Risk reduction through coastal urban forest management outreach

End Date: 05/31/2016

Jason Gordon and Glenn Hughes of Mississippi State University’s Department of Forestry and Arnold Brodbeck of Auburn University will work with communities to improve local resilience through urban forest management. This project will describe how residents think about forests in their cities. It will include outreach efforts to share information about the value of trees, such as how they store carbon and influence thermal comfort, energy use and air quality. Outreach will also focus on how forests serve as natural storm buffers by reducing wind speeds, improving water quality and keeping precipitation from reaching the ground. As part of this project, community volunteers will be enlisted to help inventory the tree canopy using i-Tree software, which will provide baseline data needed for urban ecosystem management decisions. The project will focus on the cities of Long Beach and Pass Christian in Mississippi and Orange Beach and Fairhope in Alabama.


Our goal for this project is to work collaboratively with communities to improve local resilience through urban forest management and, by association, mitigate the impacts of natural hazards on community well-being. To accomplish this objective, we will pursue the following objectives:

  1. To describe public values towards urban forests.
  2. To identify stakeholder capacities and needs for urban forest management outreach. 
  3. To convey information on urban forest planning for storm water management, wind resistance, and hazard assessment through four workshops.
  4. To implement hands-on learning opportunities and environmental citizenship using four urban tree inventories with canopy measures. 
  5. To facilitate partnerships and networks for sustainable urban forest management.


We will work in four sites based on (1) municipal authorities’ interest in the project (see attached letters) and (2) Tree City USA status. Five steps are integrated to achieve our specific objectives, improve validity and reliability of the research data, and improve our outreach strategies.  

Step 1: Collaborative Planning (Year 1).

To accomplish Objectives 1-2 we will conduct telephone-based key-informant interviews (KIs). Informants will be selected for their representation of various perspectives. Data will be analyzed for emergent themes and integrated into subsequent project steps.  

Step 2: Inventory Planning Meetings (Year 1).

In each site, we will visit with municipal authorities and interested citizens to define the scope (e.g., sample size, public or private property) of an urban tree inventory (Objective 4), available resources, potential volunteer groups, and timeline (12 months or less). Sample plots will be identified using photoimagery. 

Step 3: Workshops (Year 1).

To accomplish Objective 3, one workshop will be conducted in each community (n=4). KIs and local leaders will be personally invited to the workshops. The programs will also be advertised and open to the general public. Workshops will highlight benefits of urban tree canopy, replacing lost canopy, hazard assessment and liability, wind resistant species, and urban canopy assessment. Discussion questions will be posed to participants to identify public attitudes and behaviors regarding the urban forest and data will be recorded and analyzed as described in Step 1. The major difference between data collected in Steps 1 and 3 is the focus on “group think” as opposed to individual responses to KI questions. Learning outcomes will be assessed by the number of participants and pre- and post-test data.  

Step 4: Conduct Inventories (Year 2). Step 2 information will be used to conduct tree inventories to achieve Objectives 4 and 5. Project personnel will train volunteers and municipal arborists in data collection using i-Tree software. Each site will require at least 6 volunteer data collectors. Metrics will include tree geographic coordinates, height, diameter, canopy characteristics, proximity to buildings, and ground surface characteristics. The three co-PIs (two are ISA Certified Arborists) will provide Quality Assurance and Control to ensure data quality. We will assess the outcome to this step by the number of individuals involved in the inventory, completion of inventories, and initiation of management plans.  

Step 5: Assessment (Year 2). KI and workshop data will be used to construct a multistage mail survey (n=2,000; 35% response) distributed to the general public in each site. The survey will allow us to determine the generalizability of findings obtained in Steps 1 and 3. Regression methods will determine the effects of community level and individual level characteristics on variation in values and attitudes towards urban forest management. Project findings will be used in future projects that engage Gulf Coast residents in urban forest inventories and management.


By 2020 the Mississippi-Alabama Gulf Coast population is projected to increase by 75% to 1.3 million residents. Urbanization will have the most direct and permanent effects on coastal ecosystems and the ability of communities to avoid, adapt to, and recover from shock or change caused by human and natural stresses. Urbanization impacts urban forest ecosystems which in turn influence local resilience in a number of ways. For example, the urban forest canopy influences thermal comfort, energy use, air quality, and stores carbon. Landscaping with trees has been shown to increase property values and commercial benefits. Urban forests help create and enhance animal and plant habitats and offer enjoyment to city dwellers. Urban forests also act as natural storm buffers by reducing wind speeds, improving water quality, and intercepting the flow of precipitation reaching the ground. Along with such benefits, drawbacks and challenges of urban trees include leaves and fruit creating nuisance and conflict between neighbors, structural damage due to invasive roots and falling limbs, and damaged trees after severe storms.  

This project relates to Goal 6 (development of vibrant and resilient coastal communities) and Goal 9 (adaptation to impacts of hazards and climate change under Focus Area 3 (Resilient Communities and Economies - RCE) of the MASGC Strategic Plan. To address these goals, this project addresses four related issues: (1) there is a need for urban ecosystem management along the Gulf Coast; (2) urban ecosystem management is critical to community resiliency; (3) tree canopy data is a baseline for informed ecosystem management; and (4) sustainable urban ecosystem management requires resident engagement.

Project steps are intended to convey information, build understanding, improve skills, and enable sustainable actions towards resiliency. Tree canopy inventories provide baseline data for municipal authorities and urban foresters to use in urban forest management and can catalyze citizen engagement. The project will emphasize storm water management, hazard reduction (maintaining healthy trees), and planting wind resistant tree species. Workshops will be coupled to inventory projects to convey concepts and site specific information regarding urban forests and adaptation strategies to the general public. Project steps reflect cooperative extension goals of strengthening social networks while promoting citizenship, confidence in local government, and local ecosystem knowledge and appreciation. 

The project is designed to provide case study data and education using an integrated, participatory approach (interviews, project design meetings, workshops, and inventories). Such an approach is frequently used in environmental education and stakeholder direction in program development and research improves the quality of the deliverables. As Monroe et al. (2007) noted, “The process of community leaders and agency educators working together to redefine the problem and suggest novel solutions is the essence of [enabling sustainable actions].”