Periurban forestry
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Periurban forestry
The urban forest is a public source of incredible environmental services and deep cultural meaning — but it is also a resource that we are rapidly losing. Therefore, there is an urgent need to more effectively and sustainably manage urban forests. FEDENATUR, fulfilling its role as a network of exchanges between managers of such natural sites, contributes to improve management of urban and periurban forests.

Urban forests are complex ecosystems, and increasingly we have come to understand that urban forests both reside within the dynamic landscape of the city and are integral to the city’s function and experience. As such, we are beginning to understand that to achieve ambitious management goals, we must not limit the practice of urban forestry to only foresters, arborists, and horticulturalists. Urban forests and urban forestry represent a site, system, and practice full of opportunity for expanded research, innovation, and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

While “forest” is commonly defined as “a three-dimensional ecological system dominated by trees and other woody vegetation that exists in dynamic interaction with the air-earth matrix of the landscape”(*), a clear definition of urban forest still lacks. Which structural elements are considered (from a single tree to connected canopy or greenspace)? What scale is counted? And what benefits or services are prioritized for management?

Urban forestry, as a practice and a field of study, is a challenge to define and is both historically and culturally contextual. Historically, in the United States, the term “urban forestry” first appeared in the late 1890s, and was associated with arboriculture, which focuses on the management of individual trees or collections of highly managed trees in parks and gardens. The practice of professional forestry in America, which also emerged in the late 1800s, did not focus on urban forests, which were at the time viewed as systems too fragmented and broken to be evaluated or managed using traditional methods. As a result, the ecological study and management of urban forests lagged behind their more rural counterparts. Conversely, in Europe, urban forestry historically concerned itself with the management of periurban forests and urban woodlots, and as a result remained more closely connected to traditional forestry practice, but located itself at the periphery of the city, and therefore was more spatially and typologically constrained.

One of FEDENATURs main challenges consists of raising awareness that periurban natural sites must be considered as key elements of the European Union’s Green Infrastructure Strategy. Perfectly in line with our efforts, there is also a relatively recent trend to describe urban forests as elements of green infrastructure. Driven by the recognition, and valuation, of ecosystem services, researchers, but as well park managers, tend to measure benefits that people can derive, directly or indirectly, from a suite of environmental functions. The most basic of such benefits include, but are not limited to: thermal regulation, improved air quality, stormwater management, and provision of habitat.

Max Piana & Blake Troxel: Beyond Planting: An Urban Forestry Primer, in: Scenario 04: Building the Urban Forest, Spring 2014.

(*) Burton Verne Barnes, et al., Forest ecology (John Wiley and Sons, 1997).