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IU Office of Sustainability intern updating campus tree inventory, seeking volunteer help

Sept. 2, 2015

SPEA graduate student Will Drews spent his summer roaming the IU Bloomington campus, using a GIS app on his cell phone to pinpoint ash trees on a digital map.

But his work is just the beginning of the IU Office of Sustainability's plan to inventory all of the trees on campus. The campus master plan calls for doubling the tree canopy, which means the university needs baseline figures before it can begin implementing that initiative, Drews said.

will drews

Sustainability intern Will Drews measures a tree as part of a campus tree inventory. | PHOTO BY JAMES BROSHER, IU COMMUNICATIONS

"We have earlier data going back to 2009, but it was static data and, as you know, things can change very quickly with tree cover due to weather, storms, disease," he said. "Plus, the previous survey included the historic center of campus and some other spots, but we didn't have complete data."

As an Office of Sustainability intern working with the Environmental Quality and Land Use working group, Drews used his academic background in biology and interest in geographic information systems, or GIS, to figure out a better way to capture, manage and analyze data related to campus trees.

Using digital aerial maps of campus as a base, the app he used allowed him to click to locate a tree in a specific spot, use a drop-down menu to identify the species and then add other data such as the tree's diameter, a measurement that can help determine a tree's approximate age and canopy cover.

Drews spent most of the summer identifying ash trees, since that species is susceptible to the emerald ash borer and requires treatment. He estimated he inventoried about 350 ash trees on campus, which in turn is only a small portion of the estimated 12,000 trees of all types covering the Bloomington campus.

Using the data, he estimated the ash trees he tagged are worth more than $23,000 annually based on energy savings, stormwater and carbon reduction, air quality improvement and increased property values.

“I’m pretty excited about the whole project,” he said. “I love being outside and working with trees, and it was a perfect fit with my academic interest areas, really. I majored in biology in undergrad, and now I’m going into my second year in the SPEA master’s program in environmental science with a concentration in applied ecology.”

Drews anticipates continuing his work through the school year, but is also hoping to enlist the help of campus and community volunteers to help complete the inventory.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to get a lot of volunteer groups to work on larger sections of campus,” he said. “I’m also working with the IU Architect’s office and the Physical Plant’s Campus Division to see about integrating use of the GIS app into their daily activities as one possible way to continue to maintain the data going forward.”

IU landscape architect Mia Williams praised Drews’ work.

“The landscape legacy of IU Bloomington is that of a woodland campus. The work Will is doing will create an important tool to help us better steward that precious living and growing asset,” she said. “A campus can be a daunting location for a tree when you think about all the activity that takes place under their canopies. The inventory information will help us create the diversity we need to ensure the strength the canopy will definitely need.”

Want to volunteer to help complete the tree inventory? Contact Drews at wdrews@umail.iu.edu. You’ll need to gather a group of between 5 and 20 people, each of whom will need their own smartphone for the volunteer shift.

Drews' work aligns with several priorities in the university's Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success and catalyzing research.

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