BEAM Students Analyze Palo Alto’s Tree Removal Permits

By Canopy Team on June 3, 2019

Rolled-curb Street Tree

Tree removal permits tell the story of shifting urban forests and species growth or loss over time. That is why Canopy’s Community Forestry Manager, Elise Willis, and Tree Survey Intern, Julisa Lopez, partnered with Gunn High School students in the BEAM class (which stands for Business, Entrepreneurship, and Math) on a permit analysis project.

The students who worked with us on this project are Haaken Pedersen and Kyler Salameda. From January to May of 2019, they devised a plan to organize, review, and analyze the City’s tree removal permit records from the last twenty years. Results from the analysis will provide unique and valuable information for Canopy and our partners at City of Palo Alto, US Forest Service, and San Francisco Estuary Institute.

This project also connects with Canopy’s new program, The Great Oak Count, where volunteers are updating our 20 year old survey of native oaks in Palo Alto, and has the potential to influence local environmental policy decisions.

In this post, Haaken and Kyler share some of their project findings and a reflection from their time working with Canopy.

BEAM project team

Kyler Salameda (left) and Haaken Pedersen (right) working in their classroom at Gunn High School in Palo Alto.

Permits have become more detailed and abundant in recent years

We have analyzed permits for Palo Alto tree removals from 1997 to 2019 and have noticed a few things about the data. First, in the earlier permits there wasn’t much information regarding details about the location of the tree, tree health, photos of the tree, etc. The early documents also only contain a paragraph from the Arborist Report with a few details about a tree to be removed.

However, the more recent permits have photos, graphs, maps of the area, and detailed tables with much more information. Second, we have noticed there is an increase in tree removal permits in general.

Haaken Pedersen’s reflection

Haaken presenting group findings

Haaken presented the group’s findings on March 14. 2019.

My name is Haaken Pedersen, and I am a Junior at Henry M. Gunn High School. One of my hobbies related to Canopy is taking hikes with my friends; in addition, I have always felt a need for exploration and nature fulfills that need. For this project, I was given about 1,200 tree removal permits dating from 1997-2019 to analyze.

My colleague and I analyzed 3 permits from each year and recorded the details onto a google sheet. After doing this analysis, I represented Canopy at the BEAM student event, where I created a nice booth (with the help of my mentor Elise Willis) to attract an audience. I personally learned that I enjoy presenting when I have a passion for the subject at hand, and luckily I am pretty passionate about nature and I felt really good about presenting at the booth.

Analyzing the permits made me realize how things change overtime because since 1997, the information and details listed on the permits have increased. What I took away from working for Canopy is more knowledge on nature, more specifically trees, along with the improvement of my collaborating and speaking skills.


Kyler Salameda’s reflection

My name is Kyler Salameda, and I am a Senior at Henry M. Gunn High School. I enjoy being outdoors and staying active; I engage in outdoor activities such as hiking and jogging. For the project, I analyzed some of the years for the tree permits (2007-2019), three for each year. I also did some volunteer work for Canopy where I planted trees and managed the soil at one of their events.

One thing I learned was the trees needed to exceed 11.5 inches in order to be considered for removal. Another thing I took away was knowledge regarding the trees in Palo Alto. Specifically, I learned that there are different types of tree dangers such as decay, hazards, tree branch interfering with the property, etc.

Final note

Thank you Haaken and Kyler for all your hard work this semester! They kicked off a great project, which will continue to develop as we partner with the San Francisco Estuary Institute to analyze the remainder of the permits.

If this topic and data interests you, we’d love more volunteers to help us with data entry and analysis this summer and fall. If you want to know more, please contact [email protected].

Special thanks to Marty and David Deggeller for putting us in touch with the BEAM teachers. Thank you to Maria Cismas Florea and Emily Yun for leading such an amazing program with these students and inviting Canopy to be the first environmental nonprofit partner!


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