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Study to Provide New Data on the Benefits of Philadelphia`s Urban Forest

PHILADELPHIA, PA, May 22, 2012 - From city parks to backyards and boulevards, Philadelphia trees are not only beautiful, they are working hard to improve air quality and intercept storm water, among other benefits. This summer, U.S. Forest Service scientists will quantify the ecological benefits of the City’s urban forest by collecting data on the size and condition of trees.

“Urban forests are crucial to the livability of cities and suburbs, and they play an essential role in the ecosystem,” according to Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. “With studies such as the Urban Ecosystem Assessment, the Forest Service is contributing to healthier and more sustainable communities.”

The Urban Ecosystem Assessment is the first project conducted by the Forest Service’s new Philadelphia Field Station. Forest Service researchers and Pennsylvania Horticultural Society staff will train college students and graduates to establish and collect data on permanent field plots that will be monitored for change over time.

“PHS is very excited to host the U.S. Forest Service Field Station in Philadelphia and to participate in this important study, which will help us understand the benefits and impact of trees in the urban environment,” said PHS President Drew Becher.

The Urban Ecosystem Assessment will generate fresh information on the diversity, size, and condition of trees in 200 random sites across the city, including public and private property. The data will be used to calculate the overall benefits, or “services,” the urban forest provides to public health and the economy, including  air quality, energy conservation, and property value. A similar study is being conducted in New Castle County in Delaware.

 “This first study by the Forest Service in Philadelphia will help us convey the great value that our natural beauty brings to residents,” said Deputy Mayor/Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis. “From this information, we can begin to set priorities and plan for its long-term protection.”

The 200 sites identified for the study include private land. The City is currently mailing notices asking landowners for permission for research crews to enter private property. Crews will need about one hour to measure trees and collect information. Crews will not enter homes, and they will not damage any trees in the course of data collection. Notices are only being sent to individuals whose land is among the 200 sites selected for the study. 

“This is a first-of-its kind project for the City of Philadelphia, and the information it produces will help city officials as well as private landowners manage trees more efficiently and better understand the benefits urban trees provide,” according to Dave Nowak, a project leader and research forester for the Northern Research Station. “Property owners can support this effort by allowing our crews brief access to their land,” Nowak said.

The study, which will be conducted in cooperation with the city, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, will also evaluate the potential risk and vulnerability of city trees to insect and diseases.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. The mission of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.