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Cleveland revives former Tree Commission to maintain, grow the city's tree canopy

Members of Cleveland's Urban Forestry Commission
Zaria Johnson
/
Ideastream Public Media
Members of Cleveland's Urban Forestry Commission on the stairs of City Hall after its inaugural meeting on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. (Left to right) Mikal Jeanbaptiste, Dan Leamon, Jose Hernandez, Bernie Jackson, Roger Tokars, Rick Switalski, Tom Schreiber, Allison Hennie, Mayor Justin Bibb, Divya Sridhar, Councilwoman Jenny Spencer, Grai Oleksy, Vice Chair Jennifer Kipp, Chair Samira Malone and Sarah O'Keeffe.

Cleveland has revived its Tree Commission in an effort to return the city to the "Forest City" it once was.

The commission, now known as the Urban Forestry Commission (UFC), serves to will advise Mayor Justin Bibb and Cleveland City Council and recommend policy changes to maintain tree canopy. The original Tree Commission did not have the authority to do so.

During his campaign, Bibb said he didn't immediately see the importance of Cleveland's tree canopy when compared to issues like crime and gun safety. But as he talked to voters across the city, the connection became clear.

"I thought about in my neighborhood, where in the 1990’s we had a whole lot of trees on my block, now we don’t anymore," he said. "And in my part of the city, we have higher rates of asthma than other parts of our community. That’s a problem.”

The original Tree Commission formed in the early 1990's, and went dormant about a decade later.

Councilmembers Brian Kazy and Kerry McCormack introduced legislation to bring back an amended version of the city's Tree Commission in 2021, according to a news release.

The new Urban Forestry Commission serves a similar purpose as the original Tree Commission, but allows for that advisory role and with more appointees to the UFC including a youth resident member.

Mayor Justin Bibb addressing members of Cleveland's revitalized Urban Forestry Commission at its inaugural meeting on Tuesday, January 24, 2023.
Zaria Johnson
/
Ideastream Public Media
Mayor Justin Bibb addressing members of Cleveland revitalized Urban Forestry Commission at its inaugural meeting on Tuesday, January 24, 2023.

The commission currently has 14 members, seven appointed by the mayor, and seven by City Council from the Cleveland Tree Coalition, city council, and city administration. The UFC is still in search of its final mayoral appointment — a Cleveland resident between the age of 11 and 17.

Current members include:

  • Samira Malone, director of Cleveland Tree Coalition,
  • Jennifer Kipp, manager of Urban Forestry for the City of Cleveland
  • Sarah O'Keeffe, director of Cleveland's Department of Sustainability,
  • Ward 15 Councilwoman Jenny Spencer,
  • Jose Hernandez, manager of Engineering for Cleveland's Division of Water
  • Allison Hennie, manager of Urban Design and Architecture,
  • Bernie Jackson, assistant commissioner at Cleveland Public Power,
  • Mikal Jeanbaptiste real estate development coordinator with Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc.,
  • Dan Leamon, resident volunteer and health specialist,
  • Grai Oleksy, certified arborist with the Museum of Natural History,
  • Tom Schreiber, tree care coordinator with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy
  • Divya Sridhar, manager of climate resiliency and sustainability at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress,
  • Rick Switalski, Administration Bureau Manager for Cleveland's Office of Capital Projects and
  • Roger Tokars, resident volunteer and NASA engineer.

Samira Malone was elected chair of the Urban Forestry Commission following a unanimous vote at the inaugural meeting Tuesday. Malone appointed Jennifer Kipp as vice chair and Sarah O'Keeffe as interim secretary.
During the meeting, Kipp gave a presentation discussing the commission's goals and the resources needed to accomplish them.

The commission aims to plant new trees and protect existing ones, manage invasive species and increase tree maintenance to promote and reestablish a healthy tree canopy and green infrastructure in the city.

"We need everyone in the city of Cleveland seeing trees as critical green infrastructure," Kipp said. "These are assets — the only assets — that appreciate over time."

The commission is coming back at a "special" time, Malone said, when city, state and federal governments are committed to investing in green infrastructure.

"I’m really excited that we have this cohort of folks who are going to be focusing on... making sure we have a codified ordinance and legislation to maintain the fact that we have an equitable urban forest in the city of Cleveland," she said.

The Urban Forestry Commission will meet on a quarterly basis, and hold its next meeting on April 4, 2023.

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Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.