Written by ACER executive board member Elizabeth MacLean.
“The sky’s the limit,” said Fazal Khan in an August on-line preview presentation of the TreeTrackers.ca website to ACER Board members and friends. He was describing the potential of both the website and its creators, a team of high-school and university students hired by ACER through the Canada Summer Jobs program to develop a user-friendly site to gather information, map, and monitor tree growth and its environmental impact. Khan, co-founder of City Studio Brampton and an ACER volunteer, found the quality of the young students’ skills and product comparable to that of the professional programmers he once worked with at Microsoft in Seattle.
Working under COVID pandemic restrictions from their homes, the team of student software developers and environmentalists have created what Khan described as a website-based “free service offered to municipalities, organizations and community groups in Canada for planting and monitoring trees.” Designed as a stand-alone facility, TreeTrackers can be integrated as necessary, Khan said, into ACER’s existing and new programs. The almost-complete site can be explored now and should be fully operational in the near future. Once complete, it will be open for use by school groups and individuals, in hopes of engaging Canadians in fighting climate change, reducing carbon emissions, and promoting sustainability. Each new entry of data into the system by a registered tree tracker is a measurable step toward achieving these goals.
Brampton high school student Vishwas Puri, one of the project team’s three core developers, demonstrated the “Track a Tree” form that collects crucial tree data—species, location, and measurement of height, crown width, diameter at breast height (DBH), etc. If the individual tree tracker is unsure of the species, he explained, a series of questions and on-line “TreePedia” facts and illustrations will aid in identification through the process of elimination. Entry of the tree’s geographic coordinates will plot it for easy location on a Google street map. Eventually, site users wanting to find and visit a tree of a given species may be able to find a live specimen using this system.
One of the most important features of the site is its ability to calculate the impact of any given tree on the environment. Once entered, each tree is assigned a serial number, and, based on its basic measurements, the tracker will be able to see the amount of carbon dioxide it is removing from the atmosphere.
Vinaya Sharma, on the core software team with Vishwas Puri and Jay Sharma, introduced the interactive blogging potential of the website. ACER interns and other tree trackers will post brief articles and upload photos and videos. Some already in progress by ACER project contributors (Three Ways to Help Save the World in the Next 5 Minutes, and Tree Planting During the Corona Virus) focus on local practical action; a worldwide perspective is offered through links to major scientific and policy documents, such as the IPCC’s recent Climate Change 2021.
The student creators of TreeTrackers have all returned to school now, but they’re still keenly interested in the project. Safiya Khan, who with Catherine Montgomery and Rachel Deshpande provided content for the website, hopes to extend her involvement through testing of the site at her school in the coming months and envisions a future that could blend her tech skills and environmental interests. Like other team members, she hopes to stay in touch with her summer-job colleagues.
The team has planned occasional online meetings for the future to monitor the development and use of their website, add content, and to stay in touch. Virtual meetings are how they worked together and forged friendships; because of pandemic conditions in the summer of 2021, the TreeTrackers creators have not yet come together in the same room. But they’re all committed team workers and found their virtual workplace totally satisfactory, even when problems arose. As Vinaya Sharma says, “All the bugs we worked out, together.”
There is another thing that many team members have not yet done — measure and track a tree. While their design and programming assignment is now a reality, a tool that skilled ACER workers and volunteers can use in their methodical collection of data, several team members now plan—as registered ACER tree trackers—to learn the physical outdoor skills that can extend their participation well into the future.
Visit the TreeTrackers website at https://treetrackers.ca