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Topics : ENVIRONMENT : High-Tech Tracker of Trees : Computer program stores information about the location, care and maintenance of foliage on public property. In Claremont, that equals 22,700 trees.


When Claremont residents telephone Mark Hodnick inquiring about the species of tree growing in front of their houses, Hodnick can give them answers without leaving his office.

Whether it be a Liquidambar styraciflua, an Australian Tea Tree or the city's one macadamia nut tree, Hodnick has the data. In fact, Hodnick, the parks, facilities and urban forest manager for the city, has the facts about all of Claremont's 22,700 trees at his fingertips.

Like Monrovia, Pasadena and Temple City, Claremont uses a computer program called Treekeeper to track and store information about trees on city property. Hodnick simply enters an address into the system, and, presto, up comes everything you could ever want to know about a tree at that location, including its age, condition, specific site, pruning cycle--even whether it has birds' nests on its branches.

Before the city started using the program earlier this year, city employees relied mostly on their memories to figure out when a tree needed pruning or other maintenance, Hodnick said.

"This has really made a difference to us. We feel that we're on the cutting edge of urban forestry management," Hodnick said. "It becomes an invaluable tool."

The program cost about $32,000 to install and get running. But it's an investment, he said, adding that the city's trees are valued at $33 million.

Of course, the city did not know that until Treekeeper. Nor did they know they had a rare macadamia nut tree--usually found in Hawaii--on West Arrow Highway. And they had no idea exactly how many trees were in the city. "We were surprised by the number of trees we had," Hodnick said.

Treekeeper was developed by the Davey Resource Group of Kent, Ohio. The company's Irvine-based office has provided service for about 50 clients in Southern California, said Project Manager Steve Brown.

Cities use the program to see trends, Brown said, such as which trees flourish and which wither. And, he added, Treekeeper helps the city deal with liability issues.

"Street trees can become a liability if they're not maintained. They'll start falling on people," Hodnick said.

Hodnick said he heard about Treekeeper when he worked for the city of Pasadena, which has been using the program since 1989. Monrovia has been using the program for about five years. Before Temple City's public works employees began using Treekeeper, they recorded data on index cards.

Brown, the Treekeeper representative, said the program involves switching from a paper-based or memory-based system to a computer-based system. "It completely automates tree maintenance," he said.

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