LA GRANDE — The city of La Grande’s urban forestry program has garnered special attention as part of the Tree City USA program, earning a “Growth Award” for the 29th consecutive year in 2020.
No other city in the Pacific Northwest can compete with that winning streak, according to Teresa Gustafson, the city’s urban forester, and heading into 2020, La Grande was tied for second best in the nation among some 3,600 other cities across the United States in that regard.
The Tree City USA Growth Award recognizes cities with urban forestry programs that go above and beyond program requirements, cultivating flourishing arboreal communities. Other Oregon cities recognized included Portland, Salem, Hood River and Oregon City.
“What’s cool about the Growth Award program … is that it encourages cities to expand and improve their community forestry program,” Gustafson said. “That’s important because of all the benefits that our trees and urban forests provide, and that’s everything from clean air, clean water, shade, energy (use) reduction, beautification, wildlife habitat, the list goes on and on and on.”
Gustafson noted La Grande’s urban forestry approach goes far beyond maintaining the city’s existing tree life. Her job also includes Arbor Day education programs in schools, coordinating with the community to plant new trees as older ones age out and planning for the future.
“There’s always projects on the horizon for expanding where we plant trees,” Gustafson said. “We’ve got a couple lined up this year that we’re excited about.”
Among the requirements for a city to participate in the Tree City USA program is a stipulation that $2 per resident be spent on urban forestry. La Grande far outpaces that benchmark, spending $18 per capita in 2020 — a price tag that notably includes the cost of volunteered labor.
Gustafson said she hoped people recognize that trees are “growing, living things that need care and support” and mark their importance as a vital part of La Grande.