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Aerial photography provides a new perspective for urban tree canopy management -- and a range of other applications

Views from Above

There are several tools available for municipal arborists and other urban planners, and aerial photography is — for many — becoming an increasingly vital part of that toolbox.

“It is important is for municipal arborists to collaborate with other departments within the city,” said Robin F. Pendergrast, owner of RFP Mapping LLC, a Crystal Lake, Ill. provider of aerial photography and related services. “There are all sorts of applications for these photos. On more than one occasion I’ve run into people wanting to replicate the same shots for different departments of the same city. From a planning standpoint, a planting standpoint, and an urban tree evaluation standpoint, you could look at satellite imagery, but it might be two or three years old. Satellite imagery has its place in an urban tree canopy study. But what you are seeing here are real life presentations of the trees as they exist.”

Aerial photography is a very practical visual learning tool, Pendergrast added. “You can apply it to the existing tree inventory that you think you have,” he said. “You might have an idea of how high the trees are, but this provides a whole new perspective.

“For example, for a park development, the engineering firm had me supply a 360-degree series of images at two different elevations just to provide perspective for when they made their presentation to the city council.”

RFP Mapping takes thousands of aerial photos each year for a wide range of applications. Arbor Age magazine asked Pendergrast to share a few select aerial photographs, as well as his insight about those images, to highlight potential uses of aerial photography in the tree care industry and beyond. His comments are included with each of the following photos.


Every one of these images had a very specific purpose, either from a planning standpoint or a planting standpoint. In the case of this image [taken just south of Richmond, Ill.], there were several different aspects to it. In the middle of the photo is a facility. They wanted to identify the tree lines in relation to the structure in terms of bringing in some additional roads. Ultimately, this is a very solid index. When you blow this up, you can tell the species of tree and its height, based on the angle at which the image was taken [which is recorded along with the GPS location]. All of this was part and parcel of selling it or acquiring it to get a good inventory of not just the property, but what was around it — such as the meandering stream at the top of the image. This image was part of a series of images that comprised an entire 360-degree view around the property and the surrounding area. A satellite image, looking straight down, often does not provide the perspective needed from a planning standpoint.


This image is looking north on Route 31 near Richmond, Ill. This was as part of a tree inventory. But if you look to the left of the highway, there is a bike path that is part of the McHenry County Conservation District. So when you build, widen roads, or make other changes, you have to be cognizant of what is there now.


Here we are looking at the southeast sector of Three Oaks Lake in Crystal Lake, Ill. The [planners] here wanted to see the intersection and its relationship to the buildings, the corner, and — from a planting standpoint — to see what might be involved with covering that corner with berms and trees. We have 360-degree images of this area as well, to look at the impact of future widening of the road. The lake is environmentally protected, and the planners are very concerned about runoff into the lake. The owner of the white building at the top was also interested in the photography for the purpose of planting trees.


This is part of the new Three Oaks Lake. When this was shot, the road was not in, but they were doing the grading. The black strip to the left is a retention pond. The planners were very concerned about the indexing of the trees. For presentation, they wanted to see what they look like in relation to what was going to be put in. It’s going to be a gorgeous area, and we are going to be documenting it almost every month until it is finished. On this project, in the course of a year and a half, we will take four to five thousand images. You can see a whole different perspective from the air.


This is Lake in the Hills, Ill., and is a photo of a new water processing plant. This was taken for the city, because city officials wanted to take a look from this perspective to see what tree planting might be done to the north [toward us] and then along the eastern embankment. They also wanted to find out what type of visuals they would have in relation to the water processing plant.


This is the city of McHenry, Ill., and the photo was taken as part of a visualization of the tree canopy in relation to the downtown area and the riverwalk. The riverwalk runs near the boats on the left branch of the river. City officials were looking at the height of the trees to the surrounding buildings. They could stand at ground level and measure, but this allowed them to enlarge the images and accentuate aesthetically that the entire downtown areas has mature trees.


This is a photo of Harvard, Ill., looking to the northwest. This was done was after reconstruction of the downtown area to look at the density of the tree canopy — and also looking into the distance where development is going to take place. This was also used for discussion of tree plantings in relation to the railroad right of way [the track runs from the bottom right-hand side of the photo, under the bridge, to the horizon left of center].


This was taken prior to completion of an exit ramp along Interstate 90 (looking north toward Wisconsin). This was done for an engineering firm, and they were sensitive to seeing the relationship of their project to the trees, the land, and some of the urban sprawl.


For more information, visit www.rfpmappingllc.com

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