Displaying all posts with the tree inventory tag.

Using Existing Data to Analyze and Plan your Urban Forest

Trees line a city street.

A new tool from OpenTreeMap allows communities to use existing sociodemographic and land-use data to make more informed planting decisions and estimate the future ecosystem benefits of those trees over a 30-year period.

Cities, non-profit organizations and other land-managing institutions face competing priorities when it comes to managing the urban forest. Many organizations want to incorporate data on urban heat island effect, air quality and population density into their planting decisions, but do not have the GIS expertise or data required to do so. With OpenTreeMap’s new modeling and prioritization tools, you can generate heat maps of optimal planting locations that are customized based on your selection criteria, and experiment with digitally planting trees of various species and sizes to model the growth and mortality rates of those trees.

We have included two data sets from the National Land Cover Database (NLCD) on tree canopy and impervious surface as well as additional data on population density, economics, and housing. In order to make the tool accessible to the widest audience, we only used data that is available in the continental U.S., does not have usage restrictions and has a level of geographic accuracy that makes it helpful in making planting decisions.

A screenshot of OpenTreeMap's prioritization tool.

OpenTreeMap allows you to prioritize your planting criterion by selecting custom weights. Shown here is a map created to identify optimal planting sites in Milwaukee based on population density, median household income and percent tree canopy coverage.

Your planting priorities may be dictated by other factors not yet included in the tool, which is why we can upload additional overlays to the map for you. For example, we can upload additional overlays with data on local zoning laws, soil quality, transit information, and funding restrictions. We can also upload higher resolution canopy and impervious surface data should it be available for your city or region.

We will incorporate additional information on health, water, temperature, wildfires and air pollution as it becomes available across the continental U.S. Unfortunately, much of the existing health data, including results from a recent study by the Nature Conservancy on the cooling and filtering effects of trees, is not geographically accurate enough to inform local planting decisions. That is to say data at the citywide or even zip code-level is not specific enough to help inform planting decisions at the neighborhood or street-level.

A screenshot demonstrating OpenTreeMap's modeling tool.

A sample tree-planting and the resulting ecosystem benefits projected over a 30-year period. We provide pre-set mortality rates based on tree species and size, that can be customization in the application.

A sample tree-planting and the resulting ecosystem benefits projected over a 30-year period. We provide pre-set mortality rates based on tree species and size, that can be customization in the application.

Once you’ve identified the optimal planting locations, you can model the outcome of your trees over time. Understanding tree growth and mortality rates can help inform management and allows you to demonstrate the long-term environmental and economic benefits of your tree plantings over a 30-year period.

We are in the final testing stages before making these tools available on the OpenTreeMap platform. Initially, the tool will only be available within the continental U.S., however, we plan to incorporate additional customization options including the ability to upload datasets to support groups outside the U.S.

In addition to OpenTreeMap, there are two other tools you use to help you prioritize plantings: iTree Landscape and the Trees and Health application. The U.S. Forest Service’s iTree Landscape helps you identify specific planting locations using land cover and census demographics, and explore existing canopy and ecosystem benefits. The Trees and Health application organized by Portland State University and the U.S. Forest Service includes data on neighborhood vulnerability as it relates to air quality in fourteen U.S. cities. You can use the application to identify planting locations that impact tree canopy and public health.

For additional information on the new forestry modeling and prioritization tools, we invite you to watch our recent webinar. The slides from this presentation can be found here.

Want to get in touch? We’d love to hear your questions and feedback: opentreemap@azavea.com.

How to Incorporate Natural Disaster Preparedness into your Management Plan

A tree-lined street in Philadelphia.

Each year, millions of urban trees are destroyed by storms and other natural disasters. With urban populations on the rise and the increasing role of climate change in natural disasters, it is critical that communities prepare for extreme weather as it relates to trees and green infrastructure. Preparing involves not only implementing effective mitigation strategies, but also developing response and recovery plans.

Take 2012 Hurricane Sandy, the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, and the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history. The hurricane affected 24 states and the devastation was widespread. Trees were especially vulnerable in regions not accustomed to storms of this magnitude. Nearly 20,000 public trees in New York City were destroyed in the wake of the hurricane, which amounts to more trees lost in the city than in any other storm for which tree damage was documented. The NYC Parks and Recreation Department estimated tens of thousands more trees were flooded, left partially uprooted or otherwise compromised in ways not visible to the naked eye. For years following Sandy work was still being done to clean up downed trees and replanting efforts continue into present day.

