#UnscienceAnAnimal

I have been deeply amused today by the #UnscienceAnAnimal hashtag on Twitter. The basic concept: pick an animal and label it, but without science. There are floofs and snoots and noodles aplenty among the gazillions of entries that folks have created and shared over the past couple of days, most of them guaranteed smile-makers.

Being a dorky nerd, I of course had to participate in this little festival of idiocy, so here are my three unscienced animal entries. Click to enlarge for added giggles. Heh heh. Heh. Heh heh heh.

MANTIS SHRIMP

PALLAS CAT

AMERICAN BADGER  (Click the link for proper soundtracking on this one)

Trees As Inspiration

Note: Here’s my new “Leading Thoughts” article from TREE Press, the monthly newsletter of TREE Fund. If it inspires you not only to feats of creativity, but feats of generosity as well, you’ve still got 12 days to support my Tour des Trees ride campaign, here.

TREE Fund works hard throughout the year to raise money for tree research and education. Our usual pitch to donors can be generically boiled down to “more scientific knowledge leads to better management of urban forests, which then leads to a whole spectrum of benefits to people.” Because we are focused on practical applications of scientific knowledge, the human benefits we focus on in fundraising also tend to be the most practical, scientific ones, e.g. storm water, erosion and UV radiation mitigation, carbon sequestration, air quality, wind and sound barriers, etc. There are also a lot of economic benefits that we discuss, especially when making appeals to municipal or business leaders: increased property values and retail sales (along with increased tax revenues), attracting skilled workers, reducing property crime, etc.

We probably spend the least amount of time discussing the “soft” benefits of urban forests — inspiring creativity, building sense of community, providing gathering places, etc. — because they seem the furthest removed from the hard scientific research we fund. But on some plane, those “heart string” stories are the ones that motivate and connect people at the most deeply personal levels to the trees in their lives. A personal example: as a young(er) writer, long before I knew that urban forestry existed as a profession (never mind how to spell “arboriculture”), trees moved me deeply enough that I published a poetry chapbook called The Woods. It didn’t make me much money, nor did it win me any acclaim, but it felt good to write and share, as a tangible expression of how resonant and important trees and forests were to me.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve watched another delightful tree-inspired creative endeavor unfolding: Jimmy Shen, a professional botanic photographer based in east China, connected with me via the TREE Fund website to tell me about his book Ginkgo: The Living Fossil. Jimmy lives and works near the mountain homes of wild and native ginkgo biloba, and has spent decades exploring and capturing their beauty, history, folklore, science, and importance in Chinese and global culture. You can learn more about his work by clicking here – and then maybe reflect for a moment on the myriad intangible ways that your support for tree research and education may, several steps down the line and in unpredictable ways, inspire or empower someone else to create a beautiful, life-affirming work like Jimmy’s.

Click the cover of Jimmy’s book for a teaser of its first 100 pages.

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 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!

Patience, Rigor and Care: The Challenges and Opportunities of Tree Research

Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of ARBORIST NEWS, a publication of International Society of Arboriculture. This content is reprinted with full permission of the publisher.

In our day-to-day professional lives or as decision-makers in green industry businesses, we have the opportunity to sell research-based, scientific knowledge to our customers and clients, separating ourselves as skilled and trained professionals from those who may take a more “I have a hunch” or “We’ve always done it that way” approach to tree care. Our counsel can result in better decision-making by customers and clients regarding their trees, and at a very pragmatic level, our knowledge can also make our businesses more profitable, our workers safer, and our services more marketable, now and in the future.

The macro returns on investment from scientific tree research are becoming ever clearer as our collective body of knowledge grows slowly over time in incremental steps. In recent years, cutting-edge research has demonstrated a host of benefits to be gleaned from a healthy urban canopy, some of the benefits perhaps intuitive, but some of them frankly sublime and surprising, e.g. increased birth weights, increased retail sales, accelerated patient healing, enhanced student learning, increased urban immigration (including skilled workers and new industries), decreased violent crime, decreased ultraviolet radiation exposure, and increased sense of common ownership for public spaces.

Because trees are long-lived organisms, today’s tree care decisions will shape their health and impacts for many generations. ~80% of the U.S. population now lives in developed areas and that number is expected to increase to ~90% by 2050, mirroring global trends in urbanization. Since thriving urban forests are proven to be highly beneficial to community health and prosperity, investments in scientific tree research have and will continue to directly drive positive changes in the aggregate health of cities and suburbs. Scientifically quantifying the benefits of trees to the economy and environment makes it easier for governments, businesses and private citizens to justify and project their return on tree care investment.

