Tree Talk

Taking stock of trees

Taos tree survey underway to map, plan, care for urban forest


During the month of July, Taos arborists, student interns and volunteers will be traveling through the town, counting, mapping and observing the trees that occupy the town of Taos landscape. Thanks to a Community Forestry Assistance Grant through New Mexico State Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service, this information will be used to to come to a greater understanding of the current state of the community forest so the town can enact a deliberate and well-planned program of tree care. In order to maximize the benefits that trees provide, it is vitally important to provide adequately for their needs. Surveying the trees in the town landscape to gain knowledge of their conditions is the first step in establishing what those needs might be.

Previous surveys have recorded approximately 3,400 trees within the historic district, mostly existing on private property. The current surveys are focused on trees rooted on public property and in those areas bordering the public right of way. This should help the town of Taos officials see clearly which trees are deemed under their responsibility and care. Most of these stand in the parks, around public buildings, in public parking lots and occasionally along streets and medians. The incoming data will categorize trees that need immediate attention and will lead to priority-based maintenance schedules that over time should increase the quality and resilience of the town tree canopy.

As the surveys progress through the neighborhoods, keep a look out for the brightly colored survey crews. They will be happy to explain the survey process and their personal role in gathering an understanding of the community forest. Since the project is as much about people as it is about trees, the surveys become a valuable tool for public engagement, outreach and learning about the community forest. By stimulating students and volunteers to connect with trees in the community, we are hoping to increase awareness and the number of people giving attention to the trees around them.

As we move to finish this year's surveys, we realize that this work can never be considered complete. As some trees grow and others die back or are removed and as more trees are added to the forest, the entire system changes. The ecology of the Taos landscape is forever in flux, and people are no doubt deeply involved. It took three years for the most recent set of data to be gathered. Even in that time, we have noticed significant changes. It is not realistic to resurvey the full extent every year, considering the effort and expense of the undertaking. It is more approachable to implement continual modest efforts, that when taken together, register a six- to eight-year cycle at any given location. A small number of the total trees can be accomplished every year, thereby keeping the survey relatively current. Certain areas may need more frequent observations.

Kit Carson Park was last surveyed in 2011 by crews from the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. Much has changed since the original data was collected. Some trees have died since that time, and many new trees have been planted. The recent survey was completed on July 5, 2017. This data will be used to draft a management plan specific to the trees in the park that is intended to cover the next five years of care. From there, the survey crews move to neighborhoods in the historic district that have not been visited in previous surveys. This year's survey will wrap up by monitoring the trees along Paseo del Pueblo moving southward through the historic district. The data will lead to increased understanding and will move forward the ability to properly care for trees in the Taos community forest.