WEST CHESTER, PA — West Chester University is one of only 18 campuses in Pennsylvania – and the only public university in the commonwealth – that has been recognized as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. This is the eighth year WCU has achieved this honor.
The announcement comes in time for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22, and the celebration of Arbor Day on Friday, April 24.
Tree Campus USA is a national program by which the Arbor Day Foundation honors colleges and universities for effective campus forest management, and for engaging employees and students in conservation goals.
To achieve the designation, WCU met and continues to meet Tree Campus USA’s five standards, which include maintaining a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance, and a student service-learning project.
Joan M. Welch, professor of Geography and Planning, has been instrumental in achieving this recognition since WCU’s first award in 2012. She is a member of the Sustainability Council and serves on several of its committees, including the Campus Tree Advisory Committee, which was first established as part of the process to secure Tree Campus USA designation.
The group’s members include the WCU Facilities Department, other WCU staff and faculty, a WCU student, and a West Chester Borough community member.
A number of students have participated in service-learning opportunities related to Tree Campus USA criteria. Welch elaborates: “Our students not only engage in volunteer tree-planting events, many of them in the Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies [on South Campus], they also carry out research projects related to the urban forest through grant work and planning studios.”
Many of these projects are chronicled at the University’s Center for Spatial Analysis and GIS “Urban Forest GIS Hub.” Geography and Planning graduate assistant Melanie Anderson worked on the Urban Forest Hub, which includes the Green Legacy project, an inventory of all the trees on the WCU campus.
A collaboration among faculty, staff, and students in the Geography and Biology departments and staff in the Grounds Department, the database includes such information as tree location, species, canopy width, health condition, and more.
Supported by a WCU Sustainability research grant in 2018, Welch worked with current graduate student Kimberly Kutzler ’19 and Eric Chapman ’19 to develop a geo-database of street trees in the Borough of West Chester by collecting the geospatial data on all street trees in the borough including those on campus.
The street tree data were analyzed with the U.S. Forest Service software called iTrees that calculates the benefits of the urban forest. The iTrees results include the dollar value of carbon sequestration, air pollutant uptake, storm water management, energy savings, and aesthetics.
The hub and resources that include the Green Legacy project ensure that WCU maintains a healthy urban forest as a living laboratory that provides educational and aesthetic value along with critical ecosystem benefits. West Chester University’s urban forest comprises more than 2,000 trees including 1,130 individuals representing 54 native species.
These elements also led to the University securing Arboretum Level II status through ArbNet, an interactive, collaborative, international community of arboreta and tree-focused professionals.
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