Tree talk

DNRC works to complete first tree inventory since 2012
Katherine Sears
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Article Image Alt Text

Karen Shelly, right, and Josh Stoychoff, left, chat about a tree on Ninth Avenue while conducting a tree inventory of Lewistown.

Photo by Katherine Sears

What’s the state of Lewistown’s trees? That’s a question soon to be answered after the Montana Department of Natural Resources completes a tree inventory of the city.

“This inventory once it’s done, will help guide management of urban trees here,” said Josh Stoychoff, service forester for the DNRC Northeast Region based in Lewistown.

Stoychoff, along with Karen Shelly and Blaine Doherty with the DNRC, have been working on the inventory for the past week, with several weeks to go before the inventory is complete.

The team is documenting trees within the right of ways, or 30 feet from the centerline of the road. With an iPad, data is input to TreeKeeper, a landscape management software that tracks real-time information to produce an electronic inventory of a town’s trees.

The diameter, condition, feature type (stump, seedling or tree), and species of each tree is documented in the program.
Two inventories were previously completed in 1986 and 2012.

“Now that we’ll have three of them, we can do a comparison,” said Stoychoff. “We’re trying to get started doing them every 10 years.”

The inventory is important for several reasons, including documenting and removing hazard trees before they become an issue.

“Being proactive and having an inventory to mitigate risk is important,” said Stoychoff.

Most timely is evaluating the diversity of the canopy for risk of disease, specifically the Emerald ash borer, a beetle responsible for the destruction of tens of millions of ash trees across the nation.

The 2012 inventory included 2,600 trees, nearly 60% of which were classified as ash. In an ideal situation, Stoychoff said a certain species should make up around 10% of the urban canopy.

“Most towns in eastern Montana have not so diverse forests,” said Stoychoff. “We’re so stuck in Zone 4 [of the plant hardiness zone map] so we see a heavy concentration of certain species, and can’t diversify as much.”

This also means the city is at risk of losing the majority of its urban forest if or when Emerald ash borer arrives.

“Like with COVID, they talk about flattening the curve,” said Stoychoff. “That’s what we want to do with ash trees. It’s good to know how many we have.”

Being proactive
The city has been more active in tree management over the past year, utilizing grant funds to remove 20 trees and plant 31 new trees. Diseased elm trees had mainly been targeted for removal, but with the impending ash beetle,

Lewistown Parks and Recreation Director Jim Daniels said removing ash trees has become a priority.

“Last year, we had a grant to take out older green ash that weren’t doing as well since we have an overabundance of them,” said Daniels. “The DNRC wanted us to be proactive and start replacing them.”

While removing ash trees can help “flatten the curve,” Stoychoff said it’s not going to stop the beetle from moving into the area.

“A lot of tree management has been done in the past year,” said Stoychoff. “But it’s just a matter of time before Emerald ash borer gets here.”

Diversifying the urban forest is also tough.

“I’ve tried to plant a bunch of species,” said Stoychoff. “Some do well, some don’t.”

Tree report
Between June and September, Karen Shelly and Blaine Doherty will inventory between three and seven of the approximately 70 communities involved in the Montana DNRC Urban and Community Forestry Program.

For Lewistown, Stoychoff expects a slight overall decline in the inventory, and the assessment will help guide next steps in managing the urban forest.

“The updated tree inventory will tell us a lot,” said Daniels.

Stoychoff said there are various stages of urban forests across the nation, and their care is highly dependent on funding and local interest, since very few towns in the state have full-time arborists or city foresters.

“Jim [Daniels] helps a lot with the trees,” said Stoychoff, who also helps when and where he can.

Those interested in learning more about trees in their neighborhood can visit the TreeKeeper site, which calculates the annual benefit provided by each tree, and can be broken down to specific neighborhoods.

“Trees are infrastructure,” said Stoychoff. “The inventory also provides a summary of the benefits this infrastructure gives to the community.”

To view current tree inventories in Montana, visit The most recent Lewistown inventory will be completed over the next few weeks.