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Urban and community forestry

Columbia skyline from river
An urban forest is a collection of trees that grow within a city, town or suburb. Care and management of urban forests is called urban forestry.

What are urban and community forests?

Gervais Bridge Columbia
Gervais Street Bridge leads to downtown Columbia.

Trees growing in cities and towns, collectively, encompass “urban and community forests.”  Urban and community trees are essential components of community infrastructure that provide a multitude of benefits to improve the local environment, economy and human health and well-being.
Management of healthy, sustainable, community forests involves careful planning, protection, selection, and proper planting and maintenance.  Healthy urban forests maximize community benefits and improve quality of life in communities.
Urban forest cover in the United States is consistently declining at devastating rate of about 175,000 acres per year (36 million trees), as impervious surfaces, such as buildings, roads, sidewalks, parking lots and driveways, dramatically increase with the progression of  urbanization. 
To improve the health and sustainability of urban and community forests, communities must recognize the tremendous importance of urban trees and green infrastructure and improve the management of these assets through effective planning and more proactive approaches that focus on tree preservation during development, higher standards of care in maintenance and more aggressive canopy replacement planning to balance tree loss attributed to clearing for development, aging and insect and disease attack.

What we do

Main Street Columbia trees
Downtown Columbia

We provide technical and/or educational assistance regarding community forest inventories and management plans, community and county tree ordinances, grant project implementation, how to become a Tree City USA, proper tree selection, installation and care, educational information, training workshops and promotion of South Carolina’s Arbor Day, which is always the first Friday in December. The program’s goal is to help foster, support and enhance long-term, sustainable, urban and community forestry programs within communities. We provide technical, educational and financial assistance, primarily to cities, towns, non-profit organizations, and county governments.

Tree selection, planting and care

The SCFC Urban Forestry team offers a wealth of knowledge on tree selection, planting and care; tips for selecting a tree care professional (arborist); and ways to protect and preserve trees on construction sites. Please visit our Urban Tree Care page for more on each of these topics.


Finlay Park, Columbia

Benefits of urban trees

Did you know that trees in the urban landscape improve our quality of life in countless ways? In addition to adding sheer aesthetic beauty to the ‘concrete jungle,’ trees can improve our personal health, reduce air and noise pollution, save energy, conserve water, reduce soil erosion and create wildlife and plant diversity, among many others.
Read more about these myriad benefits that trees provide in our urban environments, in which more than 80 percent of the American population now lives.

Trees and People Need Each Other

Healthy Trees Healthy Lives for Kids (YouTube video)

Healthy Trees Healthy Lives for Adults (YouTube video)


Community recognition programs that SCFC administers

The Arbor Day Foundation operates several national recognition programs that are administered at the state level. In South Carolina, the Urban & Community Forestry program oversees the application and award process by providing information and assistance to applicants, reviewing and approving applications, submitting successful applications to ADF for final review, and distributing award materials from ADF.

Recognition Program FAQs


Urban forestry resources for landowners and educators


Resources for communities

Resources for Tree Ordinances

Resource for Requests for Bids

Sample requests for bids (Tree Inventory, Canopy Mapping or Management Plan) (word)

Sample request for proposal: Tree Risk Assessment (word)

Examples of Urban Forestry Management Plans

Charlotte, NC (link)

Decatur, GA (link)


‘Green Infrastructure’ projects and resources


Community forestry events

Webinar Series for Planning Commissioners  

The webinar starts at 11 a.m. and lasts 1 hour.  Arborists, Planners, and SC Board and Commission members are able to use the live webinar as a way of obtaining ISA, AICP and SCPEAC continuing education credits.  You must watch the webinar live to receive the credits. Dates: September 8, and October 13, 2022.

Session One –  Urban Forestry and Environmental Justice: Ensuring Common Benefits for All

The SCFC U&CF Program and PlanGreen partner to present deep dives into urban forestry topics. In this session, we explore environmental justice through an urban forestry lens, examining how planners, planning commissioners, urban foresters, and arborists can expand the benefits of the urban forest to all within a community.

Session Two – Urban & Community Forestry: Food Forests and Food Security

The second session held September 8, 2022 features a deep dive into food security and how urban and community food forests can address food insecurity in communities. We will look at urban food forests – what they are, how/where to develop them, and the benefits and challenges associated with them.

October 13, Session Three https://www.crowdcast.io/e/4mca3ycq

The third session is October 13 at 11 a.m. and will feature a guest speaker, Dr. David Coyle, who will address environmental literacy by speaking about invasive species and their impacts on our urban forests. He will outline the relationships between native SC insects and both native and invasive plants, the benefits of native tree species on urban forest ecology, and the ways to reduce the spread of invasive plant species. Each session lasts an hour. Please click on the link above to register.

Please note that the registration is limited to 250 participants per event. Register early to save your spot.


Other Educational Opportunities

The links below are just a few of the websites that offer workshops/conferences and webinars that award ISA-certified arborist continuing education credits. The links provided may not include current opportunities, but should be checked periodically for new events. Applicants are encouraged to visit other websites and familiarize themselves with the guidance sheet to determine if an event qualifies for a scholarship. 


Contact us

Frances Waite, statewide Urban Forestry Coordinator
(Statewide responsibilities.  Also provides direct assistance to Richland and Lexington Counties)
fwaite@scfc.gov | (843) 209-7536

SCFC Urban Foresters Dena Whitesides and Cara Specht

Cara Specht, Coastal Region Urban Forester
(serving Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton, Jasper and Orangeburg counties)
cspecht@scfc.gov | (839) 201-2722

Dena Whitesides, Piedmont Region Urban Forester
(serving Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Edgefield, Fairfield, Greenville, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Saluda, Spartanburg, Union, and York Counties)
dwhitesides@scfc.gov | (803) 391-0330

Lois Edwards, Pee Dee Region Urban Forester
(serving Chesterfield, Clarendon, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Georgetown, Horry, Kershaw, Lancaster, Lee, Marion, Marlboro, Sumter, and Williamsburg Counties)
ledwards@scfc.gov | (864) 910-0139