Image Source: Flickr. By: Tolka Rover.

Amber Bieg is on a mission: to account for every single tree in San Francisco.

It all started 5 years ago when Bieg was planting trees in the North Beach area of San Francisco. She realized that “it was really inefficient for one individual, or even a group, to go out with GPS units and survey trees”. So, she started on a plan to get the whole community involved. Bieg partnered up with ecologist, Kelaine Vargas, and the Urban Forest Map project was born.

The idea of Urban Forest Map combines citizen science and local data projects, and fortunately for your average citizen, it’s all really simple. All you have to do is go out and pick a tree—any tree in San Francisco—and collect information about it, such as where it’s located, the diameter of the trunk, and what it looks like. The website provides information and instruction on how to do all of this, so if you don’t really know much about trees, that’s okay! Then, you add the information to the website.

Apart from educating the community through the project, there are a couple other reasons behind it. When it comes to local governments doing all the tree work, the cost is not cheap. Bieg estimates tree surveys cost about $3 per tree. She explained:

“If you are in LA and you have 10 million trees, you’re spending 30 million dollars. That’s bigger than the entire urban forestry budget.”

Another issue is the number of trees may be off—by a lot. According to Bieg, “it’s projected that San Francisco has hundreds of thousands of trees, and we only have 90,000 in the database. We’re counting on people to help us improve that data”.

So, what’s the purpose of this giant, community tree surveying project? Well, the more information available about the trees, the easier it will be to design better policies. On top of that, Bieg and others involved will be able to determine the environmental benefits provided by the trees, such as how many pounds of air pollutants they capture, how many tons of CO2 they are removing from the atmosphere, and how many gallons of storm water they are filtering. It will also aid with zoning and planning, conservation, climate science, and future planting projects.

Oh, and it’s very likely the project will expand to other cities. NYC is potentially the next one on the list.

To find out more about the Urban Forest Map and help out with the project, check out the official site here.

By Heidi Marshall