What is the state of Syracuse’s urban forest in 2016? Photos Courtesy City of Syracuse


Syracuse City Arborist & NYSUFC Secretary Steve Harris

City Arborist Steve Harris of the Syracuse Parks Department—who also serves as our Council’s secretary—is pleased to share the release of the 2016 State of the Urban Forest for the City of Syracuse. Steve is an ISA Certified Arborist and Municipal Specialist and in addition to being active in the NYSUFC is involved with the Society of Municipal Arborists. He has been Syracuse City Arborist since 2010.

The 2001 Syracuse Urban Forest Master Plan was one of the first of its kind. The impetus for that report was to lay the groundwork for a focused response to the devastation caused by the Labor Day Storm of 1998. The US Forest Service Northern Research Station (USFS) and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County crafted that plan in cooperation with the City of Syracuse, Syracuse ReLeaf, and SUNY ESF.

Being the home of a world-class research institution (SUNY ESF) and a USFS Research Station dedicated to urban forest change has its benefits. Data gets collected. Beginning in 1999, the USFS established permanent plots in the City to monitor urban forest change. By urban forest, think all trees in the landscape no matter the ownership. Plots were most recently re-measured in 2014. In addition, the USFS worked with the University of Vermont Spatial Laboratory and SUNY ESF to complete an urban tree canopy (UTC) assessment of Syracuse in 2010. (UTC assessments use LIDAR and other spatial analysis tools to identify and measure tree canopy in the landscape.)

The urban forest of Syracuse has an estimated 1,583,000 trees, with an overall tree density of 99 trees per acre.

Syracuse street trees total 33,689 and constitute an estimated structural value of $45.9 million.

The Syracuse Parks Department (Parks) oversaw inventories of municipal trees (publicly-owned street tree and park trees) in 1978, 2000, and 2014. Financial support to complete them came from many places including HUD in 1999, Onondaga County in 2013 and NYS DEC in 2014. Harris says, “In a meeting with USFS Team leader and Research Forester Dave Nowak in early 2015, we realized we were sitting on a mountain of comprehensive information that needed to be shared.” For this updated 2016 report, the Parks commissioned Davey Resource Group and the USFS to report on municipal trees and the urban forest at large–where trees are and how many, what condition they are in, and what benefits they provide residents. Work began in December, 2015; the report was completed in June, 2016.

Why is Harris excited about the report? “First of all, it is great to have this amount of data and to figure out what it means,” he says. “Second, it is perfectly timed with the City’s master planning process. This is especially important since the City is going through the first re-write of the zoning codes since they were adopted over 90 years ago. Since land-use decisions have the greatest impact on the future of the urban forest, it is essential to collaborate with our planning department and the community on how development impacts the urban forest.”


The urban forest of Syracuse has an estimated 1,583,000 trees, with an overall tree density of 99 trees per acre.

The 2016 State of the Urban Forest report found that Syracuse’s public trees provide an estimated $2 in benefits for every $1 spent on management costs. While urban forests are an important part of the City’s identity and history, Syracuse has seen a decrease in public trees (street and park) since 1978. Since 1994, there has been little change in canopy cover but a significant change in species composition; invasive species have proliferated and compromised the ability of segments of the urban forest to provide ecosystem benefits.

“This report not only tells us what kind of forest we have, but measures its value, and projects how it will change in the future based on trends,” Harris says. “Most importantly, it summarizes this information at the neighborhood level where people live. Not many cities have this amount of information about their urban forest. The Parks Department will use the information as part of an extensive master planning effort with the community and other departments to determine what we want from our urban forest in the coming decades and how we will get there.”


Canopy cover drives overall benefits and large trees provide the most benefits per tree. Mature, large-growing trees account for 3% of the urban forest population.

Interesting highlights from the report that Harris wanted to share:

WHO’s GOT CANOPY: Canopy cover varies from 49% in the South Valley neighborhood to 9% downtown.

WHO’s HOT, WHO’s NOT: On an 80-degree day in July 2015 there was a 12-degree difference between surface temperatures in the forested hillsides in the South Valley and downtown. Downtown and Franklin Square are the warmest neighborhoods and South Valley, Elmwood, Meadowbrook, Outer Comstock, and Westcott-University neighborhoods are the coolest.

LAND TYPES WITH THE MOST TREES: Single family homes have the highest density of trees per acre and multi-family homes the least. Single family homes have the highest diversity of trees per acre.

PEST THREATS: Asian long-horned beetle poses a threat to 400,000 of the cities estimated 1.5 million trees!

TREE WITH MOST VALUE: Sugar maples have the highest structural value (the cost to replace a tree of similar size) within the urban forest.

OUTDOOR AIR FILTER: An average acre of tree canopy in Syracuse contributes $1500 in air pollution removal. Pollution removal was greatest for ozone. The best species for removing air pollution are those with the most leaf area. Norway maple, sugar maple, box elder, black walnut, and Norway spruce account for 41% of pollution removal.

CARBON STORAGE AND CAPTURE: An average acre of tree canopy stores a value of $7,400 of carbon and sequesters $200 in carbon value annually. In Syracuse, the 30” and greater diameter trees store three times more carbon than the 27” to 30” diameter trees and over five times more than the 9” to 12” diameter trees. Trees in the South Valley, Meadowbrook, Brighton and North Valley, Westcott-University, and Eastwood neighborhoods sequester the most carbon and remove the most pollution on an annual basis. The Franklin Square, Downtown, Hawley-Green and Prospect Hill, Near Eastside, and South Campus neighborhoods sequester the least amount of carbon and remove the least amount of pollution on an annual basis.

ENERGY SAVINGS: An acre of canopy saves $200 a year via energy conservation.

For more information, see the complete 2016 Syracuse State of the Urban Forest.


Burnet Park in Syracuse