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Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

Monitoring and Assessment of Urban Forests and Trees

Managing urban forests and greenspaces as natural resources requires assessment and monitoring. There are a variety of approaches to monitoring, from field-based monitoring and data (bottom-up) to remote sensing and land cover analyses (top-down), and from ecological data about trees to social data about environmental stewards and stewardship activities. Northern Research Station (NRS) scientists are at the forefront of this work to fill in data gaps and assist cities in understanding their urban forests and using that data to inform management plans.

Selected Research Studies

[Photo] Felled London plane tree in northeast Philadelphia. USDA Forest Service photo..The Need for Field-Based Urban Tree Monitoring
Forest Service researchers and colleagues have produced new technical guides about urban tree monitoring to assist other researchers, urban forestry professionals, community urban greening advocates, and students who wish to monitor the trees that they plant and manage.


[Photo] Front yard gardening in Carroll Gardens.STEW-MAP - The Stewardship Mapping and Assessment Project
STEW-MAP adds a social layer of information to pre-existing biophysical and urban geographic information on ‘green infrastructure’ to understand how environmental stewardship is taking place in cities.


[Photo] A city street with an arching tree canopyUrban Tree Canopy
While we may not think of trees in cities as a typical “forest,” these trees provide valued services to our daily lives. These benefits include: reducing the urban heat island effect, improving water quality, saving energy, lowering city temperatures, reducing air pollution, enhancing property values, providing wildlife habitat, facilitating social and educational opportunities, and providing aesthetic benefits. Scientists now have the ability to qualify and quantify the benefits of UTC. An increase in UTC brings an associated increase in the UTC benefits listed above.


[photo:] Tree canopy over a residential street.The Value of Urban Tree Cover
We used hedonic price modeling to estimate how tree cover affects property values in urban Dakota and Ramsey Counties in Minnesota. In hedonic price modeling, the item being studied is broken up into different components and the value of each separate component is estimated. In this case, the components of property value are structural, neighborhood, and environmental factors, including tree cover.


[photo:] UFORE/i-Tree Eco crewmember using a laser range finder.UFORE/i-Tree Eco Analysis of Chicago’s Urban Forest
The U.S. Forest Service worked with the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District, and WRD Environmental to conduct a UFORE (Urban FORest Effects, now called i-Tree Eco) analysis of Chicago's urban forest in the summer of 2007. The UFORE/i-Tree Eco model developed by the Forest Service uses on-the-ground sampling data to understand the composition of the urban forest and calculate the forest's impacts on air pollution and energy use.


[image:] thumbnail image of map of vegetation typesTools to Assess Ecosystem Services and Values
To improve urban forest planning, management and design, managers need the ability to quantify their local urban forest composition and its associated ecosystem services and values.


[image:] Forest stand with floor covered in dry leaves and down trees and branches.Linking Wood Stake Decomposition in the Forest Floor and Mineral Soil with Soil Productivity in the Northern Research Station
Soil organic matter is key to maintaining site productivity because of its roles in soil water availability, nutrient supply, soil aggregation, and disease incidence or prevention. Organic matter decomposition is controlled by the same soil factors that affect plant growth - water, nutrients, temperature, and pH. Forest management practices and other land management activities can greatly affects organic matter decomposition, which could affect tree growth and site productivity.


PhotoNational Assessments of Urban Forests
NRS scientists are working with Resource Planning Act (RPA) staff to assess urban tree cover and functions nationally from the local to state to national scales.


[photo:] Delaware River basinThe Delaware River Basin: Collaborative Environmental Research and Monitoring
In 1998 the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Park Service formed the Collaborative Environmental Monitoring and Research Initiative (CEMRI) to test strategies for integrated environmental monitoring among the agencies.  The initiative combined monitoring and research efforts of the participating Federal programs to evaluate health and sustainability of forest and freshwater aquatic systems in the Delaware River Basin. 


[photo:] The eddy flux tower at Silas Little Experimental Forest.  Measurements of energy, water vapor and net CO2 exchange started in April 2004.  Annual net CO2 exchange (NEEyr) measured at this site ranges between 187 and -293 g C m-2 yr-1, with the largest C loss value corresponding with complete defoliation by Gypsy moth in 2007.  Monitoring and Understanding Forest/Atmosphere Carbon Dioxide Exchange: the NRS Flux Tower Network
Data from flux sites help test physiological models of C exchange and are critical to relating fluxes and remote sensing data. Companion physiological and ecological measurements enable partitioning carbon fluxes into plant and soil components and reveal mechanisms responsible for these fluxes. At some sites, biomass-based estimates of C storage have validated C budgets from direct flux data, and vice-versa. Data from the flux sites have been applied in ecology, weather forecasting, and climate studies, especially for sites with several years of data to quantify inter-annual flux variations.


PhotoThe Changing Midwest Assessment Internet Mapping
At the Changing Midwest Assessment (CMA) internet mapping server, public and public officials users can use an interactive, spatially explicit, web-based model to visualize changes that are likely in various likely future scenarios. The characteristics mapped include land cover, forest characteristics, plants and animals, and human demographics. given a range of alternative ecological, economic, and social scenarios.


PhotoThe urban forest effects (UFORE) model
The Urban Forest Effects (UFORE) model is a NRS program that analyzes field data and quantifies urban forest effects. Results from various cities are available for download from this site. Computer programs and field manuals are also being made available to allow people to easily quantify the structure, health, and effects of their own urban forests. This program is part of a suite of urban forest software known as i-Tree.


NRS scientists have worked with numerous collaborators to develop the i-Tree suite of urban forestry software that is designed to help assess and manage urban forests.



Last Modified: 03/23/2021