Urban Forestry Administration Tracks District “Street” Trees

By Jonna McKone
Washington D.C. (January 18, 2011)- The Urban Forestry Administration (UFA), part of the District Department of Transportation, manages about 144,000 trees, mostly on streets and sidewalks. To maintain and track the city’s “street” trees, the department employs 21 arborists who carry computers in the field that help them locate and access real-time data on the trees.


Given all this data, we thought we’d ask Georgetown’s arborists if there are any notable trees in the area that the department maintains. It turns out there is one particularly hardy and massive tree-it’s trunk diameter is 47.9 inches-that caught the eye of Urban Forestry Administration arborist, Simoun Banua. The American Linden or Tilia Americana sits at the corner of 35th and Prospect Streets, presiding over a heavy flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The 50 foot tall tree is unusual for a number of reasons, says Banua.
“That particular species doesn’t get that tall because of issues trees face in urban areas. Usually at a certain age they start failing.” American Lindens, also called Basswoods, can be identified by their hollow trunks and heart-shaped leaves.
City trees face a number of onslaughts to healthy growth. Mostly it’s water availability-urban soils tend to be compact and lacking in organic matter, which can obstruct water from percolating down to a tree’s roots. Obviously, there’s also a space issue-trees have to compete with infrastructure for habitat. The bad winter weather the city has seen in the last few years has also caused considerable damage. Banua says he has spent extra time making sure defects with this tree are addressed, such as the maintenance of wounds where limbs have fallen off.
UFA’s arborists are each assigned certain sections of the District’s eight wards. And they all use a Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, called CityWorks, that keeps an inventory of data on the trees, including age, pruning history, tree box area and location. The information acts as a statistical narrative of the trees to help arborists make decisions on how to manage the plants. Arborists bring computers in the field, updating the database linked to a work management system. At the end of the day, the department is trying to work more closely with residents and business improvement districts to ensure the trees are getting the attention they deserve.
Trees For Georgetown, a committee of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, suggests a few measures for dealing with trees on your block: water them if the weather is not below freezing and sweep left over salts away from tree boxes and storm drains. Banua says, “The best thing is to utilize ‘311’ to request an inspection. Whenever you see a potential issue, you should say something.” And of this particular tree: “It’s hard to describe how impressive it is until you actually go out there.”
Related Resource:
Georgetown Patch- Urban Forestry Administration Tracks District “Street” Trees
DC Urban Forestry Administration