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Eastern Kentucky University has been named a 2020 Tree Campus Higher Education institution by the Arbor Day Foundation. 

The Tree Campus Higher Education program honors colleges and universities nationwide that work to “create greener, healthier spaces on campus through their trees,” said Dan Lambe, president of the foundation, in a video message to EKU President Dr. David McFaddin. EKU is one of 392 campuses nationwide to receive the designation. 

The Tree Campus recognition reflects the university’s ongoing commitment to the preservation of 892 acres of the Campus Beautiful as well as its three natural areas: Lilley Cornett Woods, Maywoods, and Taylor Fork Ecological Area. This is the 11th consecutive year EKU has been recognized. 

“As humans we depend on trees and trees, to some extent, depend on us,” said Dr. David Brown, biology professor and manager of the Taylor Fork Ecological Area. “The trees on campus, which are really part of an urban forest, provide shade, carbon sequestration, hammock hanging spots, food and shelter for wildlife, and are a major contributor to the beauty of campus.” 

To qualify for the Tree Campus recognition, the university met five core standards for effective campus forest management: 

  • Establish a tree advisory committee

  • Establish and adhere to a campus tree plan

  • Dedicate annual expenditures for a campus tree program

  • Observe Arbor Day

  • Sponsor student service-learning projects

EKU’s Tree Care Committee is a group of students, faculty, and staff that hosts a variety of events, service-learning projects, and other activities dedicated to preserving the diverse tree species on campus and its natural areas. 

Students and faculty currently are conducting a campus-wide inventory that maps, identifies, measures, and assesses the health of each tree. After mapping the central portion of campus, the group found more than 100 species of trees among the 1,000 counted. Groups are now conducting this work on the south side of campus.

The University has made a concerted effort to protect several species of trees, specifically ash, hemlock, and chestnut. More than 50 ash and hemlock trees have been saved by the university’s intervention measures. Those measures include treating for invasive pests, installing trimmer guards and adding mulch. But the work definitely takes a village, said Brown. Several on- and off-campus groups offer their expertise and labor to care for campus’ natural areas, ridding the areas of invasive plants and insects, and planting more than 20 trees over the past year.

One partnership involves EKU and the American Chestnut Foundation breeding hybrid chestnut trees to be less susceptible to chestnut blight, a fungus-caused disease that has devastated the American chestnut tree. 

“Having the orchard on campus makes it simple to engage students in the story of what has been described as the greatest ecological disaster of the 20th century,” said Dr. Jennifer Koslow, associate professor of plant ecology. The living laboratory allows Koslow’s students to learn about the tree and all the efforts made to restore the species.