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Tracking Burlington's urban forests

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More than 200 freshman from the University of Vermont are taking to the streets of Burlington, all part of a new effort to quantify the benefits of the city's urban forests.

Groups of three from UVM's environmental school will visit 200 randomly-selected spots, taking note of any vegetation in their area. The program -- part of one of their classes -- began last year and continues this year.

"It's a lot of fun to be able to go out every week and not sit in a classroom for 4 hours. We get to go out into the real world," says environmental studies freshman Kelsey Tustin.

New technology is driving their studies. iTree is a free computer program from the USDA Forest Service that monitors urban forest health, as well as economic and environmental value of the forests.

"Using the iTree software we can input the data of what plants are here and how many and how healthy they are to get an idea of the health of this urban forest," says Lisa Fredette with the Vermont Monitoring Cooperative.

The iTree program looks at data including what and how many species live in an area, their pollution removal from the air, susceptibility to invasive pests, and how many are non-native species.

"It can be used on one individual plot by a person that's interested in their own area all the way up to state level or to however big people want to take it," Fredette says.

Awareness is a key part of the study, allowing students to see practical applications for their research and residents to gain a better picture of the ecosystem they live in, as well as identify threats to these urban forests.

"Especially when we figure out what was planted and what was ingrowth here, like also what's native to the are and what's not native, it's interesting to see," Tustin says.

When these students are done, they will send the data off to be analyzed later this year. They hope an overview of Burlington's urban forests will help the city better understand their value.

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