Communities with more advanced urban forestry programs typically have complete tree inventories, tree canopy goals and management plans to help sustain the tree population. These core components provide a solid foundation for developing hazard mitigation and response plans in the event of a storm or other disaster. There are many different strategies for reducing both the damage and costs associated with natural disasters without taking down trees. In fact, during most storms with winds below 40 mph, trees in good condition are a net benefit and help moderate climate extremes. We’ve outlined some key considerations and proposed actions below.

Mitigation

Trees down on West 90th St. in New York during the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Robert Caplin

Trees down on West 90th St. in New York during the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Robert Caplin)

We recommend implementing practices that reduce the potential for damage including annual inspections, structural pruning, selective removal and planting site-appropriate trees based on species, condition and location. These types of proactive management activities help communities more easily identify high-risk trees as part of day-to-day operations.

Tree inventories and canopy analyses are an important tool for communities to collect and manage data on the urban forest. Not only do inventories provide a baseline of tree and planting site-specific data, they can help communities identify mitigation strategies to improve resilience. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) developed the iTree software to provide communities with a free tool for analysis and benefits assessment of the urban forest, which along with OpenTreeMap represent two of the inventory mapping solutions available today.

Additionally, many communities have development hazard mitigation guides. For example, New York City’s Emergency Management Department compiled a guide that outlines key features of the city’s risk vulnerability, assesses a range of hazards (i.e. flooding, earthquakes, water shortages, strong windstorms and the pandemic flu) and presents strategies for managing risks associated with those hazards.

Pre-Planning

While no disaster is the same, communities with post-disaster recovery plans and established contracts for required work can begin recovery efforts more quickly. Pre-planning ensures there is a process in place for debris estimation and management, hiring of contractors and restoration. By identifying and prioritizing the areas that present the highest risk – power lines, public rights-of-way, high traffic areas – cities can focus limited resources on work that will have the greatest impact.

Utility companies can also play a critical role by creating a Vegetation Risk Management Plan (VRMP), to ensure public safety, maintain optimum urban tree canopy, promote tree health and decrease emergency management costs.

Disaster Response

Over 300 trees were lost after Hurricane Sandy in Central Park in New York City.

Over 300 trees were lost after Hurricane Sandy in Central Park in New York City.
(Source: A Walk in the Park)

After Hurricane Sandy, New York City’s first priority was to clear trees from highways and streets to provide access to fire trucks and ambulances. Only after roads were clear did tree crews turn their attention to city trees that collapsed on houses and other buildings. Though some of the fallen wood was in good enough condition to be repurposed into building materials, much of it was shredded into mulch in an effort to expedite cleanup and avoid spreading invasive insects.

Less than a month following the Hurricane and ensuing northeaster, more than $12 million had already been spent on tree clean-up. Tree debris can be one of the most expensive aspects of storm response and if not addressed immediately can leave a community with even more expensive restoration costs. It’s important to note that costs can be exacerbated by unnecessary tree removal following a storm and by risks associated with damaged but not fallen trees.

A woman photographs a downed tree damaging several cars after Hurricane Sandy made its way through Brooklyn, New York. (Source: EPA)

A woman photographs a downed tree damaging several cars after Hurricane Sandy made its way through Brooklyn, New York. (Source: EPA)

The American Planning Association (APA) recommends developing a process for assessing debris with emergency management personnel to ensure the debris and wood residue is managed for its highest and best use. The APA also advises communities to require tree risk assessors during emergency response and recovery operation to have additional qualifications beyond those qualifications required for general pruning and removal contractors.

Post-Disaster Recovery

Crews from all over the country came to New York City to help remove fallen trees. Pictured here a crew from Gainesville, Florida clears a property in Queens. (Source: NYTimes/http://nyti.ms/2cDUymj)

Crews from all over the country came to New York City to help remove fallen trees. Pictured here a crew from Gainesville, Florida clears a property in Queens. (Source: Marcus Yam, The New York Times)

Hurricane Sandy marks the first time forest systems in the northeast experienced saltwater flooding. The long-term effects of both flood and structural damage are not always immediately visible. In New York City, for example, the parks department inspected inspected nearly 48,000 trees in flood zones in the spring following the storm. More than 6,500 trees showed signs of stress and abnormal leafing and another 2,000 were presumed dead; these trees were completely healthy the previous year.

Disaster recovery does not happen overnight and longitudinal studies are important to determining a storm’s long-term impact on the tree population. As recently as this year, NYC Parks is exploring whether stress on trees from saltwater damage left them more vulnerable to other pests and disease, including a fungal growth recently found on many London Plane trees. Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, state officials are partnering with municipalities to distribute free seedlings to replace trees destroyed in the hurricane.

