Undergraduate students in the Department of Computer Science are developing a Stormwise app. The app will have two functions; tree failure reporting where individuals can provide a description and photo, and the app will walk people through a hazard tree assessment process. Collecting tree failure data will be of great value for research down the road, and will help prioritize work. All data from the app will come back to UConn. The app will be marketed to the public and other stakeholder groups when it is debuted later this year. Outreach audiences include elected officials and emergency management directors that make decisions about power and transportation networks in their community. Tree crews, tree wardens, and community stakeholders are also included. The Stormwise website also offers information for various stakeholder groups, and the program has an active Twitter account.
Driving down a Connecticut road with a canopy of green overhead delights Connecticut residents. But when a storm strikes, those same trees frustrate residents by blocking roads and causing power outages. Connecticut is the fourth most densely populated state in the union, and with 75% of the land covered by trees, power outages frequently occur. Tom Worthley, with team members in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE), are working to make a difference with a program called “Stormwise.”
Stormwise is more than just a tree and forest management program, with a goal of making roadside forests more “wind firm.” Researching tree biomechanics is a key element of the Stormwise initiative, as is applying latest remote sensing technologies to understand landscape factors. A social science component of Stormwise helps develop appropriate outreach messages to stakeholder groups.
Stormwise vegetation management combines arboricultural and silvicultural techniques in innovative ways to address four key concepts. First, a tree with plenty of space to grow is healthier. Second, trees crowns and branches develop toward light, and develop lean towards the power line corridor. Third, trees become stronger and more wind-resistant if exposed to wind as they grow. And fourth, growing the right tree in the right place is within our control. Roadside woods can be managed for natural resistance to wind damage through judicious thinning of unhealthy and unsuitable specimens, and providing desirable trees with plenty of space to grow in a balanced and wind-firm manner.
“When our society first started stringing wires on poles, the forest in Connecticut was young,” Tom says. “Wires on poles were okay, but now the forest is older, and taller and it’s never been managed, like an un-weeded garden on the roadside. The power infrastructure has not changed, but roadside forests have matured. We can manage roadside forests for the right species mix, age structure and density for wind-resistance, as an alternative to simply trimming or clearing trees away.” Tom conducts vegetation management trials and outreach. Each forest area is managed according to its individual characteristics, with a focus on the four Stormwise principles. Answering questions like whether a tree will move differently if you give it space determines which trees are best for retaining in the roadside forest.
Three research sites study tree biomechanics, and eight sites have vegetation management projects. Fieldwork is being done at the UConn Forest, on state land in Coventry, on the UConn Torrington campus, on water company land in Orange, and with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) on a variety of sites in each county. North Haven and Haddam are conducting pilot projects in which wood from roadside tree removals is recovered for log or chip markets, with proceeds from sales benefitting the towns.
Graduate students have collected three years of data on the motion of trees using sensors. At other sites, students identify trees to preserve, helping to create a multi-age condition in the forest. Vegetation management work is being done with a crew of student labor.
Public education about the need to manage roadside forests and plant shorter trees near power lines is a key part of the Stormwise mission. The challenge is the multitude of communities and stakeholders involved, including landowners, utility crews, elected officials and tree wardens. Everyone needs to be on board for Stormwise to be effective.
“Power outages would be shorter with Stormwise management techniques,” Tom says. “And roadside woods could be managed from the ground every 15 to 20 years instead of from a bucket truck every 4 or 5 years.
“My role is making connections for people, and providing technical assistance,” Tom continues. “For instance, I am teaching tree crews to look at trees for other product purposes.” The proceeds of timber sales can help to cover the cost of Stormwise management. Landowners and towns can also recoup costs.
As part of the public education process, Tom is working with social scientist Dr. Anita Morzillo of NRE to gather information about target audiences, and develop effective messages. They are seeking early adopters in communities to continue work with demonstration sites.
“The first big challenge was logistical work with the students as they tested management approaches,” Tom says. “Now Stormwise is ready to take to community groups.
“In an ideal world, trouble spots will be converted into more wind resistant conditions,” Tom concludes. “Each spot will be different, but we want fewer power outages caused by trees – our goal is to cut that number in half.”
Learn how UConn Extension is tying research to real life in your community through our 2015 Highlights of Extension.
Two major storms that struck Connecticut and much of the northeastern U.S. in 2011 resulted in extended power outages and billions of dollars in property, and interior forest damage. As Connecticut seeks to lower future damage risk while sustaining the trees and forests that are so essential to our daily lives, management of infrastructure-adjacent forests has become a high-priority. Developing healthy, storm resistant forests requires adaptive stand management from the forest edge to the interior that preserves aesthetic appeal, biodiversity and other forest amenities. A new collaborative effort now underway at UConn will promote the positive potential of proactive “Stormwise” forest management to utility, municipal, landowner and public stakeholders.
“Stormwise” is a multi-disciplinary concept initiated at UConn’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment to address the challenges associated with power-line and road corridors that traverse forested landscapes. The intent of the “Stormwise” vegetation management initiative is to demonstrate to and educate decision-makers and the public about management strategies to reduce the risk of tree-related power and transportation disruptions during storms. Applying scientific principles from tree growth and biomechanics, forest ecology and silviculture along with arboricultural and silvicultural techniques, we intend to show how desirable forest conditions (combinations of species mixes, age structures and densities) can be established and grown along power-line and road corridors that are wind-firm, healthy, aesthetically pleasing and address multiple environmental goals. In the process we also hope to stimulate local economic activity and work-force training, specifically in appropriate silvicultural and arboricultural skills and local forest product utilization.
The “Stormwise” effort is being sponsored by Northeast Utilities and United Illuminat-ing power utility companies, includes other strategic partners, and is part of a broader initiative that includes a predictive storm weather modeling project being conducted by the School of Engineering.
“Stormwise” is designed to promote healthy, storm resistant forests. The project will encourage local solutions in-volving homeowners, community leaders, planners, and others in an effort to protect people, power lines and prop-erty from tree-fall risk. We seek to create a highly unique and visible statewide “Stormwise” program embodying a positive message about forest resource stewardship and the value of healthy, storm-resistant trees and forests. Re-sults of recent and ongoing forest-edge/tree movement and crop-tree bio-dynamics research being conducted by Dr. Mark Rudnicki will be applied as innovative practices utilizing integrated arboricultural and silvicultural techniques. “Stormwise” treatment demonstration sites with healthier trees and increased storm resistance will be used as educa-tional focal points for a series of planned workshops. Sites will also be used to monitor, evaluate, and adjust man-agement protocols that integrate proactive arboricultural and silvicultural practices. Building on current outreach and research activities led by Associate Extension Professor Tom Worthley, the project will promote marketing strategies for harvested wood at appropriate scales to help align forest resource sustainability with community-level economic development and local entrepreneurial interests.
Lessons learned on integrating arboricultural and silvicultural practices to create “Stormwise” forests will be incor-porated into outreach materials and workshop presentations, elevating public interest in long-term forest steward-ship. This project will result in an immediate resistance to damage from severe storms, increased knowledge and capacity of natural resource managers, local production of value-added forest products and improved public appreciation of forestry.