FIU earns state’s first Tree Campus USA designation

The initiative moves forward the work of the university’s Sustainability Committee.

By Karen Cochrane

With a native pigeon plum tree festooned with blue and gold ribbons serving as the backdrop, university and environmental leaders gathered Feb. 23 at Biscayne Bay Campus (BBC) to celebrate FIU’s newly earned status as a Tree Campus USA university.

FIU is the first university in Florida to earn the coveted designation from the Arbor Day Foundation. The initiative was spearheaded by Biscayne Bay Campus faculty, administrators and students and moves forward the work of the university’s Sustainability Committee.

Modeled after a similar Arbor Day Foundation program called Tree City USA, Tree Campus USA recognizes colleges and universities for promoting urban forest management and engaging the campus community in environmental stewardship. Colleges and universities across the United States can be recognized as a Tree Campus USA by meeting five standards developed to promote healthy trees and student involvement: formation of a Campus Tree Advisory Committee, creation of a campus tree care plan, creation of a campus tree program with dedicated annual expenditures, an annual Arbor Day observance, and a service-learning project.

Earning the Tree Campus USA designation will help FIU take its environmental agenda to the next level, according to Julissa Castellanos, director of operations for the Office of the Vice Provost at BBC and chairperson of the Campus Tree Advisory Committee.

Says Castellanos, “The designation may not come with funding, but it costs no additional money, and it gives us an opportunity to work with community partners to identify outside resources that will help us achieve our goals.”

As part of the process, FIU worked with alumnus Victor Borges M.LandArch ’09. A landscape designer who is currently fulfilling his requirements to become a licensed landscape architect, Borges spent five weeks surveying BBC’s tree canopy and working with fellow committee members to create a plan moving forward. He identified approximately 1,800 trees on BBC’s 200-acre campus.

While BBC’s tree canopy needs to be increased dramatically, Castellanos says the news wasn’t all bad when it came time to craft a campus tree care plan.

“I had read several plans that were essentially best practices. When I met with the people in Facilities Management, they told me, ‘We already do all of this. That’s our job.’ So we were able to move beyond that in our plan, which was great,” says Castellanos. “It became more about setting aspirational goals for the university.”

The committee identified three immediate goals: increasing the tree canopy at BBC, completing a tree inventory of Modesto A. Maidique Campus, and incorporating more natives into the tree canopies of both campuses.

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