This story originally appeared on WLRN June 24, 2019.
By Daniel Rivero
The massive oak trees don’t just surround Katrina Morris’ home in Coconut Grove. They engulf it with branches hovering high above the roof, where a peacock roosts and makes incessant calls to would-be mates.
“I think our trees are over 100 years old,” says Morris, sitting in her backyard. “Because they grow over the top of our house and we don’t cut them away from our house, our energy bills are a lot less than a lot of other people.”
Yet Morris looks around her neighborhood and she feels uneasy. In recent years, developers have built massive houses on her block, cutting down trees in the process. She’s confused about why the city allows developers to cut the trees.
“We’re sitting in almost June in my backyard and it’s pleasant,” she argues. “Go outside the Grove and it’s not gonna be so pleasant, because you don’t have the canopy.”
A new research project from Florida International University could help bring some clarity to those decisions. The project, called Grove ReLeaf, has the ambitious goal of mapping every tree in the neighborhood and calculating what it calls the “services” provided by each of those trees. This includes things like the money saved by a tree’s cooling effects, root systems that combat flooding and sea-level rise, along with potentially negative factors for certain species -- messy fruits, root systems that threaten infrastructure, and the fact that some non-native trees can take over native habitats.
Ultimately, the data is meant to help city leaders incorporate data into tree policy for the City of Miami.
The project is headed by Chris Baraloto, a researcher at FIU and a veteran of tree studies. Before moving to the Grove he lived in French Guiana for over a decade, studying trees in the Amazon rainforest. Now he is using some of the research techniques in an urban setting to launch the research project. WLRN joined him as he started with a large live oak tree hanging over the sidewalk of Main Highway, near The Barnacle State Park.