iTree software providing valuable benefits to professionals and non-professionals alike

When the Arbor Day Foundation worked with the U.S. Forest Service, Davey Tree Expert Company and others to launch a suite of urban forest management software, the tool was expected to be primarily used by city foresters and other professionals.

8050686652_68cc7fcc56Fast-forward several years and i-Tree has been downloaded thousands of times in more than 100 countries, with international users comprising the largest growth.

The Society of Municipal Arborists, International Society of Arboriculture and DC-based Casey Trees were also key contributors.

The latest version of the tool, 5.0, is especially equipped to help users map and manage urban trees in Australia and Canada. The i-Tree software can also be used on smartphones and tablets for the first time.

Teachers, researchers, non-profit organizations, consultants and homeowners are among the users who have relied on i-Tree to calculate energy savings and storm water interception, among other benefits.

At the Foundation, i-Tree is central to are growing partnerships with utility providers through Energy-Saving Trees, an innovative program that allows customers to secure free trees for their yards and reduce monthly electricity bills.

Participating customers are able to log-on to an interactive website that helps them select the most strategic location for tree planting.

In addition to providing approximate energy savings, the tool also estimates the tree’s other benefits, including cleaner air, reduced carbon dioxide emissions and improved storm water management. Many of these benefits are felt throughout the community.

Read more about i-Tree’s progress at the U.S. Department of Agriculture blog.

Climate change threatens the survival of older forests and trees

Much of the U.S. has been warmer in recent years, affecting not only which trees are right for planting, but also threatening the survival of older forests.

A Yale Environmental 360 article by Bruce Dorminey reported the giant sequoias native to California’s Sierra Nevada are facing the looming effects of declining snowpack and rising temperatures.

Photo Credit: VisitSequoia.org

Photo Credit: VisitSequoia.org

Giant sequoias are the world’s largest living species, reaching heights of 300 feet and girths as large as 150 feet. Dorminey wrote, “some sequoias can live in excess of 3,000 years before being naturally toppled by a combination of weather and gravity.”

Giant sequoias have evolved and thrived for multiple millenniums. The species may have survived previous eras of climate change but Dorminey says U.S. government and university researchers claim the long-term existence of these trees might now be endangered as a result of the changing Sierra Nevada mountain snowpack and current changes to the climate.

Less moisture and longer, warmer summers make it difficult for giant sequoias, especially the seedlings and young trees with smaller root systems, to survive.

The complex interaction of rising temperatures and shifts in snowmelt and precipitation is slowly altering and threatening environments where certain tree species have evolved and thrived.

Warmer temperatures also pose the threat of insect infestations which have already killed spruce and pine trees across more than 70,000 square miles of western North America.

Dorminey presented research showing how older forests and trees have proven to be at greater risk to the effects of climate change.

A recent study published in the journal Science found that trees ranging from 100 to 300 years old, located across a wide range of global landscapes, were experiencing rising death rates. This study and other research found that higher temperatures and drier conditions have played an important role in tree mortality and forest drought stress across the continents.

hardiness zoneYou can see how regional climates have changed over the past few years by visiting the Arbor Day Foundation’s U.S. Hardiness Zone map which was developed based upon data from 5,000 National Climatic Data Center cooperative stations across the continental U.S.

 

Idaho’s first Nature Explore classroom featured on local NBC affiliate

I’ll admit I was somewhat surprised to receive a phone call earlier this month about Funshine Early Childhood in Idaho Falls. It was among the first times we’d been asked about a Nature Explore classroom before even sending out the press release.

3FUNSHINESnaturescapeFunshine’s certification was definitely news worthy – the center, owned and operated by Kathy Reynolds – is the first Nature Explore Classroom in the state of Idaho.

Nature Explore is a collaborative project of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation developed in response to the growing disconnect between children and nature.

Reynolds began constructing the classroom after attending a Nature Explore training with educational services director Julie Rose. She posted an article in a local magazine, inviting friends, local businesses, civic leaders and the mayor to attend a groundbreaking event at her home, where she shared her vision.

The result is wonderfully captured in last week’s News Channel 6 segment showing children learning and playing in a creative outdoor learning space.

