The New York State Urban Forestry Council sponsors an annual conference that brings conservationists, environmental activists, forestry professionals, and interested citizens together. Called the New York ReLeaf Conference, this 3 day event seeks to inform participants on the future of trees and the possible avenues to improve them. Though this is its 27th year, the conference will be held for the first time at Mount Saint Mary College, right in the City of Newburgh. It will take place July 18-20.
“This conference provides educational workshops and seminars for people that are interested [in order to show] what’s happening [in our current climate] and how we can remediate it,” said Eugenie Abrams, a member of the City of Newburgh’s Conservation Advisory Council (CAC).
According to a 2018 study done by Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, it was indicated that tree cover in urban/community areas of the United States is steadily declining. Tree cover decreases at a rate of about 175,000 acres per year, which comes to a yearly total of around 36 million trees.
The theme for this year is called “Community Forestry in a Rapidly Changing World,” said Gloria Van Duyne, the New York State Urban and Community Forestry Program Coordinator. “Some [presentations] will [focus on the] current information in assessing how our community forests will be adapting in the future and what we can do to help them,” she added.
Van Duyne says that the ReLeaf Conference is open to “anyone who is a community forestry professional, and [people who are] interested in their public trees and want to get more involved and [be] more informed. Even employees from the Department of Public Works (DPW), who directly work with trees, will be in attendance.”
“There are a lot of people out there because of their jobs [or] interests [and] are looking for education about urban and community forestry. Now with climate change coming more to the forefront, [conversations have shifted into finding ways to] help our community forests adapt, and how we can help our forests,” said Van Duyne.
The conference boasts an impressive lineup of forestry professionals and activists, all from New York. Some are even nationally recognized. The keynote speaker is Hudson Valley resident Andrew Revkin, an award-winning climate change journalist. Revkin, who spent 21 years at the New York Times, was the senior reporter at ProPublica. Revkin has won many prestigious awards in science journalism, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, Columbia University’s John Chancellor Award for sustained journalistic excellence and an Investigative Reporters & Editors Award.
Programs at the ReLeaf Conference range from a seminar that explores the relationship between global warming, climate change, and forest growth to a tour that will take participants through Downing Park.
“The fact that [the ReLeaf Conference is) coming to Newburgh is very special,” said Chuck Thomas, the Chairman of the City of Newburgh’s CAC. “We’ve been a ‘tree city’ for a number of years, [and we’ve been] trying very hard to keep up with the planting of trees in the city and maintenance of trees. It’s really been an issue for us. Having the ReLeaf Conference here will highlight the importance of trees for other people besides the [Conservation Advisory Council],” he explained.
Thomas believes that the ReLeaf Conference will promote public awareness. It’s a positive thing for “people [to] know there is this conference and that Newburgh is thought of in the tree circles.”
However, he says that any public recognition should go beyond what the CAC does, and towards the progress that the City of Newburgh has made in collaboration with the council on projects to help promote diversity and growth in forestry. “[The City of Newburgh] has been committed to planting trees, and [did] a tree study to itemize the trees that are here in the City of Newburgh. A database was subsequently created, to account for all of the city-owned trees. The study was performed by Davey Resources in 2015, and were categorized based on their condition.
Another project spearheaded by the City of Newburgh and the CAC resulted in a $50,000 Urban Forestry Grant given by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. After Central Hudson trimmed the trees on South William Street to reduce the impact of the company’s wires, the area was littered with tree trunks. The City of Newburgh and the CAC then partnered up to apply for this grant.
“The money went toward “redo[ing] the sidewalks around the [Newburgh Armory Unity Center], [taking] down the trunks of trees that were left, and creat[ing] good size tree pits that the trees could thrive in,” said Thomas. Around 30 trees were planted around the Newburgh Armory Unity Center.
Thomas thinks that this project gave both the City of Newburgh and the CAC “the opportunity to show the value of trees, and showed that the state and others were committed to restoring our tree coverage.”
Van Duyne points out that community forests are decreasing throughout New York. “As much work (in conservation and preservation) that we’re already doing--helping communities to plant more trees and tak[ing] care of the trees that they already have, the numbers are showing that the ‘canopy cover’ from those trees is decreasing.” She explains that “[in this climate], we really need to take care of what we have, and plant more [trees].”
She hopes that participants at the ReLeaf Conference will be able to go back to “the communities that they work with and [either] start or improve [upon] existing urban forestry programs. They can share the information that they learn here with not only the people in their communities, but people in their neighboring communities.” By using the information that they learned, people will be able to help to “improve the health of their community forests, and continue/increase those benefits.”
For more information regarding tickets and rates, visit nysufc.org/.