Blog Post By Jona Elwell

Getting the Whole Picture: D.C. Kicks Off its Urban Forest Inventory and Analysis

A comprehensive field study of the District’s urban forest is coming to our fair city. In partnership with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the District Department of Transportation (DDOT)’s Urban Forestry Division (UFD) has engaged in a contract with SavATree Consulting Group to inventory trees across all lands of the District – public, private, and federal.

This is big news. Why? Participating in the Urban Forest Inventory and Analysis (UFIA) is critical to understanding what types of trees are in D.C.’s urban forest, their sizes, susceptibility to disease and insects, the amount of invasive trees and plants, and other attributes.

But wait a minute, didn’t Casey Trees do this in years past? We did, but the key difference here is that our study, while it generated similar information reported in our annual Tree Report Card, was not part of the US Forest Service’s nationwide network of forest health data. UFIA takes the work we did in the past and takes it a step into the future.

Now, with UFIA, D.C.’s forest attributes can be used not just by the city and groups like Casey Trees to better manage and maintain the D.C.’s urban forest, but the information can now be compared nationwide with the growing list of cities engaged in similar pursuits.

How does this all work? Basic tree information is taken from approximately 200 circular plots randomly assigned throughout the city, each a ⅙ of an acre in size (or about 7,260 square feet, which is a little less than half a hockey rink). In each plot trees over 5 inches in diameter are counted, measured, and identified, and related information is also collected on small saplings, shrubs, insects, etc.

Dr. Kasey Yturralde, UFD Forest Health and Community Outreach Specialist coordinating the project, is thrilled about this undertaking. This has practical implications for future city undertakings, Kasey noted. “At UFD, we’re striving to increase canopy in the city to reach our full potential for canopy coverage. By looking into the types of trees in every part of the city, not just on streets, UFIA takes us a step further by revealing what trees make up our entire urban forest, as well as their size, abundance, and health.”

She added, “The information collected will complement the data we’ve already worked hard to collect. This new data set will drastically improve our understanding of tree composition in the city and help us plan for the future.” While monitoring overall canopy is great, that ability to prepare for possible pests is another key outcome from this study. Considering certain species of trees in the city fall under threats from various pests (ash trees are being destroyed by Emerald Ash Borer, the species tree of heaven is now fighting off an invasion of Spotted Lanternflies), the city can build a diverse canopy that will last generations.

Overall, becoming a part of the UFIA gives the city the tools and power to holistically look at the city’s trees and better plan for successful ways to increase canopy throughout the city, not just on public land.

UFD Associate Director Earl Eutsler adds “For more than a decade, we have been engaged in forest resource monitoring & management on several levels. The Urban FIA program nestles nicely between the top down, remotely sensed land cover assessments we perform on a regular basis, and our ongoing street level public tree management.  This study will provide us with continually updated information on the structure, composition and health of the entire urban forest in D.C., while also contributing to a nationwide understanding of forest resources.”

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