New city environmental group engages, encourages action

East Providence Urban Forest begins as residents' interest in subject piques

By Mike Rego
Posted 10/13/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — A new community-based outfit has entered the discussion on environmental issues facing East Providence and the area, just as residents are responding to a number of …

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New city environmental group engages, encourages action

East Providence Urban Forest begins as residents' interest in subject piques

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — A new community-based outfit has entered the discussion on environmental issues facing East Providence and the area, just as residents are responding to a number of development proposals popping up locally that could threaten to deplete some of the city's green spaces.

East Providence Urban Forest, describing itself as "a group of neighbors working to enhance and sustain the health and beauty of our town’s trees for future generations," held its first meeting last month on the Weaver Library lawn. Fittingly doing so under the canopy of its Copper Beech tree.

The "physically distant tree talk" was purposed as the group presenting its intention to be a leading participant in the state's Urban and Community Forestry Program (http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/forestry/urban-forestry). EPUF worked in conjunction with the library's Ryan McCauley to stage the event. Johanna Wolczak, from the city's planning department, coordinated the speakers.

Among the experts in attendance discussing the matter were Molly Henry, the Climate and Health Fellow at American Forests; Lou Allard, the Urban and Community Forestry Program Coordinator at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management; Rachel Calabro, Climate Change Program Manager at the R.I. Department of Health, and Cassie Tharinger, Director of the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program.

Bringing state officials to the event was to signal the desire of city residents to be engaged in the program, to "position East Providence as a leader in the state to receive support for our urban forest plan."

According to its mission statement, EPUF seeks to: enhance and sustain the health and beauty of our urban forest for future generations by facilitating the planting of appropriate trees and ca ring for existing trees: educate the community about the economic, environmental, health, social, emotional and aesthetic benefits of the trees; protect our urban forest from unnecessary removals through better management, planning and enforcement; honor the history of trees in our community; and create and implement a community urban forest plan in collaboration with the city.

"We began as a small group of neighbors who were genuinely concerned by the number of healthy trees being cut down in our neighborhoods. That inspired us to look into what benefits a healthy tree canopy can provide in an urban setting, and what we learned was eye opening. The benefits of a healthy urban forest are copious, ranging from heat control to air quality to mental health to reducing the effects of a changing climate and sustain wildlife, etc.," said group member Christine Lilley.

She continued, "We are hoping to have neighbor driven activities such as completing a citywide tree inventory, as well as to host small informational tree talks in our neighborhoods, along with events revolving around education and celebration of our trees and green spaces. We eventually hope to have many volunteers citywide."

Specifically, the group would like to host educational walks in neighborhoods throughout the city, help designate "heritage trees," assist in the collection of tree data, host more discussions on science, policy and action and participate in creating an urban forest plan for East Providence.

EPUF member Jenn Tierney has also been at the forefront of the effort and a speaker at several public meetings where the environment is a key component, like the many recent forums on the proposed redevelopment of the Metacomet Golf Club.

Ms. Tierney said of the group's origins, "We started from a chance meeting last year, when we saw the city arborist cutting down a city tree. Given that there were few left on that street, we asked if it could be spared. We then asked for a meeting with Robert Walker (City Highway/Parks Superintendent), who kindly met us at the tree, where we all saw it never should have been planted there in the first place. That made us wonder about the rationale behind the city's tree management, and how other cities do it. And then we learned that people like us in Providence had done a tree inventory and developed an urban forest management plan. So we thought, why can't we do that?"

A grant writer professionally, Ms. Tierney also alerted the city about a potential funding stream through the RIDEM's "America the Beautiful" initiative. She contacted officials David Bachrach, Community Development Coordinator, and Bill Fazioli, the Director of the Planning and Economic Development, eventually leading to the city gaining grant monies. They also began coordinating what she called "a citizen science-type project to map out trees and develop East Providence's first urban forest management plan."

Ms. Tierney added, "The grant is just the beginning. Not only can we help the city raise funds for new trees, mature trees will bring revenue as well. We 'Townies' can position our city as a leader in Rhode Island to receive state and federal funding, as well as private money. We could be the first in line to give City Forest Credits to corporations desperate for carbon offsets. Mature trees, especially those of a certain height and width, boost the value of both our urban forest and private property. It's a win-win situation for everyone."

This fall and winter, EPUF is organizing tree walks in each neighborhood to give residents the tools to identify tree species on sidewalks, in parks and in their yards. The first "Name that Tree" is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 17, in Larisa Park at 2 p.m. Due to COVID-19 protocols, registration is required. Another walk is tentatively planned in early November at Hunts Mills in collaboration with the Ten Mile River Watershed Councill.

Those interested in joining the group or who wish to register for the organized walks can email epurbanforest@gmail.com.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.