A Tool for Urban Forestry

Tom Tidwell, Chief
Carpenter’s Woods, ARRA site
Philadelphia, PA
— March 10, 2011

It’s been great to see what is happening here in Philadelphia, including all the outstanding work being done to restore ecosystems at Fairmount Park.

Here in Philadelphia and across the nation, many ecosystems are in need of repair. Our nation relies on its forests for a whole range of benefits—for scenic beauty, clean air and water, habitat for fish and wildlife, opportunities for outdoor recreation, and more. Here in Carpenter’s Woods, you can see those benefits, and you can also see what we are doing to restore healthy, resilient forests so we can sustain those benefits for future generations.

These are the hardest working trees in America. Urban forests are working for us every day—capturing stormwater, cleaning our air and drinking water, and providing us with huge energy savings. But these forests are under stress, especially in an era of climate change. It will take all of us, working across landscapes, sharing resources and building on each other’s strengths, to sustain and restore healthy, resilient forest ecosystems for future generations.

The restoration work at Fairmount Park is a shining example of that kind of partnership work on a landscape scale. Our city/federal partnership is helping Philadelphia to meet its goals. This is a model of landscape-scale conservation—of a great city capitalizing on federal resources, including two Forest Service units right here in the Philadelphia area, the Northern Research Station and the Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry. Here in this park, federal recovery funds are creating jobs for local citizens and improving habitat ahead of spring migration.

At the Forest Service, our mission goes well beyond national forest management. As I mentioned earlier, our nation has about 750 million acres of forest, most of which—about two-thirds—are in state, private, and municipal landownership. The Forest Service is charged by law with helping the owners and managers of these lands to keep their lands forested and sustainably managed. That includes roughly 100 million acres of urban forest. Here in the Greater Philadelphia Region, we support state, private, and urban forestry through our Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry organization.

Even more: Sustainable forest management depends on sound science. Forest landowners need to understand how ecosystems work and what the ecological trends are, especially in order to help their forests adapt to the effects of a changing climate. The Forest Service is charged by law with providing forest-related science, including science support for state, private, and urban forestry. Here in the Greater Philadelphia Region and elsewhere across the Northeast and Midwest, we do that through our Northern Research Station.

Working with partners, Forest Service scientists have developed a great tool for supporting urban forestry. It’s called i-Tree, and it’s really a whole suite of science-based tools. This software suite is in the public domain. It can be found online, and it’s easy to use. It can help people understand the value they get from urban forests in terms of carbon storage, pollution control, stormwater runoff, and other benefits. Urban planners can use i-Tree to make investment decisions affecting urban forests.

Together with our partners, we released the first generation of i-Tree in 2006. Since then, its popularity has spread across the nation and around the world—i-Tree now has almost 7,300 users worldwide. The Forest Service is working with cooperators to further develop this tool and provide technical support. Our partners include the Davey Tree Expert Company, the National Arbor Day Foundation, the Society of Municipal Arborists, the International Society of Arboriculture, and Casey Trees. It’s another great example of a public/private partnership to support urban forestry, here in Philadelphia and around the world.

So it is only fitting, in this city and this park, to announce the release of a new generation of i-Tree. Today, I am pleased to announce the release of i-Tree, version 4. This next generation includes three new tools:

  1. First, i-Tree Design. This is a simple and accessible online tool for private homeowners to use in deciding what trees to choose and where to plant them around their homes to maximize energy savings.
  2. Second, i-Tree Canopy. This tool offers urban planners and forest managers a simple, quick, and inexpensive way to accurately estimate tree canopy and other cover types.
  3. Finally, i-Tree Hydro. This is a new application designed for natural resource managers and others interested in modeling the watershed-scale effects that vegetation has on local hydrology and water quality.

Philadelphia’s stormwater management plan is already serving as a green example for other cities and communities, and trees are playing a major role in that plan. i-Tree can help other cities manage stormwater in a way that will also beautify their neighborhoods, just as Philadelphia has.

If you get a chance, take a look at the dollar value on the tag over there on that tree. That dollar value was generated by i-Tree. Then multiply that value by 2 million, the number of trees here in Philadelphia. That enormous sum approximates the value of urban forests, reflecting the power of science to help us understand that value.

I would now like to present Deputy Mayor DiBerardinis [dee-bear-ar-DEE-niss] with the very first copy of the new i-Tree, version 4. I am sure that it will help you continue the outstanding work underway here in Philadelphia.