Mappy Monday!

Introducing the new Friends of Grand Rapids Parks’ Urban Forest Project blog series:

In this blog series we will be exploring the wonderful world of trees, data, and maps

For our introductory entry we will be highlighting one of our partners:

Have you ever been in the middle of nowhere and wondered where you were? Bad Elf can help with that, they make external GPS devices so that you can always know where you are. An external GPS unit is a small device that looks similar to a Tamagotchi from the 90’s. It connects to the same GPS satellites that give you directions on your phone. It utilizes information from at least three satellites to the average your coordinate location. The more satellites it can see in the sky, the more accurate the data is. Just like averaging the price of milk throughout the city, the more numbers you have, the more accurate the averaging. But, what does this have to do with trees?

Part of being good urban forest stewards is keeping adequate and appropriate data to make sure that we are managing our urban forest the best that we can and meeting all the forestry standards we need to. Proper data management allows us to face and prioritize competing priorities such as urban heat island effect, air quality, population density, and more.

Here at the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks’ Urban Forest Project we track geo-spatial data to ensure we meet species diversity standards, to make sure we are distributing our time and resources across the whole city, and to track how different species thrive in different kinds of environments.

In order to gather any insights, the first step is to know where all of our trees are and how they are doing. In comes Audrey, our UFP GIS Specialist! GIS is, at its most basic level, digital cartography, or spatial data interpretation. Audrey’s main job has been to survey and map the trees we have planted in throughout previous planting seasons.

We have all seen the ability to drop “pins” at a given location and maybe even name the pin, you can even do this on google maps– but what do you do when you want to collect twenty different types of data about an individual tree? You would use a survey! Since March of this year, we have been utilizing Esri’s Survey123 app, which has allowed us to combine the power and knowledge of a survey with the convenience of dropping a pin on google maps, all in one app on an iPad or phone.

Survey123 Tree Survey

The problem: a phone screen is very small and difficult to conduct the survey, and our iPad doesn’t have a GPS chip. In came Bad Elf to save the day! We were graciously donated a bluetooth external GPSpro that allowed us to use our iPad to pin point where all of our trees are, and survey additional data along with each tree. By being able to collect the survey digitally and on site, we eliminated the need to retype information, saving time, energy and reducing human error.  Once data is collected, there are infinite possibilities of what we can do with it.

Here is an example of how we use tree data:

It takes around 18 months for a transplanted tree to establish itself, and once adapted to its new home it can really start growing! However, not every tree like its new home and sometimes it needs some routine help to get itself established. When we conduct a check-up survey of a previous planting location, we record if the tree has established roots and is stable, or if it needs to be staked for extra stability. Once this data is collected we can then send crews out to address maintenance concerns.

Being able to maintain our trees and keep them healthy is a big part of what we do and Bad Elf has just made it easier!


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