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Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) Analysis

Urban tree canopy is the total area of a community’s urban forest often expressed as the proportion of land covered by trees. The aim of a 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. A UTC assessment can be used to:

  • set canopy goals;
  • identify locations for tree planting efforts;
  • establish urban forestry strategic plans;
  • understand patterns of environmental justice;
  • inform sustainability plans; and
  • justify budget increases for urban forestry programs.

Working with UW-Madison, a tree canopy assessment was completed for all municipal* and urban areas** in Wisconsin using aerial imagery. Land was classified into tree/shrub, grass/herbaceous (non-woody vegetation), impervious surface (like roads or roofs), wetland and water categories. Note that urban areas represent densely developed contiguous lands and are present throughout the state.

You can also request summary canopy datasheets [PDF] for your community by contacting the DNR.

i-Tree landscape tool

It is important to identify where there is available space for an expanded tree canopy as well as to prioritize the best locations to place trees. It is also important to market the benefits of the urban forest by emphasizing the value of tree canopy with regards to things such as air pollution removal and storm water reduction.

To find the most appropriate planting areas in your community and to calculate benefits of the urban forest, please use the U.S. Forest Service’s i-Tree Landscape tool [exit DNR]. Learn how to use the program by following these simple instructions [PDF].

Reports generated from i-Tree Landscape can be used to promote the benefits of your urban forest and to inform management decisions. It is suggested to copy and paste the report into a spreadsheet or word processing program for final use.

A map of Green Bay, Wisconsin, showing areas of high population and low tree canopy cover.

Users of the i-Tree Landscape tool can identify potential planting areas based on environmental and demographic variables. Dark red polygons in this image show areas of high population and low canopy cover in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

For those interested in downloading GIS data to pursue their own analysis, please visit the Forestry GIS data page.

Additional resources

*Municipal boundaries are the borders of cities or villages. Townships are not included unless they fall within an urban** boundary. For example, some of the Town of Grand Chute falls within the Green Bay urban area. Additionally, municipalities which incorporated since after 2014 are not included.

**Urban areas are those lands classified by the U.S. Census Bureau [exit DNR] as densely developed territories, based on population densities. Urban areas are not limited to southeast Wisconsin, Madison and Green Bay, but are present throughout the state. Per the Census Bureau: “Urban areas represent densely developed territory, and encompass residential, commercial and other non-residential urban land uses. To qualify as an urban area, the territory identified according to criteria must encompass at least 2,500 people.”