By Zach Patberg
And Queens, by far the borough with the most trees, needs the most volunteers to canvass its neighborhoods, collecting data on 16 variables for each street tree. Those variables include the plant's condition, type, size and location.Of the 1,650 consensus zones citywide, Queens has 716. The Parks Department is hoping to recruit one volunteer for each zone, which contains about 300 trees. As of last week, they had 598 signed up, according to Bram Gunther, deputy director of forestry and horticulture. At that rate he expects to smash the last census' turnout of 700 a decade ago.The volunteers will have to attend a three-hour training session and commit to approximately 40 hours over four months. Gunther said they have to wait until June to begin the inventory because then the trees have all their leaves, which makes identification much easier.Still, when it comes to recording the plant's condition, a certain amount of subjectivity is involved.”To an extent you treat it like telling between a healthy and unhealthy human being,” Gunther said. “If you see a runny nose or red eyes, you know he's probably sick. It's the same with scars and holes in trees.”Asked why taking a census was important, Gunther said it was the foundation for making good policy, whether it was taking inventory of humans, trees or items at Home Depot.”To manage anything, you first need to know what you have,” he said.Gunther also listed the benefits of having street trees themselves, such as boosting property values, filtering air pollution, saving energy and giving birds and insects a home. He even pointed to studies that showed that fewer children suffer from asthma if they live near a leafy haven.Most of the volunteers in the 1995 census were environment enthusiasts. But Gunther said he was interested in expanding beyond that group. “I hope work will spread to people that hadn't known before how much fun and productive it is,” he said.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.