The Balboa Park Conservancy has received significant funding from the Johanna A. Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation toward its ongoing efforts to inventory all the trees across Balboa Park’s 1,200 acres. The $28,000 grant adds to funds already received from the San Diego Foundation that enabled the commencement of the inventory this past summer. The Balboa Park Tree Inventory is providing much-needed data to properly assess, interpret, and manage the park’s valuable tree collection for the sake of environmental and historical preservation.

Home to the San Diego Zoo and dozens of cultural institutions, Balboa Park is also one of California’s most significant and iconic landscapes. More than a century ago, a scrub-filled mesa near downtown San Diego was transformed into an exotic green oasis through the planting of hundreds of trees. In 1892, Kate Sessions, the “Mother of Balboa Park,” began planting 100 trees in the park each year in exchange for leasing parkland for her nursery. Such citizen forestry initiatives continue to this day with the annual Arbor Day tree-planting celebration and the Conservancy’s many projects in partnership with various local nonprofits and the City of San Diego Department of Park and Recreation.

What Is a Tree Inventory Used For?

The Favrot Fund had previously supported the last full park tree inventory, conducted in 1988 by Kathy Puplava and Paul Sirois, who published the landmark book Trees and Gardens of Balboa Park. This earlier baseline inventory was invaluable; however, a lot has changed since then, and the inventory needs updating to help the Conservancy and the city effectively manage the park’s forest canopy. The Balboa Park Tree Inventory ensures that the park’s trees continue to be maintained for best growth and that ongoing replanting will advance the park’s historic role as an urban arboretum.

In addition to their historic and ornamental significance, the park’s trees are important environmentally: they provide shelter and shade, produce oxygen, and reduce storm water runoff. Unfortunately, drought, disease, and age have taken a toll on the park’s tree canopy, with an estimated 10 percent loss in the last five years alone, and many more are stressed and struggling. The new tree inventory will provide a complete picture of what has been lost, while guiding the Conservancy and the city in how to best replace them and improve the overall state of our vital urban forest.

A core aspect of the its mission, the Conservancy is continuously working to fund the renewal of the park’s forest canopy. The Conservancy has already partnered with Park and Recreation in planting 171 trees over the past two years and recently received a $378,000 state grant to plant 500 additional trees in Balboa Park. The new tree inventory is an essential tool in this work.

Even Trees Need the Latest Tech

The new Balboa Park Tree Inventory will use state-of-the-art Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software to create a dynamic working database that will be continuously updated as trees are planted, trimmed, and replaced. The information will greatly contribute to long-term succession planning and budgeting, increasing species diversity, and environmental sustainability. With data from the previous Favrot Fund-supported tree inventory, the Conservancy can track tree survival trends within the various microclimates of the park’s canyons and mesas. This information will further inform the long-term management of the park’s urban forest.

The GIS software will also educate park visitors and online users about the park’s remarkable tree collection. Via a mobile app, park visitors will be able to walk through the park while looking at an aerial map and tapping on points to pull up specific tree information, including tree genus, species, common name, and the ecological statistics associated with that tree.

The current inventory is being conducted in three phases by Davey Tree Service, starting with the West Mesa (Sixth Avenue) section of the park. The expected completion date of the project is winter 2018.

The Balboa Park Tree inventory is made possible by the Balboa Park Conservancy, with generous support from the San Diego Foundation and the Johanna A. Favrot Fund. This project is being completed in partnership with the City of San Diego’s Department of Park and Recreation.