Friday, April 20, 2018
  Awards and Recognitions

By Amanda Alaniz

The Arbor Day Foundation has named The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley as a 2017 Tree Campus USA university for the fourth consecutive year, in recognition of its commitment to urban forest management and sustainability.

Tree Campus USA is a national program launched in 2008 by the Arbor Day Foundation to honor colleges and universities and their leaders for promoting healthy trees and engaging students and staff in the spirit of conservation.

UTRGV is one of three in the UT System to receive the designation – the others were UT-Austin and UT-Dallas – and one of 27 universities and colleges in Texas.

The Edinburg Campus alone has more than 2,000 trees with a 2014 estimated value of more than $5,735,000.

To obtain the distinction, UTRGV met the five core standards for effective forest management:

  • A tree advisory committee.
  • A campus tree-care plan.
  • Dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program.
  • Arbor Day observance.
  • And student service-learning project.

A crew of about 20 under the supervision of Oscar Villarreal, UTRGV director of Campus Facilities Operations, maintains more than 300 acres of landscape on the Edinburg Campus alone.

Villarreal said that as changes are made to the campus, a landscape plan is constructed to plant the trees best suited to certain areas.

UTRGV legacy university UT Pan American first received the reward in 2014, with the initiative led by the Office for Sustainability and Facilities Planning and Operations.

Marianella Franklin, UTRGV’s chief sustainability officer, was part of the founding committee for Tree Campus USA. And Dr. Alex Racelis, director of the Agroecology Program in the School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences (SEEMS) in the UTRGV College of Sciences, and assistant professor in the Department of Biology, was the faculty chair for the project.

To be considered for Tree Campus USA status, the university must complete an extensive survey.
Racelis said there are plans in the program to do a new tree survey in 2019. He said the information is helpful for understanding the trees in the area.

“That’ll help us from a scientific standpoint to understand the role of trees on campus in urban areas. We can see how fast and how much they’ve grown. We can see how well they’ve been maintained,” he said.

The information also is valuable for the maintenance department, as they can use it to determine which trees may have a disease or need pruning.

Franklin said trees not only provide aesthetics for the campus, but also provide a healthy living environment and contribute to energy conservation.

And she hopes students who were involved in Tree Campus USA take what they’ve learned at UTRGV and apply it to their communities.

“We serve as an institution with the expertise to help our cities,” Franklin said. “I hope that they understand that our students have the expertise and might consider hiring them to help conduct their inventory so they can become a Tree City USA.”

Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation, sent a letter of congratulations to advise UTRGV of the designation.

“If ever there was a time for trees, now is that time,” he said in the letter. “Worldwide, we are facing issues with air quality, water resources, personal health and well-being, and energy use.”

UTRGV campus sidewalks and trees.
Trees line many of the UTRGV campus walkways and open spaces, providing shade and beautifying UTRGV’s campuses. Preservation, new growth and diligent maintenance have helped UTRGV to its fourth designation as a Tree Campus USA. The announcement of the 2017-18 designation arrived just in time for April 22, Earth Day 2018. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.