South Burlington Engages with Students for Community Preparedness

May 9, 2014 - 3:23pm

Dorset Street and Swift Street, South Burlington, VT

The UCF Program assists municipalities and volunteer groups in the care, management, and stewardship of community trees. One of the Program’s current initiatives is to specifically assist Vermont communities in preparing for the invasive forest pest, the emerald ash borer (EAB), which is currently present in 20 states and 2 Canadian provinces. EAB is a threat to Vermont’s ash trees and the UCF Program works with other state and federal agencies to help municipalities develop a Forest Pest Preparedness Plan and Response Plan, which will outline a municipality’s goals and objectives and the actions it will take to meet the anticipated impact of EAB on its urban and community forests. As an initial and crucial step in the effort for comprehensive preparation for EAB, municipalities need to know the locations and current conditions of its public ash trees.

While South Burlington does have inventory data on its public trees, this project was initiated because of the need to specifically locate and check on ash trees and to collect GPS data (latitude and longitude) for mapping purposes. Professor Kimberly Wallin’s FOR 235: Forest Ecosystem Health course, offered each spring and required for all Forestry majors in UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment & Natural Resources, was ideal for this project because of its focus on invasive forest pests and its designation as a service-learning course; in addition to the South Burlington ash inventory project, students in the course also partnered with USDA APHIS to engage in public outreach and education across the state focused on EAB and other forest pests. 

The South Burlington ash inventory was conducted using the UCF Program’s inventory and reporting system. The ten students in the Forest Ecosystem Health course were trained in inventory methodology and in using handheld Juno units to take inventory data in late March 2-12 and subsequently spent approximately eleven hours in the field – over the course of four lab periods – to collect the data. The streets on which the students collected data were identified prior to the project by South Burlington Arborist and Tree Warden Craig Lambert. Since the majority of students in the class are forestry majors and have taken dendrology, they were proficient in ash tree identification, as well as tree measurement and health assessment. For each tree, the following fields were considered and collected:

  • Species
  • Diameter at breast height
  • Presence of forest health indicators (crown dieback, decay, bark splits, cankers, seams, woodpecker activity, exit holes, and/or root damage)
  • Overall condition of tree (good/fair/poor/dead)
  • If a consultation of the tree was needed
  • If the tree should be removed
  • GPS location of the tree

After the data was collected by the students and uploaded into the UCF inventory system, the students wrote a full report for South Burlington, including GIS layers of the ash tree locations.  Some highlights of the inventory results:

  • Data was collected on a total of 617 ash trees within the public right-of-way on 16 streets in South Burlington neighborhoods.
  • Of the 617 trees inventoried, an overwhelming majority were seen as being overall healthy: 552 were categorized as being in good condition, with 59, 5, and 1 were categorized as fair, poor, and dead, respectively.
  • Three-quarters of the trees inventoried fell into the 6-12’ diameter category, indicating a fairly young population of ash trees in South Burlington.
  • Woodpecker activity and exit holes are forest health indicators specifically linked to presence of invasive forest pests; no exit holes were found in South Burlington's ash trees and only two showed evidence of woodpecker activity. The low occurrence of these two categories is important to note for South Burlington’s EAB preparedness purposes.

Using the UVM students' report, South Burlington's Arborist and Tree Warden, Craig Lambert, expanded on the students' work and in the fall of 2013 develop an EAB Action plan for South Burlingon. Lambert's plan outlines that "South Burlington currently has roughly 760 Ash trees along its streets and in its parks, comprising roughly 13% of the cities’ street and park tree population.  To make matters worse, the vast majority of these trees are located in only 3 neighborhoods, Dorset Farms, Brand Farm and the Golf Course neighborhoods.  The mortality of ash tree in these neighborhoods will result in a number of streets with no street trees and the loss of 50-70% of the trees in the neighborhoods."  The EAB Action Plan outlines a number of strategies that Lambert will promote to prepare South Burlington for the arrival of EAB.  The plan concludes by laying out the importance of the planning process: "In the near future South Burlington will be faced with the prospect of removing and replacing a significant number of street trees due to the infestation of Emerald Ash Borer.  Adoption of some or all of the above listed management strategies will enable us to deal with this problem in a proactive manner, spreading costs over a longer time period."

Lessons Learned & Successes

This project demonstrates the effectiveness of engaging with students to move urban and community forestry initiatives and projects forward.  The Rubenstein School at UVM has a strong commitment to service-learning and other forms of experiential learning and has been collaborating with the VT UCF Program for a number of years to increase the capacity of Vermont's communities to manage, understand, and promote forestry locally.  

There were a number of lessons learned through this project that have informed subsequent university partnerships and VT UCF programming, including:

  • The handheld data collection units and inventory system that VT UCF had been developing at the time of this project were not user-friendly and presented a number of challenges for the students and UCF staff in data turnover and analysis.  Since this project we have significantly altered our approach to data collection, moving to a web-based application that will be available on smartphones and tablets.
  • For community tree inventories, having individuals with strong tree identification skills are essential to the accuracy and quality of the inventory data; engaging with UVM forestry students who have recently taken a dendrology course proved to be an effective way to ensure high tree identification skills.
  • Students move quickly!  The ten forestry students who worked on this project were quick learners and quick data-collectors.  The more preparation pre-inventory, the better, so that if the students (or other data collectors) finish the work for the day with time to spare, there is another neighborhood or street already identified that they can begin inventorying.  
  • The translation of the data is important for students; in addition to the inventory data collection, analysis, and report development, it is important to provide some means for communicating the results to the community.  The students involved in this project wanted to have an opportunity to present on their project; this is something that we now plan for when working with students.