Tree City USA Program

Tree City USA is a community improvement and national recognition program for towns and cities which, in the process of effectively managing their public tree resources, meet the program's established standards. The program is sponsored by the National Arbor Day Foundation at the national level and by the division at the state level. To qualify for Tree City USA designation, a community must meet four standards:

  1. A community tree board or other organized committee must be in place and meet regularly to oversee the urban & community forestry program;
  2. An effective community tree ordinance must be developed, passed, and enforced;
  3. A community forestry program funded by a minimum of $2.00 per capita must be in place; and
  4. An organized Arbor Day celebration must be held and an official Arbor Day proclamation made by the mayor or other community leaders.

South Dakota currently has 32 communities which are recognized as Tree City USA's. Tree City USA application forms are available from the state office and field service offices of the Resource Conservation and Forestry Division:

  • Aberdeen
  • Belle Fourche
  • Box Elder
  • Brandon
  • Brookings
  • Burke
  • Clark
  • Custer City
  • Deadwood
  • Dell Rapids
  • Gregory
  • Hartford
  • Huron
  • Lead
  • Lemmon
  • Madison
  • Mitchell
  • Mobridge
  • Pierre
  • Rapid City
  • Sioux Falls
  • Spearfish
  • Spencer
  • Sturgis
  • Summerset
  • Vermillion
  • Volga
  • Watertown
  • Whitewood
  • Winner
  • Wood
  • Yankton

Every community, regardless of size, benefits in different ways from being a Tree City USA. Reports of these benefits have reached The National Arbor Day Foundation through the years and are summarized below in six general categories:

Framework for Action

Meeting the four standards for becoming a Tree City USA provides initial direction for an urban or community forestry program. Like the first rungs on a ladder, the standards help get a community started toward annual, systematic management of its tree resources.


Education begins with discussion of the standards and getting organized to apply for Tree City USA status. It continues as the desire for Tree City USA recognition leads to contacts with the state forester's staff. In turn, this can set in motion aid from a variety of professionals in the form of technical advice, literature, films, and other assistance.

Public Image

A community's public image is a very real phenomenon and important in many ways. Being a Tree City USA helps present the kind of image that most citizens want to have for the place they live or conduct business. The Tree City USA signs at community entrances tell visitors that here is a community that cares about its environment. It is also an indication to prospective businesses that the quality of life may be better here. It has even been known to be a factor in where meetings or conferences have been held. This reason alone caused a motel owner to start action for his community to join the network!

Visit for audio and video Public Service Announcements.

Citizen Pride

Pride is sometimes a less tangible benefit. Gaining and retaining Tree City USA recognition is an award to the tree workers, managers, volunteers, tree board members, and others who work on behalf of better care of a community's trees. Non-involved citizens, too, often share a sense of pride that theirs is a Tree City USA. This may translate to better care of trees on private property or a willingness to volunteer in the future.

Financial Assistance

Preference is sometimes given to Tree City USA communities over other communities when allocations of grant money are made for trees or forestry programs. The reason is that there are invariably more requests than available funds when grants are available through state or federal agencies. If requests are equally worthy, some officials tend to have more confidence in communities that have demonstrated the foresight of becoming a Tree City USA.


Presentation of the Tree City USA award and the celebration of Arbor Day offer excellent publicity opportunities. This results not only in satisfaction for individuals involved and their families, but also provides one more way to reach large numbers of people with information about tree care. As one forester put it, "This is advertising that money can't buy—and it is free".