For nearly 150 years, people have observed Arbor Day by coming together to plant trees. On USF’s St. Petersburg campus, students are celebrating trees by counting them.
The tree inventory is part of a larger project launched by USF’s Tampa campus back in 2017 to create a digital, interactive inventory of the nearly 10,000 trees on their site. This project was one of several that led to the university being designated as a Tree Campus USA, which honors colleges and universities for effective campus forest management and engaging staff and students in conservation goals.
On the St. Petersburg campus, the effort is being overseen by sustainability planner Winnie Mulamba, who received her master’s degree from USF’s Patel College of Global Sustainability. She is working with student groups such as the Student Green Energy Fund (SGEF) to create a map and database for each tree on campus that will inform future plans to diversify tree populations and expand canopy cover across campus.
“Trees have numerous environmental, social and economic benefits,” Mulamba said. “There’s stormwater management, improved air quality, carbon sequestration, noise pollution reduction, the cooling effect and they are beautiful. If we know the size of our tree canopy and the type of species that we have, it contributes towards calculating the value of ecosystem services provided.”
To collect the data, teams of students are carefully measuring and cataloging each tree on campus. The information they gather is inputted into an interactive map, which supplements the city of St. Peterburg’s own tree inventory program. The city is also encouraging students to join its newly-created Urban Forestry Committee, which is part of the City Beautiful Commission. More information is available on the city’s website, stpete.org.
The tree inventory software not only documents the location and species of each tree, it also calculates the monetary value of the services the tree provides, from carbon dioxide sequestration to drought mitigation.
“It’s a really easy way for business-minded people to see the value of our trees,” said Brianna Douglas, a junior biology major and SGEF’s vice chair, who is leading the project. “Our trees have a purpose on our campus, and we’re helping to show the university the savings that trees provide.”
Douglas said the project is open to all students. They hope students on the Sarasota-Manatee campus will eventually join in the effort and inventory their trees, too.
She added the project provides students with valuable research experience as well as training for jobs in fields such as conservation and land management.
On a recent Friday morning, junior Brandon Majercin and senior Virginia Ortiz spent about two hours conducting the inventory. Using an app on their smart phones, they took pictures of each tree and wrapped a tape measure around the trunks.
The process is slow and methodical, but the students said they find it rewarding.
“Eventually, I’d like to be a project manager in land management,” Ortiz said. “So this is a really good opportunity to start getting that hands-on experience.”