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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 3, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesSurveying of V.I. Trees Is Part of U.S. Forest Health Effort

Surveying of V.I. Trees Is Part of U.S. Forest Health Effort

The U.S. Forest Service is about to start a survey of trees across the Virgin Islands, the second time it’s sent teams out to record tree data on specific plots of public and private land.

"It is part of a national program across the entire United States," Tom Brandeis, a researcher with the Forest Service’s Inventory and Analysis Program, said Tuesday.

It’s part of a 75-year federal effort to collect, analyze and report information on the status and trends of America’s forests. Researchers want to know how much forest exists, where it exists, who owns it, and how it is changing. The program also documents how well the trees and other forest vegetation are growing and how much has died or been removed in recent years.

"Our goal is to help residents, legislators and agencies understand the uniqueness of island ecosystems and the significant ecological changes that they have been experiencing recently," Brandeis said.

According to Brandeis, reports on forest condition can help direct future actions by bringing together information on the current situation as well as recent trends. They point out what the future will be like if the trends are allowed to continue unchanged.

"With better information, resource managers can take steps to reinforce desirable trends and mitigate undesirable trends," he said.

The tree plots are chosen at random by a computer, which means they might be in someone’s backyard. Brandeis said that if that’s the case, team members will knock on doors to get permission to survey the trees.

"And if it falls in the mangroves, then the poor crew will have to go out in the mangroves," he said.

They’ll measure thousands of trees and assess tree health and other attributes.

The crew members are easily identified by their Forest Service uniforms. Brandeis said they’ll wear orange vests and drive a Forest Service vehicle.

A Global Positioning System is used to record the trees’ location. Brandeis said markers will not be placed on trees.

The survey will include 30 locations on St. John and 55 on St. Croix. Brandeis did not have the figure for the number of locations on St. Thomas.

The crew of three men is now training on St. John. That island will be the first to have its trees surveyed, with St. Thomas next. The crew will wrap up the work on St. Croix. The work on all three islands is expected to take five months.

Crews will return every five years to assess changes.

"Information from the inventory will be useful for assessing the sustainability of ecosystem management practices, evaluating wildlife habitat, and supporting forest planning and decision-making," Brandeis.

A Forest Service crew did a similar survey across the Virgin Islands in 2004 to track changes in forest cover, land use patterns, biological diversity, and hurricane damage, and recovery. Using an aerial survey done in 1994, the Forest Service was able to determine that the territory lost 7 percent of its forest between 1994 and 2004. In 2004, forest covered 61 percent the territory.

The 2004 survey showed that only 3.8 percent of live trees had some type of damage or disease, and there were only a few indications of stressed trees or widespread pest and disease problems. The 2004 inventory also highlighted the relative youth of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ forests, pointing out that 80 percent of forest land consisted of small trees and saplings.

Brandeis said that crews will soon do the five-year evaluation of the trees initially surveyed in 2004.

The Virgin Islands, in particular V.I. National Park on St. John, sees numerous projects by a variety of researchers. Brandeis said that this project is not part of one in which vandals removed aluminum identification tags from the trees, which ruined a 25-year research effort. That problem came to light in 2008.

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