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Episode 81 - What’s Throwing the Most Shade On Campus?

Patrick McDonald discusses the benefits of having a diversity of trees on campus as well as destructive bugs that can harm our beautiful arboretum.

Patrick McDonald discusses the benefits of having a diversity of trees on campus as well as destructive bugs that can harm our beautiful arboretum.

My name is Patrick McDonald and I'm the manager for landscape and transportation services at the University of Northern Colorado.

On campus, we are in charge of all the turf, flowers, trees, shrubs, just about everything outside the buildings on campus. We have a nice budget and our boss, Kirk Leichliter, does a great job in providing for this department. He considers it as a very important part of the infrastructure. We get money to take care of our buildings, but it's equally as important to take care of our landscaping. It's got an intrinsic value and with a lot of intangible assets that people really don't think about when they're walking around. We have a value of our trees that runs into millions of dollars. So 1.2 million, I believe is the value of our trees on campus.

So you're saying that every tree adds up to about $1.2 million just on the value of the uniqueness of the trees, the age? What is it about the value?

The trees provide some landscape appraisal, real estate value, the shade. The cooling effect. The money that we, we say save in our own utilities, we get rid of all the trees on campus, then are heating and our cooling bills will skyrocket. And we do have a directive in our master plan to make sure that at least 25% of new landscapes are xeric in nature.

What is that?

Xeric is a term used to describe the use of plant material that does not require a lot of water. So we do a lot of xericscaping on the campus. We have a xeric demonstration garden, which is five acres, but everybody still likes to see a campus that is lush and green. And that is just the way it is on the university campuses. I don't know what the future will hold down the road as the population continues to increase in northern Colorado, and the pressure of available water there may have to be more of a trend to more xericscaping and less lush green grass. But that's for the future.

We are known as, and correct me if I'm wrong, but a tree campus?

We are a tree campus USA. It's sort of the equivalent of the Tree City USA. Started by the Arbor Day Foundation and they started that in 2008. So it's just about 11 years that they've been doing that. And we have qualified for tree campus USA seven times since 2012, I believe.

What makes you qualify?

We have to have a tree advisory committee. We have to have a tree care plan, tree care policies. We have to observe Arbor Day and tree plannings and we also conduct a community service learning project. This podcast would serve and fulfill part of that goal as well.

You're welcome.

Getting the word out there about the value of trees that we've hinted on a little bit about their cooling effect. They provide oxygen to forests and they absorb CO2. So they are very, very instrumental in combating global warming. And it's our part by perpetuating our trees on campus - That's our sustainable efforts.

We have just over 3000 trees on campus and the, the trees that are around the tree trail provide us a little of information about how trees can be used in the landscape. And it also includes some of our legacy historical trees that are massive and large. But at the same time we try to diversify all our trees to avoid some of the problems that we are going to be facing in the next few years. And when we have trees that are not diverse and we have so many of one kind, then we put ourselves in a situation where a destructive bug comes to campus and can kill all those trees.

So the past 17 years here, we've worked hard to break up that monoculture, same species, and break that up and bring in different kinds of trees so we can avoid any catastrophic bug or a disease issues that may come to the campus some day. And one that has been on the forefront in the news is emerald ash borer, EAB, and it is now quarantined in Boulder County. And it's not here in Weld county yet, but it will kill all our ash trees. So the past few years we've been removing ash trees, trying to cut down our population from 450 to 225, but we're not there yet. We've only removed 167 trees and, I keep a tally of those every year and we try to replace those trees and we're also doing some, what we call shadow planting, planting different trees nearby, existing Ash trees.

At some point we will have to begin treatments once the bug is detected here in Weld county. And then the cost of care of those trees is going to skyrocket and the removals will have to come. In fact, the US Colorado Forest Service is stating plan on treating more trees cause it will help stagger your removals. And we have some beautiful ash trees on, on campus that are 32 to 40 inches in diameter on central campus. And we've been trying to do our best to plant more trees around them. So when the removals do come, we won't have a stark, baron campus.

When, when you say Bug EAB.

Emerald ash borer.

Is it, is it a beetle? Cause I've heard of like the Colorado Beetle.

It is a beetle, yes. And the larva that are lay the eggs on the bark and the bugs penetrate the bark and then just consume it. And the problem is detection is going to be very difficult because once we are able to see that the bug is here, it'll already been here four years.

And how do you, do you just go up to it, break off some of the bark and see if there is something there? Do you drill into the tree?

No, we can take a branch samplings whenever we do any pruning on campus on ash trees. We do bring a few branches down. I've been trained to look for them in this branch sampling method. And then if we suspect that the bug is here, then I have to send it to the US the Colorado Forest Service. And they will then examine and verify whether we have emerald ash borer and only by their verification, can we claim that the bug is now here.

