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Northern Research Station
11 Campus Blvd., Suite 200
Newtown Square, PA 19073
(610) 557-4017
(610) 557-4132 TTY/TDD

Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

Urban Tree Canopy

Urban Tree Canopy Assessment

[Photo] A city street with an arching tree canopyToday, many communities are looking to become more sustainable and livable.  Improving a city’s tree canopy (i.e. tree cover) can have numerous benefits, from reducing summer peak temperatures to improving social ties among neighbors.  These factors can help  a community attract businesses and residents. 

The Urban Tree Canopy approach and protocols were invented by the U.S. Forest Service in 2006 to map and quantify landcover for Baltimore City.  This approach involves the development and integration of hi-resolution landcover ( <2’) and hi-resolution ownership (parcel) data from parcel to regional scales. The aim of the Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) assessment is to help decision makers understand their urban forest resources, particularly the amount of tree canopy that currently exists and the amount that could exist at multiple scales.  The UTC assessment protocols have since been used by the Chesapeake Conservancy to help monitor and improve Chesapeake Bay health.  The UTC assessment protocols have also been applied to dozens of counties, cities, and towns in the United States and Canada, covering approximately 8.5 million acres, home to over 37 million people. The information from these assessments has been used to inform UTC goals, prioritize locations for tree planting efforts, establish urban forestry master plans, understand patterns of environmental justice, inform sustainability plans, and justify budget increases for urban forestry programs.  Learn more by browsing through our many completed UTC publications and reports.

UTC Prioritizations

UTC assessments provide urban resource managers with vital information to begin the goal setting and planning processes.  However, the results may also lead to further questions like:

  • Where is it socially desirable to plant trees? Or what is the Preferable Tree Canopy?
  • Where is it financially efficient to plant trees?  Or what is the Potential Tree Canopy?

[image:] Cover from Prioritization Explanation reportThe NYC Urban Field Station has developed a set of UTC Prioritization tools that uses a range of urban ecological and social information to guide tree planting efforts.  This tool set  now accompanies UTC analyses.  Learn more about how these tools have been developed in New York City and applied in Baltimore.

In 2012 the University of Vermont's Spatial Analysis Laboratory, with support from the Northern Research Station, National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council, and the City of New York, published A Report on the City of New York’s Existing and Possible Tree Canopy (7 mb pdf).

UTC Markets

While Assessments provide answers about canopy inventory, and Prioritizations inform implantation of canopy goals, UTC Markets strive to improve communication among key stakeholder groups. A goal of UTC Markets is to match the message and the messenger to the audience of interest. This portion of the UTC Toolbox is in active development

Using LiDAR to Quantify the Urban Tree Canopy

[image:] cover from LiDAR reportNew York City acquired LiDAR in the spring of 2010. These data will dramatically improve NYC's urban forest managers' ability to account for the trees they care for, by allowing for more detailed and accurate measurements of urban tree canopy (UTC).  Learn more about LiDAR and how it can be used to map trees in NYC. (2.5 mb pdf)

Recognizing the importance of LiDAR for a variety of scientific and management objectives, the New York City Mayor's Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability organized a workshop in August 2010.  Designed to leverage the City's investment in high resolution geospatial data, the event educated many city employees about LiDAR and its potential applications. Jarlath O'Neil-Dunne (a USDA Forest Service Geospatial Analyst) presented on his experiences at the University of Vermont's Spatial Analysis Lab working with LiDAR data. R ecordings of his talks may be seen as videos:        

Research Highlights


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Last Modified: 05/16/2017