The Great Oak Count

By Canopy Team on October 23, 2017

Welcome to the fourth installment of Canopy’s Oaktober Series! Read about the story behind Oaktober in our first post, tips on how to care for your California native oak in our second post, and why we care about oaks in our third post.

Written by Elise Willis

In our region, oaks in particular have played a key role in supporting local ecosystems and sustaining a diverse web of native wildlife. Over the last two centuries, however, once prevalent oak woodlands have been largely eliminated, first by agricultural conversion, and later by rapid development and urbanization.

Today, there is increasing recognition that re-integrating oaks in our parks and urban landscapes promises a host of benefits, both for wildlife and for people.

As a first step, Canopy and partners are reviving a comprehensive survey of native oaks in Palo Alto. This new survey is called The Great Oak Count and launches this Oaktober.

History Behind The Great Oak Count

The original OakWell Survey was one of the first projects taken on by Canopy over 20 years ago. From 1997-2001, a small group of volunteers surveyed coast live oaks, valley oaks, California black oaks, and blue oaks to create a baseline for future evaluation of changes in Palo Alto’s native oak population. This small but dedicated corps of volunteers mapped 9,000 oak trees (13,000 counting groves)! They gathered new and valuable data about the health and locations of these trees, and transferred oak tree care instructions to homeowners.

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn”. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now we are launching The Great Oak Count, an update to the OakWell Survey that will record and measure native oaks once again, in order to learn how our urban forest has changed! Has Palo Alto experienced increase or decrease in the native oak population? Are most large oaks still largely found in people’s front and back yards?

Answering these questions and more will be very enlightening, and will undoubtedly guide recommendations for re-oaking efforts in the coming years. Furthermore, we have so many new residents in town that it’s imperative that we pass on information about how to properly care for these unique oaks. So just like last time, every oak owner will get a door-hanger with the essentials of caring for these spectacular trees.

The Great Oak Count is Citizen Science

A Citizen Scientists is a person who voluntarily contributes his or her time, effort, and resources toward scientific research in collaboration with professional scientists or researchers. What are the most common prerequisites to do citizen science? Usually just interest and curiosity!

We welcome volunteers from all walks of life to come out and survey native oaks with us. We equip you with the tools and basic knowledge you need, and you become a scientist by virtue of showing up and doing the work. It’s flexible, fun, and a truly meaningful program to be a part of.

How You Can Get Involved in The Great Oak Count

This “Oaktober,” we’ll kick off The Great Oak Count with a pilot launch in College Terrace neighborhood in Palo Alto. We will survey native oaks using our brand new Canopy Tree Plotter; so instead of clipboards and printed reports, volunteers will be equipped with smartphones and tablets, plotting oak trees on an interactive, easy-to-use online map.

During The Great Oak Count, volunteers:

  • Educate the community about the importance of native oak trees and how to properly care for them.
  • Engage residents in using our new Tree Plotter tool to add trees to our community map.
  • Gather data on the health, location, and number of native oak trees in Palo Alto.
  • Have fun! Meet someone new, bring a friend, explore a neighborhood you’ve never seen before.

Join us for our first volunteer survey event on Saturday, October 28th from 9am to 12pm, sign up here. And stay in touch by signing up for our monthly TreEnews.

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