What’s the status of East Hills’ trees?

In 2008 East Hills Council of Neighbors raised funds, secured a grant, and partnered with Bartlett Tree Experts to complete a tree inventory of their neighborhood’s public trees. This effort led to the East Hills Urban Forest Plan which described the neighborhood’s’s trees, expressed some concerns, and established some goals or strategies to help East Hills maintain its vibrant tree canopy. Ultimately, the Urban Forest Plan led to a series of tree plantings, volunteer events, and neighborhood activism to protect, enhance, and expand tree canopy. These efforts helped increase the City’s awareness of the value of both tree inventories and a comprehensive approach, including preventive treatment, to Emerald Ash Borer.

Why have an urban forest plan? First off, goals are meaningless without a plan to accomplish them. If East Hills has a “goal” of increasing tree canopy, it needs a strategy to manage that canopy. It also needs meaningful ways to engage the neighborhood and support decision-making to accomplish their goals. Why do we need an inventory? You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Simply, an effective strategy requires that you have knowledge about what you’re trying to accomplish. An inventory is a straight-forward way of having information about your community trees that can help managers develop effective strategies to accomplish goals.

It has been more than five years since the initial inventory and plan were completed. While the neighborhood has changed and grown, East Hills dedication to trees has not. This year, East Hills unveiled its  forward-thinking Public Space Strategy which contained extensive highlights and strategies for preserving and growing trees throughout their community. More than ever, the neighborhood has committed to trees.

This Spring, East Hills Council of Neighbors approached Friends of Grand Rapids Parks to complete an update to their tree inventory. Simultaneously, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks was beginning to work with the United States Forest Service to pilot a test of the recently completed Urban Tree Growth Monitoring Protocol — a methodology to measure trees and maintain a database of tree growth, survival, and other indicators of tree health. Friends of Grand Rapids Parks happily agreed to combine both projects and assist East Hills with its efforts.

In July, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks hosted a volunteer training and began assigning “shifts” for volunteers to keep inventories. Friends’ intern, Patrick Shults, managed the project and was available to answer questions volunteers’ questions. Once shifts were complete, Patrick entered the data into the inventory database and kept track of the project. When all of the data were collected, Patrick completed a basic analysis of tree size, quality, distribution and diversity. The work that Patrick completed will be used to complete an update to the East Hills Urban Forest Plan.

Some key findings that Patrick recognized include.

  • The average diameter of East Hills (12.34 inches) reflects a moderately young stock of trees in the neighborhood. This is most likely due to the low average lifespan of urban trees and the recent push to plant street trees by the City of Grand Rapids. However, the rise of development in East Hills may also be partly responsible for this low figure due to the removal of large, old trees for new buildings.
  • The median wood condition of “Good” and median dieback condition of “1” both reflect a very healthy urban forest. It is a rather remarkable result, considering the recent plague of Emerald Ash Borer and the large amount of ash in the neighborhood.
  • The species diversity of the neighborhood is questionable. Norway maple alone makes up 23% of the species in the neighborhood. All maples combined add up to be around 37%. Another 38% is comprised of only four species, ash being almost a third of it.

You can read the full report here. 



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