The History and Evolution of Tree City USA: From Idea to Movement

Tree City USA is a self-confident community dedicated to preserving its urban forest. The trees provide several environmental benefits while remaining aesthetically pleasing aspects of a community that enjoys a quality of life and a sense of pride, demonstrating that the citizens are environmentally aware.

Tree City USA is dedicated to planting trees across America to create better, healthier living places. Trees enhance the appearance of a community, improve air quality, lower energy costs, and intercept storm water run-off that pollutes lakes, streams, and rivers. Trees also filter harmful air pollutants that may cause health problems, including asthma, heart attacks, and cancer.

City with Trees

What is Tree City USA?

Tree City USA started in 1976 to provide a lasting contribution to the nation’s bicentennial celebration. The National Arbor Day Foundation, in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service, developed the Tree City USA growth award in 1991, fifteen years after the Tree City Program’s inception.

For a city to be named a Tree City USA, it must meet four criteria:

  1. The city must have a tree board or commission. This may be a forestry department, a tree warden, or even a volunteer tree board or committee overseeing the community’s yearly work plan.
  2. The city must have a tree ordinance. The city must pass an ordinance that determines policies for planting, maintaining, and removing public trees. 
  3. The city must have a community forestry program that costs at least $2 per person annually. This budget allows for all activities connected to managing community trees (e.g., planting, trimming, and maintenance), administrative and equipment expenditures, and in-kind services.
  4. The city must have an Arbor Day observance and proclamation. Arbor Day celebrations, generally held on or around the final Friday in April, provide municipal officials, citizens, and children with an opportunity to plant trees and recognize community trees’ benefits all year. 

Once a town meets all four criteria, it becomes a Tree City USA for that year. To keep the title, a community must re-qualify every year.

Healthy City

What Can Help You Earn the Title Tree City USA

  • If your town is starting a community forestry program, look for someone or an organization to assist you and your tree committee in assessing your resources and prioritizing your needs. Such planning actions may aid in developing constituents leading to Tree City USA certification.
  • Look for grants that can help pay for things like tree inventories, tree surveys, or even the creation of advisory boards to oversee tree care.
  • Look for sample ordinances, model proclamations, and other information to help you make your program that meets the standards of Tree City USA.

What Are the Perks of Tree City USA

Tree City USA localities get promotional materials, including flags, road signs, and a plaque. These signs, proudly displayed across the city, will inform residents and tourists that your municipality has received the Tree City USA title. The Growth Award is given to communities that have gone above and beyond the basic Tree City USA standards and have shown exceptional growth and creativity in community forestry.

The DCR Urban and Community Forestry Program hosts an annual forum and ceremony to deliver promotional materials and bestow prizes. In addition, the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Urban and Community Forestry Program gives permissions for granting applicants to the communities.

Trees in the City

What Are the Key Reasons for Pursuing the Tree City USA Title?

  1. It touches the lives of community members who benefit every day from healthier, well-managed urban woods that offer better air, shadier streets, and aesthetic appeal.
  2. Honors cities and towns every year for their progress in urban forestry and prizes them for their efforts.
  3. The public becomes more aware of urban forestry’s social, economic, and environmental benefits.
  4. Educates individuals to enhance present urban forestry practices.
  5. Promotes collaboration between the public and commercial sectors to maintain urban woods properly.
  6. Encourages, supports, and improves successful urban forestry initiatives in many cities throughout the country.
  7. It can significantly contribute to a community’s pride.
  8. Used as a guide for establishing and caring for a forest in a community.
  9. Connects users to networks of experts and information providers that may help them fine-tune their communities and resources.
  10. It helps a community in significant ways, including making it easier to get funding for tree initiatives and improving the safety and health of urban forests.
  11. The signage lets people know that this community cares about the environment.
  12. When allocating grant funds for trees or forestry projects, the community is sometimes given priority over other communities.
  13. It allows you to contact many individuals with information about tree care.

How to Apply for Tree City USA?

If you’re ready to apply to become a Tree City, Tree Campus, or Tree Line, follow these steps:

  1. If you still need to, find your region foresters and get in touch with the urban forester. Regional urban foresters decide whether or not to accept an application, so the first step is to let them know you want to apply.
  2. Apply online by visiting and creating an account at the ADF.

Applications are due every December 31st annually but you need to prepare them on time. Many communities must work on them for at least a year before being eligible. For assistance, contact the Urban and Community Forestry Program.

Healthy City 1

Becoming recognized as a Tree City USA would be an asset to any community. A community can gain many benefits by earning a Tree City USA designation. Those benefits include a massive boost in local pride and morale that can last for many years. It also can bring positive attention to your community and potentially lead to more grant funding for projects. In addition, it gives your community a positive image to the public. 

Although Becoming Tree City certified is no small feat, the benefits you can reap are greater than you think. If you’re interested in adding Tree City USA certification to your list of accolades, it’s certainly something to look into. Hope you gained some information about applying for Tree City USA. Thank you for reading!

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