David Nowak

Project leader and research forester, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station

Best known for: The U.S. Forest Service reported last year that the number of trees in 17 of 20 major U.S. cities surveyed is declining, which has negative consequences for air and water quality, energy usage and air temperatures. Nowak, who co-wrote the study that estimates the loss of urban trees in the United States at about 4 million a year, is focused on reversing this trend.

Nowak, along with private industry and nongovernmental organizations, created an innovative Web-based tool known as i-Tree (www.itreetools.org). It uses field data on the size, species and numbers of trees in urban areas, along with local air pollution and ­meteorological information to quantify the forest structure, environmental effects and values to communities. Communities can obtain information about the health of their trees, the ecosystem benefits, how many new trees would be desirable and where they should be planted.

With many cities facing tight budgets, i-Tree also can provide solid evidence about the economic benefits of planting new trees. Pittsburgh, for example, used ­i-Tree to calculate that city trees provided a monetary benefit three times greater than the annual cost of upkeep, leading the city to develop a master plan for expanding its tree canopy. Data from i-Tree also provided evidence to help push forward a major tree-
planting initiative in New York City and has been used in Milwaukee; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Casper, Wyo. All told, i-Tree has been used in more than 100 countries and has had about 12,000 users since the initial software suite was launched in 2006.

Government work: Nowak joined the Forest Service in 1989 as a forestry technician and has been involved in a variety roles as a researcher and project leader with a focus on urban forests.

Motivation for service: Nowak said most people associate the Forest Service with the vast national forests throughout the country, not with cities. But he sees urban forestry as the future, with more than 80 percent of the population living in urban areas. He’s driven by a desire to protect and expand the tree cover to help improve the quality of life in cities.

Biggest challenge: It is one thing to get communities to gather the data on tree cover and assess the environmental and health situation but another to ensure the information is used in a meaningful way.

“Once you have the information, you have to get in front of the policymakers — the people who have the power to make decisions and effect change. That is the biggest challenge,” Nowak said.

Quote: “Trees provide multiple environmental and health benefits. We want to help community leaders and the public see the whole picture so they can make better decisions and do what we need to do today so we will have a better environment in the future.”

— From the Partnership
for Public Service

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