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.

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.

Approval of urban farm in Detroit sparks controversy yet offers promise

In September I wrote about Detroit, Michigan, and a new campaign to repurpose vacant parcels of land into urban farmland and revitalize the local ecosystem.

According to the New York Times, entrepreneur John Hantz offered to purchase 140 acres of abandoned land in Detroit to clear the empty lots of debris and plant roughly 15,000 hardwood trees. Hantz and his colleagues have said their plans for the land will increase economic activity, raise property values and add to the city’s tax base.

Support for this method of repurposing some of Detroit’s vacant lots is mixed.  Many agree that urban farming would diversify the city and be a more beneficial use of the land space, which currently supports foreclosed homes and crumbling buildings.  But some residents and city officials view the transaction as a land grab that Hantz will use for his own benefit.

Nevertheless, on December 11, the Detroit City Council approved the sale of the land to Hantz in a 5-4 vote.

A website developed to detail Hantz’s proposal states his intentions to transform blight to beauty, convert abandoned properties to fields for new agricultural production, create jobs and strengthen the city’s budget.  Hantz has witnessed the deterioration of Detroit over the years and says he wants his farm to not only be used for agricultural production, but also as an open area the community can experience and appreciate.

Additionally, Hantz plans to plant trees and encourage neighbors to enjoy their beauty and learn about the importance of urban trees, including how they can be used as a sustainable and profitable resource.

Photo taken from City Farm, a successful urban farm located in Chicago

Although it remains to be seen how the land will be developed, community participation will be important for the overall success of this project.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture advocates that active involvement from area residents  in projects like these is key to building an empowered, successful and more satisfied community.

Through its Tree City USA and Tree Line USA programs, the Arbor Day Foundation understands the positive impact urban forestry has on cities worldwide and therefore sees the potential benefits Hantz’s urban farm can have in the community.  There is significant promise in Detroit’s effort to build a new, green economy.

Greening of Detroit singles out potential for urban trees to revitalize local ecosystem

The environment is playing a significant role in the resurgence of Detroit and Rebecca Salminen Witt, president of the nonprofit agency, Greening of Detroit, is a big part of the movement.

Greening’s mission statement has evolved over the years from specifically addressing replanting needs, to addressing the various needs of Detroit’s ecosystem.  The Greening of Detroit has filled several needs by creating planting and educational programs and encouraging environmental leadership and advocacy in the area.

In a recent interview with the Detroit Free Press, Witt explains that Greening’s forestry department has progressed to a green infrastructure department.  “Tree planting obviously is always going to be at the heart of what [this department] does,” stated Witt, “but they’re looking much more broadly at the ecosystem services that trees and forestry can provide, and they’re doing a lot of other things as well.”

Photo Credit: Greening of Detroit

The Greening of Detroit has broadened its methods from “classic tree planting,” to planting that will better utilize  the benefits of every tree; such as planting for stormwater retention and planting large, dense blocks of trees to remediate soil contamination.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted a new campaign for Detroit to repurpose vacant parcels of land into urban farmland.  Rebecca Witt is enthusiastic and prepared for the Greening of Detroit to take on similar opportunities for securing Detroit’s ecosystem, asserting:

That’s a pretty incredible thing to be able to think of a major American city that really could have an ecosystem that could support itself and all of its people in a way that is sustainable for the long term.

Some potential plans for Detroit include planting oak trees and maybe fruit orchards.

The Arbor Day Foundation avidly promotes the intrinsic benefits of urban trees. The work going on in Detroit isolates the potential of urban trees to revitalize a struggling community and establish a sustainable industry.

The Arbor Day Foundation agrees with research that explains the benefits of trees for stormwater retention. Rain refreshes and nourishes green landscape.  But as cities grow and tree cover is lost, so is the absorbing effect of plant life and soil.  Trees and vegetated infrastructure prevent costly stormwater runoff from polluting waterways with oil, heavy metal particles and other harmful substances.

Click here for a visual depiction of a city water system with few trees, and one with abundant trees.

Nonprofits like the Greening of Detroit are making huge impact and filling the inherent need for effective urban forestry tree planting and environmental care in communities nationwide.

