people don’t want.  The speakers gave a prosaic example of a board that had planned to plant a grove of trees, but when new members came in the plan was scrapped because dog owners on the new board preferred the open space for their dogs to run.

A bigger challenge than dog runs is budgets.   HOAs tend to budget for obvious expenses such as periodic repair and replacement of roads, paths and equipment, but they tend not to think about trees, or when they do they think about them as part of nature.  Of course, trees are a part of nature, but they are also valuable infrastructure and they require both routine maintenance and sometimes replacement.  Trees live a long time, but they do not live forever.   After about twenty years, some of the trees will begin to die off.  HOAs with neighborhoods built in the 1950s and 1960s are now beginning to see significant numbers of their trees decline and die.  The HOA budget needs to plan for this sort of natural attrition as well as the more spectacular events of trees being hit by lightning or being blown down in storms.

We had a talk by Chris Fields-Johnson from Davey Tree Services.  He gave a very good presentation about caring for trees and shared on online manual on how to do things right.  I was happy to see that they mentioned Tree Farm.

Another good presentation came from Jim McGlone from Virginia Department of Forestry.  He writes forestry plans for HOAs and he does it for free.  He can give advice about deer, invasive plants, risky trees and the value of trees in general. He pointed out that it is good to use native plants and trees, but that native to the area does not mean native to your back yard.  The precise soils and conditions make a difference.   He also made a good quip about people complaining about rats and snakes, joking that if you have snakes at least you probably don’t have rats.

There were also presentations on storm water and some case studies from various HOAs. I have more notes, but I am getting tired of writing.

I think it is a good idea to go to these meetings.  I learn something every time and I learn things I didn’t think I was looking to learn.  It is also a good place to meet neighbors and get some impressions of what people are thinking.