University developing statewide community tree canopy maps

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University developing statewide community tree canopy maps

Aerial photo of Lincoln near Nebraska State Capitol
Craig Chandler | University Communication

A University of Nebraska–Lincoln project to develop statewide community tree canopy maps has received a $44,218 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Community trees offer important environmental benefits, such as improving air and water quality, reducing storm water runoff and providing wildlife habitat. Community tree canopy maps are essential to estimate the magnitude and location of environmental benefits provided by community trees, and the potential negative impact of invasive pests, such as the emerald ash borer.

Yi Qi

“The lack of tree canopy maps for communities in Nebraska limits efficient decision making by municipalities and state agencies to prevent degradation of water resources and air quality and loss of habitat due to reductions in tree canopy from invasive pests and development practices,” said Yi Qi, assistant professor of natural resources and project lead.

Existing techniques for producing canopy maps are expensive — $30,000 to $55,000 per community — and generally not replicable. There is a critical need to develop a low-cost and repeatable method to map tree canopy for Nebraska communities. Qi said the university will use free aerial photography from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Imagery Program to develop canopy classification methods and canopy maps for the cities of Lincoln, South Sioux City and Waverly as pilot communities. The tree canopy maps from different years will be compared to track tree canopy changes over time.

An earlier study estimated that Nebraska lost 1.6% of urban tree canopy between 2009 and 2014, but more accurate assessment is still missing for continuous monitoring and management.

The work will produce canopy maps for the pilot communities and develop repeatable, cost-effective mapping methods, usable by any community in Nebraska.

The Nebraska Legislature created the NET in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the trust has provided more than $349 million in grants to more than 2,400 projects across the state. Anyone — citizens, organizations, communities, farmers and businesses — can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. The NET works to preserve, protect and restore the state’s natural resources for future generations.

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