Driven by its vision to grow a resilient world class urban forest for all San Diegans, the City of San Diego developed an Urban Forestry Program to enhance the urban environment through sound holistic urban forest management.

On Friday, Dec 2, 2016, the San Diego Section of the American Planning Association hosted a luncheon featuring the City’s efforts to achieve attainable greenhouse gas reductions through increasing urban tree canopy – essentially the collection of trees and vegetation over 8 feet within city limits.

“New Urban Forest in San Diego: Canopy, CAP, and Gettin’ Shady” highlighted the myriad of benefits trees provide in an urban environment and the common-sense strategies that need to be implemented in order to reach climate action goals.

The City of San Diego’s Urban Forestry Program Manager and current President of the Society of Municipal Arborists, Jeremy Barrick, facilitated this presentation with a packed room of eager planners, engineers, students, city leaders, and other stakeholders. Barrick hails from Minnesota, where he worked for several years in rural and suburban municipalities before launching into a role as the Deputy Chief of Forestry, Horticulture, and Natural Resources with NYC Parks. He achieved a degree in Urban & Community Forestry from the University of Minnesota and is an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist. He now serves in the City’s Planning Department.

To lay the groundwork for the conversation, Barrick described the City’s Urban Forestry Program as “the planning and policy of tree preservation, maintenance, and planting that includes risk management and emergency response.”

He simplified the City’s main urban forestry goals into three priorities: (1) increase the City’s tree canopy cover, (2) maximize the efficiencies in tree maintenance, and (3) minimize the risk of trees in an urban environment.

Barrick emphasized that planning for urban forestry requires the coordination of every department in the City. From designing region-wide policies that enable canopy growth to establishing neighborhood-specific goals, becoming a world class urban forest is not a simple venture. San Diego’s Urban Forestry Program Five Year Plan details the City’s framework of exactly how it plans to engage various levels of governance to meet its forestry goals.

In order to produce a complete inventory of the current state of tree canopy in San Diego, the County of San Diego was able to use Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology to generate imagery of the urban environment – with funding provided by CAL FIRE grants.

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Source: LiDAR imaging, J. O’Neil-Dunne
The LiDAR data is integral to the Urban Forestry Program because it can be used to create targeted planting priorities, address environmental justice issues, design tree stewardship programs, and inform master plans and policies. Barrick announced that the final data set will be publicly available by the end of this year.

This “laser scan of the earth’s surface” provided the information for experts to conclude that the City of San Diego currently has 13% of the region covered with existing tree canopy mostly on residential land, which is less than the 15% statewide average.

By inverting the LiDAR data, researchers were also able to identify opportunities for canopy coverage. According to Barrick, San Diego has the potential to increase the city’s tree canopy up to 79% by focusing most of its growth efforts on the 73,357 acres of available recreational and open space for planting trees.



Source: J. O’Neil-Dunne

Analyzing the data further revealed an interesting reality when it comes to which specific areas tend to have more tree canopy. In his research, Barrick compared neighborhoods with higher income residents to other historically lower income areas such as Southeastern San Diego. The results exposed San Diego’s current inequality where “High Society” areas such as La Jolla garner the vast majority of existing tree canopy in the city.

The City has been able to use this data as a launching pad for designing a comprehensive, focused plan that incorporates the strategies for creating a truly resilient urban forest.

Barrick finished his presentation by summarizing what San Diego needs to do moving forward, “in the end, we want to preserve trees so we have the benefits for the here and now. We want to maintain the other trees so they’re setup in a way that they can become large, healthy trees. Then we need to plant new trees to get to our canopy goals. And that’s how we’ll get to this canopy goal of increasing canopy cover by preserving, maintaining, and planting trees.”


By: Kristian James Castro, SD APA Young Planners Group Protégé