The National Arbor Day Foundation has granted the designation "Tree City USA" to Harford County and to Bel Air in honor of the area's dedication to urban and community forestry programs.
Four standards are required to receive the designation:
The city or county must have a board or department devoted to tree preservation - the Harford County Tree Conservation District Board and the Town of Bel Air Tree Committee serve in this capacity.
The city must have a tree-care ordinance - the Maryland Forest Conservation Act requires a certain amount of trees after development projects are completed.
The city must have an annual budget for maintaining forestry of at least $2 per citizen.
The city must hold an official Arbor Day ceremony.
Harford County's ceremony, sponsored by local environmental organizations, was held April 9 at Edgeley Grove Park in Benson. Dozens of volunteers from Scouting groups and local high schools prepared more than 1,800 tree shelters.
The event included a presentation of the award to the county and a ceremonial tree planting by County Executive James M. Harkins.
Merrie Street, county director of government and community relations, said forestry in Harford County is of great significance to Harkins.
"It's very important to him to maintain the quality of life," she said. "He wants to preserve the environment he had as a child, and that involves replanting these trees."
The National Arbor Day Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to educating people about the importance of trees to ensure environmental benefits for future generations. Thousands of cities and towns have been named a Tree City USA.
Mike Huneke of Pylesville, a forester for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and project manager for Harford and Cecil counties, said being named a Tree City USA is an honor. It indicates that the area's urban trees, those owned by the county and Bel Air, are maintained.
"It's quite an undertaking," he said. "Urban shade trees enhance air quality, aesthetics and social well-being. Trees lower energy costs and provide a habitat for songbirds and squirrels."
Huneke said he hopes that the region's tree activists will continue to develop and cherish its forests and urban foliage.
"We need to maintain this resource," he said. "We need to create a viable urban forest resource that's not hazardous and that's well-maintained. And that's what they're being recognized for. ... Harford, you're doing it right."