Forests and trees are, as we have talked about here many times, vital to the environment; trees improve air and water quality, provide habitat and forage for wildlife, help mitigate erosion, act as sinks for carbon dioxide, provide necessary shade and aid in cooling property and impermeable surface and the list goes on and on. So protection, preservation and conservation of these vital natural resources is critical. Researchers at universities, federal agencies and state departments are continuously working on ways to evaluate the current condition of trees and forests, presence of pests and disease, damage and susceptibility to insects and pathogens in an effort to formulate rapid response plans in the case of any immediate issue, find tracts of land qualifying for easements or protection or in need of treatments and plan funding for any upcoming projects. There are many effective methods currently in use including; remote sensing, aerial surveillance and photography, GIS data collection and ground surveys. However, scientists from the Urban Natural Resources Institute (UNRI) at the Syracuse Research Unit are currently developing important initiatives which will aid urban foresters and landscape planners evaluate the size, composition and condition of urban landscapes across the country.
The Urban Forest Effects (UFORE) model is public domain software that can be used by researchers, planners, landscape professionals and foresters to inventory and assess ecological composition and conditions of urban forests. The UFORE model suite allows users to efficiently collect data on an entire forest community and then analyze those data to estimate the value those ecological resources provide to the community. The model accomplishes this by using standardized field data from randomized plots, local, hourly air pollution and meteorological data to quantify forest structure and calculate forest attributes including: species composition, diameter distribution, tree health, species diversity and exotic versus native species distribution. It also calculates for forest functions and values related to tree effects on air pollution, greenhouse gasses and building energy usage.
UNRI scientists continue to work on and streamline inventory software tailored to use in urban settings. The USDA Forest Service has created a state-of-the-art, peer-reviewed software suite, i-tree (http://www.itreetools.org/index.php) for urban forestry analysis and the assessment of benefits. i-Tree integrates four (UFORE, STRATUM: Street Resource Analysis Tool for Urban Forest Managers, MCTI: Mobile Community Tree Inventory and the Storm Damage Assessment Protocol) inventory, analysis, assessment and forecasting tools together, resulting in a powerful and effective tool for those who master it.
For more information on this project and others being conducted by UNRI staff, please visit http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/units/urban/.