Entering Fullerton from Anaheim, you may have noticed a small green and white sign that reads, “Tree City USA Arbor Day Foundation 38 Years” in the center island of Harbor just north of the 91 Freeway. I spotted the sign one day as I was driving by and wanted to find out more about it. After visiting the City’s website, I learned that Fullerton was the first city in Orange County to receive the “Tree City USA” designation, and among the first of 6 cities in California to receive such designation Statewide. However, is Fullerton still a Tree City? Looking at the Arbor Day Foundation’s “Tree City USA Communities in California” list on their website, which was updated in June 2020, I did not see Fullerton listed.
Founded in 1887, Fullerton got its start as an agricultural community. As the years went by, agriculture gave way to residences, oil drilling, and business. Today, Fullerton is primarily residential with a diverse mix of educational, cultural, and business institutions. Fullerton has retained its friendly, small-town atmosphere through many community programs and by preserving its original downtown. One of the characteristics that sets Fullerton apart from surrounding cities is its extensive urban forest. Fullerton’s urban forest is made up of all the trees and landscape on public and private property within the City’s corporate boundaries.
Tree City USA is a national recognition program that began in 1976 and is sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and National Association of State Foresters. This is an award given to cities demonstrating a commitment to tree planting and outstanding urban forest management practices. The Tree City USA program helps provide the framework for a healthy, sustainable urban forestry program. A city qualifies as a Tree City USA community by meeting 4 standards. The city must maintain a tree board or department, have a community tree ordinance, spend at least $2 per capita on urban forestry, and celebrate Arbor Day in order to qualify for this recognition.
Fullerton held its first Arbor Day celebration back in 1971, and to this day the City maintains over 40,000 inventoried trees. According to the City’s website, Fullerton’s “urban forest is improving air quality, conserving energy, attenuating storm water, and improving property values.” Community trees are important. In fact, the trees planted along our city streets and in our parks have environmental, financial, and public health benefits. Trees clean the air by absorbing pollutants that trigger asthma attacks and other health problems. They absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and provide life-giving oxygen, releasing it into the atmosphere. The water vapor given off through transpiration adds to the cooling influence of trees, and shade from the trees cools the urban landscape. Trees also help the environment by providing sound barriers, reducing heat islands, reducing soil erosion and runoff, and providing habitats for wild animals.
Scientists with the U.S. Forest Service report that a tree planted today on the west side of a house can reduce energy bills by 3% in only 5 years and by 12% annually in 15 years. According to the city of Fullerton’s Community Forest Management Plan, “estimates suggest homes that have the benefit of trees can expect increases in property values ranging from 7 to 20%.” Research has also consistently shown the positive impact trees have on people, including worker satisfaction, students’ ability to concentrate, faster healing time for hospital patients, and lower blood pressure among senior citizens. Their presence has even been found to reduce crime by providing inviting places that promote positive social interaction. Interestingly, the growing volume of research says that trees facilitate mental restoration, reduce depression, anger, anxiety, mental fatigue, and stress. Trees help us focus our attention and improve concentration.
Fullerton is well known for the wealth of beautiful trees that line its streets, beautify its parks, and add charm and character to the community. The City’s trees play a major role in enhancing the charm and character that’s associated with Fullerton while increasing the quality of life. Preserving the historical elements of the community is a primary concern to residents. Perhaps one of the most visible examples of the community’s need to preserve its heritage can be seen on Brookdale Place and Jacaranda Street, where large, 40-to-50-year-old Jacaranda trees line the street and enhance the ambience of the historical homes.
A lot of Fullerton’s trees are located in parkways, parks, greenbelts, medians, public parking lots, and other public areas. Driving around the City, I’ve seen everything from Afghan Pines and Australian Willows, to California Pepper Trees and Date Palms, to Evergreen Elms, Magnolias and many other types of trees. Fullerton is definitely well known for its Jacarandas, a species of tree that originated from South America and was first planted in Southern California about a century ago. Their purple flowers blossom when the humidity is higher and temperatures are not too hot.
However, trees can also sometimes be destructive and expensive, creating problems with concrete and asphalt cracking or lifting, sewer line infiltration, utility line grounding, and falling branches. Tree management for the city of Fullerton’s urban forest falls under the City’s Maintenance Service Department’s Landscape Division, under the guidance of the Department Director. The department’s job is to make sure the tree program policies are enforced. Community forest management is funded as a distinct program in the Maintenance Services Department’s budget and is financed by revenue from the City’s sanitation fund. According to the City’s Community Forest Management Plan, “Sanitation funds can be used for tree maintenance because proper tree care decreases leaf drop and branch loss into the streets, which in turn, reduces the amount of plant material entering the City’s sanitation system.” The department also works with non-profit community groups to apply for competitive tree-planting grants.
Fullerton is truly a city of trees, but is it still a Tree City USA? I emailed the City’s Maintenance Service Office, and heard back from Phil Kisor, Landscape Supervisor for the City of Fullerton. He said, “We did receive a 2019 proclamation from the city council and held an Arbor Day event at Richman Park in the month of March. The City is currently a Tree City USA but working towards correcting the record with the Arbor Day Foundation. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were advised that the Arbor Day Foundation waivered Standard 4: An Arbor Day Observance and Proclamation; in lieu of this, the City conducts a virtual tree awareness campaign.” Mr. Kisor went on to explain that Fullerton’s Urban Forest has developed over the years by recognizing problematic species of trees and eliminating or minimizing them from the planting pallet. They have been keeping up to date by continuing education seminars on invasive pests such as the shot hole borer, and the bark beetle among others.
“We have approximately 65 different types of trees within our parks, medians, trails, downtown and reservoirs,” said Mr. Kisor. “The Arbor Day Foundation only counts the trees that are city maintained. The majority of our tree work is performed by contractors.” He explained that the criteria the City considers when removing trees is whether they’re dead, dying, diseased or causing major infrastructure damage.
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