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Urban Greening Performance: Tree Survival in City Planting Campaigns

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 12:00am to 1:00pm

Jon M. Huntsman Hall, Room 265

Lara Roman, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station


Massive city tree planting campaigns have invigorated the urban greening movement, and engaged politicians, planners, and the public in urban forestry. Million tree initiatives have been launched in Los Angeles, CA; Denver, CO; New York City, NY; Philadelphia, PA, and other cities. Sacramento, CA even has a five million tree program. These planting campaigns – and urban forestry programs in general – are justified by models that estimate and monetize the environmental, social, and economic benefits of trees. Realizing these so-called “ecosystem services” depends on program performance and tree survival. Unfortunately, long-term studies on urban trees are sorely lacking. In this presentation, I will share results from five-year monitoring projects at two sites: street trees in Oakland, and residential yard trees in Sacramento, CA. Both projects applied demographic approaches to urban tree mortality – techniques commonly used in population biology and forest ecology that have been adapted to the cultivated urban forest. Results suggest that assumed tree survival rates in ecosystem services projections are overly optimistic. Managing towards a canopy cover goal necessitates consideration of urban tree population cycles: planting, growth, removal, and replacement. To collect more long-term urban forest data, researchers and practitioners from across the US are collaborating to develop standardized urban tree monitoring protocols. This partnership can provide urban forestry professionals with information to evaluate the success of planting initiatives and engage citizen scientists, while expanding the data sets available to researchers. Such partnerships are essential to generate new knowledge about urban greening initiatives, connect research to practice, and enable citizen scientists and community organizations to generate high-quality ecological monitoring data.


Lara Roman is a Research Ecologist with the US Forest Service Philadelphia Field Station. Lara studies tree mortality, growth and diversity in urban areas. Her studies apply a community-based participatory research approach, with local partners from municipal forestry and non-profit organizations engaged throughout the research process. She completed her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley in forest ecology. She also holds a bachelors in biology and masters in environmental studies from the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, Lara received the Mayor’s Scholarship, the Institute of Environmental Studies Award, and was a Ben Franklin Scholar. At Berkeley, she received the Garden Club of America’s Urban Forestry Fellowship, the Berkeley Fellowship, the Schwabacher Fellowship, the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award, and the Chancellor’s Award for Public Service, in recognition of her leadership role in service learning courses and community-engaged scholarship. Lara serves as Secretary of the Urban Tree Growth and Longevity (UTGL) Working Group with the International Society of Arboriculture. UTGL is a network of researchers, students, and urban forestry professionals, through which she leads the development of standardized protocols for urban tree monitoring.

Department of Earth and Environmental Science / University of Pennsylvania, 251 Hayden Hall, 240 South 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6316