Displaying all posts with the volunteering tag.

“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.

Community Engagement in Action: A conversation with Greening of Detroit

We recently caught up with the Greening of Detroit to learn how they successfully plant, map and care for thousands of trees each year. In their early days of operation, the Greening planted five to ten trees per event. Over the past two decades, these small planting events have turned into a well-organized operation involving thousands of volunteers, many more thousands of trees and a team of dedicated staff. There are many facets to the Greening’s success, but we wanted to share our five key takeaways.

A strong municipal partnership

The Greening has developed a successful partnership with Detroit’s Forestry Department giving the organization the requisite permits and some financial assistance to fulfill their mission. When they were founded in 1989, the City of Detroit was losing hundreds of thousands of trees to Dutch elm disease, urban expansion and attrition. At the same time, budget cuts forced the city to allocate most of their urban forestry budget towards the removal of hazardous trees. With little money leftover for plantings, they turned to the support of local organizations.

What started as an informal agreement was formalized five years ago when the Greening secured a blanket permit to plant trees along the public right of way. Since then, they’ve been working closely with the City to identify and plant approved species in areas most affected by removal. By engaging volunteers, the Greening can avoid the high labor costs associated with planting and caring for trees to multiply the impact of their investment in urban forestry.

Attention to the details of the volunteer experience

From its inception, the Greening has been committed to providing folks from all walks of life a meaningful volunteer experience. Over the years, they’ve developed relationships with groups – from large corporations to Girl Scout troops – who all share a commitment to giving back to the community.  They take a systematic approach to communicating key information in advance and scheduling the volunteering event to maximize productivity so a lot of the work is done behind the scenes before the day even begins.

Source: The Greening of Detroit

Source: The Greening of Detroit

A commitment to stewardship

The organization is committed to the long-term health of the trees they plant. To reduce tree mortality, the Greening of Detroit cares for trees for the first three years following planting. During the summer, they employ high school students into their youth workforce development program, Green Corps, to water tens of thousand of trees, and maintain city parks and greenways. The 1,600 students that have been involved in the program since inception have also participated in workshops sponsored by the organization on topics like financial literacy, conflict resolution and resume writing.

Source: The Greening of Detroit.

Green Corps getting ready for a day tending to more than 12,000 trees planting by the organization. Source: The Greening of Detroit

Engagement at the local level

Through their Community Planting program, the Greening engages block clubs, schools, faith based and other non-profit organizations in planting events. OpenTreeMap makes it easy for the Greening to showcase the ecosystem benefits a community will garner after a planting event.  An interested group, in conjunction with Greening, works with other local organizations to garner support for plantings among residents. They solicit guidance from residents insofar as where to plant the trees and residents serve as volunteers for the event itself. Following the planting event, the community takes on the responsibility for watering, weeding and mulching the tree for at least three years.

A commitment to data collection

By collecting data on all aspects of their programming, the Greening can improve the volunteer experience and measure their impact. After an event, each volunteer completes a survey, which helps Greening understand which events had the highest satisfaction rates and why. With this information, they can estimate the number of volunteers needed based on trees being planted and better cater the event to the group of volunteers. Additionally, the Greening requires their growers tag trees with genus and species information, making it easier for volunteers to accurately map trees in the field using OpenTreeMap’s mobile application.

The Greening of Detroit has mapped over 15,000 trees on their OpenTreeMap.

The Greening of Detroit has mapped over 15,000 trees on their OpenTreeMap.

The Greening of Detroit didn’t always map their trees. For years, they used a database to track the addresses of plantings. A few years back, the Greening was looking for ways to better engage the community in their planting efforts and to educate citizens on the ecosystem benefits of trees. After researching different mapping solutions, they decided on OpenTreeMap. It was the only platform they found designed specifically for community engagement, and it’s intuitive user interface made training volunteers easy.  They geocoded their address-based inventory and used OpenTreeMap’s bulk uploader tool to add past tree plantings to their map. The Greening of Detroit has over 15,000 trees which equate to more than $85,000 in ecosystem benefits on their map.  

Think we missed a key component of a successful volunteer program? Interested in starting your own OpenTreeMap? We’d love to hear from you!

Experimenting with Treemapping Event Formats in Los Angeles

A TreeMapLA user enters tree data into her phone

A TreeMapLA user enters tree data into her phone

Los Angeles poses a unique mix of urban environmental challenges. It is the second largest city by population in the US, but it lacks a truly walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly urban core like first-place New York or third-place Chicago. Instead, Angelenos are settled quite uniformly across the whole region. These two factors contribute to L.A. having more vehicles per square mile than any other urbanized area. All those cars and trucks demand wide swathes of asphalt and concrete, which generate a formidable “urban heat island” effect that raises temperatures in an already hot Southern California climate. On bad days, the extra heat can cook these vehicle emissions into a soupy smog – giving L.A. the worst air quality of any major American city. Access to water, too, is a challenge in the hot climate. L.A. must import a staggering 85% of the water it uses from surrounding communities.

“Suffice it to say, it’s not awesome where our water comes from, what we use it for, or how much of it we use.”, said Danny Carmichael, the Senior Manager of Forestry Projects at TreePeople, the tree-planting and conservation nonprofit in Los Angeles behind TreeMapLA.org.

As TreePeople’s work in the areas of urban forestry and green infrastructure can attest, L.A.’s stressed environment is not without effective solutions. Urban trees and other green infrastructure like green roofs, bioswales, and rain barrels can bring relief to the hot, smoggy, parched Los Angeles climate with their cooling shade, air cleansing, and water filtration powers. TreePeople has been planting trees in the region for over 40 years. The organization also pushes for other types of green infrastructure and “forest-mimicking technologies” as part of the “Functioning Community Forest” model it has developed. All of TreePeople’s activities are aimed at its mission of inspiring and supporting people with resources to take personal responsibility for improving the urban environment of Los Angeles.

