Josh Benham

The City of La Grande reached a state-leading milestone last year for its commitment to the town’s urban forest.

La Grande has been recognized by Tree City USA since 1990 and in 2016 earned the distinction for the 27th year in a row.

Jamie Knight, public information officer with the Northeast Oregon District of Oregon Department of Forestry, presented the city and Teresa Gustafson, coordinator of La Grande’s urban forestry program, with the award during the April 5 regular session of the La Grande City Council.

For the 25th consecutive year, the city also earned a Tree City USA Growth Award, which recognizes a higher level of tree care.

“This makes La Grande the titleholder for the most consecutive Growth Awards in the state,” Knight said
during the presentation.

The Tree City USA program is a community improvement project sponsored and certified by the National Arbor Day Foundation, in cooperation with the National Association of State Foresters and the USDA Forest Service. Cities must meet four core standards of urban forestry management, including maintaining a tree commission or board.

“We have the La Grande Landscape and Forestry Commission,” Gustafson said. “They’re the advisory board to the city for all things landscaping and urban forestry-related.”

The other standards that must be met are having a tree protection ordinance, spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry and holding an annual Arbor Day celebration.

La Grande is one of 57 communities in the state committed to the program. The true feather in the cap for Gustafson and the city is the Growth Awards, which are earned, in a broad sense, by adding to or improving a city’s urban forestry program, Gustafson said.

“That’s where we’re kind of proud of ourselves,” Gustafson said. “We think it’s pretty special. You have to go above and beyond the requirements for just being a Tree City USA.”

Gustafson said the mission of the city’s urban forestry program is to increase the density, diversity and health of the community’s forest, and one goal is to plant 100 shade trees each year. Parks and Recreation Director Stu Spence cited the commission’s initiative and Gustafson’s passion for the program’s accolades.

“It’s a unique and special group, led by a unique and special person,” Spence said. “With Teresa’s guidance, (the commission has) excelled ever since I’ve been here in trying to push their goals. They are always mindful of what we can do to grow and improve on (to) qualify for another Growth Award.”

Cities must fulfill enough projects to meet a 10-point requirement for a Growth Award, ranging from tree-planting projects to educational programs to partnerships with local utilities. Gustafson said one example
in 2016 was a partnership with La Grande Middle School to remove black locust trees at LMS that were in poor shape. LMS students raised money through a penny drive to fund new trees.