Blog Contributor: Baharak Razaghirad
The Brock-Lincoln living lab (BL-LL) partnership assists the Town of Lincoln in better managing urban forests and improving the services provided by the urban tree canopy. Trees are natural assets that provide us with many different socio-environmental benefits and services. They also serve as green infrastructure with low to zero-impact, affordable, sustainable solutions that are valuable to many small communities with limited financial resources. Increasing resilience to climate change using urban forests (e.g., in better controlling water runoff, increasing air quality, and preventing erosion) has become critical as small communities face unprecedented challenges related to climate change.
Protecting the urban tree canopy for its intrinsic value or using them to achieve sustainability in urban areas requires knowledge of the location and distribution of the urban tree canopy. Over the summer, I worked as a research assistant (RA) with Dr. Marilyne Jollineau, faculty lead for the Brock-Lincoln Living Lab partnership to examine the urban tree canopy in the Town of Lincoln, Ontario, and help the Town in achieving its goal of a sustainable urban tree canopy.
This RA opportunity was well timed as I had just completed my thesis research on urban tree canopy (UTC) assessment using geospatial technologies for the Town of Lincoln, which had been conducted under Dr. Jollineau’s supervision in 2021. UTC assessment is essential for managing urban trees, especially in the context of climate change. The canopy, as well as its composition and distribution across different geographical boundaries reveals information about the condition and gaps in the canopy. It can also be used to assess the equity of access to this natural asset across different urban communities within the Town. Assessing the canopy is also the first step in defining a canopy goal for municipalities.
The primary work undertaken for this RA position included:
- Evaluation of the ecosystem services and benefits of urban forests, especially regarding mitigation of negative impacts of climate change. Familiarity with the monetary value of these services encourages the preservation of the current canopy and its development in the community. The monetary evaluation of services and benefits was based on the canopy coverage for any specific area and the dollar value of providing each service per square meter of the canopy. The evaluation of the monetary benefits of the trees of Rotary Park in Beamsville can be found here as an example.
- Preparation of a field and laboratory guide to urban tree inventory. A comprehensive guide was developed in this RA to assist the Town in inventorying its trees. To correctly manage the urban tree canopy, tree inventories are essential. All of the steps involved in collecting spatial and non-spatial tree-related data, managing data and making them compatible with other geospatial software types were provided in this guide.
- While providing the Town’s staff with a practical field and lab training guide on conducting a tree inventory was provided, this RA position included collecting vital information about 270 trees in Rotary Park, Beamsville, as a test site. An essential deliverable from this work is that the Town is now able to collect and manage its own tree canopy data.
- Determining the canopy goal is a very important next step after completing a UTC assessment. This goal is calculated for each community based on its environmental and geographical limitations, needs, and suitability analysis. The canopy goal is a canopy to achieve that sustains urban forests and enhances environmental equity. During this RA, we prepared an evidence-based report on the next steps for the Town to determine its urban tree canopy goal.
- Lastly, municipalities across Canada are increasingly interested in communicating with the community. Municipal websites are powerful tools for providing information to local residents and other stakeholders. It can also provide opportunities for community members to express opinions and gain knowledge. To increase awareness, promote conservation, and efficiently communicate information about the services provided by the Town, BL-LL assisted the Town in making decisions about their website content regarding urban trees. Suggestions for content included information on the current state of the Towns urban forests, guidelines on how to plant and preserve trees, as well as by-laws and permits related to public and private trees.
In the Master of Sustainability program, the courses and extra curriculum training opened doors to understanding the area of urban forestry that I hope to pursue and develop in future. During my study, in addition to lessons on sustainability science, I had the opportunity to be directly trained in the remote sensing field by Dr. Jollineau, which was necessary for my thesis project. I also had access to numerous virtual training provided by Brocks’ Map, Data & GIS Library.
Throughout this summer research assistantship with the Town of Lincoln, I witnessed the necessity of effective communication with the community and giving constructive suggestions that benefit both the environment and the communities. Considering social needs, environmental conditions, and economic possibilities in a community in a holistic manner is one of the cornerstones of sustainable planning.