ST. ALBANS CITY — Drivers and passersby in the city may notice a few people in orange vests, standing beneath trees and burying their noses in iPads.
They’re not absent-minded technology users who accidentally wandered outside. They’re foresters.
And they’re not using Facebook or Twitter. Instead, using a Google Map-like system, they’re inventorying trees.
St. Albans City is one of 20 municipalities in the state taking part in a 2015 special project conducted by the Vermont Urban & Community Forestry Program and funded by the U.S. Forest Service. In a partnership between the University of Vermont Extension and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, foresters are descending upon every town or city, iPads in hand, to record all the trees in the public right-of-way along with their size, species, location, condition and any potential problems.
UVM extension’s VT UCF staff forester Elise Schadler is overseeing the special project. Inventorying began last Monday in St. Albans City, and so far, foresters have covered most of the hill section of the city.
“St. Albans has a lot of trees,” said Schadler. She estimated that her team would record 1,000 to 1,500 trees here, and would finish up this week.
When the inventory is completed, a management plan will be drawn up for St. Albans City and every other participating municipality. Swanton Village, for instance, had an inventory done last year and after being contacted by the VT UCF, the Northwest Regional Planning Commission is helping draw up an action plan for the village.
At the end, a certified arborist will spend the day touring each community with its area’s tree warden to talk about implementing a proposed tree plan. The tree warden for St. Albans City’s is Curtis Comfort, also the city’s planning and permitting administrator. He won’t need an arborist to go around with him, though, since he taught forestry and horticulture for 13 years at the Center for Technology in Essex.
“My background is forestry,” said Comfort. With regard to the inventory, Comfort “got the ball rolling” after noticing the trees in Taylor Park during the annual winter carnival 2015, shortly after he began his job with the city in December 2014.
“I could see that a number of [the trees] needed structural help,” he said. “As they grow more and more around the city, there are a lot of big trees … a lot of them need attention.”
Comfort originally applied for a $10,500 matching grant from VT UCF, but it would have required the tree warden to assemble his own team of knowledgeable foresters to do the work. Instead, Schadler let him know about the U.S. Forest Service program – $150,000 for 20 communities, or about $7,500 each – and St. Albans City came on board.
Now, the municipality has 200 man-hours from foresters to conduct an inventory. In St. Albans, as in the other cities and towns, Schadler said it’s important to know what’s there, and then to take care of it. And because most municipalities are not like St. Albans City and do not have a knowledgeable tree person, VT UCF and its foresters want to help.
“[It is] getting a foundation for knowing what trees you have,” she said of the inventory. “That’s the first step in knowing how to manage them.”
Comfort said of the city, “We’re trying to be proactive.” He added that he expected a management plan to be drawn up from the inventory in the next month, and any maintenance, as directed by the plan, should be done in late winter and early spring 2016.