Trees improve water quality by slowing and filtering rain water as well as protecting aquifers and watersheds.
Tree Pittsburgh was founded in 2006, growing out of citizen concern for the health and well being of Pittsburgh’s trees. The organization, however, has its roots in the long-felt need for a 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit urban forestry organization among members of the City of Pittsburgh’s Shade Tree Commission. Tree Pittsburgh's mission is to enhance the City's vitality by restoring and protecting the urban forest through community maintenance, planting, education and advocacy. The organization's vision is to be a leader in creating a healthy, attractive and safe urban forest by inspiring and engaging citizens to maintain, plant and protect trees.
Unfortunately, Pittsburgh, along with many other cities in our country, has experienced a substantial drop in the number of trees along its streets due to a variety of causes, including construction, pollution, disease, and neglect. A consortium of Carnegie Mellon University graduate departments conducted a study of Pittsburgh’s urban forest in 1995. Painting a bleak picture of life in the streets for the city’s trees, the report identified the following conditions:
- Pittsburgh’s urban forest is clearly in decline.
- The Forestry Division of the Pittsburgh Department of Public Works removes four trees for each one planted.
- An estimated 20 percent of trees that are planted in city rights of way do not survive five years.
- Pittsburgh’s Forestry Division is critically understaffed, for the most part able to engage only in crisis management. In the 1970s, over thirty people were employed in the Forestry Division; there are now a total of twelve people, including two clerical staff.
Three key recommendations were made in the CMU report:
1. Establish a Pittsburgh Shade Tree Commission.
2. Improve the maintenance of young trees.
3. Conduct a comprehensive inventory of Pittsburgh’s street trees.
In response to the report’s first recommendation the Pittsburgh Shade Tree Commission (PSTC) was established by city ordinance in 1998 to “preserve and maintain as many trees as possible in the city.”
Initially, PSTC limited its work to neighborhood-wide tree plantings and community educational projects. Since its inception, PSTC has planted a total of 450 trees in neighborhood-planting projects conducted in Lawrenceville, Uptown, Southside, Carrick and Friendship.
In response to the second recommendation of the CMU study, PSTC recruited nearly 200 volunteer Tree Tenders from neighborhoods where planting projects occurred and trained them to care for the newly planted trees. The PSTC also helped community groups organize tree care work events and maintained a small tool bank for use by volunteers.