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Digital Tool Gives Public Access to Urban Forest Canopy


Tree lined urban street and sidewalk The Urban Tree Canopy Mapper enables users to view the tree canopy coverage in 26 communities across Virginia.

May 15, 2013 – Through a partnership with the Virginia Department of Forestry, faculty members in the college have developed the Urban Tree Canopy Mapper — a user-friendly, digital tool to view the tree canopy in 26 communities across the state. Both professionals and average citizens can use the free Web-based program to zoom in for close-up views of cities, towns, or neighborhoods and create custom maps of selected areas.

“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.”

McGee worked with fellow faculty members Eric Wiseman, Susan Day, and Randy Wynne, in partnership with the Conservation Management Institute, to develop the mapper. The 26 localities — from Arlington to Virginia Beach to Abingdon — are developing management plans to maintain or increase their urban tree canopy coverage, which could result in improvements in water quality, decreases in air pollution and in heating and cooling costs, and an increased quality of life for residents.

“The mapper empowers communities to advocate and plan for their urban forests with a sophisticated yet highly accessible Web tool,” stated Wiseman. “It is a powerful tool for educating both citizens and policy makers about the benefits of urban tree canopy.”

Users can toggle among different map options and view neighborhoods or examine a community as a whole. In addition, the mapper also provides analytical tools to help people better understand the canopy coverage. For instance, they can delineate an area, such as their neighborhood, and find out the percentage of tree canopy coverage.

“This project could not have been completed without the many partners who see the value of what we are working for,” said Barbara White, urban forester for the Virginia Department of Forestry. “The Chesapeake Bay Program, U.S. Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program all contributed project funding.”

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