Tuesday, March 5, 2024

AI to grow understanding of Auckland tree canopy

Auckland Council says boosting the number of trees in Tāmaki Makaurau will be made easier by artificial intelligence (AI) technology as it works towards its goal of increasing tree canopy across urban Auckland over the coming decades.

The Council launched the Ngahere AI project as part of its Urban Ngahere (forest) Strategy in January to develop an AI tool that would enable tree canopy cover assessment.

It says initial tests have proved successful – achieving a 96.2% accuracy rate.

AI is utilised to measure tree canopy cover by analysing satellite or aerial imagery through machine learning algorithms trained to distinguish and assess canopy coverage at scale, facilitating efficient monitoring of urban green spaces and ecological changes.

Chair of Auckland Council’s Planning, Environment and Parks Committee, Councillor Richard Hills says increasing the city’s tree canopy will have numerous benefits for Auckland and AI will play an important part in informing decisions around tree planting.

“A well-managed, flourishing, and healthy urban ngahere improves the urban amenity and creates a healthy living environment with many social, cultural, economic, and environmental benefits,” he said.

“We are making steady progress towards the goal of increasing average tree canopy cover to 30% across Auckland’s urban area by 2050.

“I look forward to the benefits Auckland will gain while working toward this goal and I’m pleased the AI technology the council is investigating is proving to be a useful tool.”

The AI technology is expected to be a more cost-effective way of monitoring and reporting on tree canopy cover and urban vegetation than previous methods.

Auckland Council is also utilising i-Tree software to provide data about the ecosystem benefits of trees and predicting the benefits of planting new trees in specific areas. As well as the Council, this software is expected to assist community groups, volunteer organisations, schools, and housing developers.

This calendar year, Auckland Council has planted approximately 750,000 trees and plants across the region, with just over 18 hectares have been planted under the Urban Ngahere Programme in 2023.

Since the Urban Ngahere strategy’s inception in 2018 approximately 2,000 mature street trees have been planted annually in Tāmaki Makaurau. This number is expected to double to 4,000 by 2024.

Auckland Council facilitates tree planting events as part of ecological volunteer programmes to help boost tree numbers in the city. Mana whenua, schools, volunteers and community groups plant around 200,000 smaller trees and plants each year in local parks and around 300,000 in regional parks, contributing to the annual total number of trees planted.

Thirteen of Auckland’s 21 local boards have adopted local urban ngahere action plans that support the goal of increasing tree canopy cover in road corridors, parks and open spaces and support the prioritisation of locations for future planting.

Auckland Council’s General Manager, Parks and Community Facilities, Taryn Crewe says the council is committed to increasing tree canopy across the city.

“Our staff look forward to continued collaboration with mana whenua, local boards, and urban forest-focused organisations to ensure tree planting initiatives align closely with their values and plans,” she said.

“These partnerships are collaborative and ensure consistency in tree planting efforts across the region which will ultimately benefit all Aucklanders.”

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