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Evaluating the Outcomes of Neighborhood Urban Forestry: NUCFAC Grant

In September of 2012, BUFRG received news that we won a National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council (NUCFAC) Challenge Cost-Share Grant to expand our tree planting program research with KIB to 5 additional cities across the eastern and midwestern U.S. (Figure 1; see the IU press release here). Since this time, we have also won additional grants from the USFS Northern Research Station and Indiana University Office of Sustainability. Our two main research objectives are:

  1. Evaluate the success of trees planted by urban nonprofit tree-planting programs.
    • Does the design of the nonprofit tree-planting program affect planted-tree success?
    • Does the design of the neighborhood tree-planting project affect planted-tree success?
  2. Evaluate whether tree-planting programs have social effects on neighborhoods and individuals. Are there changes in:
    • Local collective efforts?
    • Civic engagement?
    • Individual environmental and tree knowledge?

NUCFAC Figure 1

The first objective relates to understanding the ways that tree-planting programs can maximize the direct effects of the program: planting successful urban trees. Specific questions to be answered will address the three facets of the social-ecological system: (1) Vegetative resource and biophysical factors: What types of trees planted (e.g., planting stock, species) are the most successful under various urban growing conditions? What effect do various local environmental factors (soil volume, light availability, competition with other trees, etc.) have on tree success? (2) Community and social system attributes: What characteristics of the neighborhood (social/cultural, economic, demographic, etc.) are related to tree success? (3) Institutional and management practices: What role does management and maintenance (e.g., watering, pruning, etc.) at the neighborhood level play in tree success? What management institutions (i.e., rules-in-use, norms) are the most important to tree success?

The second research objective relates to the indirect effects of tree-planting programs by asking about the social effects of these programs. This question considers tree-planting programs from a different direction than the first question, and instead of asking, “How do characteristics of the community impact tree-planting success?” we ask, “How does tree planting impact the characteristics of the community?” The theoretical justification behind this question is based in theories that collective action—tree planting, in this case—may impact other forms of collective action taken by the neighborhood or other characteristics of individuals, such as a sense of neighborhood ownership or engagement in civic environmentalism (Elmendorf 2008), or adaptation to climate change (Adger 2003). Previous studies have examined the effects of trees themselves on community dynamics (e.g., crime and violence; Kuo & Sullivan 2001a,b) and on “user satisfaction” of trees planted (Sommer et al. 1994b: 323). However, few studies have explicitly examined the indirect social effects of tree-planting programs on communities or individuals. We intend to search for specific, quantifiable effects of urban tree-planting programs and consider how these effects can be related to climate change adaptation strategies. (See Theoretical Context document below for full citations and a brief literature review of relevant theory behind this project.)

A set of simple protocols that tree-planting organizations could use to assess both the mortality and growth rates (success) of recently-planted trees over time, and any neighborhood- or individual-level indirect social effects would (1) help close the gap between desired knowledge and existing practice; (2) generate data for a national-scale assessment of community tree-planting program outcomes in the face of climate change; and, (3) inform best practices for volunteer tree-planting programs and other types of active urban environmental stewardship. The data collected through this research will be compiled into a multi-city database of community-planted trees that can help us understand how growth and survival of urban tree over time may be altered across geographically and climatically distinct cities as the climate changes.

Key Project Personnel

Members of the main project management team at Indiana University are listed below. As we add collaborators and hire research assistants from other universities, they will be added to this list.

  • Burney Fischer: Principal Investigator, project oversight.
  • Jess Vogt: project manager, main point-of-contact for partners and hired personnel; lead on Institutional Review Board documentation and approval, database design and management and tree data collection activities.
  • Sarah Mincey: lead on interview design and personnel training, and supplementary grant writing; supports processing of interview and survey data and data analysis.
  • Shannon Watkins: lead on social survey development and research design; supports processing of interview and survey data and data analysis.
  • Rachael Bergmann: general project support, including meeting planning, survey logistics and implementation, data processing, and database development and management.

Key Partners

This project would not be possible without the help and support of our fantastic partner organizations:

Project Timeline

The table below presents an approximate timeline of activities. This may be updated periodically to reflect project progress.



