Urban Forestry Management Plan Steps 1 & 2

August 12, 2016

So here we are, planning for the plan. As we mentioned in last week’s blog post, there are typically six components to an Urban Forest Management Plan:

  1. Tree inventory data and analysis
  2. Tree inventory and mapping data management software  
  3. Tree risk reduction/emergency storm response plan
  4. Tree board or advisory council development
  5. Public relations and education
  6. Urban forest cost/benefit analysis

Each component is important in creating a useful UFMP, so what I’ll do is look at two components this week and move through the remaining four over the next two weeks. I will take another week to talk about UFMPs special cases; think hurricane-prone coastal cities.

So let’s start with the first two components: tree inventory data and analysis and tree inventory and mapping data management software. For starters, if you need to ask what tree inventory data and analysis entails; think of it like this:

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

The Data

Tree inventories, specifically public tree inventories, are a statistically reliable survey of publicly owned and managed trees. Data from this inventory is used to determine the location of the tree and the exact or estimated measurements like size, species, condition, etc. that help arborists determine growth and health trends in the urban forest.

Typically, inventories are completed by trained certified arborists or experienced inventory arborists. Tree attribute and location data are generally collected using handheld computers, geographic information systems (GIS) data, and/or geographic positioning systems (GPS) equipment. Recently tools have been developed that allow certified arborists to review data collected by non-certified assistants (think volunteers).

These inventories can be completed four different ways:

Windshield surveys

Windshield surveys are generally a good first step for a new or developing urban forestry program. They are a simple and cost-effective method of evaluating public trees because they are literally surveys done through a vehicle’s windshield. To perform a windshield survey, an arborist or someone knowledgeable with trees, drives through a community and records important tree characteristics. Windshield surveys are most efficient when the arborist is looking for only a few particular tree characteristics, such as species, size, maintenance needs, or safety risk level.

Statistical sample inventories

Statistical sample inventories collect data from trees under a random and/or a certain population percentage that can then be extrapolated to  give an overall picture of the entire urban forest . Usually, obtaining data from between 3 to 6 percent of street miles and/or public property acreage will produce data accurate to within 10 percent of what a complete inventory would produce at a fraction of the cost.

Partial inventories

This approach is similar to statistical sample inventories, however, instead of collecting data from random trees, you choose certain project areas around the community and collect data from 100 percent of those trees. This is an effective and affordable method when budgets are tight. Typically, Public Works, Planning, or Parks and Recreation departments help define areas of the city or community to be inventoried, for example; particular wards, neighborhoods, districts, historic areas, etc. Using partial inventories allows the department to target specific areas first, and grow their inventory over a period of time.

Complete inventories

A complete inventory is, well, just that. A collection of data from 100 percent of the city’s or community’s trees . All trees and potential planting sites on all public rights-of-way and public property under public management are located and assessed during a complete inventory. While this method provides the most robust inventory, it can also be costly and unnecessary for many projects.

The Analysis

So now that we understand what the data and inventory are, we can take the next step and evaluate our inventory scope. What areas do we most care about? Do we care about air pollution removal? Emissions reduction? Carbon storage? Maybe water interception and stream flow? Or energy use of buildings? UV radiation reduction? Or wildlife habitat and biodiversity?

For example, do you plan to inventory only trees that are on public right of ways or do you want information about trees on private property as well? How much information do you need? What kind of information do you need? Will the data be used by tree care professionals and managers or will other community members or city personnel need access to this data set as well?

The answers to these questions will affect which urban forest ecosystem assessment tool you choose, what will be quantified, and what you include in your UFMP. These are areas that are best answered by your team and once established, figure out which inventory management software is best for you. State Forestry Services and Urban and Community Forestry Councils can be a great first step.

The Software

So now that we have a better understanding of the value of tree data and how to analyze it in theory, we can begin to look at the practical problems: How do we choose the right tools? With pen and paper? On the most basic level, tree inventory data can be entered and maintained in any simple spreadsheet like an Excel document. These programs are inexpensive, easy to use, and usually already exist on most office computers, phones, and tablets. Simple data sorting and querying can provide information on urban forest conditions and tasks.

Commercially available software is usually customized for larger, recurring projects because they do a better job of  assisting arborists with large inventories that require updating, editing, and reporting useful information such as work histories and maintenance costs for each tree, citizen service and information requests, work orders, available planting sites, tree valuations and ecosystem resources, and maps. Although these added benefits  are not necessary for the basic inventory ,theymake it easier to plan, manage, and grow value out of each inventory.

The software tools that I’ve come across that are worth mentioning are:

So what does all this mean? If we put it into step form for tasks until next week:


  1. Figure out your scope and write it down.What does your community need?
    • What is causing its problems now?
    • What is most important to your community?
      • Environmental benefits?
      • Economic benefits?
      • Emergency assistance?
  2. Search through the different inventory software available.
    • Maybe an excel sheet actually works best for you.
    • Maybe you want a software designed specifically for tree inventory rather than general inventory.
    • Does it matter if it auto-generates reports?
    • Does it work offline in the infield or does it have to be connected to wifi?
    • Is it only available as a web service or is it a smartphone application?

I’d strongly recommend taking the time to review each inventory software package to find how they will work for your needs.  Check them out and find their strengths and weaknesses. We won’t address what those are in this post because those benefits will depend on the unique needs of your community.

Next week in 3 & 4 we’ll start going over the outline and writing of the plan and the risks involved.