The Legacy of John Evelyn’s “Sylva”

Note: Here’s my latest “Leading Thoughts” article from the new edition of TREE Press, the monthly newsletter of TREE Fund, of which I am President and CEO.

Before coming to TREE Fund, I served as Executive Director of the Salisbury House Foundation, which owns and operates an amazing historic house museum in Des Moines, Iowa. Salisbury House was built in the 1920s within a glorious 12-acre oak forest, and its owners – cosmetics magnate Carl Weeks and his wife Edith – worked diligently to protect the grand old trees around their 42-room manor home, most of which still provide shade to the house and gardens.

Carl Weeks was an extraordinary collector of rare books and documents, and one of the great delights in my work at Salisbury House was being able to study, work with, and teach from his 3,500-book library. One of items in the collection was an early edition of John Evelyn’s Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions (c. 1664-1670), arguably the first great treatise in the English language on the science, care and importance of trees. It was a massive success then, and has remained in print for over 350 years.

While Evelyn appreciated the beauty of trees, his underlying call to action was an economic one: trees provided fuel, building supplies, food, defense, and a litany of other crucial day-to-day needs in pre-industrial England, and the island’s forests were being denuded in the aftermath of the English Civil War. “We had better be without gold than without timber,” Evelyn wrote, encouraging land owners to plant trees as a matter of patriotic obligation. His countrymen heard him, and many old English forests today are home to trees planted by Sylva’s earliest devotees.

On April 27, 2018, millions of people across our own country will honor National Arbor Day by planting trees, providing innumerable benefits, some that John Evelyn understood in the 1660s — but many others of which are known to us now only through the types of modern scientific research empowered by TREE Fund. You can further this ongoing scientific legacy by making a gift to TREE Fund’s Arbor Day Appeal. We’re proud to work on behalf of our trees and the people who care for them, and take pride in being a link in a chain of inquiry that spans centuries – and will benefit those who follow us for centuries to come.

Click on “Sylva” to make your own contribution on behalf of our urban and community forests, and the professionals who study and care for them.

Tree and Soil Research Fund: Designing for Healthy Trees

As President and CEO of TREE Fund, one of the more interesting and exciting aspects of my job is strategically evaluating challenges and opportunities in our mission areas, knitting together disparate ideas to bring resources to bear on under-funded needs, and then executing those plans on behalf of our urban forests and their home communities. We’ve launched a new initiative this year that I consider to be a perfect example of how our problem-solving efforts can make a difference when  we are able to shepherd communal resources toward addressing a widespread problem. Here’s the deal . . .

Thriving urban forests empower community health and prosperity, providing overwhelmingly positive impacts on the aggregate health of cities and suburbs. Research routinely demonstrates a host of benefits from healthy urban canopies, some of them perhaps intuitive, but others sublime and surprising, e.g. increased birth weights, increased retail sales, accelerated patient healing, enhanced student learning, reduction of the urban heat island temperature, reduced runoff and increased water quality, decreased violent crime, and increased sense of common ownership for public spaces. These ecological, economic, and social benefits increase the well-being of families and the vibrancy of communities around the world.

Because trees are long-lived organisms, tree planning, planting, and life cycle care decisions made today will shape their health and impacts for many generations to come. Unfortunately, the potential benefits of our city trees are often reduced when designers, developers, or engineers take a “lollypop on a stick” planning approach to placing trees in the built environment. Our standards often only consider the parts of the trees above ground, while ignoring the crucial subsurface roots, soil and ecology that are essential to our cities’ trees. Nursery stock may contain serious defects, and tree design may be based more on aesthetic preconceptions or code compliance rather than providing for long term growth. Add to this mix new tree diseases and insects, encouraged by globalization and climate change, and the prospects for successful urban trees are not assured.

Many of the important questions related to establishing city trees are not well researched, with design decisions influenced by the evolution of best practices or outdated specifications and details. In order to educate landscape architects and municipal planners alike, TREE Fund’s Board of Trustees established the Tree and Soil Research Fund for Landscape Architecture (TSRF) in 2017 with the following charter:

TSRF will be a permanently restricted endowment fund supporting areas of research of interest to the landscape architecture community with special focus in the area of trees and soils. Supported research will include the following: the design and specification of trees and soils in urban landscapes; propagation and nursery practices that impact the establishment and long term growth of trees; improving species diversity; tree root and canopy structure improvement; soil and drainage design and modification; tree planting practices; tree planting space design; tree establishment and maintenance practices; and planting soil management and maintenance.