Sept-Dec 2012

Research design (ongoing)

Survey development

Begin working with Indiana University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) to begin review process for research with human subjects

Brief meeting with nonprofits in attendance at the Partners in Community Forestry Meeting in Sacramento, CA (November)

Jan-Apr 2013

Research design (ongoing)

Survey vetting with nonprofits (chance to add questions unique to each nonprofit)

Vetting interview and tree inventory methods with nonprofits

Begin developing connections with local universities in each city to find Graduate Research Assistants

Interim progress report and draft data collection materials (survey, interview questions, tree inventory protocol) submitted to NUCFAC (April 30, 2013)

May-Aug 2013

Planning for project opening meeting

Opening meeting with nonprofits in Indianapolis (June-July)

Refining methods per vetting with nonprofits

Examining tree records of each nonprofit and designing a unique sampling plan for each city

Testing of survey questions with focus groups

Sept-Dec 2013

Obtain final IRB approval for finalized study plan

Continue designing and finalize sampling plans working with nonprofits

Database cleaning for use with ArcGIS iPhone app

Writing contracts and expectations (job descriptions) for tree data collection teams and Graduate Research Assistants

Obtain mailing lists of tree planting participants from each nonprofit

Interim progress report and final data collection protocols submitted to NUCFAC (Dec 31, 2013)

Jan-Apr 2014

Hiring and training of summer GRAs

Finalizing plan of work (weekly/daily schedules) for data collection in each city

Contacting neighborhood contacts for interviews

Mailing of surveys to tree planting participants

May-Aug 2014

Data collection: tree inventory, surveys returned and responses recorded, interviews conducted, transcribed and recorded.

Interim progress report submitted to NUCFAC (July 31, 2013)

Sept-Dec 2014

Data analysis and processing

Begin report and manuscript writing

Submit abstract for presentation of results at 2015 International Society of Arboriculture conference

Jan-Dec 2015

Report and manuscript writing

Finalizing multi-city community-planted trees database

Disseminating data collection protocols

Drafting city-specific reports

Final report submitted to NUCFAC (Dec 31, 2015)

Project Documents

Funding and Support

  • USDA National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council (NUCFAC) Cost-Share Challenge Grant (PI: Fischer; Collaborators: Vogt, Mincey, and Watkins; 2012-2015: $173,206 awarded plus $188,365 in matching funds secured)
  • USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station (PIs: Fischer and Lynne Westphal; 2013-2015; $35,000 awarded for survey work)
  • Indiana University Office of Sustainability Graduate Sustainability Research Grant (PI: Vogt; 2013: $5,000 awarded for survey work)
  • The Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis
  • School of Public and Environmental Affairs, IUB
  • Garden Club of America Urban Forestry Fellowship (awarded to Jessica Vogt in 2012 and 2013)
  • BUFRG is grateful to the team at KIB for their help in making this project possible: Jerome Delbridge, Nate Faris, Dave Forcell, Andrew Hart, Bob Neary, and Molly Wilson, as well as the entire KIB staff.



Check back soon.

Conference Proceedings

Watkins S.L., S.K. Mincey, J.M. Vogt, R. Bergmann, and B.C. Fischer. 2013. A research design for evaluating the outcomes of neighborhood and nonprofit urban forestry. Workshop Colloquia presentation at The Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, April 17, 2013, Bloomington, IN. Working Paper available (Presentation and Working Paper)

Literature Cited on this page

Adger, W. 2003. Social capital, collective action, and adaptation to climate change. Economic Geography 79(4): 387-404.

Clark, J.R., Matheny, N.P., Cross, G., Wake, V., 1997. A model of urban forest sustainability. Journal of Arboriculture 23(1), 17-30.

Elmendorf, W. 2008. The importance of trees and nature in community: A review of the relative literature. Arboriculture & Urban Forestry 34(3): 152-156.

Kuo, F.E. and W.C. Sullivan. 2001a. Environment and crime in the inner city: does vegetation reduce crime? Environment & Behavior 33(3): 343-367.

Kuo, F.E. and W.C. Sullivan. 2001b. Aggression and violence in the inner city: Impacts of environment via mental fatigue. Environment & Behavior 33(4): 3543-571.

Ostrom, E. 2009. A general framework for analyzing the sustainability of social-ecological systems. Science 325: 419-422. 

Sommer, R., F. Learey, J. Summit, and M. Tirrell. 1994b. Social benefits of resident involvement in tree planting: Comparison with developer-planted trees. Journal of Arboriculture 20(6): 323-328.