WPB tracks our urban forest along Milwaukee Avenue

Date: 
06/20/2011
NickMartinUsesGPS

A minimum of four satellites were used to pinpoint the exact location of each tree

"Four men armed with GPS devices were taking aim at trees in Wicker Park and Bucktown recently," reports Christine Esposito of Terracom. 

Not to worry, they came in peace. In fact, their visit was part of a high-tech project launched by WPB (Special Service Area #33) to enable them to better care for the roughly 1,300 trees that line its streets.

So who were they, and what were they doing? They were certified arborists with Bartlett Tree Experts, an international company whose local base is in Northbrook. They were conducting an inventory of the trees that will result in a state-of-the-art management plan for WPB's urban forest.

"Early on, WPB created a master plan, and it talks about caring for and preserving the urban forest," said David Ginople, chair of WPB. "And we started with an inventory of our trees. But it makes no suggestion for the trees' care and their long-term management. It wasn't as dynamic as we felt we needed."

A Living, Working Plan

"The primary goal of the inventory is to be able to create a living, working management plan for WPB trees, said Erik Grossnickle, a certified arborist and arborist representative with Bartlett Tree Experts, which developed the high-tech system and will be implementing the management plan.

"First we create a digital database that includes health condition, pruning needs, soil management considerations, the presence of insect pests, nearby buildings and hardscape that could impact the trees and more," says Grossnickle. "Then we assign a treatment priority to each one. So with the click of a key, I get a color-coded map of all WPB's top-priority trees and see what needs to be done for them. It's a valuable management - and budgeting - tool. Plus we can continually update the database as things change.

"It's a sustainable way to manage WPB's trees, enabling us to monitor the tree resource and pre-empt potential problems."

Satellites and Trees

FaasCollectsData

Certified arborist Jarad Faas from Barlett Tree Experts, collects data

The foundation for this multifaceted management plan is the data collection. Bartlett uses mapping-grade GPS data collectors to precisely record the location of each tree to an accuracy of less than 3 feet. The handheld collector gathers information from a minimum of four satellites to pinpoint the location. (The WPB data collection was the first time the arborists used both US and Russian satellites.)

The arborists also record more than two dozen observations and recommendations in the collector, from pruning needs, defects and any cabling needs, to height, maturity and proximity to sidewalks. This enables them to prioritize their care in the management plan.

"Before we would use available budget each year to care for trees in a certain four-block area," says David Ginople. "If we had trees just outside of that designated area that needed urgent attention, they wouldn't receive it. Now, with the management plan, we can decide which trees to take care of in any given year based on their care needs. And that includes pest management."

The management plan includes integrated pest management, an environmentally sensitive and cost-effective approach that uses knowledge of pests' life cycles, how pests interact with the environment, predator insects, among other tools, to prevent or minimize infestations.

Looking Ahead

"In addition to the tree care aspect, we hope to be able to use the management plan as an educational tool," says David. "The plan includes statistics about the trees' contributions and value. Maybe we could do something along the lines of what the City and Morton Arboretum did for Arbor Day this year. They attached tags to downtown trees that show their economic value.

"The City has used the WPB as an example of what's possible through community efforts. We want to keep raising the bar in caring for the urban forest."

Photos courtesy of Bartlett Tree Experts

For more information: WPB urban forest

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