The following article was written by Elizabeth Dierickx, Marketing Specialist at Plan-It Geo, LLC, based on conversations she has had with DNR staff members.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Dan Buckler, DNR Urban Forest Assessment Specialist and Laura Lorentz, DNR Urban Forestry Policy & Partnership Specialist to talk about Wisconsin’s new Community Tree Map. This exciting tool has brought a lot of new excitement and opportunity to the states community forests; the Community Tree Map has the potential to assists the urban forestry team in developing policies based on data driven analysis, has given them a better tool to make recommendations, and helped to create awareness about the urban forest with community members and decision makers.
Dierickx: What has the tool shown you so far at the community and landscape level?
Buckler: It is putting numbers on assumptions, and the tool is showing this effectively, such as poor tree diversity. Some communities have 20%, 30% even 40% population of one species. This is of great concern and these situations put our communities in a place of significant risk for future pests.
We will be curious to see as we add more data sets what the composition will look like. Currently we have 44 community inventories, and what will that look like when that number doubles? We know that there are more inventories currently out there and the tool is also generating more interest – and not just at the municipal level – but we are hopeful that large nonprofits, schools and universities will see value in investing in an inventory. Some of the inventories out there are outdated and we are encouraging the process of updating. We anticipate inputting more than 100 inventory datasets. Having a grasp on the tree diversity across the state will affect our decision making and allows us to anticipate future problems in urban areas.
Lorentz: The synthesis and analysis of data from all components of the Wisconsin Urban Forest Assessment Program (the WI Community Tree Map, Urban Forest Inventory and Analysis (UFIA) field plots, and the Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) assessment) will provide quantitative data to help inform, support and guide the direction and priorities of the urban and community forestry program.
Buckler: As you look at inventories, especially groupings in different regions across the state, you see trends with plantings. For example, South East Wisconsin is dominated by Norway Maple but in other areas trends for species planted in an unsustainably are variable. This will allow us to make more specific recommendations based on their regions.
Lorentz: We hope communities wishing to add new tree species to their planting pallet can use the Community Tree Map as a tool to explore how less familiar species are performing in other Wisconsin communities, perhaps by looking to neighboring communities that fall in the same or similar hardiness zones. This quantitative data serves as another source of information that communities can use to help guide decisions.
Dierickx: What are your hopes for the tool to provide for communities across the state?
Buckler: Hopefully it satisfies people’s curiosity. From, “what’s that tree down the street I have driven past all my life?” to becoming a vehicle to help manage trees by using the queries, such as finding the population of large ash trees in poor condition. These queries could help create a plan and budget for removals based on the results. One of the reasons that we decided to use Tree Plotter Software for our Community Tree Map is the ease and ability to use the data to create charts, graphs, reports use in presentations. Every Public Works Director or Urban Forest Manager can take these charts and graphs to their elected officials, show them here is what we have, this is their annual worth, here is where we need to focus our attention, and this is why our urban forest justifies a greater investment. We are really hoping the communities will pick up on this!
Dierickx: What type of response have you gotten since the launch of the WI Community Tree Map?
Buckler: Positive! Communities want their data included, they are calling to see if their data has been added yet. It is great to see. One great example, the City Forester was approached by his Mayor and Alderman asking about the WI Statewide Tool and if their trees were included.
Lorentz: We see the Community Tree Map as a tool that local urban and community forestry programs can use to engage the public and advocate for their programs. If you can get residents interested in and advocating for the trees that may resonate with decision makers.
Dierickx: Do you intend to include private tree data, or continue to use this as a discussion piece based on public tree data?
Lorentz: Yes, we welcome private tree data! At this time we are particularly interested in gathering inventories from organized and concerted efforts as opposed to crowd-sourcing, as we recognized the importance of data quality.
We want to bring awareness to others about the awesome opportunity provided by the Community Tree Map for management and education. We would love to hear communities and residents saying, “Hey, I saw this map, what can we do?” in hopes that awareness and support for the urban tree canopy will continue to grow!