Tree Research and Education Endowment (TREE) Fund was founded in 1976 as the International Society of Arboriculture Research Trust. In 2002, the Trust and the National Arborists Foundation merged, reincorporating as TREE Fund. (Note: I have been President and CEO of TREE Fund since 2015). Governed by a national board of trustees, we now fund work globally from our office in Naperville, Illinois. TREE Fund has awarded ~$3.3 million in grants since 2002, of which ~90% have directly supported primary basic and applied research initiatives. These funds have been highly leveraged and multiplied as tree care, urban planning, landscape design, construction and civil engineering professionals implement our findings and educate their constituents on the ever-evolving state of tree science.

As TREE Fund celebrates its 15th anniversary this year as an independent charitable trust, we find it valuable to pause and reflect for a moment on why our work matters — and why the demand for our grant-making programs continues to grow apace. To anchor such a reflection, it is crucial to actively think about what we mean when we discuss and market “research,” especially in an era when global communication networks make it effortless for individuals to access nearly infinite amounts of information of varying or unknown degrees of accuracy and currency.

At bottom line, TREE Fund approaches and values “research” as a set of investigative tools and protocols used to unearth and interpret new facts, revise accepted wisdom in the light of such new facts, and develop practical methods for implementing new or revised understandings in our areas of professional endeavor. Research tools and protocols must be anchored in intellectual and procedural rigor, a willingness to fairly consider alternative explanations for observations, an ability to compile and analyze data using generally accepted statistical and scientific methods, a willingness and ability to replicate findings, and the production of public reports that can be independently affirmed, cited and implemented by subject experts in the field of study, and trained professionals in applied settings.

There’s a whole lot more there, obviously, than the “Wikipedia says” or “a colleague told me that” or “I’ve got a secret method for” or “my gut instincts are” approaches that lay people and professionals alike often cite as “research.” And because of that, these tools and protocols cost a whole lot more — in dollars, time, training, and a host of other scarce resources — than casual, unscientific approaches to answering questions and responding to observations.  This, then, raises a related set of questions based on the returns on investment accrued from committing such scarce resources: how much should I myself, my business, my municipality, my school, and a host of other stakeholders invest in research, and what do we all get out of it at the end of the day?

While the slow growth and long lives of trees makes research and dissemination in our field quite time-consuming, often obscuring short-term return from research investments, we know that TREE Fund and related efforts over the years have directly contributed to:

  • Defining strategies for enhancing tree disease suppression and insect resistance;
  • Developing production, planting, fertilizing and soil amendment strategies to enhance tree growth and long-term survival;
  • Developing more environmentally-sensitive methods of plant management;
  • Producing genetically superior trees that can withstand the stress of urban environments;
  • Improving the quality of nursery grown trees and overall tree survival;
  • Combating diseases and pests without increasing pesticide use through the evolution of integrated pest management programs; and
  • Enhancing public and workforce safety through greater knowledge of why and how trees fail.

In an effort to further quantify the full reach of our work, TREE Fund recently awarded a grant to Drs. Andrew Koeser (University of Florida Gulf Coast’s Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology) and Richard Hauer (University of Wisconsin Stevens Point’s College of Natural Resources) to evaluate the outcomes, outputs, and impacts of 15 years’ worth of primary basic and applied tree research. The results of this study should be available in early 2019. We also are undertaking an initiative in 2018 to create a more readily searchable, indexed database of research to be freely available on our website (treefund.org), to facilitate access to findings as they come through the academic publication cycle. Finally, we intend to conduct a new research needs evaluation in 2019 to ensure our grant lines are evolving with community needs.

We remain grateful to the faculty members, consultants, field researchers and students who have undertaken the often grueling work associated with tree research over the past 15 years, and for the supporters who have empowered their efforts.  Their work has made, and continues to make, a difference directly to all of us over time — even if our long-lived research subjects require us to watch them patiently and carefully with sharp eyes and careful measurements to ascertain steady, incremental advancement and improvement.