That you can start doing something.

Right. And you know, there is a collaborative effort with the city of Greeley, Aims college and a few other entities and we meet periodically to assess where we are. And right now emerald ash borer is not present in Weld county, but people are out treating their trees. The city of Denver is doing so yet the bug has not been detected in Denver as at the moment.

So you're doing the best preventative measures that you can possibly do.

Right now we've been removing ash trees and shadow planting. I don't wanna remove every ash tree. The trees can be treated once the emerald ash borer is here with the prevent the disease, but those trees would have to be treated throughout the life of that tree. So the cost of taking care of our campus is beginning to increase as these bugs enter campus in Colorado.

I can tell you about another pest.


On campus right now, you can see some bronzing of leaves on a lot of our Linden trees on campus and apple trees. They're all being consumed. The leaves are being consumed by a new bug that is in Colorado. It's been here about four years now and it's Japanese Beetle and they do damage to the leaves, but it's not fatal to the trees. But it's the larva, the baby of that Japanese beetle that consumes our turf grass. They have, uh, the grubs and we have to spend more money on preventative insecticides and curative insecticides. And this bug is going to get worse. I uh, it was a daily thing for me at Purdue university to see Japanese Beetle cause they are just prevalent everywhere and we had to deal with grub damage to sod and the bronzing and skeletonizing of leaves on a lot of our linden trees back then. So we are just entering that here in Colorado. But that pest will get worse and worse over the years to come.

So you've seen it on campus already?


And is it spread across campus or is it kind of contained?

It is everywhere on campus now. It was just in a few pockets last year and the year before just a little bit. But now it is getting more prevalant. The populations will peak at some point in the future and which will require more treatment of our turf areas. Right now we've been treating our sports fields and our large playing areas, but eventually it will encroach into every grasp blade on campus.

Is there anything on the UNCs community side where, say, students and faculty, staff, alumni, are there anything that we can do to help with keeping this campus beautiful?

You know, we do have an adoptive spot program for students to help us plant flowers on campus. It has a limited degree of success. But, uh, the more students get more involved. The problem is that I have with the student involvement is they're gone during the summer.

When you need them the most.

Yes. So we do have a small core of volunteers. Even our luxurious president, Andy Feinstein, has adopted a spot at Cranford park and he's done an excellent job in keeping the weeds down. So, this adoptive spot was to 'how do we get more color on campus and without expending?' Cause we just don't have the Labor or the manpower to take care of those flowers. So this adopt-a-spot is a means to get people involved and get their hands dirty and provide some splash of color on campus.

Students, faculty, staff getting involved in Arbor Day and every April we only had a few volunteers come and plant trees last year. So that's what I would recommend. We need to keep on planting trees. We plant more trees than we take out. That's the other side of my job is tree removals. So, I think I've probably removed a thousand trees in my career, but I planted almost not quite 10,000 trees that I directed the planting of.

It's a good ratio to have.

Yes, it is. So we have to do our part to keep our shade and our tree canopy thriving.

Have you ever hugged the tree?

Oh, many times. [laughs] In 2012 we started our tree inventory and I had a couple of students, a Brent angle was one of them and we measured and counted every single tree on campus. So literally we have hugged each one of those trees.

That's sort of the timeline with the tree campus USA. In 2012, it took us four months to count all the trees on campus. And then shortly after we had that inventory with the help of the City of Greeley, we able to get everything mapped out and inventoried. And once that was done, that sort of set us up for the Tree Campus USA. We have a better count of what our trees are, how old they were, their total value that they give to the university. And so, Tree Campus USA had only been started 2008. By 2013, we submitted our application, got awarded the recognition, and then the talk of an Arboretum was a center of our conversations with my boss and myself. So we applied to become a, an official accredited arboretum. And that happened in 2014 and we have been reapplied/re-accredited just recently in 2019.

The campus Commons construction, we lost a lot of our tree trail trees. So it was time once campus Commons was completed. We also had some very strange freezing weather in November and the winter of 2015 and 2016 where we lost literally hundreds of trees and we have not yet recovered from those losses. So after Campus Commons was completed, then the landscape was finished. We updated the three tree trails on campus and media relations did a great job of getting that done. And while we were doing that, I updated the tree inventory and we're still over 3000 trees at the moment, even with all the tree losses and removals of ash trees on campus.

I love what I do. I love the crew that I have that works for me and they do a great job of making the campus look gorgeous and I'm sure they will continue on after I'm long gone. 42 and a half years has been a great career. And uh, if uh, they would, uh, keep me on as long as I wouldn't have to get up at three o'clock or one o'clock in the morning for snow removal, I might just stay. But that's not the case.


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