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UTRGV Edinburg campus garners Tree Campus USA designation

EDINBURG, TEXAS – JULY 8, 2015 – The Arbor Day Foundation has recognized the Edinburg campus of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley as a 2014 Tree Campus USA university for its commitment to effective urban forest management and engaging the campus community in environmental stewardship. 

Tree Campus USA is a national program created in 2008 by the Arbor Day Foundation and sponsored by Toyota. The university achieved the title by meeting Tree Campus USA’s five core standards of tree care and community engagement:

  • Establishing a campus tree advisory committee.
  • Having a campus tree-care plan.
  • Verifying dedicated annual expenditures on the tree-care plan.
  • Being involved in an Arbor Day observance.
  • Instituting a service-learning project aimed at engaging the student body.

The effort to achieve the designation for the Edinburg campus was led by UTPA's Office for Sustainability with the Facilities Management Department as well as Dr. Alexis Racelis, assistant professor of biology, and his graduate student, George Cantu, who directed the cadre of students creating an inventory of the trees on campus. 

“We are honored the Arbor Day Foundation has recognized the value and diversity of our campus forestry. It is exciting to see such a strong involvement by our students in this worthy cause and recognizing the importance of our urban forestry,” said Martin Baylor, UTRGV executive vice president for Finance and Administration and UTPA vice president for Business Affairs. “I congratulate the campus Tree Advisory Committee, the urban forestry student teams and the Facilities Management Landscape and Grounds staff for the great work they have done and continue to do.” 

Marta Salinas-Hovar, UTRGV associate vice president for Facilities Planning and Operations and UTPA assistant director for Project Planning and Management, also praised the collaborative effort to obtain the designation, particularly the dedicated service of the grounds crew to maintain and preserve the trees. 

“They work hard to make our campus an inviting and beautiful setting for our faculty, staff and students to live, work and study,” she said.

Inventory compiled by the students will provide an important roadmap as UTRGV moves forward with a new master plan for the growth of all its campuses, she said.

During three semesters, 32 university students from multiple disciplines were trained by faculty and local and state foresters to identify and tag each tree and in the tools and methods to take the tree health and dimensional data of nearly all of the more than 2,000 trees on campus.

Student participants were credited with a biology or environmental science course, each designed to foster student engagement, education and research through a service learning project, Racelis said. 

Tree health data included the health of bark and leaves, when the tree needed maintenance and the type of maintenance needed. Dimensional data included the physical attributes of the trees, such as diameter, total tree and crown height and percent dieback. The data was mapped digitally, and by using a free software program – i-Tree Eco – the inventory was used to quantify and valuate the environmental impacts of the trees and estimate their ecosystem services, including pollution sequestration, rainwater retention and shade for cooling.

The structural value of the trees – the majority of which are live oaks and Mexican fan palms – is nearly $5,735,000, said graduate student Cantu, who will graduate this summer. He hopes to land a job as an urban forester.  

“The complete tree inventory is not only the basis of the campus tree management plan, but more importantly, the inventory was an educational vehicle meant to transform the way students look at and think about their surroundings. This designation also signals the recognition by campus management of the many benefits of trees, as well as their needs in terms of maintenance,” Racelis said.

In his notification of the designation, Matt Harris, chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation, said students are eager to volunteer in their communities and become better stewards of the environment.

“Participating in Tree Campus USA sets a fine example for other colleges and universities, while helping to create a healthier planet for us all,” he noted.

Toyota praised the program’s impact on students and the environment.

“Toyota is so proud to support a program that we believe has a great impact on both reducing the environmental footprint of a college campus and inspiring college students to become conservation leaders,” said Latondra Newton, chief corporate social responsibility officer for Toyota Motor North America Inc.

Racelis said becoming a Tree Campus USA signals the potential of universities to “lead from the front” in their own communities in terms of sustainable planning and management.

“We hope other localities in the RGV will follow suit,” he said.

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Media Contacts

Marci Caltabiano-Ponce, UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications
956-665-2742
Jennifer McGehee Valdez, UTRGV Director of Media and Public Relations
956-882-5105