Tree inventories show value, promote safety
When an ice storm shut down historic Madison, Ga., last winter City Manager Monica Callahan knew the city’s $30,000 tree inventory conducted a few months earlier was a worthwhile investment. Following the inventory, the city was able to identify and remove sick trees that could have come crashing down under the weight of the ice that coated their branches during the storm. “The tree inventory allowed us to be more proactive with our planning,” Callahan says. “It helped us make better choices.”
From small towns like Madison to cities like Fort Lauderdale, Fla., computerized tree inventories are giving foresters and tree advocates a wealth of data on trees in public places. With just a click of the mouse, city employees can find out a tree’s location, age, size, value, species and even how recently it was trimmed.
“This is the trend we’re seeing as far as doing an inventory in a computerized format,” says Phil Thornburg, director of parks and recreation in Fort Lauderdale. “It enables you to track the trees you need to see on a regular basis.” The city recently upgraded its tree inventory technology by investing in a $77,000 computer program, which can do everything from send a reminder to the city forester when a tree is due for a checkup to help assess losses after hurricanes. It also will help direct crews to city coconuts trees that must be shaken before storms to keep fruit from causing damage.
Currently, field workers are using personal digital assistants and global positioning system monitors to collect data and map out the exact location of the city’s public trees, which are worth about $20 million, according to the city. The database will take about five years to complete.
In Albany, N.Y., a $65,000 tree inventory funded with a state grant and city funds is in progress that will help officials identify unsafe trees. Before the inventory, tree removal and trimming was “request driven,” says Tom Pfeiffer, the city’s forester. “Just because we haven’t gotten a call [about a particular tree], doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.”
With more complete data, officials can predict with greater accuracy how much it will cost to maintain the 20,000 trees in the city’s right of way. Last year, crews removed about 300 trees, up from 200 in years past.
Newport Beach, Calif., officials have conducted two tree inventories in the past four years. The first was in a neighborhood where residents were unknowingly cutting down large and mature city trees, says Dave Niederhaus, director of the city’s General Services Department. After notifying residents which trees were city property, based on data from the tree inventory, shortly thereafter illegal tree removal began to rapidly decline.
The second inventory was citywide and identified 35,617 trees — some of which officials were unaware of — at a cost of $2 per tree, or about $71,234. The project, paid for with city funds, identified vacant spaces suitable for future trees. Newport Beach officials also are using the data to schedule trimmings and to map tree locations so the trees can be protected and survive their full life spans.
“It is vital that a municipality identifies and values all of its capital improvements and natural resources,” Niederhaus says. “It is also important to know the statistics of your urban forest if you are to manage it well.”
Patti Ghezzi is an Atlanta-based freelance writer.