TreePeople began using the OpenTreeMap Cloud platform in March of this year to grow and steward TreeMapLA.org, which will eventually be a map of all the trees and green infrastructure in greater Los Angeles. TreePeople’s focus on inspiring individuals to care for the urban environment is a great fit for the crowdsourced approach to urban forest inventory that OTM and the mobile apps for iOS and Android enable. “Our bread and butter is working with volunteers. Every single weekend we have 4-5 volunteer events, whether that’s tree planting, tree care, mountain restoration work, or educational workshops,” said Danny. “We have a lot of practice in getting folks out and getting them excited.”

TreeMapLA is a pioneer, as it is the first OpenTreeMap site to be tracking trees as well as other green infrastructure projects (what TreePeople calls “Watershed Solutions”) like rain barrels, rain gardens, and green roofs or concrete reductions.

“We would love to see where these features are,” said Danny. “Who has rain gardens? Can we go in and do a workshop where we have a whole street that has rain gardens and rain barrels?”

While TreePeople sees the potential for innovative programming around green infrastructure down the road, most of their activity in the past several months since TreeMapLA launched has been mapping trees. When the map launched in March, TreePeople set a public goal of mapping 1,000 trees before month’s end – a target that was rapidly met and exceeded by an initial wave of enthusiastic users. In the months since then, Danny and his team have experimented with several tree mapping events, including a new event format they’re calling “Thirsty Thursdays,” where volunteers do tree mapping after work for a few hours before heading to a neighborhood bar.

A TreeMapLA user carefully measures a tree trunk's "DBH" - Diameter at Breast Height - for inclusion on TreeMapLA.

A TreeMapLA user carefully measures a tree trunk’s “DBH” – Diameter at Breast Height – for inclusion on TreeMapLA.

“We’re putting all our energy right now behind drought response activities,” said Danny, referencing the crushing drought Califonia has been struggling with. Danny said the initial idea for Thirsty Thursdays was to engage volunteers to help water the trees, as a social activity. “So [we would] water trees, and water humans with some alcoholic libations.” But through the course of planning that type of an event – carrying out site visits, getting a sense of what the tree watering needs in certain neighborhoods are – Danny realized TreeMapLA could make the events more successful and play an effective role as a planning tool. “[We are] going out and doing [Thirsty Thursday] events as the first touch, where it basically becomes a site visit,” he said. “We can go into those communities and get a better sense of what the needs are, so that we can go back a month later and tackle those needs.”

Thirsty Thursdays have started small, with about 10 volunteers each time, but Danny hopes to get up to 20-30 volunteers after the word about treemapping has spread. “”When I talk to the folks that do come, they are just sort of taking a chance. [They] don’t really know what it is or what it entails,” said Danny, “but after going through the process of mapping trees for a couple of hours, they’re really excited.”

Treemapping events like Thirsty Thursdays, have required rethinking TreePeople’s expectations for volunteer events. “Doing tree care, tree plantings in the city, that we have down to a science. We know how many folks we need, for how many trees, and how big an area we can hit” in the right amount of time, Danny explained to me. “But [with treemapping] I have very much been experimenting to figure out what is realistic.”

Thirsty Thursdays in particular are an experimental departure from TreePeople’s normal programming because they are held on weekday evenings, after work, and for a shorter time of two hours. “We expected it would be different, but we’re also seeing the people who are using TreeMapLA and the people that we’re hoping will be excited about it are a different demographic than our usual volunteers,” said Danny. “We’re hoping by making it more of a social thing, we can really reach those people better.”

Danny and TreePeople have also held larger tree mapping events on Saturday mornings, a more traditional volunteering time. These events take place over three hours. So far, three events have been organized in Downtown LA, Culver City, and Glendale, with about 15 volunteers at each.

In Downtown LA, TreePeople was working with a community group that is working on a master tree plan. “[We were] trying to figure out where the trees are, and where the empty planting spaces are, so they can figure out what they need to do to add more trees, and where the tree care needs are,” explained Danny. At this event, TreePeople mapped 165 trees, the most at any event. That’s nearly one tree every minute!

The Culver City event was with a group that is trying to protect a unique park. “It’s actually a traffic median that is also a park, and the city is proposing to widen the road that it’s next to,” said Danny. The community group wanted to map the park’s trees in TreeMapLA and use OpenTreeMap’s i-Tree Streets ecosystem services calculations to show the economic and other benefits of the trees to the city. “Hopefully that will change the arguments that the city is making,” and make the case for replanting those trees or reconsidering the course of the road, Danny explained.

TreeMapLA, showing the trees in the Culver City park that were mapped at the event.

TreeMapLA, showing the trees in the Culver City park that were mapped at the event.

TreePeople was also approached by EarthWatch, an international nonprofit, and organized a treemapping event near Glendale. “We were working on a citizen science project where we were gathering leaf samples, and those are going to be used by some university researchers to infer the growth rate and water use of these trees,” said Danny. EarthWatch wants to gather data across L.A. and compare it to NASA satellite data, “so that they can get a better sense of what species are doing well where in the city, so that moving forward, we can be smarter about what trees we are planting where,” explained Danny.

As he explained these events to me, Danny realized that all of TreePeople’s larger treemapping events had been organized as partnerships with other groups, rather than TreePeople going out with its regular volunteer programs. The Downtown LA and Culver City groups were previous TreePeople volunteers, which then came up with the idea of using TreeMapLA to advance their own projects.

“That’s our model: finding motivated people and giving them the knowledge and tools they need to inspire their communities to take personal responsibility for the urban forest,” said Danny. “Those two instances are sort of our dream.”

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