TREE Fund has an endowment target goal for TSRF of $500,000, after which it will generate earnings to fund $25,000 per year in research grants, in perpetuity, directly targeted to urban tree and soil research. The effort is being spearheaded by internationally renowned landscape architect James Urban, FASLA, who serves on TREE Fund’s Board of Trustees, for which I am deeply grateful. Our team is currently in the lead gift phase of the campaign, seeking both corporate or individual contributions to empower this initiative.

Here’s a handy little flyer that you might find useful if you’re interested in helping us, or if you know someone else who might be. Feel free to print or forward to your heart’s content — or to contact me if you’d like to learn more. It’s a worthy cause, and I’m excited to see it through to fruition.

Imagine this scene without trees . . .

TREE Press, Vol. 1, No. 1

As part of an expanded strategic effort to improve our communications capabilities at TREE Fund, we have re-branded and re-designed our monthly digital newsletter. We’ll be offering a print version via snail mail for those who opt in for it, and also providing a quarterly research insert going into a bit more depth on latest research findings, as well as profiles of the scientists behind them, and how they are changing the working worlds in arboriculture and urban forestry. Here’s a link to the first edition.

If you’re inspired by what you read there, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that you can help us get the job done by supporting the 26th anniversary Tour des Trees in Ohio, which will find me and 100 or so of my colleagues riding 530 miles to tell the story of how urban and community forests make a difference in our lives, while also raising crucial research funds. Here’s where you can make a gift, which will make a difference. If you’d really feeling inspired and would like a more tangible, hands-on approach to helping us, you can still sign up to ride with us in Ohio, or you can stage a Virtual Tour, and do what you do best, where and for how long you want to do it, to help out our good cause. Hit me if you’d like more info on any of this!

For my first short article in the new TREE Press, I adapted a piece I’d written many years ago called “Be An Expert.” I think it remains useful and timely in terms of how I do my work here, and how I hope my work helps others. You can read the original, longer article here, and I copy the text of the new summary piece in the quote box below:

LEADING THOUGHTS: BE AN EXPERT

A few days into my first post-college job with the Federal government, my boss offered me one of the most profound bits of professional advice I have ever received.

“If you want to succeed here, or in any other job,” he said, “then you have to become an expert.”

I asked the obvious (to me) question: “An expert in what, sir?”

“It doesn’t matter. Just make yourself an expert in something, and when you’ve done that, you’ll be indispensable.”

More than three decades later, I still hear and heed my boss’ words in all my work – though I’ve become a bit more discerning in the “expert in what?” piece of the equation. As President and CEO of TREE Fund, I now purposefully and continually work to improve my knowledge and skills in three areas of desired expertise:

  • Identifying, cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding sources of support for professional arboriculture and urban forestry;
  • Widely communicating the results our work for all those who want and need to hear it;
  • Managing a fiscally-sound nonprofit corporation guided by a comprehensive strategic plan.

While I often get asked to identify trees, discuss curricula, or explain in-depth research projects, I know where I am not an expert, so I am never too proud to refer such questions to the real experts – or to say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you!” In return, I am equally happy to field inquiries in my areas of expertise when they are posed to others – so please feel free to call on me as a resource on those fronts, whenever you need to.

One of the most personally rewarding parts of my work at TREE Fund is knowing that we empower others through grants and scholarships to identify, pursue and deepen their own expertise, hopefully making them indispensable to their own employers and home communities. And so I repeat that advice from long ago – Be an Expert! – and encourage you all to consider how TREE Fund might help you or yours in that pursuit.

 

On The Road Again (For The Trees)

At 5:30am yesterday, under what could charitably be described as “wintry mix,” I hopped in our car, cranked up some tunes, and headed down to Indianapolis for the first of my many 2018 speaking engagements on behalf of TREE Fund. In the weeks ahead, I will be in New York, Hawai’i, Iowa, Minnesota, Tennessee and New Mexico . . . and that just gets me to early April. Zoom zoom!

As President and CEO of TREE Fund, my position description says (among other things) that I am to “represent the Fund to its donors, volunteers, partners, researchers, the public and all other stakeholders.” I take that task seriously, and recognize that my ability to do it from my office in Naperville, Illinois is limited, at best; we do good online and virtual communications work, sure, but the face-to-face pitch is core to convincing people to support what we do. Equally important: reporting back to those who have supported us on how their generosity made a difference, and what we were able to do with it.

I don’t know exactly how many people I will stand in front of (in person, or on camera) over the year ahead — but it’s a pretty big number. I’m a reasonably deft public speaker and can expand or contract my core talk to run anywhere from three minutes to an hour, as requested by my hosts, or as a “read of the room” indicates will work best for the people in attendance. (There’s a huge difference in audience response over the course of a typical conference day; I’d say the 10:30 AM slot right after a mid-morning break is the best gig, most of the time, when people are caffeinated, stretched and alert, but not quite restless for lunch yet).

