Tampa Bay Watershed Forest Project, Florida, University of Florida

Urban Forest Conservation, Ethics and Science

How the Tampa Bay Forest Working Group (TBFWG) is positioned at the national, state, regional, and city levels:

Demographic Categories Florida Statewide
Black/African: 16.13%
Asian: 2.68%
White: 75.67%
Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander: 0.06%
Native Alaskan/Native American: 0.28%
Two or more races: 2.54%
Other race: 2.64%
Median age: 42
Total Population: 21,646,155

In 2005 the University of Florida IFAS Extension organized and facilitated 9 meetings of private citizens, non-profit conservation groups and government natural resource agencies. The meetings led to development of a Mission and Goals that continue to serve as a framework for collaboration. Their purpose is to organize a scientific framework for the ecological assessment and sustainable management of the urban forest ecosystems.

A core group of collaborators, known as the Tampa Bay Forest Working Group (TBFWG) includes non-profits organizations; local, state and federal agencies; and universities. Today they provide the technical backbone for 14 years of ongoing monitoring of forest resources; development of science-based plans for the conservation of region’s urban forest, strategic planning for the management of nearly 70,000 acres of urban forest natural areas; and ongoing analysis of bio-physical and social inventories.

At the core of the work is an endeavor to develop a sustainable urban forest management system. Unlike older and continuously funded management systems developed for National Forests, state forests and private land holdings (CFM), national and state urban forestry programs lack the organizational infrastructure to support sustainable management and attainment of long-term eco – social goals.

How the Tampa Bay Forest Working Group (TBFWG) addresses the multitude of issues and priorities in their community through educational programming:

The TBFWG uses a multidisciplinary approach to urban forest conservation.

Urban forest conservation is primarily a social endeavor. Urban forest management, including arboriculture, operate within a value-laden context. Successful management requires an understanding of the social values which drive political decisionmaking, as well as an understanding of ecosystem function and process. The core group of the TBFWB consist of forest and wildlife managers, extension agents, and bio-physical as well as social scientists.

The Tampa Bay Forest Working Group (TBFWG) has expanded its work into other urban regions of the state, providing strategic planning assistance for urban forest conservation to numerous municipal governments. The initial step in the development of all strategic plans is neighborhood-scale assessments of residents’ values and attitudes toward urban trees/forest and their management. These assessments take the form of full surveys and nominal group sessions.  Focus groups are conducted in low income and disenfranchised neighborhoods to ensure all residents have a voice in urban forest planning. Community-Based Social Marketing Plans have been developed to support efforts to restore and maintain the urban forest and urban natural areas.

Periodic monitoring of social values and perspectives is now seen as integral to the succesful use of adaptive management for urban forest conservation, as is the monitoring of bio-physical elements, ecological functions, and processes.

How the Tampa Bay Forest Working Group (TBFWG) attracts, develops, retains, and structures competent talent:

Urban forests are primarily assessed in terms of the range of services and values they provide to urban and suburban residents (Nowak, 2001). Assessing these services and values often go beyond the traditional disciplines of forest and wildlife management. They require skills in social geography; epidemiology; conflict resolution and mediation; urban design and planning; urban hydrology; and land use law, to name just a few.

The practice of urban forest management is relatively new. Strategic planning for urban forest conservation is designed as an experiment. Deliberate use of the scientific method within an adaptive management framework guides development of learning organizations, in this case the University of Florida IFAS Extension and local governments.

The dynamic interaction of the urban forest and human health and wellbeing require the ability of engaged extension agents and scientists to be flexible, willing to learn, adapt to novel work environments, and accept the limitations to their knowledge, even within their own fields of expertise. Through 15 years of experience the TBFWG has grown in its use of critical thinking to identify and creatively address emerging problems in urban forest management. This has included the incorporation of individuals and disciplines not typically found working on natural resource-based issues. Much of this new talent has been supplied through the University of Florida IFAS Extension, other University of Florida Colleges, and state and federal agencies.

Innovation, creativity, and success in assessments and management have drawn attention to the work of the TBFWG, attracting professionals and scientists from across the nation.

How the Tampa Bay Forest Working Group (TBFWG) collaborates to leverage resources for collective impact:

The Tampa Bay Forest Working Group is a collaborative. It is a partnership founded on a mission statement and four broad goals set fourteen years ago. Shared interests and development of professional and ethical bonds have held the group together. Organized initially by the University of Florida IFAS Extension, it now engages in a variety of ecological and social assessments, urban forest planning and management consultation, and educational programming. The TBFWG’s core members include representatives of various universities as well as local, state and federal government agencies.

A few examples of work beyond strategic urban forest, and natural area, planning and management:

    1. In partnership with the US EPA, the Ecosystem Services Research Program (ESRP) assesses the impact of urban forest wetlands to protect water quality; assesses the role of urban forest vegetation along transportation corridors to attenuate carbon particulate matter, and completes analysis of ecosystem services provided by urban trees and forests within the Tampa Bay Watershed. This led to the development of an ecosystems sevices analysis tool designed specifically for the Tampa Bay Watershed (local).
    2. In partnership with the USDA Forest Service, the group assesses the role of riparian forest vegetation to attenuate the movement of dissolved nitrogen in shallow ground water to open water bodies and aquifers, and assesses the reorganization of forest plant communities due to stress associated with regional urbanization.
    3. Working with three separate Florida universities and a not-for-profit stormwater engineering firm, the TBFWG developed a suite of planning tools for the integration of green infrastructure into existing gray (engineered) stormwater systems – Gray to Green: Tools for Transitioning to Vegetation-Based Stormwater Management. This project was funded by the USDA Forest Service.
    4. In partnership with the State of Florida Forest Service, the group conducts an analysis of urban forest canopy cover within all municipal boundaries within the state.