Assistance for Urban Tree Care

Public sources of tree care and energy conservation assistance:

Federal, state, and local sources of assistance

Several federal agencies are charged with assisting the public with improving tree care and energy conservation. The United States Forest Service (USFS),  provides technical and financial assistance to state forestry agencies, state urban forestry councils, state Cooperative Extension Services, and others. Information on federal urban and community forestry programs can be obtained from the state forestry urban forestry coordinator. The Arbor Day Foundation maintains a website with the current urban forestry coordinator for each state. In addition to assisting the USFS with implementing national urban forestry and energy conservation goals, state urban forestry coordinators work closely with the arboriculture, landscaping, and energy conservation communities in their states. Coordinators are also engaged with their state urban forestry councils, which assist communities with urban forestry policy, planning, and outreach. A listing of southern state urban forestry councils is provided by Urban Forestry South – the technology transfer center of USFS for the southern region.

Department of Energy (DOE). This department works closely with state energy agencies to assist utility companies and homeowners with grants and household tips that can reduce energy needs as well as beautify landscapes. The DOE works through state energy offices to implement their goals and objectives. Other federal agencies such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) also provide technical assistance and grant programs that can help individuals and communities plant trees for energy conservation. Contact your local NRCS conservationist for more information.

Many state forestry agencies have a cadre of state and county urban foresters on staff. Their job is to assist with implementation of federal, state, and local programs. In some states, urban foresters are hired at the county or district level to assist communities and individuals. These individuals can be located through an Internet search of your state public service providers or by contacting your state forester’s office.

Local governments often have sources of tree care assistance. This ranges from arborists to urban planners on staff at the county and municipality level. The website of the Society of Municipal Arborists is a good place to start.

Those interested in electronic learning, or eLearning, in urban forestry are encouraged to visit eLearn Urban Forestry for a free, 15-module short-course on the basics of urban forest management.

Private sources of tree care and energy conservation assistance:

If you turn to the private sector for further assistance, utility companies, tree care companies, non-profits, and professional arborist associations are a few of the private sector entities that can assist individuals, businesses, or communities. It is not uncommon for such groups to provide tree give-a-ways, cost-sharing assistance, or pro-bono tree care, particularly when the assistance is oriented towards the community. Contact your state urban forestry coordinator or local Extension agent for more information on these types of assistance.       

Unlike the public agencies described earlier, it is often difficult to determine whether private sector companies are qualified to provide tree care assistance. In many localities, there are few restrictions on individuals performing tree care services, so selecting a qualified contractor or consultant can be challenging. The most common arborist credential in North America is the title of Certified Arborist (CA), which is granted by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) to individuals who have demonstrated basic competency in the science and practice of arboriculture. Candidates for the CA credential must first meet minimum eligibility requirements that include professional field experience and/or a college degree in a plant sciences-related discipline. Eligible candidates then must pass a written certification exam covering topics such as tree biology, tree identification, planting, pruning, soil management, and pest management.

A referral directory for both Registered Consulting Arborists and Consulting Arborists is available online.  RCAs are often employed to consult and arbitrate on complex tree policy or tree litigation matters requiring an objective and impartial third-party participant. RCAs may also be hired to conduct tree inventories and prepare tree preservation and maintenance specifications for large populations of trees in municipalities, subdivisions, and corporate campuses.

Certified Arborists have diverse backgrounds and occupations. Many are practicing arborists employed by utility operators, tree care companies, botanical gardens, arboreta, and municipalities. Others are educators and researchers working for universities, non-profits, and state and federal agencies. Most CAs are employed by tree care companies that offer services such as pruning, fertilization, cabling, lightning protection, and pest management.

In addition to meeting professional knowledge standards, CAs must abide by a Code of Ethics, which outlines arborists’ responsibilities to ISA, to the profession, to the public, and to their clients. The credentials of a CA can be verified using ISA’s online credential verification tool. This tool can also be used to locate a CA in your area.

The title of Consulting Arborist is another credential that arborists may possess. These include both registered and unregistered Consulting Arborists. The title of Registered Consulting Arborist (RCA) is granted by the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA).  In contrast to the CA credential that focuses heavily on the practice of tree cultivation and care, the RCA credential asserts expertise in tree assessment, appraisal, preservation planning, forensic investigation, and expert testimony. It is common for RCAs to also hold the CA credential of the ISA.

In some instances a consulting forester may be a better resource for tree information and guidance.  This might be the case when dealing with large parcels or with lands at the urban-rural interface. There are no required certifications or registrations to be a private consulting forester, although some states have a registered forester law that carries similar requirements to those listed for certified arborists. Many consulting foresters are also a Certified Forester with the Society of American Foresters. The Society’s website has Information on hiring a Certified Forester.


Your state land-grant universities and affiliated Cooperative Extension units are great resources for workshops, fact sheets, and technical assistance. Extension specialists, based either at a land-grant university campus or at a local Cooperative Extension office, are charged with education, professional development, and information dissemination. Their work is research-based and focuses on local issues. Services such as soil testing and plant pest diagnosis are commonly available through these outlets. 

A wealth of assistance and information is currently available to individuals, business owners, and community groups. Factors such as the type of assistance desired (financial, technical, or informational, for example), and the geographic scope of the assistance desired (residence, city, county, state) will dictate the best avenue for seeking assistance. An excellent start is to contact your state urban and community forester with your state forestry agency.

Contributed by P. Eric Wiseman, Associate Professor of Urban Forestry, Virginia Tech