In partnership with the city of Flint, Mich., Genesee Conservation District (GCD) is bringing urban forests back to a healthy state and educating residents in the process.
“One of the best benefits that has come out of this partnership is the response from residents,” GCD senior conservation coordinator Jeffrey Johnson said. “They are excited. The city didn’t have the budget to maintain and care for the trees the way we are now. I think the fact that they can see results is one of the biggest upsides.”
In 2013, Flint’s government restructured and eliminated its Parks and Recreation Department. This left a void in tree maintenance, which already had been on the back burner due to funding issues for several years. An ice storm occurred that winter and left tree branches and debris across the city, as well as staff looking for a way to address the issue.
A memorandum of understanding (MOU) with GCD sparked the movement to form a partnership for tree maintenance across the city. This began with a citywide inventory, which the district had already started.
Funding secured from grants, local donors and the city allowed completion of the inventory and a forest management plan. The partnership agreement includes about $40,000 annually from the city for GCD to provide technical assistance, maintain data, oversee contractor management and $216,000 to help with emergency removals, trimming and responding to residents. GCD also has a replacement plan to stay ahead of problems and create a healthier urban forest.
“The city knows we are responsive and we follow through and get things done,” GCD administrator
Angela Warren said.
About 29,000 trees inventoried were prioritized so GCD could address critical issues related to removals, cleaning and trimming. Sections throughout the city were identified for rotational maintenance, removal and replacement. From April 2015 to May 2018, the district removed nearly 2,200 trees and trimmed more than 1,200, and more than 300 street trees have been planted.
“When I look at the way Jeff and Angela and the district handle themselves, they are very thorough and passionate about what they do,” Flint’s interim transportation director Betty Wideman said. “They want to see the canopy grow, and whatever that takes, we work together to make that happen.”
“With Genesee Conservation District, we have the ability to work on a plan and see it through instead of just putting out fires,” Wildeman said.
The city and GCD go to residents’ homes, explain what needs to be done, and leave door hangers if no one is home. The partners are being proactive as much as possible and have discussed connecting with some of the neighborhood groups to provide more presence, outreach and education.
The partnership is undergoing some assessment and adjustments this year, and the city has added a liaison to accompany district staff to residents’ properties.
In just four years, the partnership has also introduced new areas of connection, growing into GCD and city planning department partnership, working on green infrastructure projects and planting thousands of seedlings in city parks.
The City and GCD are currently partnering to implement a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)/Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) infestation grant. The grant will allow the partners to plant 330 replacement trees in city parkways.
In May, the city, GCD and other stakeholders met with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to discuss a comprehensive plan that helped Flint become one of five finalists for a $30 million federal grant. If awarded, the grant that would go towards a mixed income housing development in a dilapidated area of downtown Flint, including green infrastructure, roof gardens, high tunnels (hoop houses) and urban forestry and gardening.
Last year, GCD completed Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design at a park, including installing interpretive environmental signage, clearing sight lines, removing dead trees, raising and trimming others, expanding an existing rain garden, and demolishing old fishing docks and building a new one.
“That’s a positive thing happening because of this partnership,” Warren said. “Once you create a partnership, it grows into more partnerships and bringing more people on board.”
Though there are areas of the agreement that are in the process of being tweaked, the partners plan to continue strengthening their connection for the good of the city.
“If we didn’t have the MOU, we wouldn’t have this,” Wideman said. “It takes working together and figuring out what the common goal is.”