Urban forestry and its role in urban ecosystem management: A new frontier for a developing profession?
What is urban forestry? Who practices it and where? Urban trees are significant components of urban ecosystems and their management is increasingly linked with other aspects of green infrastructure management. Together the management of urban greenspaces has a significant influence on urban ecosystems. Policies and practices that direct urban forest and green infrastructure management may have far reaching consequences and ideally weave together complex disciplinary expertise from many forms of applied ecology. Yet many allied professions are engaged in urban ecosystem management and the practice of urban forestry in particular—planners, foresters, landscape architects, engineers, developers, nonprofits, landowners, and others. As society places increasing emphasis on managing urban ecosystems for both environmental sustainability and human health, the roles of these professions and a host of new interdisciplinary careers (e.g., sustainability coordinators, directors of biodiversity) are in flux. We developed three linked schematics illustrating the relationship between expertise, practice, research, and responsibility which were then reviewed by a national interdisciplinary group representing many of these professions and stakeholders as part of Urban Forestry 2020, a project supported by the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council. We quantify and analyze the commonalities among urban ecology, urban forestry, and related disciplines in the context of urban management focused on ecosystem service provision.
The body of knowledge considered to be encompassed by urban forestry is extremely broad and has considerable overlap with the discipline of urban ecology. However, overlap is also identified with planning, engineering, arboriculture, horticulture, landscape design, soil science, building construction, and other disciplines and professions. Overlaps among all of these are present in the body of knowledge, the educational and professional backgrounds of those who are effectively managing the urban forest and urban ecosystem, and the management scope of professionals. However, we found numerous misalignments amongst knowledge, educational and professional backgrounds, and who practices. Some of these misalignments are related to issues with scale in urban systems. For example, ecosystem processes may need to be monitored and managed at a large scale, while management decisions are made based on land ownership or regulatory authority. Other misalignments may be related to university curricula and graduate programs and their disciplinary traditions. We explore how these misalignments affect the professional development of urban foresters and related urban ecosystem managers as we approach a new frontier in urban ecosystem management.