Conclusion

Trees are a form of green infrastructure, and like all other city infrastructure they provide value to residents in this case in the form of environmental, economic and social benefits. However, unlike other infrastructure, trees grow over the course of many years yet can be destroyed in a single event. Furthermore, healthy trees increase in value with age. That is to say, as trees grow the ecosystem benefits they provide including improved air quality, reduced stormwater runoff and carbon dioxide removal increase. The increase in value of a tree overtime makes regeneration a critical issue following a natural disaster.

In order for the urban forest to be adequately addressed in disaster management and recovery, it needs to be a local priority. Education and community engagement at the local level further support the mitigation of urban forestry related hazards. Communities must also advocate on for increased funding and attention for urban forestry-related issues at the state level, as states ultimately are the primary decision maker in matters related to hazard mitigation.

Has your community experienced a significant storm or other natural disaster? What were some of your biggest challenges? We would love to hear from you and give people the opportunity to learn from your story.

How to Geocode Address-Based Tree Inventory Data

TreePeople's OpenTreeMap.

Mapping your trees is the first step to making more informed urban forestry management decisions. Displayed here is a map of trees across Los Angeles County.

Tree inventory data helps municipalities create urban forest management plans, allocate funding and proactively manage trees to ensure their long-term health. Most tree inventory and mapping software platforms require data to be geocoded, yet many municipalities and nonprofit organizations only track the postal addresses of their trees.

In this post, we will outline how you can geocode your address-based tree data without an expensive geographic information system (GIS) or technical expertise. Geocoding refers to the process of assigning longitude and latitude information to addresses so they can be placed as points on a map.

Why geocode your address-based tree data?

Having address data on your trees is important in order to find the general tree location. We plug addresses, not coordinates, into our GPS in order to find a place. However, geocoded data is important for identifying trees once you’re at a specific location. In both urban and rural settings it is common to find multiple trees of the same species at one address, which can make it difficult to locate a specific tree without additional identifying information.

Not only do maps make it easier to locate a tree in the field, they also help us identify actionable insights and make more informed management decisions. Unlike a spreadsheet of tree data, a map of your trees can help you track the spread of pests and disease, visualize how mature trees are dispersed across your city and identify which areas have the highest tree mortality rates. Additionally, the more people involved in maintaining street trees, the more helpful maps are in coordinating volunteers and municipal employees, and updating key information.

After you go through the process of geocoding your address data, all trees listed at the same address will have identical longitude and latitude. You will need to update this data either in the field or using satellite data as a reference to reflect the exact location of a tree at a particular address.

How does geocoding work?

Most simply, geocoding is performed using a reference layer. The process involves matching the to-be-geocoded addresses from your spreadsheet to the street names and address ranges in a street network file. The system matches the street name in your spreadsheet to a reference table and map. Once the street name is matched, all address ranges for this street are examined to identify the specific segment of a street where the address is found. Since the geocoder knows the coordinates of the endpoints of each street as well as the range of street numbers for a given segment, the software can estimate the address coordinates. Most geocoding services place trees at the front and center of the parcel with the associated address. However, some more advanced services allow you to choose how far off the center point of the adjacent road you want to place a given point.

Once you have geocoded tree data you can upload your data to mapping platforms like Carto, QGIS or OpenTreeMap. Carto and QGIS are not industry-specific; however, OpenTreeMap was designed specifically for mapping urban trees and green infrastructure.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.00.57 AM

Texas A&M offers free geocoding services for up to 2,500 addresses.

Using Texas A&M’s Geocoding Service

We’ll walk through the steps for using Texas A&M’s geocoder, which allows you to geocode 2,500 records for free. There are numerous other services available, however, many require technical expertise and/or software licenses. Texas A&M’s geocoder allows you to upload a database (access file) or text file (csv, tsv) of address data to their website and generate latitude and longitude values. The system can geocode thousands of records in minutes.

Geocoding Instructions

  1. Create an free account with Texas A&M GeoServices.
  2. Navigate to the Batch Geocoding page of their website. Click “Start – Step 1>>.”
  3. Click “Add New Database.”
  4. Click “Upload New Database.”
  5. Choose the file from your computer and designate the type and click Upload. For this example, we used a comma separated values (.csv) file. Make sure to follow the file naming notes listed on their website and include column names in the first row of your spreadsheet or database.
  6. Once you validate that the geocoder can open and read your file, choose the columns from your file that want to process. The required fields (“Address”, “City”, “State”, and “Zip”) must be present in your database or file even if these fields are blank. The system will not process records without these fields present.
  7. Use the dropdown lists to identify the fields in your table that correspond to the input fields the geocoder expects to see. Make sure to only select each of your fields in a maximum of one dropdown.
  8. Choose your processing options and Click “Start Process.” Rather than wait to view your results you can opt-in to receiving status notifications via email. You will receive an email with a link to download your geocoded data once the process is complete.
Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 10.56.06 AM

A spreadsheet highlighting the four columns created after the geocoding process was complete for Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

In the spreadsheet above, we have highlighted the four columns added after the geocoding was completed. You can reference Texas A&M’s website for additional technical details on how the longitude and latitude results were generated and explanation of the values for the “MatchType” column. 

