Urban Canopy Coverage: Interview with Andrew K. Koeser

It’s now less than 3 months until Trees, People and the Built Environment 4 – our triennial conference on urban greenspace. In advance of the conference we’ll be presenting a series of interviews with some of our featured speakers. Here we speak with Andrew K. Koeser of the University of Florida




Andrew Koeser is an Assistant Professor of Urban Tree and Landscape Management at the University of Florida’s Gulf Coast Research and Education

Center near Tampa, Florida (United States). Andrew holds PhD and MS degrees in Horticulture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He also has a BS in Urban Forestry from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. Andrew is a past International Society of Arboriculture Early Career Scientist Award Winner, as well as the a past recipient of the R.W. Harris Author’s citation (offered by the same organization).

Tell us about your presentation:

I will be presenting some recent research spurred by a new law enacted in the state of Florida (United States). When the research first started, a law was proposed that would dramatically limit a city or county in their ability to protect large or otherwise significant (e.g. veteran) trees. With this in the air, I decided to see what, if any, benefit could be measured with regard to tree canopy in cities with tree preservation and mitigation (replanting) ordinances in place compared to their peer communities (without similar laws). No spoilers about the research, but the law was passed after being defeated its first go around. Now any tree in the state can be removed on a residential property without notice, permit, fee, or replacement if deemed “dangerous” by an arborist or landscape architect.  For someone who loves trees, it is a sad but interesting story.

Why is your presentation important for our conference?

Laws that protect trees often limit site development/redevelopment (or at a minimum, increase the costs of construction). If communities pass laws that limit what people can do on their property in order to meet urban forest management objectives, there should at least be some assurance that the ordinances in place are effective. This presentation get to the heart of this question. It also serves as a cautionary tale for local governments who focus too heavily on a punitive system of protecting urban trees (fines, fees, and penalties).

What are the biggest challenges facing green infrastructure?

Competition for space and humankind’s general inability to think in a time-frame long enough to be relevant to a tree.

What impact is your work making in the built environment?

As a researcher at Land Grant University in the United States, I am required to spend a portion of my time (for me it is 30%) working directly with the industry and government to enact change. We call this Extension work. I work directly with communities to help them monitor their trees and establish management plans, objectives, or laws. I work with a working group of local urban forestry programs and have even conducted research specifically for their needs (e.g., creating species-specific minimum planting space equations or identifying a list of underutilized trees that should be viable in what we project the future of Florida to be). Currently, my lab is leading an effort to estimate canopy coverage in all the cities of Florida prior to the passage of the aforementioned. This project will have a designated web page with the results of our work, project GIS files (so cities can track differences over time), and projected ecological services for each city.

How do we build resilient places for us to live in for the future?

Diversity is key. For trees…this is species and age/size diversity. For communities, this is accepting that there is a diversity of thoughts and values surrounding trees and their role as infrastructure. Ignoring this can jeopardize your efforts to manage the urban forest.

How did you get into your role?

The older I get, the more I realize that my dad really guided me to where I am now. We were out in the woods year-round. I saw my local forest on the shores of Lake Michigan in every season – hiking, biking, and cross country skiing. When I graduated from high school, I was set on forestry as a profession. As an undergraduate university student, I was given the opportunity to conduct some research for an annual undergraduate symposium and new that was what I wanted to do with my life.

Now I have four daughters of my own. While the subtropical environment we live in is wildly different than the one I experienced as a child, I hope to instill the same love for nature through camping, hiking, kayaking, and regular trips to the beach. It seems to be working for some of them at least!

Trees, People and the Built Environment 4 will unite built and natural environment professionals from around the world who are working towards the shared goal of enhancing and developing green infrastructure. This acclaimed urban trees research conference will return to the University of Birmingham on 22-23 April 2020. It is a must-attend event for those who work in urban landscapes or the built environment.

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