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Urban Forest Inventory and Analysis (UFIA)

The Urban Forest Inventory and Analysis (UFIA) program in Wisconsin is a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Wisconsin DNR to inventory trees in urban settings. The collected data provides key insights into the composition, health and trends of the state's urban forests.

Seventy-five field plots were established in 2015 in the Madison and Milwaukee metro areas, marking the formal beginning of the UFIA program in the state. The program was then expanded in 2016 to sample urban forests throughout Wisconsin. Over seven years, around 1,300 field plots will be established in census-defined urban areas of the state [PDF]. Each of the sites will then be revisited every seven years, enabling the assessment of changes over time.

The primary purpose of the Wisconsin Urban Forest Assessment Program (WisUFA) is to collect and report on the condition of Wisconsin's urban forests in a statistically sound manner on an annual and periodic basis. The information will be used to track the status and trends in urban forest canopy, extent, diversity, growth, mortality, habitat and overall health. This data will also be used to identify and track the environmental, economic and social benefits and services provided. WisUFA will deliver unbiased, reliable information at multiple scales with the ability to incorporate regional and statewide trends. The assessment will also assist in the planning, management and monitoring of Wisconsin's urban forest resource.

National effort

Since 1930, the U.S. Forest Service has been surveying, analyzing and reporting on the health and productivity of America's forests, including those in Wisconsin. Known as the Forest Inventory and Analysis [exit DNR], this Forest Service program works in partnership with the nation's state forestry agencies, universities and non-governmental organizations to serve as the nation's and the state's forest census.

Urban forests were not covered by a similar inventory and monitoring system like rural forests, despite the benefits of the urban forest and the need to know more about them. An initiative in the federal 2014 Farm Bill called for an expansion of the FIA program to include sampling of the nation's urban forests. With experience gained from past urban pilot studies, FIA has teamed up with i-Tree [exit DNR] to implement an annualized inventory of trees in urban settings.

The U.S. Forest Service is initially focusing national efforts on metropolitan areas with populations greater than 200,000. In 2014 the first UFIA plots were established and measured in Baltimore, Maryland and Austin, Texas. There are now more than 35 cities where UFIA is pursued, with some states (like Wisconsin) collecting data across all urban areas, not just their major cities.

Traditionally, the focus of urban forestry programs has been aimed at managing public street and park trees. As we continue to learn about the social, health, environmental, aesthetic and monetary benefits of urban trees, it is essential to think at the canopy level which includes both public and private trees. The WisUFA program will be assessing and monitoring the urban forest across ownerships.

Purpose

Trees provide benefits and services regardless of where they occur. All trees sequester carbon, provide habitat, filter water, stabilize soils, provide biomass, enhance biodiversity and create jobs. Some trees also conserve energy and improve human health and safety. By sampling the characteristics of urban trees, these services can be quantified, valued and their management consequences evaluated. Elected officials, planners, land managers and private property owners can use this information to help maximize the benefits of their trees and accomplish their goals for their communities and properties.

Goals

The overall inventory and assessment goals are to:

  • provide information on the amount, composition, condition and health of the forest canopy and track changes over time;
  • effectively integrate data, methods and tools in the planning, prioritizing and decision making processes;
  • develop and maintain data input, models and methods for urban forestry analysis and planning; and
  • develop up-to-date and easy-to-use information products and services for land managers, industry and public use.

Data components

No one tool is sufficient to measure all the variables needed to meet the preliminary goals of WisUFA. Three components have been identified to help gather the data necessary to meet those goals. They include:

  • a plot-based continuous inventory through the Urban Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (UFIA);
  • an urban tree canopy (UTC) assessment derived from remotely sensed data; and
  • a Wisconsin Community Tree Map (CTM) including inventories from municipalities, communities and non-profit organizations throughout the state.

Wisconsin Urban Landowner Survey

Over 70% of Wisconsin’s residents live in urban areas, which cover 2.56 million acres of land and contain an estimated 42 million trees. A majority of Wisconsin's 42 million urban trees, 69%, grow in residential areas and will continue to face threats from storm events, development, disease and pests such as emerald ash borer. Urban trees provide valuable benefits for the people who live and work in cities and suburbs, such as improving air quality, reducing energy costs and absorbing storm water, along with many physical and mental health benefits.

As part of a joint project involving the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Extension and the U.S. Forest Service, 6,000 surveys were sent to private residential landowners in January 2017. These landowners included apartment and condo owners, single-family homeowners and multi-family housing unit owners across four urban areas—Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee and Wausau.

More than 1,700 landowners responded to the survey, primarily single-family homeowners, providing insights about their attitudes toward tree care, concerns about tree risks and their tree management choices such as pruning and planting.

In addition to piloting an urban form of the long-running National Woodland Owner Survey (NWOS) [exit DNR] with the U.S. Forest Service, the Wisconsin survey is providing valuable insights for Wisconsin’s urban communities. Urban forestry programs and community tree care groups will be able to use insights from the survey to better understand the perspectives and needs of urban homeowners to help them take steps to be active stewards of their trees.

Read the full report, Communicating More Effectively about Urban Forestry [exit DNR].