“There is a huge increase in childhood obesity because they are not getting outside,” Reynolds tells New Channel 6’s Summer Joy. She continues:

Unless they are outside learning and exploring a garden or harvesting what we grow, playing on rocks and boulders, balance on logs, they are not going to gain an appreciation for nature. They are the future – they are the ones that are going to be taking care of this world once we are gone and they need to be exposed to it.

We’d be hard pressed to better describe the importance of Nature Explore. View the segment for yourself here.

Photo courtesy of Nature Explore.

Baltimore TreeKeepers teach residents how to care for trees

A new program in Baltimore, Maryland, has recently upped its proactive approach to caring for city trees.

treebaltimoreThanks to a mutual effort by the city forestry board, the nonprofit Baltimore Tree Trust and Tree Baltimore, residents citywide are able to sign up for Baltimore TreeKeepers, which offers free tree stewardship classes and will aid in achieving the city’s goal of increasing tree canopy from 27-40 percent by 2040.

In a Baltimore Sun article, Amanda Cunningham, executive director of Baltimore Tree Trust, said TreeKeepers mission is “to get more trees in the ground, protect the ones we have and educate the public. We’re trying to get trees in neighborhoods with low tree counts.”

Erik Dihle, Baltimore’s city arborist, also promoted the important role TreeKeepers will play in achieving “buy-in” from the community. “We want the citizens of Baltimore to take ownership of the beautiful heritage we have.”

More than fifty people have shown their pride and care for Baltimore’s urban forests by signing up for TreeKeepers. Residents explained they were interested in the classes because they like trees, are interested in acquiring and sharing information about trees and tree care, would like to improve neighborhoods with fewer and/or damaged trees, or have a desire to do civic work.

Photo Credit: BaltimoreTreeTrust.org

Photo Credit: BaltimoreTreeTrust.org

Cunningham’s ultimate goal is “to train people in neighborhoods to take responsibility for basic tree planting and care.”  The TreeKeepers curriculum will also offer higher-level certification classes that requires helping at tree-planting events around the city.

Baltimore has three million trees in the city, 125,000 of them on city streets and in city parks, according to some estimates.

Cunningham  has seen the need for citywide tree care after recent storms, such as Irene and Sandy, resulted in losses to Baltimore’s tree canopy.

“Many simply fell over because the ground was so saturated, but a healthier tree canopy would be more resistant to storms, because air would move more smoothly through the trees,” said Cunningham. “A good, balanced canopy is very important to the growth of a tree.”

The Arbor Day Foundation recognizes the dynamic benefits urban forests offer communities by raising property value, adding aesthetic appeal, lowering temperatures, changing wind patterns, reducing energy use (and costs) and improving air quality.

The Baltimore TreeKeepers are a great example of environmental stewardship, helping to ensure the future sustainability of the city’s urban forests, and providing long-term benefits to the overarching community.

San Francisco divide over non-native eucalyptus highlights urban forest challenges

While this space is not meant for resolving local disputes, the trade-offs cities face in urban forest management often yield insight for others.

628x471 (1)The debate in San Francisco over the fate of largely-invasive species in the 61-acre Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, is one of those cases.

The culprit is the eucalyptus, a non-native tree that offers a towering and majestic forest at the heart of the city – and severe headaches to neighboring University of California San Francisco, the landowner.

Leave it alone, say some nearby residents, citing the forest as a special reprieve from a dense metropolis. Cut (many) of the trees down, reply UCSF officials, citing infestation and the danger of fallen limbs and fire hazards.

UCSF has plans to replace the eucalyptus with native trees and grasses. A “leave things as they are” attitude that downplays management could amplify problems later. Some residents agree.

Divides over non-native species are not new. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a neighbor in nearby Marin County sued a neighbor to force removal of a eucalyptus after warnings from an arborist. Current and prospective Arbor Day Foundation members often inquire about whether the trees we ship are invasives – and sometimes what is thought to be invasive is in fact a related species that adapts much better.

A recent op-ed in the Chronicle seeks a broader perspective. Asks Joel Engardio: why should the city take on an expensive forest overhaul when the buses aren’t running on-time and parks are overdue for maintenance? It’s not clear from the reporting whether taxpayers or UCSF would foot the bill for the project, but perhaps the broader point still resonates.

Engardio says: by all means, take down individual trees that pose a threat. But can land management be done in a piecemeal way? Is what UCSF proposes too far-reaching?

Cities grow and change, as so forests. Questions like these are the inevitable result of that change.

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Images courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle