OpenTreeMap: Tools for Collaborative Urban Forestry
The USDA Forest Service indicates that nearly 80% of the entire United States population lives in urban areas and depends on the essential ecological, economic and social benefits provided by the urban forest. Some of these benefits include: - Trees improve air quality by lowering air temperatures, altering emissions from building energy use and other sources, and removing air pollutants through their leaves. - By storing carbon and reducing carbon emissions from power plants through lowered energy use, urban trees have a far-reaching impact on global climate change. - The preponderance of asphalt and concrete in urban settings causes a "heat island" effect that increases urban air temperatures by several degrees. A shaded urban neighborhood provides heat island mitigation that reduces business and household energy use. - The reduction in expansion/contraction of asphalt caused by the shade from urban street trees can increase pavement life and reduce road maintenance costs, thus providing a synergistic reduction in the use of petroleum products that are found in roadway overlays. - Trees intercept rain on their leaf, branch and stem surfaces and by absorbing water through their roots. For every 5% increase in tree cover in urban communities, there is a 2% reduction in stormwater runoff and its corresponding contaminants that would otherwise enter local waterways as well as burden treatment plants. An important first step in the urban forest management process is the completion of a comprehensive tree inventory that documents the location and condition of existing trees and tree planting sites in a community. Despite the proven importance of the urban forest, the agencies responsible for tree management in the United States are frequently under-funded, short-staffed and their priorities are necessarily driven by weather damage, impact on electrical lines and other reactive activities. In many communities, citizens, students and non-profit organizations that are passionate about greening their communities could potentially supplement the government activities by planting and caring for trees. However, they lack the necessary tools they need to work together effectively, share critical information, and document ongoing progress. OpenTreeMap is a wiki-inspired tree inventory system that will address these issues by enabling both government and non-government stakeholder groups to collaborate in a more effective and consistent manner, thus making tree inventories widely available and more affordable for interested communities nationwide. A mobile version of the application will leverage a smart phone's GPS for tree location data and provide the ability to capture and upload digital photographs of each tree for posting on the website or for species identification purposes. OpenTreeMap calculates the benefits of each tree on the surrounding air and water quality. In addition to using this data to maintain existing trees, communities can also evaluate cost benefits by species that will guide future tree planting efforts and potentially address environmental issues specific to a street or neighborhood.
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