MARGATE — A Community Forestry Management Plan being developed by a local tree expert will help the city increase its tree canopy and qualify to receive grants to plant and maintain trees.

A draft plan was presented to the Board of Commissioners Sept. 7 and will be completed in the coming months, certified tree expert Mickey Riggin of Arbor Care Resources of Mays Landing said.

The Sustainable Margate green team obtained a $3,000 Community Forestry Green Communities matching grant to fund the plan’s preparation. The five-year plan will guide the city in planning, selecting, maintaining and caring for trees, Riggin said.

Components of the plan include employee and volunteer training, public education, tree assessment and inventory, storm and insect damage assessments, and identifying storm damage and tree hazards. The goal is to increase awareness and stewardship of trees in Margate, and to help the city increase its tree canopy, said Sustainable Margate Chairwoman Monica Coffey, who applied for the grant.

“Once we have an idea of how many trees we have, we can set a goal to increase the tree canopy by a certain percentage,” she said. “All of the research points to the importance of trees, especially with climate change. The people in Margate who support it know that at one time there were a lot more trees in the town. Some streets are now devoid of trees.”

Coffey said every community is unique in its tree needs and even coastal communities need to know how to best manage tree canopy.

“Trees provide every community with numerous environmental and economic benefits,” she said.

Benefits include increasing property values, cooling homes and saving energy, purifying the air, reducing pollutants, protecting road surfaces, keeping neighborhoods safe and, according to Frances E. Kuo, director of Landscape and Human Health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, can even lower incidents of aggression and domestic violence.

Riggin said the plan would include input and support from various facets of city government.

“A lot of the responsibility for maintaining the community forest falls with the planning department, a lot of maintenance is under the Public Works Department, and the funding decisions fall to the commission. So this is a comprehensive plan,” he said.

The advantage of having the plan is twofold, he said. It not only maintains the safety of trees within the city, it helps the city obtain immunity from liability caused by trees through the New Jersey Shade Tree and Community Forestry Assistance Act.

Having the plan opens the city up to additional funding opportunities as well, such as the Community Stewardship Incentive Program, which offers grants ranging from $7,000 to $30,000 and as much as $300,000. The plan also qualifies the city for training opportunities for residents and city employees who maintain and care for trees.

Margate Administrator Richard Deaney said he would set up a work group with the appropriate departments and the green team.

A key component of the plan is a street-tree inventory, which can be done by a qualified student at Stockton University using a U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service software program, iTree. The inventory would give the city a list of tree species and age diversification and target areas where trees can be planted, he said. The cost of the inventory would not exceed $5,000, based on the estimated number of trees in the city, which is about 3,000, Riggin said.

“We would prefer to move on the project as soon as possible. It’s much easier to do the inventory while the leaves are still on the tree to get a positive identification,” Riggin said.

Mayor Michael Becker said there is money in the public works budget to fund the inventory; however, the commissioners would need a proposal to approve the expenditure, he said.

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