First of all Steve, tell us about your background in GIS and Arboriculture
At the University of Oregon, my alma mater, the Environmental Science degree is multidisciplinary. That is to say that there are few actual "Environmental Science 204" courses in the class list. Instead, you take a very thorough mix of chemistry, biology, geology, statistics, and geography classes which when combined together over your 4 years yield the necessary credits to earn that particular degree. Late in my college career, I noticed that I was only a few courses away from being able to double-major in both Environmental Science and Geography. So I took a cartography course, as well as 2 terms of GIS. Though GIS was fascinating to take, my goal in the workplace was to be more field-study and ecosystem research oriented. I really wanted to get into restoration ecology, specifically, for a career. Since then, I have done a fair amount of restoration over the years, as well as being an arborist and performing tree inventories, but everything kept coming back to using GIS as a tool to help accomplish a great many tasks, from vegetative community mapping, to wetland delineation and mitigation, and even as far as producing maps of FEMA floodplains and soil series.
At this point, I can't imagine NOT incorporating GIS into nearly any project, because it is such a useful analysis and tracking tool.
How many tree inventories have you done?
If you just count large municipal tree inventories and park district tree inventories, about 20. If you count inventories that were done for developers that were necessary to comply with local tree ordinances and tree protection plans, more like 50. If you count every time I've used GIS and GPS to deliver information about trees to a client, it must be near 100. I think when most people close their eyes, they see black. When I close mine, I still have an imprint of the screen on my GPS unit burned into my memory. Some people count sheep to get to sleep. I count trees.
What was the most interesting tree inventory you have done?
I think my favorite was Seattle. We lived out of a hotel for 3 and a half months, worked 6 days a week, 11 hours a day, and on the 7th day, we watched football at a dirty sports bar in Tukwila, Washington where everyone hated us because we made them put the Bears game on! It was so interesting because of the diversity of the tree species that they had planted on the parkways. Because of its proximity to the ocean, Seattle is a USDA zone 9 (essentially the same as northern Florida) so you can grow palm trees and such on the parkways. My tree identification and Latin vocabulary exploded when we were out there. They had over 35 species of Cherry trees alone on the parkways! In addition, it's rare that you get an opportunity to really KNOW a place that well. I can safely say that I have literally been on every single street in the Seattle area. And the trip bred some fond memories. Just the other day, on Thanksgiving, I got a Facebook message from one of the guys that was on the crew out there, reminding me of the thanksgiving dinner we made, using the teeny-tiny oven and 2-burner stove in the hotel room! It was a blast. They've all been varying degrees of fun, but Seattle was hands-down the most enjoyable.
How is a GIS tree inventory different than other tree inventory methodologies available in the marketplace today?
First off, let me just say that GIS is a tool that is here to stay. It may change slowly over the years, but this is the future of asset management. Anything that's out in the physical world can be represented and managed using GIS , which is essentially a tool that connects a map with data. On a paper map, you may have a dot with a city name on it. In a digital GIS map, which relates data tables to geographic features, you can have endless amounts of information associated with that point. For a city, that might include its population size, median income, number of street trees, number of Starbucks coffee shops, number of businesses, etc. For a tree, it might be size, species, date it was pruned, defects, date of installation, what color the fall foliage is, etc. There are some nice software packages out there that are tree inventory specific, and they're fine, but most are rigid. In other words, if we decided we wanted to collect data on a tree that wasn't part of the original programming, we couldn't. ArcGIS, which is the industry-standard GIS program, has the capability to create any sort of data collection structure you can think of. Whatever those proprietary softwares can do, we can do in GIS, and then some. Some people have opted for paper inventories, which is fine, I suppose. But the reality of the situation is that the amount of labor, on a per tree basis, to hand-write all of the information down, is often greater than using a handheld GPS unit, where touchscreens and drop-down menus can save time and money. We have found that GIS based inventory is cost-competitive on every level with every other form of inventory. Plus, who really wants to sift through 300 pages of paper records when you could simply query a data set in GIS? Not me. GIS is simply the most powerful tool out there for asset management in nearly any business, and I believe it is certainly the best for managing a tree population, whether that population is 1 or 1,000,000.