Portland’s growing tree canopy provides many benefits

Photo Credit: OHS.org

Once nicknamed “Stumptown” for the massive clearing of trees during a phenomenal period of growth in the 1800s, Portland now proudly protects, encourages and monitors the growth of its expansive tree canopy and is dubbed a Tree City USA community.

In collaboration with the Arbor Day Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, the Tree City USA program “provides direction, technical assistance, public attention, and national recognition for urban and community forestry programs” across the nation.

Portland has held the title of Tree City USA almost since the Arbor Day Foundation began the program in 1976.  The benefits of Portland’s dedication to being a Tree City USA for the past 35 years permeate the entire city.

According to a recent news article in the Oregonian, “an aerial imagery study released by the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation shows that the city’s tree canopy has grown by 2.6 percent over the past 10 years, and now covers nearly 30 percent of the city.”

Photo Credit: ColumbiaRiverImages.com

The Arbor Day Foundation has compiled information from various sources regarding the many benefits urban trees provide environmentally, economically, and socially for millions of Americans.

The Tree Canada Foundation asserts that “one tree provides oxygen for up to four people in one day.”

According to the Oregonian, “Portland has approximately 240,000 street trees, and 1.2 million trees throughout Portland’s parks.”

The U.S. Forest Service has determined that urban trees in the Chicago area filter an estimated “6,000 tons of air pollutants each year, providing cleansing valued at $9.2 million.”

And, according to a 2009 Parks Bureau study, the ecological benefits of Portland’s street and park trees are valued at $27 million annually.

Photo Credit: Oregonian

Other benefits of urban trees include better air, soil, and water quality, lower occurrences of asthma and stress among children, increased carbon sequestration, and reduced energy use for heating and cooling.  In fact, the International Society of Arboriculture has revealed that the shade and shelter provided by trees, annually reduces heating and cooling costs in the United States by $2.1 billion.

Mark Ross, Parks Bureau spokesman, states that Portland’s next goal will be to achieve a “33 percent urban tree canopy by 2030.”

Portland residents will surely enjoy and appreciate the many benefits a robust urban forest reaps for years to come.

Summer drought costs Texas 5.6 million urban trees

A new report from the Texas Forest Service found that cities in the Lone Star State lost 5.6 million trees due to drought last year. The trees, comprising 10 percent of Texas’ urban forest, had become “too thirsty to live,” as the Austin American-Statesman put it.

The drought’s impact on trees has put Texas officials in a tough spot. The same report detailing the lost trees also pointed to $280 million in annual environmental and economic benefit from trees, and that’s in addition to the qualitative benefits. It’s hard to put a numeric value on the thousands of missing pine trees from Houston Memorial Park, for instance, but their loss is undoubtedly felt.

In urban areas especially, trees play a critical role in shading buildings and streets, reducing the risk of flooding and keeping pollution down.

Removing trees is expensive, though well worth the cost to avoid risking a fall on a car, a power line or a home. Getting rid of dead or dying trees will cost the state of Texas $560 million dollars, the report says.

Texas’ large metropolitan areas, such as Houston, Dallas and Austin (above), currently have a total of 60 million trees.

Last summer is on record as one of the longest and driest in Texas history, and the trend looks likely to continue. Broader changes in climate cannot be solved at the local level alone, but there is a lot that cities can do to mitigate the damage.

In Austin, for instance, the Texas live oak has been more drought-resistant because its natural reserves are a good fit for the area. City Arborist Michael Embesi told the American-Statesman that Austin had already shifted to planting less water-dependent trees in preparation for last summer. Planting the right species at the right time definitely helps.

Cities are strapped for resources, making watering trees a challenge, but the right infrastructure could tap dirty water – from car washes, local reservoirs or excess rain that would otherwise end up down the storm drain – during the summer. Additional watering will assist trees on the margins of survival in making it through the dry season.

It’s also beneficial to plan for replacing older trees.

Solutions like these emerge from a sustained commitment to managing urban trees. Texas already has 72 Tree City USAs, including most of its largest cities, so it is clear that both motivation and resources exist to respond to these challenges, along with the passion of concerned professionals and the communities they serve.

You can find out more about the Texas Forest Service’s study here.

Photo courtesy of Fine Austin Living.