The Norwich Cost-Share Grant Experience

species distribution norwich

What was the City of Norwich’s experience with its NYS DEC-sponsored Urban and Community Forestry cost-share grant? We get the scoop from Norwich Planning and Community Development Specialist Todd D. Dreyer and Morrisville State College Assistant Professor Rebecca Hargrave.

The application was prepared in 2011 by Hargrave and the funds were used in 2012 to conduct a city-wide inventory of street and park trees. (A portion of Norwich’s successful grant narrative can be seen in the second half of this post.)

Dreyer says that the project was done with the cooperation of staff support from the City of Norwich, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County (for whom Hargrave worked at the time), and the Christian Neighborhood Center. The project included entering the inventory data into a GIS database to enable mapping and computer analysis of the information gathered during the inventory.

Youth crew
Headquarters Youth Conservation Corps members (left to right) Katie Rawluk, Kristen Rawluk, Ethan Russell, Ian Weaver, Pat Taylor, Linas Impolis and Conor Tarbell. Not pictured are Zac Calderon and Cheyenne Beach.

Dreyer says, “The tree inventory was done during the summer of 2012 with a team of young people employed in a local AmeriCorps program known as the Headwaters Youth Conservation Corps.” They were trained and supervised by Hargrave, who says, “The City of Norwich was mostly interested in species size, composition, and distribution; basic condition information; and identification of potential planting sites.”

Hargrave says that the Headwaters Youth Conservation Corps crew collected tree data on paper forms (using codes) and collected location data with GPS units. The data was then entered into i-Tree Streets. “At the time we did not have the budget to purchase the handheld data recorders needed to run i-Tree Streets,” Hargrave says, “but that is no longer really an issue, even just a few years later, as most phones or tablets have the ability to collect data.”

Maple distribution screen shot
A GIS map of Norwich’s maple distribution helped reinforce the town’s decision not to plant any more maples.

Was there anything surprising or challenging in the implementation? Hargrave says, “One of the challenges was working with a non-professional crew. Their overall quality of work was great. They were given training on the elements that they had to record data on, but they understandably had a hard time with species, especially the less common ones. Only two of the crew members had any formal education on tree identification. They were all provided a list of the trees that could be found in the City and a copy of Cornell’s Tree ID Guide for Common Urban Trees in New York State and the Northeast. And, crews had differing opinions of condition ratings—one crew rated condition more heavily. To overcome this, we had to do a fair amount of follow up on the data.”

Despite these challenges, Hargrave strongly encourages other communities to work with youth corps to do their inventories. She says, “They are hard workers and have the ability to do a good job gathering data. They do require more support, especially with tree identification. If a community wants incredibly detailed inventory data, they may want to hire a professional crew, but for our purposes, the level of inventory was perfect.”

trunk condition screen schot
Hargrave says, “The crew that inventoried the NW section had a harsher opinion of the condition than did the other crews, highlighting one of the issues when working with a non-professional crew.”

Dreyer says, “The City of Norwich considers the work that was done with the inventory to be extremely important in the ongoing management of community’s street and park tree resources. In addition to helping us decide where to plant new trees, it alerts us as to where disease or decay issues may arise.” The City of Norwich is hoping to apply for a maintenance grant in the future to help off-set the costs of maintaining their trees.

Dreyer says, “Given the financial challenges our community faces, we very much appreciate that the program allows us to count in-kind services as our local match. The program is administered well by the DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests. The funding opportunities are refreshingly straight-forward, and they provide a high probability of funding success. Unlike so many other state assistance programs, there are no gameshow theatrics and no three-card-monte bait-and-switch tactics. It is not a program that is designed to have a few winners and many losers. Therefore, it is definitely a program other communities should consider.”

From the Norwich Cost-Share Grant Application Narrative: 

Part I – Summary  

This project will result in a complete, computerized inventory of the City of Norwich Street Trees. The work will be conducted by a local AmeriCorps conservation corps, Headwaters Youth Conservation Corps, with oversight and direction from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County and the City of Norwich. Young adults will learn valuable skills while providing a needed resource for the City of Norwich, especially in light of the Emerald Ash Borer and the need to prioritize local budgets.

Part II – Scope of Proposed Work

Background Information

Crabapple street tree in Norwich
Crabapple street tree in Norwich

Norwich is nestled in the hills of central New York. It is a small but active community of 7,300, and the county seat of Chenango County, which has a population of 50,000. Norwich is a city of change, like many other upstate communities, we’ve had big industry leave our community, our downtown is threatened by national chain stores just outside the city, and in the last 20 years we’ve lost almost 1800 jobs. The City of Norwich is designated as an economically distressed community by the NY Department of State, with an average income at 77% of the state average and a poverty rate of 18.7%. The community is making some headway, we have a few local companies that are expanding, but we are not near our previous level of prosperity.

One thing that Norwich strives for is a beautiful community. In 2002, the City received a grant to help revitalize their downtown, and with that replaced/planted all of the downtown trees, as well as replaced all the sidewalks, curbs, light posts and trashcans. And, through private donations our two main downtown parks are about to be renovated. Just about every weekend from May through October there is a festival or event going on in downtown Norwich, and people come to Norwich from all over the country for events such as the Norwich Pumpkin Festival, Blues Fest, and Colorscape Chenango Arts Festival. Trees are an essential part of Norwich’s landscape, they’re presence not only makes Norwich look good, but also helps the community feel good.

