WKU honored for ‘distinctive’ trees

Katherine Wade

There are about 3,000 trees on WKU’s campus, and each of them is identified by species, size and location.

This dedication to tree care and inventory allowed WKU to become recognized as a Tree Campus USA for the first time in 2010. The honor was announced this month.

Tree Campus USA is a program in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation that recognizes college campuses that are committed to managing their campus forestry.

WKU Sustainability Coordinator Christian Ryan-Downing said the trees on campus are a huge part of the university’s history and sense of place.

“Our trees not only lend to the remarkable beauty of our campus — they provide comfort and shade, reduce heat island effect and help us conserve energy in our buildings, act as a carbon sink and provide habitat for wildlife including our white squirrels and hawks,” she said.

According to arborday.org, universities must meet five standards to become a Tree Campus USA. They must have a tree advisory committee, a tree care plan, a tree program with dedicated annual expenditures, an Arbor Day observance and a service learning project.

Landscape Architect Helen Siewers is one of the members of WKU’s tree advisory committee.

Siewers said the purpose of the committee is to implement the campus tree care plan, which involves identifying and carrying out the actions necessary to maintain a sustainable campus tree environment.

President Gary Ransdell, also a member of the tree advisory committee, said becoming a Tree Campus USA is another national recognition that validates just how serious the university is about sustainability.

Ransdell said the trees on campus represent the university’s values and are important from a visual perspective.

“I’m a tree guy. I take that very seriously,” he said. “Our trees are one of the things that make us distinctive, and if we lose track of that, we’ve lost something as an institution.”

Ryan-Downing said they have nicknamed Ransdell “the Lorax” after the Dr. Seuss character who speaks for the trees.

Before any tree can be removed from campus, even if it is dead or dying, Ransdell said he must personally sign a form of approval. He said he then expects two trees to be planted for each one removed.

“I am not going to wake up one day and find that the character of our campus has changed on my watch,” he said.

Ryan-Downing said the Arbor Day Foundation sets very high standards for Tree Campus USA members, so they feel very proud to become one.

“It very visibly and tangibly shows we are good stewards of our campus forest and the local community,” she said.