Talk for a minute about the project you and Phil Did for the Village of Roselle?
Well, that's a long story, and one that is better detailed in a piece that I wrote for Branching Out several months ago. But to summarize, we began a GIS inventory of all the parkway trees on March 1st of 2011. It was a comprehensive stem-by-stem inventory, but we did a special focus on Ash trees, and collected more detailed data on them than we did for the non-Ash trees. Let's just say this: Within a 5 month time period, we were able to: Complete the inventory, analyze the data, prepare a comprehensive report on the Village's trees and EAB management, work with the city council on a plan of action for a $1.7 million EAB problem based on our report, identify trees which needed to be removed and removed them, identify trees which could be chemically treated and treated them, set up a sanctioned marshaling yard where EAB infested wood could be dealt with, trained Village staff on how to effectively use GIS to manage their tree population, and turned the inventory into a dynamic document that is being used to manage the whole city's tree population in a cost-effective manner. The level of efficiency we were able to achieve on this project was due in part to the ability of us to quickly collect and analyze our data with GIS, but I also tip my hat to the citizens and local government of Roselle. They took a concerted stance on the issue, and acted confidently on data that we collected in a timely manner. Because of this, Roselle is truly a standout community here in Illinois in terms of EAB.
Other than municipal and park tree inventories, what other projects have you done this year?
I performed an analysis of a large, wooded 22-acre parcel to determine the fair market value of its trees for a client who was having his land seized in an imminent domain case. Based on our reports, we were able to increase his realized property value by over $75,000. I have also performed several other residential fair market value analyses for wrongful or unintentional tree removal or damage. Thankfully no court appearances this year! We'll go if we need to, but we always like to see these things resolved with a handshake whenever possible. Myself and Phil have also had the honor of doing some public speaking and workshops this last year, as well as helping communities with writing grants that will help them with tree-related issues.
What is the most enjoyable and gratifying part of your job?
Helping people solve problems. We live in a highly complex world these days. Since the beginning of time, when man first discovered that fire made life a whole lot easier, we have been able to attribute our success as a species on this planet to our ability to work together to overcome obstacles. Think about how many problems you have to solve on a daily basis to be able to maintain a comfortable life for yourself. Now multiply that by the 7 billion people in the world. That's a lot of problems. When we are able to step in and turn a tragedy like the Emerald Ash Borer into a solvable problem for people, and see the results of the solutions we've provided, that just makes my day. Even when we are able to reduce someone's water bill by a few bucks a month by installing native plants for them, it's a success, and one that I never get tired of. We want to succeed as a business, obviously, but when we can do that by enriching other people's lives along the way, that I think is possibly the most gratifying thing someone can do.
Graf Tree Care will be closing down for the Holidays from December 23 - January 2, what will you be doing with your time off?
I'll be playing a Christmas concert and a New Year's Eve concert with a blues band that I play bass in, which is always a blast. In addition, I'll be spending a lot of time with my family, as well as my girlfriend and our rescue pit bull, Hazel. I am a huge proponent of pet rescue. As the holidays approach and the possibility of getting a new pet for the holidays starts to become a reality: Consider heading to your local shelter and adopting an animal. Puppies and kittens are very cute, but there are some really loving animals out there looking for a good home, who would love nothing more than to be your family's new best friend. I know I'll be spending a lot of time relaxing with a great animal who certainly changed my life for the better this holiday season...And eating a lot of great food! Happy Holidays!
Thanks Steve, have a Merry Christmas and keep up the good work - we'll catch up with you again soon.
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There has never been a better time for root feeding for your trees. Last year’s drought certainly took its toll on our green friends. Nutrient uptake from the soil is directly related to soil moisture, because water is the vehicle that moves nutrients up the tree to the leaf where photosynthesis takes place.
Extreme heat and extended drought can also destroy natural beneficial organisms in the soil. Considering all this, this spring would be a great time for deep root feeding to keep your trees in best possible health. Read more…