Proposed grant allows Columbia to understand benefits of urban forests

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 | 6:00 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – When the economy is down, it's sometimes hard to know where to turn. Trees can provide a little relief.

Ann Koenig, an urban forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said urban forests provide economic benefits and a tree's value increases every year.

If Columbia is going to realize the full benefit of its trees, though, it has to know "the health of its urban forest," city aborist Chad Herwald said.

That's why the conservation department is offering the city a Tree Resource Improvement and Maintenance grant that would pay for the collection and analysis of data on the city's trees, beginning in the Old Southwest neighborhood.

Herwald said there is no particular reason the area was chosen over others, but he noted that it's where some of the city's oldest trees can be found. Older trees have a greater risk of health issues, and they present more hazards.

Initial data collected will focus on tree species, age and health. Herwald hopes to create a priority list for trees that need pruning or for removing those that are unhealthy.

Once the initial inventory is done, the city will do an i-Tree Streets analysis. A memo to the City Council from Public Works Director John Glascock described i-Tree as a software suite "that provides urban forestry analysis and benefits assessment tools."

Koenig said i-Tree will provide information on the economic benefits of trees, including their ability to reduce air pollution, boost property values and save energy by providing shade. Herwald said the analysis will also show which parts of the city need more trees.

The city also would plug the information into its natural resources inventory, which opens up a veritable forest of opportunities. That would allow the city, for example, to identify which species of trees were most affected by a natural disaster. Or, if an exotic insect or disease is targeting certain species of trees, the city would be able to map where such trees are. Herwald said this will make the city more efficient, allowing it to prioritize where to send workers.

In the end, Koenig said, "It helps you manage your urban forest."

The city would match the $10,000 grant with $2,500 of its own.

The conservation department also is offering Columbia a $2,100 grant to provide forestry training for employees of the Parks and Recreation Department. Four workers will attend the 2012 conference of the Midwestern Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture.

"It's a really great step forward for Columbia that they are doing an analysis of their street trees," Koenig said.

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