Managing the Urban Forest

By Peter Godfrey, ESRI

Accurate and current data is an essential component of urban tree management. GIS helps cities manage forestry projects efficiently and reduce management costs. City staff members use GIS to inspect and update tree data, depict these changes on a map, then schedule maintenance activities. They can also create maps and reports, support day-to-day operations, and provide tools to measure and meet species diversity and canopy cover goals.

GIS brings together different types of data for intelligent planning. A city’s tree database may include tree location, species, diameter breast height (DBH), condition, and growth recordings. In addition to tree attribute data, the urban forest planner can include other relevant features from the city’s database such as streets, curb lines, building footprints, overhead and underground utilities, workforce areas, pest/disease quarantine zones, parks, and pending construction areas.Each city can design a tree database to support its specific goals, management practices, and operational needs.

Integrating different map layers into an urban tree management project improves insight for decision making. By showing data relationships,GIS users can conceptualize the best options for placing trees in the right locations. For example, they can easily see that playground areas are not good places to plant weak-wooded species, or that areas with obstructions, such as walls, may be good locations to place low spreading plants.

They can also show which parks and other openspace areas contain trees that must be managed. Attention also needs to be paid to the planting spaces that urban trees populate. For instance, a cutout in a sidewalk is a permanent location where a tree can be planted, grow, die, and be replaced all in the same space. Planting space data may include information about size in square feet and association of appurtenances such as tree guards or grates, which can impact tree maintenance efforts such as removal. GIS creates visualization and analysis of this data to help manage planting and maintenance work and support decision making.

A data update tool makes it easy to edit the tree inventory database
with such attributes as species and overallcondition.
Based on management goals and practices of the individual municipality, staff can track various types of information by using GIS to query the database and display the answers on a map. Depending on the unique needs of the city, different attributes associated with a tree, such as its structure, species, height, crown width, historic designation, and donor name, are stored in the GIS database to create an inventory of all the city’s trees.

Bringing other types of resources and applications to the project improves urban environment analysis. ArcGIS integrates with standard forestry modeling packages, such as those provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), or prepackaged solutions, such as American Forests CITYgreen. GIS databases can also be integrated with ESRI business partner computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) for an efficient asset approach to urban resources management.

ESRI supports projects with urban forest data models and applications based on cities’ specific management practices. The data model is a means to quickly start a GIS urban forestry project. ESRI has worked closely with all levels of urban forestry staff and fully understands the challenges as well as the benefits of embarking on the design and implementation of a GIS-based urban forestry management system. The best management system is initiated through a solid and welldeveloped GIS database design and mapcentric approach. This system can be leveraged for integration with third-party products (including asset management packages), data extraction for modeling, field data collection tools, management reports and dashboards, and efficient resource allocation.

ESRI Forestry GIS Journal, Summer 2009
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