The City of Lakewood is one of the latest across the state to take a serious look at its tree canopy- but it’s not alone. As the temperatures climb and the threat of the emerald ash borer grows, others are looking at ways to increase the number of trees and keep the ones they have alive.
PlanIT Geo, an Arvada-based consulting company, has been helping many cities pave a greener path with its software. Lakewood recently partnered with the company to help it figure out how many trees it had, and where it could make improvements to meet a big goal.
“Our sustainability department decided they wanted to set a goal for urban tree canopy at 30% [by 2025]they approached me and asked me if that was attainable at the time I told them, ‘we don’t have an existing tree canopy percentage so before we do that we should hire a contractor and get some numbers,’ said Luke Kiloran, City Forester for the city of Lakewood.
Kiloran connected with PlanIT Geo and the data he got back? It showed him exactly what he needed to do to reach that 30% goal.
“They were able to take our city properties, City of Lakewood parks, include all of that in their information and they came up with a percentage canopy coverage for us of 16%,” said Kiloran.
To go from 16% (just over 600,000 trees) to 30% would take a lot for Lakewood. The City of Denver plants thousands of trees per year. In Lakewood, it’s about 100.
“It’s not a realistic goal for me. Right now, we’re at 16%, to get there [30%] we’d have to plan about half a million trees,” he said. “Having a 16% canopy coverage is a good starting point. My goal is to increase that canopy coverage. It’s my responsibility, I want to invest in our community to plant trees but it also has to be realistic.”
It’s not bad news. The data is helping the city determine not only how many trees it has, but the best places to plant more, what to plant, and how healthy its current stock is.
“What we’ve seen is this greater appreciation, this ground swell of understanding that cities do need to be green. We need to bring nature back into cities,” said Ian Hanou, CEO and Founder of PlanIT Geo.
Hanou, a Colorado State graduate, founded PlanIT Geo just over 10 years ago. While the company’s client list extends across the globe and continues to grow locally.
“We track where we’re losing canopy, so what is the current canopy now and how is it changing, and we do this on a 2-year basis all across the country and it’s really helping drive programs locally like Lakewood and Thornton and others ,” Hanou continued, “We’re working with Colorado Springs, we wrote the strategic urban management plan for them it helped them instantly get a higher budget and more staff and resources. Small communities like Aspen and Basalt for example, Loveland, Grand Junction ; Grand Junction was our first client on the subscription approach to seeing how their tree canopy is changing.”
The subscription approach is new for the company in the last year. It’s a more affordable way for cities to track tree health and build plans.
“You get data and the software product itself, which is very visual and allows you to work with the data and information easily,” said Hanou.
The company gathers data from the ground and the air and says in addition to reducing the heat, planting more and diverse trees will help offset the impacts of the emerald ash borer.
The pest is a major concern for Kiloran and another reason he is committed to helping Lakewood reach its goal.
“The emerald ash borer which was recently found as close to Lakewood as Arvada- it’s knocking at our door, it’s in our backyard, it’s gotta be here somewhere we just haven’t found it yet. Ash apron accumulate 30% of our canopy, so if you can imagine 30% of all of our trees being completely removed it’s going to be a devastating blow, so being able to install diverse species is going to help mitigate that loss and the more proactive we can be about planting more trees will help soften that blow,” he said.
Lakewood will be hosting a tree sale for residents this spring. Kiloran says heavily discounted trees will be available, a way to incentivize community members to plant. Many other cities offer similar incentives.
Denver has offered several public right-of-way tree planting and replacement programs:
1. CAP – an Emerald Ash Borer strategy to eliminate ash trees that are no greater than twelve inches in diameter and are either dead, or in poor or very poor condition. Under this program, we will remove the ash tree and prepare the site for a new replacement tree. All at no cost to the homeowner. We are primarily focusing in areas of need but is also a city-wide opportunity.
2. Be A Smart Ash is a free tree program through resident requests – city-wide opportunity.
3. Forestry Neighborhood Enhancement –The Denver Forestry Neighborhood Initiative is dedicated to pruning or removing trees that pose a risk to public safety. This initiative also includes planting trees in the public right-of-way, as space allows. The program is currently focused on specific neighborhoods in southwest Denver. Property owners who qualify for a free tree or for tree maintenance at their property will receive a letter and a postcard from the Office of the City Forester outlining which service(s) they qualify for and how to claim them. This program also includes hazard tree removal and hazard reduction pruning services.
4. Denver Digs Trees giveaway program through The Park People.
PlanIT Geo offers a number of services for a variety of clients, from non-profits to businesses to government. For more information, click here: https://planitgeo.com/#