Each autumn, we admire trees for their flame and russet beauty. But the trees surrounding us provide valuable services in all seasons by enhancing property values, providing wildlife habitat, improving water quality, saving energy, lowering city summer temperatures, and reducing air pollution.
Now residents and policymakers from 26 communities across Virginia can use a specially developed digital tool to view and access the tree canopy covering their own city or neighborhood. Through a partnership with the Virginia Department of Forestry, faculty members at the Virginia Geospatial Extension Program based in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment have developed the Urban Tree Canopy Mapperhttp://www.utcmapper.frec.vt.edu/.
The user-friendly tool allows both professionals and average citizens to zoom in for views and create custom maps of the urban tree canopy in their communities. This critically important tool can be useful and practical for everyone.
“It is imperative that we engage local community members and support their efforts to better understand the current extent of their urban forests,” said Associate Professor and Geospatial Extension Specialist John McGee. “This information is an important first step to facilitate local and state efforts to manage and potentially grow urban forests, thereby increasing the benefits associated with urban trees.”
Expanding the urban tree canopy results in many benefits — improvements in water quality, decreases in air pollution, decreases in heating and cooling costs, and an increased quality of life for residents. More and more cities and towns are developing plans for increasing and maintaining a quality tree canopy to provide environmental, economic, and social benefits.
McGee has been working with fellow Virginia Tech faculty members Eric Wiseman, Susan Day, and Randy Wynne, in partnership with the Conservation Management Institute, to develop the mapper. To date, the researchers have mapped the tree canopy for 26 Virginia communities, from Arlington to Virginia Beach to Abingdon in southwestern Virginia.