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.

Automatic federal budget cuts could increase risk of wildfires

Absent resolution this week from Congress, across-the-board spending cuts are slated to hit just about everything the federal government does beginning March 1.

Known in some circles as the “sequester,” the policy – enacted in 2011 as part of a deal to address the nation’s debt payments – will take 5.3 percent from domestic discretionary spending, including the U.S. Forest Service portion of the Department of Agriculture budget.

In Nebraska, the across-the-board agency cuts would result in a $1.3 million reduction in clean air and water programs, among other impacts, wrote the Lincoln Journal Star’s Don Walton.

“The sequester does not target or prioritize,” he added.

As a result of this absence of priorities, programs that support preventive steps against wildfires in our nation’s forests will be affected, with $134 million taken out of the U.S. Forest Service’s Wildland Fire Management Program.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, warned of “increased risk to communities from wildfires, with as much as 200,000 fewer acres treated for hazardous fuels.”

Added Sandra Postel of the National Geographic Society: “That means dead trees, dry brush and other fire-starting materials will not be removed.

“That would be worrisome even in a normal year, but in a severe drought it could prove calamitous,” she continued.

Officials have already struggled to keep up with prevention in Colorado and the Mountain West. Abrupt budget cuts would likely make matters worse.

Here’s hoping for a timely solution that gives our hard-working forest professionals the budget certainty they need to do their jobs.

Fighting the pine beetle will help in the next fight against forest fires

The pine trees that populate our national forests – particularly in the Mountain West – are in continued need of protection. Critical to the ecosystem, their decline would be felt in a number of areas, starting with the very real threat to safe and secure drinking water.

The U.S. Forest Service and state and local partners are series about the preservation of pine trees. Some of their strategies were the focus of a Washington Post article last month.

We know how important this work is for the long-term. What we are seeing this week is how much these steps can save lives and property in the short-term as well.

The pine beetle is arguably “enemy no. 1″ of pines trees. For years, the pest has been quick and resilient, and forest professionals have struggled to keep up. As firefighters in Colorado continue to tackle what has become one of the largest forest fires in state history, the Associated Press reports that beetle-stricken trees – many of them dead or dying – have become an increasing safety concern. The challenge was particularly apparent in the foothills about 15 miles from Fort Collins:

Fire managers said the blaze’s west side was a concern because 70 percent of the trees had been killed by pine beetles, leaving drying wooden poles with branches and red pine needles that pose a hazard for firefighters.

The pine beetle is a pest that must be contained, for our own safety and security. Through comprehensive forest management, that looks possible. An honest discussion about the role of climate change – warmer winters make it easier for the pine beetle to survive and breed – will also be critical.

Pine beetle devastation in Wyoming. Courtesy of the University of Wyoming.

The issue is starting to receive more attention in Washington, DC, where Colorado Senator Mark Udall (nephew of Arbor Day Award winner and former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall) has been leading the charge for additional resources to fight the pine beetle. His effort is attracting bipartisan support, including from South Dakota Senator John Thune.

The Associated Press has more information on the latest developments in Colorado.