New campus committee to speak for the trees

On a campus which has already participated in 350, started a Re-Use Thrift store and proposed a composting program for the cafeteria, environmental concerns are certainly active at Goshen College.  But many Goshen College students are looking for another way to remain good stewards to the environment—only this time they aim to speak for the trees.

This semester, the college began the process of qualifying for Tree Campus USA, a national program supported by the Arbor Day foundation. It recognizes colleges and universities that are encouraging conscientious action about tree planting and preservation within their communities.

The college will work to meet the standards set by the Tree Campus USA program throughout this year, and then apply for the program this coming December for the previous year’s work.

An assortment of students, faculty and community members have assembled and meet often to discuss how Goshen College can meet the standards set by Tree Campus USA.

The standards are not as daunting as they could be due to Goshen’s past efforts.

“Goshen College is already paying a lot of attention to trees,” says Joe Friesen, senior environmental science major and member of the committee. He especially notes the work that has been done by the Physical Plant, which really consists of an extensive “history of care and diligence” for trees already in place.

In fact, the college has gone a long way towards meeting some of the requirements for the program. Goshen dedicates annual expenditures towards the up-keep of many of the trees on campus, already surpassing the minimum amount a Tree Campus USA college must spend on trees per full time student ($3). The Physical Plant also keeps track of all the hours spent caring for the trees on campus.

At the same time, Friesen notes that in the past, the campus’s policy towards trees has been largely reactive.

“We had the one Honey Locust fall down last year,” he said about the tree that fell down by the fountain in front of the library last spring. “What does that mean—that there are 30, 40 more planted right next to it? We need to be thinking about these things, hopefully sooner rather than later.”

This is why one of the more important requirements for Goshen will be establishing a Campus Tree Plan to set up a clear process for tree related concerns.

Craig Yoder and Willie Deegan of the Physical Plant are incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to the trees on campus, Friesen explained, and part of the trick will be combining their knowledge and streamlining it into a concrete plan.

“When the President’s tree got cut down a few years ago, it had to go all the way to the President’s council!” he exclaimed.

Memorial trees are also tricky.

“When people donate money for trees, they want a specific tree in a specific spot,” said Friesen. But this isn’t always the best policy. Developing a clear plan for this process will be essential to how the college deals with their trees in the coming years.

One long-term goal is to create a database of all the trees on campus. This would document and organize valuable information such as a tree’s diameter, height, disease, age, wind or weather damage. It would also help the college decide which types of trees to plant and where.

If he had a choice, Friesen said he would probably not plant any more Norway Maples, which are numerous and also “not very strong.”

“I really like the form of the Black Walnut,” said Friesen about his favorite kind of tree. “But I also like Ginkos. They’re fun because the foliage is so different, and they’re super old. They should have died out long ago.”

Nonetheless, the Tree Campus USA committee’s goal is not to micromanage how the college deals with trees, but rather to come up with an efficient and understandable policy to be used in the future.

Another valuable aspect of becoming part of Tree Campus USA is community involvement. Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley, the Goshen city forester and another member of the committee, is particularly excited about how this process will open up new places for Goshen College to connect with the city community.

Kingsley remembers a group of women from Yoder dorms who came to work last year for the City Parks Department at Reith Interpretive Center as part of Celebrate Service Day.

“Having students coming to work in the city in the forest is a great model to work on,” he says, and Celebrate Service Day is a natural outlet for the kind of community service the program is looking for.

The city of Goshen has been recognized as a Tree City by the Arbor Day Foundation for 13 straight years. Kingsley thinks a similar recognition for the college will provide a “nice compliment” to the city.

“It will demonstrate the large interest the community has in urban forestry and in sustainable lifestyles and sustainable choices,” he said enthusiastically. He’s excited to see the college participate in celebrating Arbor Day this spring along with the city, another final requirement to become part of Tree Campus USA.

Friesen is equally enthused about celebrating Arbor Day.

“Last year, I helped pull kids up a tree with a rope and harness!”

Kingsley hopes that with both the college and the city following similar standards of Tree USA, this commonality will serve as a “larger platform for talking and thinking about community resilience and sustainability.” And it seems as if this goal is well on its way to being achieved.

The members of Goshen College’s Tree Campus USA committee are Brittany Herschberger, Joel King, Luke Zehr, Joe Friesen, Corinne Jager, Matt Thomas, Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley, Bill Minter and Clay Shetler. For more information about Tree Campus USA, visit the Arbor Day Foundation’s website: http://www.arborday.org/programs/treecampususa/

Emily Taylor
Written by Emily Taylor

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