Be a Neighborhood Forester

Any neighborhood anywhere wanting to create, or already having, their own neighborhood forester group aligned with our aims and goals can freely use, adapt, and/or repost the materials, including the logo on these Neighborhood Foresters webpages – just credit the source, and happy foresting!

Our Aims and Goals:

  • Bringing back, and enhancing, life in our public commons in a way that enhances health, accessibility, abates the effects of heat-island/climate-change, sequesters carbon, and improves water/food security and flood mitigation for all
  • Enabling a daily reconnection and collaboration with nature unique to our bioregion
  • Building community, and evolving our skills and capacity as we collaborate together planting and stewarding our neighborhood forests in public rights-of-ways and other public commons
  • Create and practice what we’d like to see grow community-, watershed-, and state-wide
  • Demonstrate public food forests that thrive solely on passively harvested rain and stormwater—no pumped or extracted waters from wells, or municipal systems. So, our practices contribute to the regeneration—not the depletion—of groundwater and surface waters.
  • Increase the fertility/organic matter content and diversity of beneficial life within our soils with free, on-site nutrients in a way that increases the infiltration rate, filtration, accessibility, and residency time of stormwater for plants and other soil life
  • Continually grow and deepen our understanding of this Place in the Sonoran Desert as we evolve our beneficially reciprocal relationships with our diverse plant, animal, insect, soil, human, and watershed communities

The Dunbar/Spring Neighborhood Foresters effort began in 1996 with a neighborhood tree planting of 208 native trees. We then made it an annual event that continues to this day, resulting in the cumulative planting of over 1,600 native food-bearing trees, hundreds of multi-use native understory plants; and over one million gallons of stormwater annually harvested in rain garden basins that control flooding while freely irrigating the vegetation in the public rights-of-ways of the neighborhood.

Go to this link for some of the Neighborhood Forester inspirations.

This has transformed previously hot, barren, and largely lifeless public walkways and streets into shaded oases full of life to which native wildlife such as songbirds, butterflies, hummingbirds and and other pollinators have returned along with more families walking, bicycling, and hanging out on their front porches.

As the forest grew and young plants started to bear fruit we collaborated with food forestry and local foods activists from other downtown area neighborhoods to form Desert Harvesters, which got a grant from PRO Neighborhoods to purchase a hammermill installed upon a trailer, which could be taken to various community milling events. These events enabled the public to more easily process the bounty of mesquite pods by milling the pods into flour via the hammermill. For 15 years there was an annual mesquite milling, pancake breakfast and native foods fiesta in the Dunbar/Spring Community garden. More recently the millings have been taking place at Las Milpitas Farm here in Tucson. Through these events, the Eat Mesquite and More Cookbook, Desert Harvesters native foods demonstrations at the Santa Cruz Farmers Market, and many other efforts by other individuals and entities there has been a resurgence in the appreciation, enjoyment, and planting of native food-bearing plants, and thus the forest.

Turn the problem into a solution
But our evolving neighborhood forests are often unconsciously attacked as landscape crews or perhaps even new neighbors—with no training in plant identification & ethnobotanical uses of plants, proper pruning, and tree care, or the history of the neighborhood’s planting efforts—unconsciously damage or cut down (rather than properly prune) sections of the forest when a path, sign, or street is blocked by some vegetation in need of pruning; clear cut all plantings, rather than leave the desired plants and only remove the undesired invasive plants; or remove plantings when its just litter that needs to be picked up.

So, to not just protect our neighborhood forests, but to also help grow, regenerate, and steward greater forest and community health—the Neighborhood Foresters effort also grows more neighborhood foresters/stewards/collaborators through workshops, rain & plant plantings, work & learn parties, mentoring, and resources (such as these web pages). This has dramatically improved the health and safety of—and access to—this public neighborhood-context forest as these volunteer citizen foresters learn and commit to:

• carefully prune the vegetation to maintain healthy natural plant forms—along with access and sight lines for walkways, bicycle boulevards, and streets; 

• cut up the prunings into 6-inch or shorter pieces then reuse them (instead of throwing them away) along with leaf and seed-drop as a soil-building, water-conserving mulch-—especially within water-harvesting basins;

• plant more multi-use native plants (increasing species diversity, productivity, and interconnections) along with more rainwater and stormwater to sustain them;

• harvest, process, share, and enjoy the bounty of the forest in the form of native edibles, medicinals, livestock fodder, craft materials, etc;

• remove invasive plants and litter;

• clear barriers to pedestrians like vehicles, rocks, gravel, and landscape mounds from public pathways;

• and more

The idea is to create/evolve and share strategies, programs, policy, and trainings enabling other neighborhood forester efforts so that every neighborhood can have its own forester group. It only takes two people in a neighborhood tending the public right-of-way adjoining their homes, business, school, park, or community center to get a neighborhood forester program started. It can all begin with the conscious planting or pruning of a single tree in the public right-of-way or broadcasting a handful of native wildflower seed. The more you do, and the more you learn, the greater your capacity and how you can assist others to up their capacity as well.

To that aim we’ve developed four levels of Neighborhood Foresters. The foresters’ ability, support/training they receive, the contribution they give back to the community, and the benefits to the neighborhood and watershed increase with each step up in achievement/commitment level.

See here for the Four Levels of Neighborhood Foresters

The aim is to have a neighborhood forester program in every neighborhood, each expressing its own unique essence and potential, and cross-pollinating evolutions and successes with the others.

Regular events

(sign up to our email list to be notified of all events, and check our Events and Facebook pages, and those of Desert Harvesters)

  • Monthly Work & Learn stewarding parties in traffic circles and chicanes in neighborhood, along with the right-of-way plantings of fellow foresters — you help us and we help you!
  • Forester meet ups to have fun, brainstorm, and evolve our potential as we also enjoy beverages
  • Rain and Seed Plantings at beginning of rainy seasons
  • Seasonal harvests of cactus foods & cuttings, followed by processing and enjoyment of the food, and planting of the cuttings to grow future harvests and wildlife habitat
  • Twice per year Pruning and Mulching Workshops – one at end of monsoon (usually September), and one in late winter (February)
  • Annual Rain & Tree Planting, typically in late winter

Currently due to limited resources, we focus the majority of our on-site work in the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood as we evolve the program and ground truth what works and what doesn’t as we steward the community forest. Though we invite and welcome anyone from any neighborhood to join in. Participants from other neighborhood then initiate activities in their neighborhood, and Dunbar/Spring Neighborhood Foresters can help support them in those efforts as they build their own Neighborhood’s Foresters.

Neighborhood Foresters logo artist credit: Dennis Caldwell