Notes: You may support our work by contributing to endowment or operating funds at the TREE Fund website, here. Thanks to Ward Peterson for his invaluable assistance with this article. Photos taken by J. Eric Smith at Urban Forest Nursery, Mt. Vernon, Washington

The Iceland Report

We’re happily back home in Chicago again, though it’s colder here today than it was in Iceland, just for the record. Of course, we have a bit more daylight in which to appreciate  the cold, so I suppose that’s a reasonable trade.

I’ve put my usual photo album documenting the trip up at my Flickr site, if you’re interested in giving it a look-see: Icelandic New Year. Also ten quick thoughts, observations, or stray neuron firings, all of which are supported by photographic evidence in the linked Flickr gallery.

1. We did see the Northern Lights on this trip, and they were impressive, as expected. But we also saw something in the heavens that I didn’t expect, when our Northern Icelandic guide pointed out a pair of “glitský” scuttling across the sky one morning. He translated the word as “glitter cloud,” which was apt, though I now know they are actually called stratospheric or nacreous clouds. Like so many things in the sky, it’s hard to take their pictures, but imagine a line of luminous, rainbow colored UFOs passing overhead, leaving wakes in the blue sky behind them, and you’ll get the general gist.

2. Speaking of our Northern Icelandic guide, his name was Gísli, he was a fantastic companion, and he had the best hyphenated job listing I’ve ever heard: Farmer-Guide-Viking-Opera Singer-Classic Car Collector. Our Southern Icelandic Guide, Arne, was a Photographer-Designer-Guide. Multiple jobs are big in Iceland, which I like, as a Professional CEO-Writer-Critic-Crank-Gadabout.

3. I’ve already written about the New Year’s Eve Fireworks. They still blow my mind. And eardrums. Totally awesome.

4. We got our metal on with a visit to Dimmuborgir. If you have to ask, then you’ll never know. Brutal!!!

5. My favorite tasty thing on the trip was smoked arctic char on buttered lava bread. I ate it at a restaurant near Lake Mývatn that doubled as a cow barn. They also sold an Icelandic chocolate there that has the best brand name I’ve heard in recent memory: OMNOM. My other new taste sensation is a non-alcoholic drink that’s only consumed during the Icelandic Christmas season (which lasts 13 days): it’s a mixture of two independently bottled beverages called Malt og Appelsín. It’s sort of like a combo of beer, chocolate, and orange. Better than it sounds, honest.

6. As I usually do, I visited record shops to score some real local musical flavor of the variety I’m not likely to find easily in the States. I came home with six CD’s ranging from ambient jazz through to extreme pagan metal. Initial favorites after first pass are Önnur Mósebók by Moses Hightower, and Börn Loka by Skálmöld, though there’s not a dud in the bunch I acquired.

7. I don’t watch Game of Thrones, but we visited a cave that Gísli informed us featured heavily in the story line as “the love cave.” We also visited a couple of other scenes from that show, and when we were watching the last Star Trek movie on the plane on the way home, we were informed that several scenes from that were also filmed in Iceland. I guess it’s just the place to go for alien arctic landscapes.

8. Arriving just after the winter solstice, we knew we’d experience limited daylight, but it honestly wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Sunrise was around 11:30, sunset was around 3:30, and the dawn and dusk periods were long, so you actually had a reasonable amount of time to process Vitamin D.

9. During the widely hyped 1972 Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky  duel in the World Chess Championship, Fischer stayed at the S-Room Presidential Suite at Hotel Loftleider in Reykjavik. I remember eagerly following those matches as a kid, and playing chess more then than I probably have in any year since. Fast forward 40+ years, and the old Loftleidir has been acquired by Icelandair as part of its country-wide chain of hotels. it is now named Hotel Reykjavik Natura, and we stayed there for the two nights that we were in the capital city. I was rambling about exploring as I do, and I was tickled to come upon a nice little exhibition dedicated to the matches and (more specifically) Fischer. He was something of a tragic case with some noxious beliefs, but Iceland did open its heart to him and provide him sanctuary as a citizen for his final years, and you see a lot of “Bobby Fischer ate here” type recognition around the town. He’s actually buried in a tiny church yard on the south of the island, if you’re a chess nerd and want to make a pilgrimage.

10. When we were in Iceland in 2010, the harbor area was torn up as a new performance art center was under construction. We were pleased to see the final results this trip: Harpa. It’s architecturally striking, and we had a very good meal (fish soup for me, yum!) and saw a nice classical music show on New Year’s Day there. A good way to greet the year, peaceful and quiet after the fireworks carnage of the night before!