A Community Forest for Urban Dwellers

© Western New Mexico University

Western New Mexico University recently attained the designation of official “Tree Campus” by the Arbor Day Foundation higher education program that recognizes sustainability through the building and maintenance of university community forests.

Established in 2008, the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Campus Higher Education initiative encourages colleges and universities across the nation to create an approach that would allow for institutions to grow community forests while working toward efficacy and conservation.

“WNMU has made environmental sustainability part of its mission toward better serving our students and community by working toward creating a more beautiful and healthier campus for future generations,” said WNMU Horticulture Coordinator Chala Werber. “This designation is an important step toward the university’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2025 as well as our continued good stewardship and preservation of the Gila region, a goal we are collectively committed to,” said Werber.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, Western New Mexico University achieved this designation by engaging the university campus in the spirit of conservation and through the “establishment of a tree advisory committee…campus tree care plan…and the sponsorship of student service-learning projects.”

The WNMU tree advisory committee is comprised of students, faculty, staff and members from the local community. Over the past two years, WNMU has planted 50 trees throughout campus with the goal of planting an average of 20 large trees annually. While trees contribute to the overall look of campus, the benefits go far beyond mere appearances. Trees provide natural airborne filtration while cooling the air around the canopy as well as providing flood control as a natural stormwater management system, mitigating the effects of heavy rainfall both on campus and to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Future plans include the development of a digital map that would allow campus visitors to go on a self-guided multi-media tree and plant tour around campus with points of interests for bird watchers, sky gazers and all other lovers of the outdoors.

“This is a monumental step toward our continued effort in developing welcoming outdoor spaces for both academic purposes and the enjoyment of the entire university community,” said Werber. “From our campus greenhouse that enables student and faculty research to the university’s solar panels, we are determined to lead the state in efforts that not only encourage innovation, but innovation aimed at conserving what we hold most dear.”

For more information about the Arbor Day Foundation Tree Campus Higher Education program, visit arborday.org/programs/tree-campus-higher-education/.

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