Trees as Indicators of a Community’s Ecological Health
Community ecology is more complex than tree cover. Trees, which make up the majority of the green in a community’s green infrastructure, are good indicators of the health of that community’s ecosystem. When trees are large and healthy, the ecological systems that support them, including soils, air and water systems, are also healthy. In turn, healthy trees provide valuable environmental benefits.
The Center for Environment & Society (CES) at Washington College is working in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT) on Community Greening Initiatives in four Kent County communities: starting in Chestertown in 2008, then continuing the program in Millington, Betterton, and Rock Hall (see map at right).
CES acquired Quick-bird satellite images of each municipality which were run through the Center’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) laboratory. Students and staff working in the GIS lab were able to map the tree canopy of each town using ArcGIS software. At right is a section of the Chestertown satellite image after the tree canopy was identified and mapped. It was determined that Chestertown has a 24% tree canopy. The US Forest Service recommends a minimum 40% tree canopy for supporting environmentally healthy communities.
CES worked with students from Chestertown Middle School, as well as local residents, the Town Manager’s staff, and students from Washington College in a tree-planting demonstration. Eighty-six trees were planted near the middle school as well as in Rolling Road park on the north end of town. CES Research Associate Dr. Carl Gallegos, who is also a forester, also helped train volunteers from the four towns in methods for taking an inventory of each town’s street trees.
USDA Forest Service
CES acquired i-Tree software from the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. i-Tree is a state-of-the-art software suite that provides Town Managers with the tools to analyze community forests. For example, using this software CES determined that Chestertown’s trees provide annual environmental benefits equal to $75.63 per tree, and $44.10 per resident.
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