Urban Field Station Starter Kit

Map of USDA Forest Service Urban Research Locations

The Urban Field Station Starter Kit includes the following tools and resources that can be used separately or together to inform assessment, planning, and monitoring efforts to enhance urban forest health and stewardship in a community. 

The Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) suite of tools consists of high-resolution mapping methodology that integrates green and gray land cover data with critical social, economic, and environmental information to inform sustainability and resilience policy, planning, and management. UTC allows for the integration of high resolution green infrastructure data with parcel-level data; this can inform a wide variety of questions and outcomes linked to improving quality of life - ranging from safety and crime to public health and water quality. UTC is now used in dozens of cities, and has been used to create and inform tree planting and other goals that improve quality of life for millions of people.

i-Tree is a free software suite that provides communities with forest analysis and tools. i-Tree can help users understand the local, tangible ecosystem services that trees provide, linking forest management activities with environmental quality and community livability. It provides baseline data that can be used to set priorities for more effective decision-making (from school boards to county council budget committees). i-Tree software can estimate the benefits of the tree in your backyard or of the trees in an entire watershed area. Its versatility and user-friendly design make it applicable to provide key information on Capitol Hill or to third-grade classrooms.

Urban Forestry Inventory and Analysis (Urban FIA) is an extension of the traditional FIA program, and inventories and monitors urban forests, on both public and private land across the nation, with a special emphasis on America’s largest cities. It collects data on the values, land ownership objectives, and forest management practices of provide forest landowners. It even includes a pilot effort to understand urban wood flows to help support and grow the US wood industry. This data can illuminate regional or national trends in urban forest health and status. Right now, Urban FIA data is only available for select cities in the USA (similar to FIA, which is only conducted in the USA); however, the Forest Service/IP does often collaborate/consult with countries looking to develop or replicate a similar model for long-term national inventories / tracking.

  • A note on i-Tree vs. Urban FIA
    • I-Tree vs. Urban FIA: i-tree is a suite of tools to help management and advocacy (primarily by quantifying benefits of) the urban forest while uFIA is (Congressionally mandated, per 2014 Farm Bill) long-term monitoring program that produces a standard dataset across the country to track (and note trends in) the urban forest
    • I-Tree allows uFIA to report on ecosystem services (such as pollution, stormwater removal, etc.)

Healthy Trees Healthy Cities (HTHC) is a collaborative initiative to promote the long-term health and stewardship of urban trees by providing free tools and resources such as a smart-phone application ("app"), web-based project management dashboard, and training resources. HTHC is designed to support researchers, managers, and communities in the maintenance, protection and health assessment of city trees and forests nationwide. This national initiative continues to grow by creating and enhancing partnerships; providing training to local and regional organizations throughout the country to achieve urban forest management goals; and engaging diverse audiences across communities and sectors of the economy. A suite of tools is related to and supports the initiative, including a mobile app, webpage with personalized dashboard and a suite of related resources, including a series of training videos. HTHC enables tracking stewardship and care, conducting non-stressor specific evaluations of tree health, and detecting and tracking insects and diseases. Such data can prove critical to those trying to understand, track, and respond to the health of the urban forest in real-time and over time. The data can be aggregated and compared nationwide.

The Stewardship Mapping & Assessment Project (STEW-MAP) was developed by researchers at the Northern Research Station in NYC out of a recognition that taking stock of social infrastructure is just as important as knowing about a city’s biophysical infrastructure. In addition, public agencies face complex challenges and limited budgets; effective solutions may require productively involving and leveraging community capacity. The STEW-MAP tool enables users to study the social landscape of environmental stewardship activities to understand which groups or organizations are active and what kind of work they are doing across the urban landscape. By mapping this out, a user can get a sense of resources and gaps, and may be able to engage groups and partner organizations to help address a project need, be it a local stream clean-up or a comprehensive urban forest plan or canopy conservation project.

Urban forests are incredibly dynamic systems that change as people plant and remove trees. Researchers and professionals alike are often interested in assessing change over time in terms of mortality and growth rates, changes in tree health, and shifts in net population counts and species composition. For instance, managers may wonder about the rates of and factors associated with tree mortality in a planting program, or about whether new plantings are outpacing tree losses. Understanding such changes requires longitudinal data – that is, data tracking the fate of individual trees over time. Forest Service researchers and colleagues have produced new technical guides about urban tree monitoring to assist other researchers, urban forestry professionals, community urban greening advocates, and students who wish to monitor the trees that they plant and manage. Specifically, there is a Field Guide with detailed protocols for data collection, including accurate tree locations and repeated measurements of trunk diameter to assess growth, and a Resource Guide with tips and strategies for implementing monitoring projects. These strategies include how to design a longitudinal database and tips for effective field crew training and supervision. There are also five training videos and a webinar about these resources. These products serve as a launching point for anyone in urban forestry seeking to track trees over time.

The Climate Change Adaptation Workbook is specifically tailored to address climate change and community resiliency. The Workbook has a dedicated section evaluating forests in the urban environment. It provides a structured process to consider the potential effects of climate change and design land management and conservation actions that can help prepare for changing conditions. The process is flexible to accommodate a wide variety of geographic locations, ownership types, ecosystems and land uses, management goals, and project sizes. For example, does your community need to re-evaluate tree species that are more flood or drought tolerant?

Urban forest managers and allied professionals (such as planners, public works staff, tree wardens, and public health officials) need access to tools and information that provide guidance to reduce climate risks to urban forests and promote their beneficial functions. NIACS, American Forests, and partners developed a "menu" of actions that provide benefits for human health, climate adaptation, and carbon mitigation in urban forests.

The Vibrant Cities Lab is a collaborative website by the USDA Forest Service, American Forests and the National Association of Regional Councils, that provides current research, case studies, and best practices for implementing green infrastructure projects in communities

Last Modified: March 10, 2022