Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Why count trees? Volunteer motivations and experiences with tree monitoring in New York City



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Northern Research Station


Arboriculture & Urban Forestry. 44(2): 59–72.


Volunteer programs can benefit from a deeper understanding of the motivations and experiences of people engaged in citizen science. Research to date has studied motivations of citizen scientists and tree-planting volunteers. Less work has focused on tree-monitoring volunteers, a role that is rapidly increasing as more cities involve the public in monitoring the urban forest. Researchers conducted an assessment of volunteers (n = 636 respondents) of the TreesCount! 2015 street tree census in New York City, New York, U.S., to understand volunteers' demographics, motivations, experiences, and levels of civic engagement. Semistructured interviews (n = 40) were also conducted on a subset of the initial assessment respondents, to deepen understanding of these factors. Like tree-planting volunteers in previous studies, volunteers were more likely to be highly educated, female, white, and with high income levels. Top self-identified motivations for participation included personal values, wanting to contribute, and a desire for education or learning. Demographics correlated with different motivations, suggesting opportunities for targeting recruitment efforts to better reach underrepresented populations. Researchers also found motivations shifted slightly in post-census interviews, also identifying a new theme of exploring the city. Street-tree monitoring presents opportunities for contributing to one's community or city, and for learning about trees and urban nature, suggesting these acts of engagement can both strengthen connections to social-ecological systems and provide personal benefits. At the same time, considering volunteer motivations, experiences, and outcomes when designing programs can positively affect participation turnout, effort, and retention.


Johnson, Michelle L.; Campbell, Lindsay K.; Svendsen, Erika S.; Silva, Philip. 2018. Why count trees? Volunteer motivations and experiences with tree monitoring in New York City. Arboriculture & Urban Forestry. 44(2): 59–72.

Publication Notes

  • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.