State forester: tree benefits for cities are many

An Arbor Day tree planting takes place in Derby. Tim McDonnell, a community forestry coordinator with the Kansas Forest Service, recently spoke in the area about “urban forests” and the benefits trees bring to the cities.

Think trees are just for rural, mountainous areas? Tim McDonnell, a community forestry coordinator with the Kansas Forest Service, wants you to think again – and view them as part of the cityscape, too.

With that in mind, he presented an hour-long program on “urban forests” last week before the Mulvane Tree Board and 20 guests at the Mulvane Public Library.

Urban forests involves the management of trees in populated settings with the intent of bringing benefits to a city and its residents. Some also extend that definition to include any kind of woody plant vegetation growing in an urban area.

City officials in both Mulvane and Derby are undertaking a good job of planting and promoting trees, McDonnell said, but there’s always room for improvement.

They both have fairly young canopies, or a lot of new trees, he said.

They also are part of the Tree City USA program, which has been advocating for more trees in cities and towns across America since 1976. It is a nationwide movement that provides the framework necessary for communities to manage and expand their public trees.

More than 3,400 communities are involved. To be part of it, a city has to maintain a tree board or department, have a community tree ordinance, spend at least $2 per capita on urban forestry and celebrate Arbor Day.

Trees bring many benefits to a community, McDonnell said, but one thing that would be especially important for Derby – with its recent history of having to handle major back-to-back floods – is their ability to retain stormwater.

An increasingly important role is their ability to intercept air pollution and provide shade, McDonnell said.

He is frequently asked what the best tree is for the area, which is a difficult question.

It’s hard for him to be tied down to one, but pressed, he said the Shumard Oak is quite beneficial. A comprehensive list of trees that are suited for the area, called the South Central Preferred Tree List, is kept online, at

Urban trees also have been in the news of late with their roles in deadly fires in California, but he said, that’s generally not an issue in Kansas. There were some problems with overgrowth in Hutchinson, he said, but management is key.

“It can blow up into a canopy fire, or a crown fire,” he said. But other conditions, such as the fierce, strong winds and low humidity need to be factored in, too.