The City of Norwich has been a Tree City USA for the last 19 years, which is celebrated each year by a tree planting in one of the City’s parks. The urban forest ranges from aging sugar and Norway maples to young crabapples and honey locust. There is no usable inventory of street trees. The current system for removal and pruning relies on homeowners or other citizens to call in concerns about the City’s trees, or through casual observation by City staff and community volunteers. The City of Norwich would like to create a usable, computerized inventory, that will be updated by City Staff and the Street Tree Commission when there are removals and plantings, and that can be used to project tree related budget expenses.

The City of Norwich Street Tree Inventory Project will be split into three phases: Planning and Information Gathering; Implementation; and Data Processing. This Inventory will be completed through City of Norwich collaborations with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Chenango County and the Headwaters Youth Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps program that work with and trains 18-25 year old youth interested in the conservation/environment. HYCC crews have worked with Norwich in the past on trails and park maintenance and environmental education.

Phase One: Planning and Information Gathering

During Phase One, detailed information about the project will be gathered and synthesized by City of Norwich employees and staff at CCE Chenango. This includes: maps of right-of-ways by street; developing a mapping plan/schedule by neighborhood; securing any necessary permissions; notifying the public to expect to see inventory takers; and securing all inventory tools.

Phase Two: Implementation

Implementation will take place over July and August 2012. Members of the AmeriCorps program Headwaters Youth Conservation Corps (HYCC) will be trained how to use the inventory system, i-Tree Streets from the USDA/Davey Resource Group software package I-Tree Tools, and on identifying street trees. Training will take less than two days. Training will be lead by CCE Chenango staff, and other natural resource staff and volunteers.

Once the training is complete, the HYCC crew, working in 3- two person crews, will inventory all the street trees in the City. They will take the inventory on PDAs loaded with the PDA i-Tree Streets data collection tool, using paper as a backup. Each crew will be given GPS units to mark the location of the trees they inventory. Each tree will be assigned a unique identifier. The City of Norwich is estimated to have 1500 street trees.

For each tree crews will collect inventory data including:

  • Species- selected from a pre-loaded list
  • DBH- in 3” classes
  • Location (Tree Lawn (Planting Strip); Yard; Tree Pit (Cutout); Other)
  • Land Use (Single-family- Residential; Multi-family- Residential; Commercial/Industrial; Other)
  • Condition rating (Dead or Dying; Poor; Fair; Good)
  • Maintenance recommendation:
    • no pruning needed or pruning needed
    • Immediate prune or routine prune
  • Conflicts (Sidewalk or wires (or none))
  • Tree re-check: if data collector feels the tree needs to be evaluated by a professional.
  • Whether a planting site is available
  • GPS location

Corps members will not make hazard tree indications, only whether they feel a tree is in need of review by a professional. Rechecks will be completed by an ISA Certified Arborists (on staff at CCE Chenango).

Each crew will also be outfitted with educational pamphlets on the benefits of trees, emerald ash borer, and basic tree maintenance. Also, they will be encouraged to talk about what they are doing and why to residents they see on the streets.

We will also open up the project to community members who may want to learn more about trees or inventory processes. Interested individuals will work alongside the HYCC crews as the inventory is completed.

Phase Three: Data Processing

Once the inventory is complete, all of the data will be aggregated into one system and run through the full version of i-Tree Streets. The i-Tree Streets report will include species distribution, overall condition and maintenance, and size of the urban canopy, as well as annual environmental and aesthetic benefits including energy conservation, air quality improvement, CO2 reduction, storm water control, and property value increase. This data synthesis will be conducted by HYCC members and CCE Chenango staff.

A GIS map of the trees will also be created, which will include species, size, condition, and maintenance data.

Results of the City of Norwich Inventory Project

The map and the i-Tree Streets report will help the City determine:

  • Where planting efforts should be focused, targeting neighborhoods with the least amount of trees first.
  • Tree removal priorities.
  • Where ash trees are and their condition, as a concern for emerald ash borer.
  • Species distribution across neighbors to evaluate vulnerabilities of Norwich’s urban forest.

This project complements other urban forestry programs in that it uses the federally created i-Tree suite which will be implemented it within guidelines adapted from Cornell’s Student Weekend Arborist Teams.

As this project focuses on the entire city, all city residents will benefit from it; an increased awareness of the benefits of trees, including the property value of their street tree, education about how trees improve stress levels and increase learning in youth; and public education on how to take care of trees.

It is our hope that this project will provide environmental and economic benefits. If more people know the value of their trees, they will be less likely to damage them or take them down without cause. That not only benefits property values, but improves the environment in our city.

Part III – Project Schedule: (anticipated time line)

Phase One: Project Planning and Information Gathering: As soon as the contract has been executed: Anticipated Fall 2011

Phase Two: Implementation: July and August 2012

Phase Three: Data Processing and Sharing: September to December 2012 (and on-going)

Part IV – Educational Component:

The City of Norwich Street Tree Inventory will have two educational components.

First: education and training of youth members of the Headwaters Youth Conservation Corps. Urban forest inventory skills are very marketable and not only will help these youth have a better understanding of their urban environment, but also help them find future employment or impact their chosen field of study.

Second: public education of city residents. As the HYCC crews are working they will be disseminating information and talking with the public, and hopefully directly training volunteers. Also, through public release of the report and associated articles about the importance of trees, Norwich residents will learn more about their trees and all the benefits they provide. Article and released materials will come from Cornell Cooperative Extension or the International Society of Arboriculture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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