Evaluating virtual street tree surveys as a tool for municipal forest management

2016 | Adam Berland, PhD, Ball State University and Co-Investigator Jess Vogt, PhD, DePaul University

Street tree inventories are critical to municipal forest management, but many communities cannot afford to conduct inventories in the field. It is possible to characterize street trees by manually interpreting images in Google Street View, which offers a free and user-friendly platform for accessing ground-level photographs taken along roads throughout the USA. A preliminary study indicates that a ‘virtual survey’ in Street View can produce reasonably accurate data about variables relevant to municipal street tree management such as tree abundances, genus identification, and size classes. However, that virtual survey was conducted by a single analyst with experience conducting urban forest inventories, so we do not know how well this approach can be carried out by less experienced municipal staff or citizen scientists. This project will build upon existing research to improve our understanding of the possibilities and limitations of conducting virtual street tree surveys using Google Street View. We will enlist analysts ranging from novices to experts to conduct virtual surveys to record basic tree attributes, and the analysts’ performance will be evaluated against field data from the same set of streets. We are primarily interested in determining (1) what overall level of data quality can be generated using a virtual survey approach as compared to field surveys; and (2) how data quality varies according to the analyst’s level of expertise. Our findings will provide guidance for communities considering this innovative approach for generating street tree inventory data.

Study Results


Year: 2016

Funding Duration: 1-3 years

Grant Program: John Z. Duling

Grant Title: Evaluating virtual street tree surveys as a tool for municipal forest management

Researcher:Adam Berland and Jess Vogt

Key words:

Peer Reviewed Publications from Grant:

General Audience/Trade Publications:


  • Berland, Adam, Jess Vogt, & Lara Roman. 2018. Can field crews telecommute? Conducting street tree inventories using Google Street View. Poster presentation at the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting. New Orleans, LA.
  • Fain-Kerbler, Jackeline & Adam Berland. 2018. Integrating digital technologies in a citizen science project about street trees. Oral presentation at the East Lakes Division of the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting. Ada, OH.


For more information on this project, contact the researcher via TREE Fund at treefund@treefund.org.