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Anderson loses 'Tree City' status after 21 years

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If a tree falls in the forest and no one's there to hear it, does it make a sound? What about a Tree City?

After 21 years, Anderson has quietly lost its status as a Tree City USA, a title awarded by the Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with other state and national organizations to recognize cities with viable tree management plans and programs.

Anderson's title, first granted in 1991, appears to have been lost due to issues with paperwork. According to Anderson Tree Commission president Tami Coleman, the information she needed to file — including the budget, number of trees planted, pruned and removed — wasn't available.

But whatever the reason, she said, it's a hit.

Tree City status is more than a "whimsical title that cities and towns acquire merely to plaster onto signs at their gateways," she told The Herald Bulletin. "This award reflects the commitment of local government to recognize and fund the essential green infrastructure services that make our communities livable and resilient."

More so, it gives communities a workable tree management plan, she said, as outlined by the program's four main requirements: First, they must have a tree-care ordinance and a tree board or department — which Anderson has, respectively, via the city's regulations for tree spacing, pruning, planting and removal and the volunteer Tree Commission.

Tree Cities must also establish a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita — about $110,000 for Anderson. According to Coleman, it's possible Anderson could have met that requirement, but, "it would have been by the skin of our teeth."

The last requirement is that the cities have an Arbor Day observance and proclamation, which Anderson has. Friday, city officials and members of the Tree Commission observed the tree holiday in Gen. Pulaski Park, where they planted a Carpinus caroliniana, a Hoosier state native better known as the American Hornbeam.

Mayor Kevin Smith, who helped plant the tree, said he encourages "good arborist practices and activities," including reforesting neighborhoods and tending to vacant properties.

But Anderson's not perfect, he said. The city's urban tree canopy — the layer of tree leaves, branches, etc. covering the ground when viewed from above — is 19.3 percent, well below the state average of 24.58 percent, according to a 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"We can't keep operating the same way we always have," he said. "But I think we have a tremendous team now that's really focused on proper urban care. We'll continue to work toward that goal." He said that includes getting Anderson's Tree City status reinstated.

"We'll have it back next year," he said.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, the title comes with perks, including boosted public image, which is good for attracting tourists, businesses and new residents. It also adds to community pride, publicity and could even mean financial aid, since the Foundation sometimes gives preference to Tree Cities when passing out grant money for trees or forestry programs.

As of this year, there are more than 3,400 Tree Cities nationwide and 65 in Indiana. According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, last year Hoosier Tree Cities planted more than 14,500 trees, removed 15,800 damaged or dead ones and pruned 45,357.

"When you read through the list of Indiana Tree Cities, you'll see not only the hotshot Indianapolis suburbs straining to attract new people and corporations," Coleman said. "You'll see lots of large and small communities that think their people want and value trees, period. Is Anderson one of those communities? The ATC thinks so and we're working hard to bring it back."

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