A smartphone app to modernize tree surveys

November 14, 2017

Tree surveyors are tasked with collecting a myriad of information: a tree’s height, diameter, age, life expectancy, and more. All of these factors are considered in making tree management decisions. But the surveying process could be improved for efficiency and effectiveness, according to Matteo Garbelotto, a Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy,  and Management. Garbelotto’s survey experience in the field led to the idea of a smartphone application to create a more robust tree survey tool.

To make this project possible, a gift from the PG&E Foundation will support Garbelotto’s team at the Forest Pathology and Mycology Laboratory to build and launch the app. Tentatively called EvaluaTree, the app will launch for testing next year with the beta version slated for release in 2019.

EvaluaTree will help anyone—tree care specialists, parks and recreational personnel, and the general public—conduct a tree survey safely and efficiently. The app will allow users to systematically survey trees by answering a series of user-defined questions. Each project or survey team may create different sets of survey questions, and all of the data collected will be stored in a database.

Woman holds a smartphone while conducting tree survey in forested area

A tree surveyor collects data using a smartphone app created by Garbelotto's lab, called SOD Map Mobile. Garbelotto's lab will build another app for tree surveys with support from the PG&E Foundation. 

Additional app features will include the ability to record the health status of a tree, as well as significant pathogens present in a specimen. To gain a complete picture of a tree’s health, users will be able to collect and ship samples to Garbelotto’s lab, where they will be analyzed for pathogens.

The app will calculate the overall hazard rating of a tree, helping surveyors understand likelihood that a tree’s branches or trunk may break or fall, known as tree failure. Using data collected from surveyors, the app will compile a short list of red-flagged trees for their removal, which could improve public safety by decreasing the likelihood that diseased trees will fall on houses, powerlines, and roadways. By identifying trees with high hazard scores, Garbelotto hopes that surveyors, including PG&E personnel, will be able to quickly make land management decisions about infected and potentially dangerous trees.

Garbelotto’s lab will build on the experience gained from launching another app that his team created, SOD Map Mobile.

“This collaboration between the Forest Pathology Lab and the PG&E Foundation will generate a field tool that will revolutionize how tree surveys are done,” said Garbelotto. “This is a transformational project for the field.”