Iowa City, UI track growing inventory of trees

The city of Iowa City and the University of Iowa have both developed online systems to keep track of all of the trees in the area for maintenance and diversity purposes.


Photo illustration by Grace Colton

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

Iowa City and the University of Iowa have developed online databases to better track the trees that grow in city and on campus.

In the past week and a half, Iowa City Parks & Recreation opened the Tree Plotter App for public use. The app allows users to look at the species, health, and ecological benefits of individual trees in the city.

City officials will also use the Tree Plotter App to assist them in keeping track of and treating ash trees with emerald ash borer infestations. Using the app, the city can decide which trees to treat and which to remove, Baird said.

“A lot of pests like emerald ash borer won’t just affect one species but all within the genus,” Baird said. “We’ve worked on adding more diversity at the genus level. We’ve really worked to try to use a standard of 5 percent or less of a species and 10 percent or less of a genus on new projects.”

The UI Facilities Management landscaping services has a tree-inventory program similar to Iowa City’s. The online inventory has been in development for the past three years and keeps track of the trees in maintained areas of campus.

With 8,000 trees on campus, the tree inventory was created to manage the trees for which Facilities Management knew the age and condition, said Mike Rhinehart, Facilities Management landscape construction supervisor.

The tree inventory allows users to look at how much storm runoff occurs, how much air each tree cleans, and how much the university is saving on energy costs, Rhinehart said. The public version also includes a link to a Wikipedia page about the tree species, he said.

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The tree inventory has special symbols to indicate whether a tree is a memorial, dedicated, or a state champion, UI Facilities Management arborist Andy Dahl said. He receives questions from people about the trees, and those people can learn more through the inventory, he said.


“I think even though we’re not a land-grant school, I feel, personally, we have an obligation to educate people of all aspects of the university so people know what kind of trees are out there on campus,” Dahl said.

It’s difficult to manage an urban forest if you don’t know what species of trees you have, he said. With knowing the exact number of each tree species, it can allow landscaping services to solve the issue of diversity, he said.

The UI was the first to find emerald ash borer in Johnson County in 2016, Rhinehart said. Through the tree inventory, landscaping services knows where all of the ash trees are located, making it easier to remove them and plant new trees, he said.

“We pride ourselves on being a Tree Campus USA,” Rhinehart said. “We’re the first university in the state of Iowa to get it. That’s part of our program; to manage trees, you have to keep track of them.”