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New inventory of 9,000 campus trees to guide Virginia Tech planning decisions

November 21, 2017

cnre-peterstewart
Urban forestry graduate student Peter Stewart is inventorying 9,000 campus trees. Each tree is identified, photographed, measured, and evaluated for health and structure.

Virginia Tech will soon have an inventory of nearly 9,000 trees on campus, thanks to a collaborative effort between the College of Natural Resources and Environment and the Facilities Department.

The campus tree inventory will be used to monitor tree health and growth, and help university planners make decisions about development.

In 2006, Eric Wiseman, associate professor of urban forestry and arboriculture in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, began collecting data on campus trees. For the next four years, urban forestry students made their way across campus, inventorying most of the trees within the campus’ central core.

Those data were entered into an online web map, accessible to the campus community. While the web map is still active, Wiseman cautions that the data may not be completely accurate.

“Enemy number one for a tree inventory is the passage of time,” Wiseman said. “Trees die, they get cut down, conditions change, and new ones are planted. That’s why we wanted to develop a new tree inventory that could be used by various offices on campus.”

In conjunction with the Office of University Planning within the Facilities Department, Wiseman recruited Peter Stewart, a graduate student in urban forestry from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to work on the project.

“Peter has 10 years of experience as an arborist, and he has experience with geographic information systems, so he’s not only updating our inventory but adding to it,” said Jack Rosenberger, the Office of University Planning’s landscape architect. “He’s doing an amazing job collecting data, and he’s doing it more quickly than we thought.”

Since August, Stewart has inventoried more than 3,500 trees on campus. Each tree is identified, photographed, measured, and evaluated for health and structure, and the information is uploaded to the campus database.

“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the diversity of trees on campus,” Stewart said. “Even having lived just a few hours south of here, there have been plenty of species in this region that I wasn’t familiar with.”

According to Rosenberger, the data will not only expand the inventory of trees on campus but will tie directly into the Facilities Department’s work order system to allow for greater functionality.

“Each tree will have a unique identification number, so whenever a tree needs work done, the grounds staff will be able to see exactly which ones need work and can keep track of it in that system,” he said.

The inventory will also be used by the university to aid in decision-making about construction and landscaping on campus. It will be especially valuable for implementing Virginia Tech’s 2017 Master Plan, which includes the development of new facilities.

“If our data are accurate, we can overlay our tree map on proposed designs early in the process to help with decisions like building location and orientation and site plan features so we don’t remove valuable trees,” Rosenberger explained. “At some point, we hope to use analytical tools to reveal the dollar value of the trees on campus, the ecological systems benefits, and the health benefits of our trees. Through other analytical measures, we can assess which trees thrive in certain scenarios and which ones don’t, so we can better plan their placement in the future.”

Stewart added, “Building this map will also be useful for getting a snapshot of the overall health and composition of the forest. It will help the university make good decisions about what species to plant, which trees to preserve, and what issues can be addressed through maintenance.”

“It’s been a really positive experience for everyone,” Rosenberger concluded. “We’re all working really well together. Peter has been amazing, and Eric has been so good at dropping what he’s doing and answering our questions. It’s been a group effort.”

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