Virginia Tech earned 2021 Tree Campus USA Higher Education recognition, the 14th year in a row, for its commitment to tree preservation, community engagement, and experiential learning opportunities on the Blacksburg campus.

Tree Campus Higher Education "is really important here at Virginia Tech because we were one of the very first universities to get the accreditation. Virginia Tech was one of the celebrated universities in the first year of the Tree Campus Program, so it's a long-standing legacy,” said Jamie King, university arborist. 

To earn recognition from the Tree Campus Higher Education Program, universities must meet certain criteria set by the Arbor Day Foundation. These requirements include establishing a campus tree advisory committee, developing a campus tree care plan, verifying the plan's annual dedicated expenditures, celebrating Arbor Day, and establishing a service-learning project aimed at engaging the student body. 

“Last year, our Arbor Day celebration was a tree planting at the old growth forest by Lane Stadium, and our service-learning project was a partnership with the College of Natural Resources and Environment, where we hosted demonstrations for students with professional arborists across the Blacksburg campus,” King said. 

Virginia Tech applies to the Tree Campus Higher Education Program every year and strives to maintain that credential as part of the Climate Action Commitment, specifically its sixth goal that states, “Agricultural, forestry, and land use operations will be carbon neutral by 2030.”

Looking ahead, King shared how the university, particularly the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities, is continuing to invest in Virginia Tech’s urban forest. 

“Everything we do is planned and budgeted and part of a larger ecosystem. It's not only reactionary, but we need to routinely maintain trees to maximize their benefits for our community. We continue to work on a campus urban forestry master plan, which means that we have assessed the trees we have and we have set goals. We plan to host the public for comment on this plan in summer 2022,” said King. 

“We want to maximize the utility that the trees here have, and one way of doing that is the urban tree canopy, which is the percentage of land surface here at the university that's covered with tree leaves. We know an urban tree canopy is best and most efficient when it's larger. Our canopy is only about 14 percent right now, so we have a big goal to increase that as part of the Climate Action Commitment.” 

One component of increasing the tree canopy, King explained, is implementing planting plans to replace trees lost over time and maintenance plans to care for trees across campus.

He said, “The trees here at Virginia Tech are important to everyone — not just students or the Blacksburg community — but everyone and the environment.”

Striving toward Bee Campus USA certification

Another way Virginia Tech is advancing its dedication to environmental stewardship and its Climate Action Commitment is pursuing Bee Campus USA recognition.

Similar to the tree campus recognition, this effort will bring Virginia Tech closer to meeting the sixth goal of the Climate Action Commitment, as well as the 10th goal: Integrate the Climate Action Commitment into Virginia Tech’s educational mission through the Climate Action Living Laboratory beginning in 2021.

“By establishing Virginia Tech as a Bee Campus USA, we'll be stepping up to join other universities as a leader of sustainability in our developed communities,” said Grace Steger, representative of the Urban Forestry Office involved in the Bee Campus USA proposal.  

Currently, a committee of approximately 20 students, staff, and faculty are working collaboratively to achieve Bee Campus USA status by accomplishing six key criteria. Among them are creating enhanced pollinator habitats on campus (such as a drift of lavender plants near Hillcrest Hall), developing an integrated pest management plan focused on reducing pesticide use, creating a recommended native plant list, delivering service-learning projects to enhance pollinator habitats, offering courses that incorporate pollinator conservation, and more. 

“The leaders of this initiative have committed to the longevity of our efforts from the very beginning of the planning process. Our committee is structured to easily incorporate new interested members, to allow graduating members to do so without negatively impacting the program, and to thrive throughout the years with members in standing leadership positions,” Steger said. “This means that our efforts to engage the community and provide pollinator habitats won't be neglected over the years — there will always be someone to ‘tend the garden.’”

Get involved in Bee Campus USA efforts

If you are interested in getting engaged in Virginia Tech’s efforts to achieve Bee Campus USA status, attend a community "Pollinator Walk" around the Blacksburg campus on April 21 at 10 a.m. As part of Earth Week 2022 celebrations, Steger will lead the walk alongside entomology graduate student Chad Campbell. This is an open invitation event that is subject to change, so be sure to keep an eye on Virginia Tech’s Bee Campus USA website and social media

Written by Grace Hobson

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