Community Engagement through Urban Forest Inventories

By 2020, the Mississippi-Alabama Gulf Coast population is projected to increase by 75% to 1.3 million residents. This rate of urbanization impacts urban forest ecosystems which in turn influence local resilience regarding, e.g., thermal comfort, energy use, air quality, carbon storage, wildlife habitat, health benefits, property values, and commercial benefits. Urban forests also act as natural storm buffers by reducing wind speeds, improving water quality, and intercepting the flow of precipitation reaching the ground.

This research and outreach project addresses four related issues: (1) there is a need for urban ecosystem management along the Mississippi-Alabama Gulf Coast; (2) urban ecosystem management is critical to community resiliency; (3) tree canopy data is a baseline for informed ecosystem management; and (4) sustainable urban ecosystem management requires resident engagement.

To this end, we identified resident needs and concerns about urban trees and storm mitigation from key informant interviews and a mail survey across the study area. Using the survey information, we then implemented four bottom-up, volunteer-based urban tree inventories. Inventory projects included several trainings and public workshops for which we gathered evaluation data. Research results indicate important concerns regarding tree hazards, homeowners insurance, and sustainable urban tree management. Despite these concerns, pre- and post-evaluations demonstrate a significant increase in knowledge and positive attitudes about trees, urban forest management, and level of self-efficacy regarding participants’ ability to contribute to community forest well-being.

Period: 2014-2015