“I think that I shall never see

A poem as lovely as a tree.”

I thought the opening stanza from Joyce Kilmer’s beloved 1913 poem Trees would put us in the right mood for this month’s topic: Pinellas County’s bountiful urban forest.

Our Urban Forestry and Landscape Services section is responsible for maintaining and managing a diverse, healthy, and sustainable urban forest within the county. While the section’s responsibilities are far-ranging, its most acclaimed accomplishment is the national recognition we have received for our urban trees.

With Earth Day set for April 22, and National Arbor Day for April 30, this is the perfect time to boast that Pinellas County has earned the Arbor Day Foundation’s designation of Tree City USA for the fourth year in a row – plus the coveted Growth Award – for our commitment to effective urban forest management. What’s more, Pinellas County has been named a Tree City of the World for the second year in a row.

The Tree Cities of the World program is an international effort by the Arbor Day Foundation, in coordination with the Agriculture Association of the United Nations, to recognize communities that are committed to ensuring that their urban forests and trees are “properly maintained, sustainably managed and duly celebrated.” We were one of only 23 communities in the USA in the inaugural Tree Cities of the World class last year, and we’re one of only 123 this year.

More than 150 Florida communities received the Tree City USA designation, including 11 Pinellas municipalities: Belleair, Clearwater, Dunedin, Gulfport, Largo, Oldsmar, Pinellas Park, Safety Harbor, Seminole, St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs. We were one of only four Florida counties so honored.

The Growth Award is presented by the Arbor Day Foundation to participating Tree City USA communities that demonstrate higher levels of tree care and community engagement. The city of Tarpon Springs also earned the award.

Tree City USA is a national recognition program that began in 1976 and is sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and National Association of State Foresters. To qualify for the designation, a community must meet four standards:

  • Have a tree board or department responsible for trees on city/county-owned property.
  • Have a tree care ordinance that forms the foundation of a tree care program.
  • Have a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita.
  • Have an Arbor Day observance and proclamation.

The much-coveted Tree City USA Growth Award celebrates continued improvement management efforts and skills beyond the basic level of care. Our Urban Forestry team also received the Outstanding Urban Forestry Program Award from the Florida Urban Forestry Council. The award recognizes the design and implementation of our Urban Forestry services and education programs as exemplary among Florida State municipal forestry programs. I am proud of our Urban Forestry team for earning awards on so many aspects of their work.

As our forward-thinking Urban Forestry & Landscape Services section manager Michael DePappa pointed out recently, trees play a vital role in our everyday lives. When communities manage trees properly, our green infrastructure becomes more resilient, sustainable, and equitable. Trees planted today will offer social, environmental, and economic benefits for years to come.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”As always, if you have questions or comments, you can call my office at (727) 464-3363 or email me at cjustice@pinellascounty.org.