The Arbor Day Foundation has honored Auburn University as a Tree Campus USA University for its dedication to campus and forestry management and environmental stewardship. Auburn is the first college or university in the Southeastern Conference to receive the designation.
"The Tree Campus USA program will have a long-lasting impact at Auburn as it engages college students and local citizens to plant trees and create healthier communities for people to enjoy for decades to come," said John Rosenow, chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation. "The school will benefit from exceptional tree-care practices on campus as it works with tree-care professionals in the community to improve the tree canopy in Auburn."
Auburn met the five required standards of tree care and community engagement in order to receive the award, which include establishing a campus tree advisory committee; evidence of a campus tree-care plan; verification of dedicated annual expenditures on the campus tree-care plan; involvement in an Arbor Day observance; and the institution of a service-learning project aimed at engaging the student body.
"When we first discovered the program, we did not meet all the criteria," said Charlie Crawford, Auburn University superintendent of landscape services. "We worked to meet and maintain these standards by establishing a campus tree inventory and having a designated tree management budget. We have been able to work with the best minds around and there is no reason why we shouldn't have the best trees and landscape as a land-grant university."
Crawford said Auburn's campus has almost 7,000 trees, including 974 trees planted by the university's landscape services division last year alone. Beginning 15 years ago, he said their goal was to plant at least 100 new trees per year. During the last five years, they have averaged more than 200 new trees per year.
"Our inventory is a cutting-edge technology that is computer- and Geographic Information System-based, or GIS," said Art Chappelka, professor of forestry and wildlife sciences. "We now know the location, health and value of every single tree on campus. Trees tend to be taken for granted. We can now put a dollar value on these trees and Auburn has $10 million worth of trees."
Crawford said they could not have achieved this without adequate funding from the university and a cooperative relationship with a succession of administrations. They have established an advisory board along with student representation and city officials and plan to celebrate Arbor Day with a week of events.
"We plan to maintain this designation through yearly documentation and continuing to plant trees on Auburn's campus," said Gary Keever, professor of horticulture. "Our long-term goal is to maintain a healthy, sustainable tree canopy. We want trees to live and grow to maturity."
Chappelka said the Toomer's Oak Project is just one of the ways the landscape services division intends to maintain this tree canopy. They assessed the condition of the trees and changed out the soil to give them a new lease on life because people valued and cared for those trees.
"We have made a point to plant native, sustainable trees," Crawford said. "Since 1990, we have removed 650 trees but planted several thousand. In 2009, we removed 25 trees but planted 974. We plan to continue increasing our canopy each year."