That said, I do have a baseline presentation, and we actually share a generic version of it with our 21 Chapter Liaisons and other key supporters around the country  in case they need to do their own presentations, or want to have some highlights to insert into their own publications, websites, conferences and/or seminars. The Indiana Arborist Association were the first to hear our new 2018 report . . . and I provide a link below to the generic slide deck I used, if you’re curious about what it is we actually do over the course of the year at TREE Fund, beside ride our bikes 500+ miles for research, and solicit proposals for grants:

TREE Fund Report of Activities, 2017-2018

As always, it’s good work for a good cause — and one of the final slides in the deck tells you what you can do to help us out. Feel free to follow our activities by signing up for our monthly newsletter (hit the subscribe button here), share our information, or even invite me to come speak to your own green industry friends and colleagues.

My Road Warrior’s Motto: Have iPod (filled with horrible grindcore, death metal and industrial music that I can’t play at home), Will Travel. And I do it for the trees.

TREE Fund’s Spring 2018 Grant Season is Underway

Earlier this week, I posted about the 2018 fundraising season getting underway at TREE Fund when registration went live for the Tour des Trees. On the very same day, we also went live with an even more important facet of our business: grant-making season. It’s satisfying to see the means to the end (fundraising) and the end itself (grant-making) line up that way, and I’m very grateful to the staff here in Naperville for a lot of hard work required to get both pieces of our enterprise launched at the same time. Thank you, Karen, Monika and Barb!!!

We have three research programs, one community education program, and five scholarship programs accepting proposals and applications between now and March 15, 2018. Specifically, we are offering awards in the following areas during the current grant season; there may be multiple recipients for several of them:

RESEARCH:

  • Hyland R. Johns Grant Program: Established in 1995 to honor one of the leaders in the arboriculture industry and a founder of the ISA Research Trust, the Hyland R. Johns Grant Program funds longer-term research and technology transfer projects that have the potential of benefiting the everyday work of arborists. Projects are expected to be completed within three to five years, with a maximum award value of $50,000.
  • Utility Arborist Research Fund (UARF) Grants: In 2017, TREE Fund and the Utility Arborist Association completed a $1.0 million campaign for the UARF, and first grants will be awarded in 2018. Given the immense scope of annual utility arboriculture work on a global basis, if UARF-funded research can generate even a 1.0% reduction in tree-related outages, customer complaints, vegetation management complexity or emergency tree work, the financial, community relations, and worker safety returns on investment will be immense. Projects are expected to be completed within one to years, with a maximum award value of $50,000.
  • Safe Arborist Techniques Fund (SATF) Grants: SATF is a joint program of TREE Fund and the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), established in 2015 to support research, development and technology transfer on the techniques and equipment that arborists use in climbing, rigging, and working on trees, as well as the means of identifying potential hazards. Safety is a major concern to practicing arborists, especially as incomplete knowledge of potential hazards can be a life-or-death issue for both tree workers and the public they serve. Projects are expected to be completed within two years, with a maximum award value of $10,000.

SCHOLARSHIPS:

  • Robert Felix Memorial Scholarships ($5,000): National program for current college students pursuing a career in commercial arboriculture, entering the second year of a two-year program or entering the third or fourth year of a four-year program at an accredited undergraduate institution.
  • Bonnie Appleton Memorial Scholarships ($5,000): National program for current college students pursuing a career in urban forestry, arboriculture, horticulture, or nursery management, enrolled as a junior or senior throughout the scholarship award year at an accredited undergraduate institution in the United States or entering the second year of a two-year program.
  • Horace M. Thayer Scholarships ($3,000): Program for residents of Pennsylvania or Delaware (may be attending school elsewhere) who are returning to the second year of a two- or four-year program at an accredited college or university and be currently enrolled in a major, minor, option, or program of arboriculture, horticulture, forestry, or urban forestry.
  • Fran Ward Women in Arboriculture Scholarships ($3,000): Program for residents of Pennsylvania or Delaware (may be attending school elsewhere) who are female, returning to the second year of a two- or four-year program at an accredited college or university and be currently enrolled in a major, minor, option, or program of arboriculture, horticulture, forestry, or urban forestry.
  • John Wright Memorial Scholarship ($2,000): National program for high school or college students pursuing a career in the commercial arboriculture industry, entering or returning student at an accredited undergraduate institution in the United States.

COMMUNITY EDUCATION:

  • Ohio Chapter ISA Education Grant Program: Established in 2012, the Ohio Chapter International Society of Arboriculture (OCISA) Education Grant Program funds arboricultural education programs or projects within the state of Ohio. The purpose of this grant is to increase the public awareness of and support the advancement of knowledge in the field of arboriculture and urban forestry to benefit people, trees and the environment. Projects are expected to be completed within one years, with a maximum award value of $5,000.

