Urban Forest Health Monitoring Pilot Program

Volume 2, Number 2

August 1998

The Northeast Center for Urban & Forestry, with assistance of Forest Health personnel from the USDA Forest Service and the Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Management (DEM), has developed a model urban forest health monitoring program for use in the New England/New York region. The goal of this pilot project is to develop a model protocol for assessing the condition of trees found in urban landscape and to establish permanent monitoring plots in several communities across the region.

In the initial scope of work, monitoring plots have been established in four communities across Massachusetts. Sites for this research include Brookline, Worcester, Springfield and North Adams, and include various levels of urbanization in each community. In each municipality, several randomly selected plots have been established across the community, basing selection on density of development and land use. In this manner, trees growing in urban core areas, residential neighborhoods and suburban neighborhoods will be monitored. During the pilot phase of this project, public trees have been targeted for initial monitoring. Each monitoring plot was established using specific roadway segments, linear plots or small parks. The location of sampled trees will be permanently recorded using a Geographic Information System.

To better quantify and define the information that is collected at each sample plot, an orderly methodology was developed, aimed at ensuring the accuracy and standardization of data collection methods from site to site, and from year to year. It is intended that this pilot project will develop a transferrable methodology that will serve as a model for monitoring initiatives in other communities throughout the region.

By mid-August each tree, in the sample plots, will be surveyed and data collected on its condition, size, damage and defects. The specific criteria for evaluation has been developed in conjunction with the USDA Forest Service and Massachusetts DEM Forest Health Monitoring Project in order to ensure standardized application of data and findings. Review urban forest health monitoring protocols used in other states was also examined in an effort to incorporate the most useful and effective monitoring criteria. The following data attributes were determined to be the most useful and have been used as the basis for the survey work being completed in this pilot project:

The primary intent of the data collection is to monitor the health and condition of the trees growing in the sampled urban areas. The information that is being collected on health is principally the same as that used in by the Forest Service in its Forest Health Monitoring (FHM) program. The FHM program was developed in response to increasing concern for the health of the nation's forests in light of the potential effects of atmospheric pollutants, global climate change, and a variety of insect, disease and other stressors. The objective of this pilot project is to have the data collected in urban areas be comparable to data collected by the FHM program in order to comprehensively address the concerns over the health of forests growing in all areas, including urban and rural regions.

In addition to the attributes, established by the FHM program, that specifically detail the health of the sampled trees (Live Crown Ratio, Crown Density, Foliage Transparency, Crown Dieback and Damage) several attributes that relate to the Management needs of urban trees are being gathered, in order to most effectively provide data that can be used by urban forest resource managers or urban foresters. Data on the overall condition of a tree (Good, Fair, Poor or Dead), using standard classification criteria can provide an overall rating of the general vigor of an urban tree. Noting the planting location of a tree, including the type and width of the pervious material found over the root zone of a tree will enable examination of the relationship between planting location and overall health and vigor. Also, the Maintenance Needs of each tree will be determined, noting the type and relative need for pruning or removal of the tree. Maintenance classes include Crown Cleaning, Crown Raising, or Crown Reduction.

The pilot project includes sample plots in each community ranging from 9 to 13 locations per town. The sample plots are comprised primarily of street trees found growing along public right of ways and trees growing in park settings. A mix of both types of sites was randomly selected in each community using a simple grid overlay. Each site was selected based on its relative proximity to a point location established using a grid pattern. Based on preliminary data acqusistion, it is anticipated that a range of 100 - 200 trees will be sampled in each community. Additional plots will be added, as needed, in order reach statistical thresholds that will be established after examination of the initial data that has been collected.

A draft training manual has been developed, using materials from the USDA Forest Service's Forest Health Monitoring Field Methods Guide (National 1998) and from the Northeast Center for U&CF's Training Manual for Conducting Urban Forest Inventories. Students participating in the Massachusetts DEM's Summer Intern Program at UMass/Amherst have been trained on field methods and will complete data acquisition by summer's end. This project is being completed to provide a model that can be replicated in each of the states served by the Northeast Center for U&CF. Results of the initial pilot study will be available in the fall of 1998.

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