Proactively managing any infrastructure asset requires sufficient funding to maintain it to industry and community standards. Public trees are no different.

Unfortunately, most people consider the urban forest a luxury rather than a necessity. This view acknowledges the aesthetic value of trees but ignores the tremendous public health and safety benefits these publicly owned assets provide. It also discounts the considerable effort required to lessen liability by protecting trees from storms, insects, diseases, and climate change.

Because of this pervasive mind-set, decreased and/or insufficient funding is one of the greatest challenges facing urban foresters.

Every community’s forest is different and every community’s asset-management program is at a different developmental stage. At minimum, though, an effective program includes preventive maintenance, emergency response, and planting, as well as staff, equipment, and contractual services.

There’s no magic formula for determining sufficient funding for any given program, but there are credible sources you can use to indicate whether yours is adequately funded.

Arbor Day Foundation (ADF): at least $2 per capita to qualify as a Tree City USA. The ADF believes this is a minimum amount necessary to provide maintenance, planting, and management services.
Municipal arborists: $5 per capita.
U.S. Forest Service’s i-Tree software:

Another potential benchmark may even be more helpful because data is analyzed on national and regional scales and for small, medium, and large cities. Conducted four times over the last 25 years by Davey Resource Group and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 2014 Municipal Tree Care and Management in the United States reveals:

The average percentage of the total municipal budget allocated to tree management was 0.52%, ranging nationally between 0.01% and 3.45%.

The regional median total annual program budgets and budget per tree are:

The median total annual tree program budgets and budget per tree for various population levels are:

Next page: Funding options: mix, match, negotiate