Canadian urban foresters enlist Google Street View to count the trees

By Tom Spears, Ottawa Citizen, January 3, 2019

In analyzing the state of Canada’s urban trees, the Canadian Forest Service visited only half of the 100 communities it studied.

For the rest, it gazed at the digitized trees of Google Street View.

And in the future, it may remove human eyes from the job entirely, and let artificial intelligence handle it.

The forest service wants cities and towns to know what mix of tree species they have, and what the balance of young and mature trees is, because a lot of money is tied up in trees. In particular, they are expensive to cut down and replace if a new type of bug follows the emerald ash borer, a voracious tree-killing beetle.

“We don’t drive the streets. We go down the streets using Google Street View, and we identify any trees within about 10 metres of the edge of the road that way,” said John Pedlar, a research biologist with Natural Resources Canada. “And we put them into rough size categories.”

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