U.S. Forest Service Funds Tree Inventory for Urban Planners

New research funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will help city planners make better decisions about their urban trees for a range of benefits, including energy savings and improved access to nature.

Researchers, led by U.S. Forest Service scientists, will hire field crews to gather information on the condition of forests from approximately 1,000 sites in five western states – Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington – to compile data for a comparative study on the health of trees in urban areas. The result will be a network of permanently located plots in urbanized areas that can be monitored to obtain information on their health and resiliency.

“This project will help city planners improve the quality of life in American cities,” said project leader John Mills of the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station’s Resource Monitoring and Assessment Program. “Urban trees are the hardest working trees in America – they beautify our neighborhoods and reduce pollution.”

This is the first time in the Pacific states that systematic information is being collected on the health of trees in urban areas. Determining the current health and extent of specific urban forests will help forest managers better understand how urban forests adapt to climate change and other issues. Urban trees cool cities, save energy, improve air quality, strengthen local economies, reduce storm water runoff and enliven neighborhoods.

The study supports President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative (AGO) by helping planners determine where to establish urban parks and green spaces and how to maintain them. AGO takes as its premise that the protection of our natural heritage is an objective shared by all Americans. Parks and green spaces improve a community’s economy, health, quality of life and social cohesion. In cities and towns across the country, parks can generate tourism and recreation dollars and improve investment and renewal. Time spent in nature also improves the emotional and physical well-being of children and adults alike.

Urban forests will change as the climate changes — shifts in species composition, growth rates, mortality and susceptibility to pests are all possible. Having a baseline of urban forest conditions will help local resource managers and planners understand and articulate the contributions urban forests make, such as carbon sequestration, water retention, energy savings and quality of life for residents. Over the longer term, monitoring will help to determine if and how urban forests are adapting to changing conditions, and could shed some light on potential mitigations.

The project is being carried out in collaboration with the Oregon Department of Forestry, California Polytechnic State University, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the Hawaii Urban Forestry Council.

Work on the initial plot installation will continue through 2013, with a large amount of data gathering planned for 2012.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. As part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.