Penn State Schuylkill students conduct tree inventory on campus

November 17 – SCHUYLKILL HAVEN – Penn State Schuylkill students participated in an extensive tree inventory, documenting more than two dozen species of trees and shrubs on campus.

Beginning Nov. 7, about two dozen students from Mary Ann Smith’s Environmental Science Class ventured outside to record various tree species, as well as measurements of diameter, general health, origin , mulching problems and other attributes.

Wednesday’s class served as a recap of the inventory, which was a collaborative effort between students and local foresters, including members of the Schuylkill County Conservancy.

All of the work, according to Smith, was done to help ongoing efforts to qualify the Penn State Schuylkill campus as an arboretum.

With the completion of the inventory, Smith and his students have documented nearly 30 species of trees and shrubs that could qualify the campus for accreditation as a Level I arboretum through ArbNet, a global community of arboreta.

“It will be a repository of information,” Smith said during Wednesday’s class. “We are a public campus. People can come and visit us, and when we have information there, people can find out more.”

Accreditation

Now that the class has documented the minimum of 25 species required for Tier 1 status, Smith intends to move forward with the application process and believes the campus could soon reach its goal.

If certified, Schuylkill would be the third of Penn State’s 23 satellite campuses to be designated an arboretum. The Mont Alto and Erie campuses already have a certified arboretum, while Penn State’s main campus has Level II accreditation, with over 100 species.

As a certified arboretum, Smith said, Penn State Schuylkill would serve as a model for other campuses and organizations and inspire them to follow Schuylkill’s lead.

“It will also allow people to recognize that we are taking these extra steps to ensure that (the trees) are easily identifiable, that they will have information on the labels, so that people can find out more about them,” said said Smith. “We will be able to bring people in and learn about trees at different stages of their life.”

Tree species identified in the inventory include Norway maple, blue spruce, serviceberry, red oak, arborvitae, chestnut oak, Japanese dogwood, crabapple and river birch .

In total, about 150 trees were identified and registered on OpenTreeMap, an online database. The students also used the Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment, or GLOBE, program as an alternative database.

Frank Snyder and Jerry Bowman, members of the Schuylkill County Conservancy, and Will Thomas of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, service forester for Schuylkill and Carbon counties, also participated in the inventory.

Increase efforts

The inventory was mainly carried out in a small centralized area of ​​the campus near the classroom buildings, with tree species documented over three working days, November 7, 11 and 14.

Snyder was impressed with the effectiveness of the effort and hopes to inspect other areas of campus in the coming months.

“We did a very small part of the campus,” he said.

Smith is also optimistic about future documentation efforts. She believes there could be as many as 75 species on campus, more than enough to meet the Tier I status requirement.

Besides the tree collection, important criteria for ArbNet accreditation include an arboretum plan, organizational group, staff, and public access.

“We currently have 28 species documented, and I know there are actually more because we haven’t even reached the back of campus,” Smith said.

On Wednesday, Bowman and Snyder presented the students with a recap of the identification process and asked them to measure the diameters of three nearby trees, an Austrian pine, a red maple and a Japanese red maple.

Among other measurements, Snyder demonstrated how to tell an Austrian from a white pine.

“A white pine has five needles; this one has two,” Snyder said. “One of the first things that Jerry and I looked at was the length of the needles, and were they perfectly straight or were they sort of (bent) a bit. … And then we looked at the buds. And the buds are large, sunken, whitish buds, and from that we knew this tree was an Austrian pine.”

According to Bowman, Schuylkill Haven is one of 3,200 communities across the country with a Tree City USA designation, making it a viable area for tree-related research.

Looking ahead, Smith plans to expand inventory efforts beyond the classroom and make it available for research and other purposes.

One of her goals is “to expand into other research projects,” she said, “which is one of the hopes of communities at Penn State — to ensure that they become living research sites that we can then talk to other campuses and make comparisons.”

Smith also plans to develop QR codes that will allow visitors to access species information with their mobile phones.

She hopes the arboretum initiative will help future efforts to preserve the history of trees and shrubs on campus.

“The campus has been around since the ’60s,” Smith said. “So much of this information is lost. So many of these trees were brought in at different times, in different parts of history, that much of it has been lost.”

Contact the author: hlee@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6085