We run all of our grant and scholarship programs on an open, competitive basis, and as a general rule, applicants from the United States or countries represented by an ISA Chapter are eligible for consideration, outside of the restrictions noted above. There is a strong positive correlation between the number and quality of the applications we receive, and the number and quality of the grants we award — so we are always interested in getting the word about our programs out as widely as we can.

Do you know anybody who might be an eligible candidate for any of these programs? If so, the links below take you to standalone, printable requests for proposals/applications (RFPs) for each of the programs. Please feel free to send them on, print them, post them on your organization’s bulletin boards, or share them (or this web page) any other way that might help get them into the hands of a worthy grant recipient. Tree research matters, and this is the crucial first step for getting it done this year!

I snapped this at the Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories near Charlotte last spring. We will be returning to the Bartlett Labs in December 2018. Watch this space for news about that!

Bike The Buckeye State: Tour des Trees 2018

On Wednesday, January 17, 2018, our ace office team flipped a switch (proverbially speaking) and registration went live for the Tour des Trees to Benefit TREE Fund. We’re using a new event management system this year, so the team let me be the test beastie up front to make sure everything was working well and that I couldn’t break anything (since I’m very good at breaking things). All went smoothly, so I officially signed up as Registered Rider #1 for this year’s Tour (my fourth), and I am very much looking forward to seeing who joins me in the weeks ahead, knowing some stalwart friends will sign on, and also that we’ll have some great new folks on the road with us this year.

The Tour will run about 530 miles over seven days: July 29 to August 4, inclusive. The route begins in Columbus, Ohio, works its way up to Cleveland and the shore of Lake Erie, then back to finish where we started. Our last day is a “slow roll” into the International Tree Climbing Championships, which is amazing to experience, for those who aren’t familiar with our industry. Click on the image below for an interactive guide to the planned route; we will be adding stops (one about every 25 miles) and/or community engagement events (a couple-three each day) in the months ahead, so there may be some small tweaks to get us in and out of our interim stops safely and efficiently, but this is the macro plan:

Nah, those aren't hills . . . just lumpy terrain. Easy!

I would love to have people from other eras of my life ride the Tour with me this year — Albanians, Iowans, Cackalackans, NR (“Never Rong”) Folks, Squids, Nucs, Rocky College Peeps, Chops, Engineers, Great Danes, Music Geeks, Blog Readers, Imaginary Online Friends, family members, work colleagues, what have you! We are capping the number of registered riders at 125 this year, and we expect the slots to fill up, so if this sounds like a thing you’d want to do, then please get your registration in sooner rather than later. We are also offering a Virtual Tour option this year that will allow you to ride, run, swim, unicycle or otherwise support the cause at a time, place, and distance that works for you — and at a fundraising level you set yourself.

What will you have to do after you register? Raise or pay $3,500 toward our research program (less if you do not ride the full seven days, or if you choose the virtual option), train so that you can manage at least a 15 mph rate over the course of the Tour (if you’re riding), get yourself and your bike to Columbus — and then relax and ride with full support (meals, lodging, road crews, etc.) from an amazing team of pros and volunteers with years and years of experience in bringing this amazing event to fruition. Our tour director, Paul Wood of Black Bear Adventures, is simply the best in the game, so you’ll be in good hands under his guidance and care.

We hope to raise a total of $325,000 from our riders this year for tree research, with the costs of the event itself defrayed by our corporate partners. (If you can’t ride, but you control the coffers at your place of business and would like to become a partner, holla!) The money goes to a great cause, of course, but an equally important part of the Tour is community outreach and engagement — helping folks of all ages understand why urban and community forests are so important to us all, how scientifically-rigorous research directly benefits the trees we live with, and the roles that our professional arborists and urban foresters play in preserving and protecting the canopy. We visit schools, we stop in community centers and parks, we plant trees — and best of all, we have the great Professor Elwood Pricklethorn with us all week to make sure that we always remember to plant the right tree in the right place and give trees a chance!

Want a peek at what that looks like? Here’s a little video of our traditional tree blessing done at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, where we planted a tulip poplar cultivated from the last of the colonial Liberty Trees — which came down at St. John’s College in Annapolis in 1999 after sustaining irreparable damage in Hurricane Floyd:

Hear the spirit? Feel the fun? Appreciate the camaraderie? See me wearing my yellow NAVY cap, 35 years and 1,000 yards from where I spent plebe summer? Wanna experience it all first hand in 2018? (Well, except for that Navy nostalgia bit). Click here for all the details, and hopefully to take that first step to being a part of a truly life-altering experience . . .