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A magnolia tree blooms outside the Ratcliffe Hicks Building on April 30, 2015. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Trees are an important part of college students’ daily lives. Therefore, trees on campus deserve attention. One group that recognizes the value of trees at UConn is the Arboretum Committee, which includes six members from the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR). As part of its work, this group was instrumental in helping UConn become Connecticut’s first Tree Campus USA member.

The Tree Campus USA program is managed by the Arbor Day Foundation, which encourages college students to care about the treatment of trees and shrubs as well as environmental issues within their campus community. Nearly 200 colleges in the United States have the Tree Campus USA title, based on five criteria. The schools must demonstrate that they have a campus tree advisory committee, possess a tree care plan, spend money annually on buying and/or maintaining trees, are involved in an Arbor Day observance and offer service learning projects related to trees.

UConn received its first Tree Campus USA certification in 2013 and has maintained that designation each year since.

The active committee members from CAHNR are all associated with plant science and landscape architecture. They are Professor Mark Brand, co-chair; Manager of Growth Operations Frederick Pettit; Associate Professor Kristin Schwab; Agricultural Worker Greg Tormey; Associate Professor Mark Westa and undergraduate student Christina Allyn.

Here is what member Pettit said about the award.

What does this certification mean to you? It means that trees will continue to be an important resource to the University community.

How do you think this improves the campus? The success of UConn 2000 and 21st Century UConn impacted the health of our tree population, and this certification will help mitigate that damage.

What do you hope to see going forward with this certification? I hope it will help continue the work of past generations creating a beautiful campus for the future.

Another Arboretum Committee member, Eileen McHugh, is a facilities professional with Planning Architectural and Engineering Services and the campus tree warden. She spoke about her impressions of UConn’s designation as a Tree Campus USA.

What does this certification mean to you? I am especially proud of the collaboration between departments, students, faculty and staff that led to our certification. Our trees are so important, but also so fragile. We need to educate others more and work together to protect the trees in order to see the most success.

How were you a part of the application process? I provided technical and record-keeping support to the application process. When I came to campus, I felt so lucky because a recent inventory of most of the trees on campus was available. That allowed me to keep good records of the inventoried trees. Additionally, in my role at that time as the University landscape architect, I developed standards for protecting trees during construction, standards for adding trees to campus and a process for tree removals that helped to maintain our records. This information became part of the application.

How do you think this improves the campus? This improves our campus by bringing attention to one component, our trees. I started my career, almost 30 years ago, as a tree hugger. However, I have become more practical and a little less idealistic about trees. I am still deeply moved by trees, and I know that they affect other people the same way.

To reach people who have not had that experience, I might say something more practical, such as “Trees are important to our campus because they reflect our history.” We were established in 1881, and our campus and our trees should bear witness to our history to the greatest extent possible.

What do you hope to see going forward with this certification? Initially, the certification was an honor and provided support for other initiatives. We also received a small grant for our Arbor Day Celebration the next year. Annual reporting, required by the application, helps us evaluate progress and setbacks on a regular basis.

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Sunrise from Horsebarn Hill on September 3, 2015. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

It is clear that the Tree Campus USA award and the work of the Arboretum Committee have brought benefits to UConn’s trees. In return, the trees make UConn a better place environmentally, aesthetically, psychologically and economically.

The benefits of trees and shrubs

Trees positively affect the environment. Newly planted and existing trees decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Through photosynthesis, they create oxygen as a byproduct. Oxygen is essential for human respiration.

Planting trees and shrubs can improve the aesthetics of the landscape. In addition, trees may increase the value of property.

Trees can have a rejuvenating effect. Participants in a University of Michigan study walked either an urban route down a main street or on a vegetated path in a botanical garden and arboretum. Those who walked through the garden and arboretum had an improvement of short-term memory by 20 percent versus no improvement for those who walked down the main street.

Trees save money. Trees can act as windbreaks as well as shading and cooling systems. The proper placement of trees and shrubs reduces heat loss in a building during the winter. This lowers heating bills. During the summer, because of the shading trees provide, building occupants need less air conditioning.

Hopefully, the Tree Campus USA honor and the Arboretum Committee’s example will serve the purpose of encouraging college students to care about trees and shrubs now and in the future. Graduates might not become idealistic tree huggers like McHugh. However, they could emerge from UConn with her practical idea that the trees on campus bear witness to their history.

Reference

“It’s Official – UConn is a Tree Campus” https://uconnoep.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/its-official-uconn-is-a-tree-campus/, accessed 5-11-16

For more photos like the ones in this posting, see “Branching Out: UConn’s Trees.”

By Samantha Rojas and Patsy Evans