Urban Tree Canopy Assessments in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

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Virginia Tech

An urban tree canopy assessment (UTCA) is a new technology that can inform management decisions to optimize the economic, social and environmental benefits provided by urban forests. A UTCA uses remote sensing to create a comprehensive spatial snapshot of a locality's land cover, classified at a very fine scale (1 meter or less). Over the past decade, UTCAs have been conducted for numerous localities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (CBW) as part of a strategy to enhance urban tree canopy (UTC) and reduce stormwater runoff that pollutes the Chesapeake Bay. Our research examined how local governments employ these UTCAs and identified barriers to and drivers of UTCA use for urban forest planning and management. We conducted a web-based survey of all localities in the CBW with populations over 2,500 for which a UTCA existed as of May 2013. We found that 33% of respondents reported being unaware that a UTCA existed for their locality. Even so, survey results showed that localities aware of their UTCA were using it to establish UTC goals, create and implement strategies to achieve those goals, and monitoring progress towards UTC goals. Survey localities were segmented based on how they reported using their UTCA to provide insight on possible outreach and technical assistance strategies that might improve future UTCA use. Overall, we found that larger localities with more developed urban forestry programs use their UTCA more frequently. However, we found several exceptions, suggesting that UTCAs could be an important catalyst for expanding municipal urban forestry programs.

Urban forestry, urban planning, green infrastructure, land cover, technology adoption