Trees & People: ISA 2013

Trees & People: ISA 2013

Our software projects at Azavea range from the political to the criminal to the spatial, so it’s not unusual to find Azaveans attending a wide variety of conferences to discuss our work and learn about the latest technology. Since we began work on OpenTreeMap and other urban forestry projects, I’ve been fortunate to take part in several tree related events. Earlier this week, I headed off to Toronto to attend the 89th annual conference of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

While I unfortunately arrived too late to see the International Tree Climbing Championship (there’s one thing we don’t have at tech conferences…), I heard some great presentations on very diverse topics. That variety in subject matter was one of the most appealing elements of the conference and a major reason I decided to attend. From information on urban forestry experiences in Europe to the biomechanics of trees to utility forestry, ISA ended up being a great opportunity to gain familiarity with many aspects of arboriculture. There was even a Climbers’ Corner (see photo on left) where arborists discussed topics related to tree climbing.

Perhaps one of my favorite sessions was Dr. Karl Niklas’s keynote speech on “What We Don’t Know about Tree Biomechanics.” I initially was hesitant about an address whose subtitle included the phrase “Why Trees Fall Down,” but Dr. Niklas’s presentation on tree stability and growth ended up being one of those lectures where you’re almost too busy laughing and listening to realize how much science you’re also learning. I also enjoyed Dr. Greg McPherson’s session on the “Life-Cycle Assessment of the Million Trees LA Program,” which analyzed whether that planting project, when viewed using a cradle-to-grave approach, was a net carbon sink or carbon source. Ecosystem benefit calculations of urban street trees are a critical aspect of Azavea’s urban forestry work, and I’m excited to see how the algorithms can be further refined and improved to include more elements of the tree’s entire life cycle.

As with many conferences, ISA also provided opportunities to finally meet people I had previously only known from phone calls and emails.  I’m part of the Urban Tree Growth and Longevity Working Group, which holds its annual meeting during the conference. It was great to meet many of the people from the group and the connected Urban Tree Monitoring Protocol project. As a shameless plug, the Working Group is a great initiative for those looking to be more involved in gathering data related to tree development and mortality in urban settings. More info is available on our website.

While software wasn’t a huge component of many of the sessions, the research on topics such as the ecosystem benefits of street trees, urban tree canopy assessments, and tree maintenance costs may influence how we develop the calculations and overall user experience of our forestry software. ISA and other tree related conferences are one way for the urban forestry team at Azavea to learn more about the state of art research happening in the field. We’ll be at a couple more tree conferences in 2013, and I’m looking forward to learning more about new developments in arboriculture.