Urban forestry team reaches new program heights alongside partner collaboration
The Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities’ urban forestry team has experienced numerous recent achievements such as grants issued by the Virginia Department of Forestry and the International Society of Arbiculture’s Gold Leaf Award. These accolades showcase the team’s ability to cultivate external relationships and reinforce the division’s dedication to Virginia Tech’s Climate Action Commitment.
Working under Facilities Operations, the urban forestry team is responsible for the overall planting, health care, safety, and general maintenance of the over 11,000 trees that cover the Blacksburg campus’ 2,600 acres. The team uses sustainable campus operations practices to realize the evolving Blacksburg campus highlighted in the Campus Master Plan and university’s strategic plan.
“We work hard every day to take care of the trees on campus for you, your family, and your future kids,” said University Arborist Jamie King. “It’s a long term investment.”
The urban forestry team’s success can be attributed to the program’s collaborative partnerships including the College of Natural Resources and Environment, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Virginia Department of Forestry.
Recent achievements that have contributed to the advancement of the division’s urban forestry program include:
Gold Leaf Award for 2022 Arbor Day programming
The Virginia Trees for Clean Water Grant tree planting across campus including the Sesquicentennial Grove on the Drillfield
The 2022 Urban and Community Assistance Grant for the development of an urban forest management plan
King received the 2022 President’s Citation from the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture.
ISA Gold Leaf Award
The urban forestry team received its first Gold Leaf Award by the International Society of Arboriculture for the 2022 Arbor Day activities on the Blacksburg campus.
In observance of Arbor Day, the urban forestry team and representatives from the College of Natural Resources and Environment joined together at the Duck Pond to host a legacy tree planting ceremony and campus tree tours, capitalizing on the mutually beneficial partnership.
“Gold Leaf Awards are given by local chapters of the International Society of Arboriculture to recognize Arbor Day beautification projects,” said King.
The ceremony included a celebration of life for the mature black willow tree that once stood on the bank of the Duck Pond.
Prior to the celebration, Professor John Seiler, tree physiology specialist in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, propagated a clone of the mature black willow. This clone was then planted as a demonstration amidst the Arbor Day activities.
“This Gold Leaf Award represents recognition from other urban forestry professionals and helps validate our team’s hard work here on campus” said King.
Virginia Trees for Clean Water Grant
The division’s urban forestry team was awarded a $30,000 grant from Virginia Trees for Clean Water administered by the Virginia Department of Forestry to plant additional trees on the Blacksburg campus.
In coordination with the grant’s overarching goal to increase canopy coverage, 93 trees were planted last fall on the Blacksburg campus.
“The grant is important because it helped us realize plans for tree planting across the Blacksburg campus,” said King. “The funds allowed us to direct resources and time toward maintenance needs for mature trees, therefore compounding the clean water and air benefits to the campus community.”
The Virginia Trees for Clean Water Grant Program encourages the creation of long-term sustained canopy cover to aid and support the distribution of clean water across Virginia.
“The focus of Virginia Trees for Clean Water is really project implementation; planting trees and helping the awardee maintain those trees through the program,” said Lara Johnson, urban and community forestry program manager for the Virginia Department of Forestry. “So ultimately, Virginia Trees for Clean Water is super laser focused on planting trees.”
Virginia Tech has benefited greatly from having King as its first university arborist as the university seeks to preserve, manage, and expand its urban forest. King works alongside the Virginia Department of Forestry to advocate for Virginia Tech’s urban forest and elevate the urban forestry team’s efforts.
“Jamie coming on board has only accelerated Virginia Tech’s vision in urban forestry,” said Joe Lehnen, urban wood utilization forester for the Virginia Department of Forestry. “Having a dedicated staff thinking about trees on a daily basis has really changed the dynamic for Virginia Tech, they are able to take on a lot more.”
Urban forest management plan
“In order to manage trees to our greatest benefit to our community and future community, we must establish a routine maintenance plan,” said King.
The Virginia Department of Forestry awarded the urban forestry team with a 2022 Urban and Community Forestry grant to fund the team’s first urban forest management plan.
The 2022 Urban and Community Forestry Grant program funds projects that support the protection and care of trees, tree planting, and conservation of urban and community forest ecosystems.
The program aims to encourage local government and resident participation in creating and supporting sustainable, long-term urban and community forestry projects and programs at the local level.
“This grant will fund the writing of a management plan that will assess our inventory; each tree’s identity and needs,” King said. “And we will plan a routine maintenance cycle for those trees.”
In composing the management plan, King will choose priorities that are important to the Virginia Tech community and the urban forest team will grow the program using these preferences.
“Virginia Tech’s priorities are different from the city of Harrisonburgs priorities, but they all are managing trees,” said Molly O’Liddy, urban and community forestry partnership coordinator. “It’s figuring out what you have so you can build on it.”
The routine maintenance cycle will allow the team to shift away from majority responsive work to more secure preventive measures surrounding urban forest conservation.
Once the routine maintenance plan is completed and finalized, it will be used for 10 years before revision and adaptation.
King received the 2022 President’s Citation from Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (MAC-ISA) President Chad Peevy. Peevy also works as a university arborist at Old Dominion University.
“He recognized the hard work that we do here, but also the hard work that we do for the MAC-ISA,” said King. “I am incredibly honored to receive the President’s Citation.”
Along with King’s responsibilities as the university arborist, he is also heavily involved and connected with other arborists, urban foresters, and other tree care organizations and groups.
King has been an active member of the International Society of Arboriculture’s Mid-Atlantic chapter for several years and serves on its board.
“It is really important to stay connected to our peers because here in the mid-Atlantic, trees grow differently than they do in Texas or Oregon,” said King. “So it gives us all the opportunity to work really closely and learn from each other and share advice and stories.”
The urban forestry team values collaboration and partnership with organizations such as the MAC-ISA, said King.
“I love being involved because it’s important in many ways as arboriculture and urban forestry are emerging and maturing professions,” said King. “ I have benefited greatly from mentorship and coordination and the hard work of others.”
Looking into the future for fostering strong partnerships stemming from the division's urban forestry program at Virginia Tech, King has shared his significance on mentorship.
“Probably one of the best things that I can do in my career is to provide that same sort of mentorship and guidance as I have been so lucky to receive,” King said.