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Inventory 80,000 trees? No problem

Posted: November 22, 2008 9:42 p.m.
Updated: November 23, 2008 4:59 a.m.

Anthony Calderon, a technician for Santa Clarita's arborist and inventory team, uses a GPS device to catalog one of the city's 80,000 trees Tuesday afternoon.

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From a laptop sitting in the bed of a pickup truck, Jeff Melin opened a computer file to show a map of Fedala Road.

Small green circles dotted the digital map that provided a bird's-eye snapshot of the Valencia neighborhood near Valencia Meadows Park.

Two of the dots represented a sycamore tree while another point stood for a cedar.

Melin, vice president of sales for Arbor Pro, pointed out the majestic trees that framed both sides of the cul-de-sac.

On screen, the map may look like a bunch of green dots spread around Santa Clarita, but to Melin and Robert Sartain, the city's urban forestry supervisor, it's their way of increasing efficiency and planting the best trees for the city.

"It helps us in managing our tree population," Sartain said.

Forward planning
Santa Clarita and the city-contracted company Arbor Pro began taking an inventory of all 80,000 trees that fall into the city's right of way, Sartain said. The inventory will include data from more than 200 types of trees.

Arbor Pro workers, as well as Chris Vandepas, an intern for the city's Urban Forestry Division, are going through the city's 13 neighborhood districts to record the thousands of trees.

The inventory is based on the five- to six-year trimming cycle initiated by the city, Sartain said.

So far, Arbor Pro took data from 10,000 to 12,000 trees while the city has looked at an additional 1,000 trees. The agencies are entering the data for use in the computers.

The data reflect portions of Canyon Country and areas into Valencia. The rest of Valencia and Saugus are next on the list.

Some time remains before all the information is ready.

"We're just in the beginning stages to where we can get to use this on a daily basis," Sartain said.

Nevertheless, Sartain anticipates the process will continue even after the 80,000 trees have been tallied because the city will continue to plant trees.

Workers in the field use a GPS device to assign the tree a digital number and also record the height, trunk diameter and location.

The device comes within three feet of the actual location of the tree, Sartain said.

The information is uploaded into a computer software program that maps out every tree. The program allows Sartain and other employees to know the tree's history, as well as whether the tree can potentially cause any damage to sidewalks or threaten overhanging power lines.

Workers can track whether any trees have diseases or pest problems and determine which locations could be home to future trees.

"It helps us be more efficient," Sartain said.

The electronic library eliminates any problems with hand-tagging trees, because tags could be removed by animals, nature or people over time.

"We don't need a physical tag," Melin said.

Saving paper
Before 2008, the city used a paper-filing system to keep track of trees and any work done to trees.

However, the system soon proved to be outdated as tracing the thousands of trees throughout Santa Clarita became a challenge.

"We couldn't keep up with the service schedule," Sartain said.

At the same time, assigning a worker to address a tree problem with multiple trees scattered in the area was difficult.

"The problem is when there's more than one tree at a location," he said.

To aid in the inventory, the state's Urban Forestry Division awarded the city a $63,300 grant, according to Thomas Shoots, urban forester for the state.

"The city has three years to spend those funds," Shoots said.

Sartain anticipates the project will cost about $180,000, which includes the grant money. It is the first time the city was awarded a grant for taking a tree inventory, Sartain said.

While the high-tech equipment and up-to-date inventory make workers more efficient, he sees more benefits. Trees provide oxygen and shade to reduce electricity costs, capture rainwater and prevent runoff.

But there's something about the look of trees that can add to a neighborhood, too.

"For me, they're just great to look at," he said.

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