Mapping Trees at Calvin

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Calvin College biology and geography students completed a tree inventory this fall and launched an online map with details on the size, species, location, and age of more than 3,500 trees on the west side of the campus in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“As we start thinking about a more sustainable campus and trying to become carbon neutral, it seemed to make sense that we needed to document the trees on campus,” said Dave Warners, a Calvin College biology professor who began the project in 2010 with help from geography professor Jason VanHorn.

The inventory shows the number of trees (3,516), number of species (112), number of landscaped compared to natural trees (1,138/2,378), and each type of tree. Norway Spruce is the most common (305).

Students roamed the campus with meter sticks, notebooks, and GPS devices, documenting attributes of every tree at least 5 inches in diameter.

VanHorn’s students developed a data dictionary on the college’s hand-held GPS receivers. Warners’ students then entered the data for all of Calvin’s trees on that part of campus.

Under Warners’ direction, junior geography major Owen Selles incorporated the data into an online map. Trees can be searched by species, diameter, height, health, and a number of other categories.

“We're called to be stewards, and the first step of being serious stewards is knowing what it is you’re stewarding,” said Selles. “That’s what makes this map worthwhile.”

About the Author

Lynn Rosendale is associate director of communications and marketing at Calvin College.

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