We took the newly geocoded data and uploaded it to the three aforementioned mapping platforms: Carto, QGIS and OpenTreeMap.

We mapped Rehoboth's recently geocoding trees using QGIS, a free and open-source desktop geographic information system (GIS) application.

First we mapped Rehoboth Beach’s trees using QGIS, a free and open-source desktop geographic information system (GIS) application.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.06.01 PM

Second, we mapped Rehoboth Beach’s trees in Carto, a cloud computing platform that provides GIS and web mapping tools for display in a web browser.

Rehoboth Beach trees plotted on OpenTreeMap.

Lastly, we plotted Rehoboth’s trees in OpenTreeMap, a cloud-based software for mapping and managing trees and green infrastructure.

The less accurate information you have on tree location, the higher the chance the wrong maintenance task is performed on the wrong tree. At best, this results in the misallocation of finite resources and at worst potentially removing an otherwise healthy tree. With geocoded inventory data you are on your way to making more informed management decisions that ensure you are allocating resources as efficiently as possible.

While it is much easier and less expensive to build a map with existing data that requires some modifications than reshoot your entire inventory using a GPS device, moving forward we recommend you use a mobile mapping application or portable GPS device so that you can capture detailed location information at the time of planting, and don’t have to rely on a third party to maintain your database. We also recommend checking and adjusting tree locations as part of routine fieldwork. 

Run into snags following our geocoding instructions? Want to learn more about different mapping options? Drop us a line at opentreemap@azavea.com. We’d love to hear from you.

“Trees in Trouble” highlights what we can do to mitigate the effects of EAB

An arborist removing ash trees in Madison Park, Cincinnati.

An arborist removing ash trees in Madison Park, Cincinnati.

In the past few years more than 12,000 dead Ash trees have been cut down in Cincinnati on publicly-owned land. According to documentary filmmaker Andrea Torrice, Cincinnati almost went broke trying to keep the invasion from damaging property and endangering citizens. In describing the infestation, she said, “It seemed to happen overnight.” Unfortunately, Cincinnati is not unique. Since emerald ash borer (EAB), an invasive Asian beetle, was first identified in 2002, communities all across the country have reported signs of EAB and face losing huge portions of their tree canopy. In total, it’s estimated EAB will kill between 50 to 100 million ash trees in the US and Canada.

A tree-lined street in Toledo, Ohio in 2006 before EAB arrived.

A tree-lined street in Toledo, Ohio in 2006 before EAB arrived.

The same tree-lined street in Toledo in 2008 after EAB had arrived.

The same tree-lined street in Toledo in 2008 after EAB had arrived.

The risk of emerald ash borer, however, is not just limited to canopy loss. The effects ripple through the ecosystem affecting other plants, animals and water supplies. Emerald ash borers eat tree bark and cut off access to the nutrients and water a tree needs to survive, and can kill an ash tree in as little as two years. Efforts aimed at reducing the spread of invasive species like EAB have proved costly for businesses that sell ash trees or wood products, property owners, and local and state governments alike.

We sat down with award-winning documentary filmmaker, Andrea Torrice to discuss her most recent film, Trees in Trouble. The film, which is set in Cincinnati, tells the story of America’s urban and community forests: their history, their importance to our health, economy and environment, and the threats they face today. Like many citizens, Torrice was not familiar with the spread of EAB and its impact on her neighborhood until she began to notice swaths of dead trees spray-painted for removal. Upon gaining a deeper understanding of the issue, she felt compelled to create a film that brought the issue to national attention. Torrice weaves together urban forestry history, public policy and science with personal stories to create a film designed to appeal to people of all ages.

Andrea Torrice, Producer and Director of "Trees in Trouble."

Andrea Torrice, Producer and Director of “Trees in Trouble.”

