Virginia Tech takes an integrated and adaptive approach to urban forest management, making use of continuous monitoring and assessments, providing opportunities for community engagement and expert collaboration, and managing the protection, planting, and maintenance of the over 11,500 trees that cover the Blacksburg campus. Responsible for this care is the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities’ urban forestry team – four individuals with expertise in arboriculture and urban forestry who strive to cultivate a low-risk, sustainable, resilient, and attractive urban forest that current and future generations of Hokies can utilize and enjoy.

On Nov. 6, Jamie King, urban forest manager and university arborist, provided an overview of the program to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, detailing the ways the team helps contribute to the Climate Action Commitment’s goal of carbon neutral agricultural, forestry, and land use operations by 2030.

“As urban foresters, we manage the entire population of trees at Virginia Tech,” said King. “The development of future plans and coordination with university and community partners allows us to properly care for the university’s trees while striving to meet the goals outlined in the Climate Action Commitment.” 

A group of people use shovels to dig holes in the ground at the old growth forest adjacent to Lane Stadium.
Participants in the Arbor Day tree planting work with Jamie King, urban forest manager and university arborist, to plant trees in the old growth forest adjacent to Lane Stadium. Photo by Meghan Marsh for Virginia Tech.

In 2023, more than 500 trees were planted on the Blacksburg campus with plans for more during the upcoming planting season. Several of these plantings provided opportunities for student and community engagement, including a tree planting demonstration on Arbor Day and restoration efforts at Stroubles Creek

The urban forestry team’s opportunities for community engagement expand beyond tree plantings. In October, King partnered with the College of Natural Resources and Environment to host a Homecoming Hike, touring alumni and visitors around the Blacksburg campus’ notable trees. 

Partnerships such as that fuel the division’s urban forestry program’s success. A co-curriculum developed with the college creates experiential learning opportunities that help students refine their interests, skills, and professional character. 

Individuals gather around a large, lush, green tree on Virginia Tech's campus.
Alumni and visitors learn about campus trees during the Homecoming Hokie Hike. Photo by Luke Hayes for Virginia Tech.
Jamie King stands in front of two large tree trunks that are laying on the ground and hollowed out. Hokie Hike attendees stand facing King and the trees.
Jamie King, urban forest manager and university arborist, speaks to a group of alumni and visitors during the Homecoming Hokie Hike. Photo by Luke Hayes for Virginia Tech.

Other recent examples of community engagement include outreach and demonstrations with Radford High School and an urban forest tour for the Virginia Master Gardener College hosted by Virginia Cooperative Extension. During this tour, participants learned the history of notable trees at Virginia Tech in order to gain a greater understanding of the future of campus trees. 

These academic and community partnerships also have led to recent achievements such as the Gold Leaf Award, a 2022 Virginia Trees for Clean Water Grant, and a 2022 Urban and Community Assistance Grant. These accomplishments have not only validated the team’s success, but also have allowed for the realization of plans for tree planting and the writing of a management plan that will assess the current tree inventory and the needs of campus trees. 

Looking into the future, King notes three clear methods for achieving the university’s urban forestry goals: 

  • Implement the urban forest master plan
  • Increase the urban tree canopy
  • Become the first accredited university urban forestry team

Adoption of the urban forest master plan is underway. This dynamic document – created with input from stakeholders including academic partners; students; every team in the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities; the Town of Blacksburg; and the larger Virginia Tech community – will serve as a guide to assess the university’s urban forest, report its benefits, and recommend paths forward. 

"Urban forestry management is not just about planting trees. It's about sowing the seeds of a healthier, happier, and more sustainable future for our campus,” said Wendy Halsey, assistant vice president for facilities operations. “By nurturing and preserving our assets, we're investing in the well-being of our community, the quality of our environment, and the prosperity of generations to come."

Efforts made by King and the urban forestry team are seen across campus as Virginia Tech continues to expand its campus tree canopy. As recommended in the Climate Action Commitment, the goal to reach 25 percent tree cover by 2050 will provide energy savings, offset campus carbon emissions, and provide numerous ecological services while also growing a lush, green campus environment. 

Bright orange, red, and green leaves cover the trees surrounding the Drillfield. In the foreground, students walk across the Drillfield out of focus/
Fall leaves on campus. Photo by Lee Friesland for Virginia Tech.

Through the adoption of the urban forest master plan and the increase in the urban tree canopy, the urban forestry team is prepared to apply to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s Urban and Community Forestry accreditation program. Doing so would make Virginia Tech the first accredited collegiate program.

Over the past four years, the urban forestry team has worked diligently to resolve an extensive backlog of tree maintenance. While there is still work to be done, this investment has already contributed to a more resilient tree population. Looking ahead, the team will continue to care for existing trees on campus, grow the urban tree canopy, educate students, and engage in community outreach opportunities to create a more livable campus and a sustainable future. 

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