CORVALLIS - Caring properly for the sprawling urban forests that provide city dwellers with shade, color and beauty will be the focus of Oregon State University's first forum on urban forestry.

Scheduled for Nov. 15 at OSU's Extension Forestry department, the event is titled "Urban and Community Research and Education Forum." It was planned to bring together tree care professionals, community leaders, forestry experts and the public to discuss improving the education, information and research about trees that live within city limits.

Urban forestry experts say the number and size of these urban trees is dwindling under the pressures of development, just at a time when urban planners suggest more people should live in cities to reduce urban sprawl. This is significant because research surveys indicate that planting trees, green spaces, gardens and other natural buffers improve the quality of life in cities both aesthetically and in practical ways.

Trees can, for example, block an undesirable view, screen out noise, cool a hot location and absorb excess water.

Scott Reed, the associate dean of OSU's Extension Forestry program, said forestry officials, members of the public, community leaders and tree-care professionals are looking for ways to better care for the trees that live on streets, backyards, parks and other neighborhood sites.

"A simple definition of urban forestry is the way we use trees effectively where we live," Reed said. Education and planning could improve this green resource and help make urban environments more livable, he added.

Not only do trees beautify the landscape, provide shade in the summer, habitat for wildlife, soil stabilization and air purification, they increasingly are being planted to function as part of city wastewater treatment programs.

In Salem, for example, water-thirsty poplars are planted adjacent to the city's wastewater treatment plant. Trees and other vegetation planted at the edge of some parking lots absorb pollutant-laden storm runoff before it can flow into streams or leach into groundwater.

However, the demand for housing, industry and roads has meant an overall reduction trend in the number and size of urban trees, said Greg McPherson, the director of the Urban Forestry Research center at the U.S. Forest Service Pacific SW Research Station at the University of California at Davis.

"We call it the "pygmy-ization" of urban forests," McPherson said. This trend has meant a reduced urban canopy in many growing cities. Fewer trees mean hotter, more barren city streets, loss of habitat for birds and other wildlife and increased energy expenditure and costs to cool structures.

In fact, McPherson's work in urban forestry began in 1978, when he placed scale models of structures equipped with temperature sensors in sunny, shaded, paved and partially-sunny locations around the Utah State University campus to measure how trees affect building temperatures. His research demonstrated that dense tree shade often eliminated the need for summer air conditioning.

McPherson has since become a pioneer in the field of urban forestry. He is the principle author of more than 45 research papers dealing with urban forestry issues ranging from problem tree roots to the monetary value of urban forests.

"Interest has grown in finding ways to better manage the sprawling urban forestry landscape and make informed decisions about it," McPherson said. A university's role in this effort is the same as for other areas: research, education and outreach.

McPherson is scheduled to deliver two lectures during the November conference, one for the public and one for forestry professionals. Reed said the forum is just the start of a new focus on urban forestry. Among the first steps will be to unite groups of experts - such as master gardeners, suburban woodland owners and forestry professionals - in seeking improved urban forestry practices.

For more information about the urban forestry conference, contact Reed's office at 541-737-1728.