News Staff Writer
Last spring UNC Asheville met the first of five standards toward Tree Campus USA by observing Arbor Day and this year, by creating the Tree Advisory Committee, the second standard was met.
The Tree Advisory Committee is comprised of a representative from four groups: students, faculty, facility management and community.
The Arbor Day Foundation created Tree Campus USA as a program to encourage campuses to properly manage their campus trees and to increase student and community involvement and engagement with the tree life on campus.
“Melissa (Acker), who is our grounds superintendent, has been having this idea of being Tree Campus for several semesters. She’s been working really hard to have that idea built into our school,” said Rex Blumenthal, a senior environmental management and policy student.
Tree Campus USA requires five standards to be met by the end of each year to be recognized. The Arbor Day Foundation website lists these standards as a campus Tree Advisory Committee, a campus tree care plan, a campus tree program with dedicated annual expenditures, Arbor Day observance and a service learning project.
“The Tree Advisory Committee is brand new, we’ve only had one meeting,” Blumenthal said, who is the student representative.
To continue the progress made toward Tree Campus USA, students and volunteers will have to get involved to help implement the rest of the standards. Blumenthal launched a survey, called the UNCA Tree Advisory Survey, to gain a general idea of how students felt about the tree life on campus.
“My goal with the survey was to have students give their input about just the general idea about how they feel about being a Tree Campus USA. Do we want more trees? Does it really matter? Do we want less trees and more grass?” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal also wanted to see the level of interest students had in future volunteer work with the campus tree life. Overall, the survey revealed 38 percent of the participants were willing to volunteer.
“I want to be a part of something that actually means something to me. People today are discrediting the importance that trees hold in society, and I want to take part in the opportunity to promote them,” said Sara Elliott, a freshman art history student.
The survey Blumenthal launched recorded 384 responses. Within those responses, the opinions varied about whether UNCA should continue to remove trees and grassy areas for construction or plant more trees and if so, what types of trees should be on campus. However, most of the participants did agree that students should be involved in the decisions.
“I think it is only right that every person impacted by the decisions regarding tree planting or removal should have a say,” said Margaret Benfield, a senior English student.
Almost half of the participants, 181 to be exact, felt trees should not be removed for further development. In contrast, one student felt it did not need to be one way or the other.
Sophomore biology student Abril Ruiz-Lopez said she liked that UNCA is expanding, as it is a sign of progress, but is still concerned about the campus’ tree population.
“I understand that trees needed to be cut down in order to do these projects, but I would still like to see a lot of trees and foliage on campus,” Ruiz-Lopez said. “Native flora and natural fauna is crucial in a university, as it supports a healthy and natural world where we can still develop in projects but also keep and promote sustainability and biotic diversity such as native pollinators.”
For students interested in learning more about the Tree Campus USA and future volunteer opportunities, the survey is still available. While the service learning project has not been developed yet, there will be future projects and a need for hands-on volunteers.
“Everyone has the responsibility to take care of the environment around them,” Elliott said.