In addition to raising key questions about the challenges our forests face amidst climate change and the spread of invasive species, Trees in Trouble serves to educate citizens on the social, economic, environmental and health benefits trees provide. Throughout our conversation, Torrice was quick to highlight solutions communities can take to protect native trees such as increased monitoring and public awareness, all in an attempt to offer hope for the future. Torrice said, “Education about and awareness of EAB is a necessary first step in order to get citizens involved in the long-term preservation of our urban forests.” She encourages citizens to advocate for updated tree ordinances and to let their public officials know they support funding for the care and maintenance of our urban forests. At the same time, she acknowledges that local government cannot solve the problem alone.

Pleasant Ridge School in Cincinnati hosted a tree planted event in celebration of Arbor Day.

Pleasant Ridge School in Cincinnati hosted a tree planted event in celebration of Arbor Day.

In Cincinnati, for instance, a mandate requires the city to remove all infested ash trees on public land. The cost and scale of this removal project means the city can only afford to replant one tree for every three lost. Stories like this are not limited to Cincinnati, which is why Torrice believes the most successful initiatives to mitigate the effects of EAB are those that bring together multiple stakeholders.

The Taking Root initiative, which brought together 220 diverse organizations and partners across Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, was started in response to the spread of EAB. The goal of the campaign is to address the current historic loss of our region’s tree canopy by planting trees, better managing local forests, promoting the benefits of healthy trees, and fostering a sense of stewardship among individuals and communities.

Citizens and scientists in Cincinnati learning about invasive pests.

Citizens and scientists in Cincinnati learning about invasive pests.

Ultimately, better management of our urban forests starts with a clear understanding of the trees in your inventory. Information on tree condition and biodiversity as well as ecosystem benefit calculations provide actionable insights for municipalities on where to focus finite resources, and can help local governments advocate for budget increases. Our urban canopy is a testament to the foresight and commitment of past generations, and without proper attention to the long-term care of trees we risk leaving future generations with substantially fewer trees.

Click here to see when Trees in Trouble is airing in your area.

Uncovering the actionable insights in your tree inventory

We’re excited to see more organizations and municipalities across the country incorporate tree inventories into their urban forest strategic plans. To get the most out of the data you collect in the field, we recommend first identifying your inventory goals. Are you trying to calculate the impact of a program’s ecosystem benefits for grant reporting? Want to track maintenance activities and estimate maintenance costs? Looking to better understand your inventory’s biodiversity to protect against widespread pests and disease? All are important reasons to complete a tree inventory, and will determine what data you collect and in what format.

In many ways, once the tree inventory is completed the work to increase canopy coverage, perform routine maintenance, plant trees in empty planting sites and remove dead trees has just begun. We’ve outlined some easy search queries you can perform to identify the actionable insights hidden within your tree inventory data.

Dale Carlon inventorying trees in the field.

Dale Carlon inventorying trees in the field.

Take Dale Carlon, an OpenTreeMap client and consulting arborist in Reno, Nevada. Dale and his team at Dale Carlon Consulting, Inc. provide clients with comprehensive tree inventories that help them identify hazard trees, allocate resources, maintain key infrastructure and keep residents safe. Dale creates an OpenTreeMap for each homeowners association (HOA) he inventories so his clients can easily update information, budget resources and track maintenance activities.

A map of one of Dale Carlon’s inventories. The map allows property managers to easily identify trees of interest, estimate maintenance costs and plan maintenance activities.

With our new advanced search filter, Dale can search by any custom field he has created. In seconds, he can drill down to the 183 trees – of the nearly 7,000 trees at the HOA depicted above – that are dead or dying and require removal or the 208 trees that have between ¾ and 1 ½ inches in sidewalk damage. With this information, Dale can estimate the costs of required maintenance for his clients and the property manager can require all maintenance work to be logged in the field using OpenTreeMap’s mobile applications. This way, the HOA’s inventory stays up to date and maintenance is tracked and stored on the same place as all other tree information. Technicians see their location on the map, can easily identify the tree of interest and upload photos to create a pictorial timeline of maintenance completed.

Tree People LA uses custom fields to track and report on specific tree planting initiatives.

Tree People LA uses custom fields to track and report on specific tree planting initiatives.

Many of our nonprofit clients must report to funders on ecosystem services, trees planted and volunteer engagement. By creating a custom field for a specific planting program, a non-profit organization like TreePeople LA can quickly identify the 18 plants mapped so far as part of their City Plants program. These 18 trees alone bring over $700 in total annual benefits.

At OpenTreeMap, we will work with you to refine your data collection methodology so you can easily identify and analyze key information of interest. Planning an inventory this Spring? Let us know how we can help. Already have existing geo-coded inventory data? Send it over and we can upload it into OpenTreeMap and bring your tree inventory to life.

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