Occidental was designated a Tree Campus USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation Feb. 2, following the college’s establishment of an official tree management plan and team, according to Biology Professor Gretchen North.
Currently, there are over 2,500 trees on campus, Sustainability Coordinator Jenny Low said.
In light of the compounding environmental stresses of the recent Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer infestation and drought, which will likely kill over half of the deciduous trees that lived on campus before the infestation, Facilities Sustainability Intern Skye Harnsberger (junior) began the application for Occidental to become a Tree Campus USA last fall. Although the drought prompted Harnsberger to start the application, the Shot Hole Borer became a central focus as the intensity of its threat came to light this year. Harnsberger said it took the entire fall semester to ensure that Occidental met the five standards required for Tree Campus USA designation.
The first standard mandates the creation of a Campus Tree Advisory Committee, charged with monitoring the well-being of the trees on campus, Harnsberger said. The committee consists of North, Low, Biology Professor John McCormack, Environmental Health and Safety Manager Bruce Steele, Landscape Manager Ruben Campos; student representatives Harnsberger, Brian Carlton (senior), Aidan Holliday (sophomore) and Ivy Salinas (sophomore); as well as outside specialists — architect and Senior Project Manager Joe O’Hara, Urban Forestry Manager for North East Trees Aaron Thomas and retired Eagle Rock arborist Mike Woodward.
To meet the second standard for becoming a Tree Campus USA, Harnsberger said the Advisory Committee wrote a Tree Care Plan to clarify best practices for the planting, trimming, removal and monitoring of the trees on campus, including management of Shot Hole Borer infestations.
The Tree Care Plan states that the primary goals of the tree committee are to increase the campus tree canopy by 5 percent in 2016 by planting more native and citrus trees and to protect the trees on campus threatened by construction proposals, such as the expansion of the athletics facilities — or at least to ensure the planting of two trees for every one tree that is removed.
As outlined by the National Arbor Day Foundation website, the college must also outline dedicated annual expenditures for the campus tree program and organize Arbor Day observance and a service learning project to meet the remaining three standards.
Harnsberger said that her effort was inspired by the fact that Occidental’s trees have lived lifetimes longer than the people for whom they provide shade (and therefore energy savings), scenery, biodiversity, food and a place to hang out. The coast live oak trees in the Academic Quad were a central part of Occidental’s original landscape design, Harnsberger said.
“I started Occidental’s application to become a Tree Campus USA because I want the administration to recognize the value of the trees we have on campus and draw attention to the fact that we need to take care of them better than we think we are currently,” Harnsberger said via email.
Harnsberger said Facilities Management already values campus trees and works to care for them, but the department needs the college administration to grant it a larger budget in order to maintain tree management projects.
“President [Jonathan] Veitch’s administration has yet to show progress [in] putting their money where their mouth is in terms of social and sustainable justice at Oxy,” Harnsberger said via email.
Harnsberger said that the Facilities budget was cut yet again for 2016.
“Fewer actions could be less sustainable than cutting funding to maintain Oxy’s land and building assets,” Harnsberger said.
An upcoming building project — new tennis courts — poses a threat to campus trees, according to Harnsberger. Harnsberger said one of the courts will require the removal of seven Torrey pine trees, the most endangered pine species in the Western Hemisphere.
”The sheer rarity and significance of this tree should be enough for the administration to want to conserve them,” Harnsberger said.
Harnsberger created a petition to relocate the tennis court to an area not inhabited by Torrey pines. She also collaborated with Facilities and the biology department to plant about 19 native tree saplings around campus March 17.
According to Low, the tree planting event was a conduit for educating the Occidental community about the Shot Hole Borer problem on campus and about Occidental’s goals to increase campus tree cover. Upward of 40 student and faculty volunteers planted local, native trees in one-gallon biodegradable cocoons that grow seedlings with only an initial seven gallons of water. Cocoons last up to six months and are designed to acclimate the trees to reaching their roots deep into the water table so that the trees are not reliant on irrigation.
The cocoon pilot program is a collaboration between the cocoon distributor Land Life Company, LA Conservation Corps, City Plants and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Occidental Facilities, faculty and students worked together to choose the trees to plant, Low said.
According to Low, Occidental was the first college to use this cocoon system in California.
Harnsberger’s petition to stop the removal of the Torrey pines is ongoing. Occidental’s designation as a Tree Campus USA will be up for renewal next year.