Rice University designated as a ‘Tree Campus USA’ by Arbor Day Foundation

The Arbor Day Foundation has designated Rice University as a “Tree Campus USA” for taking exemplary care of its 4,300 trees.

The Tree Campus USA program honors colleges and universities that use sustainable practices and engage students in tree-planting and conservation initiatives. More than 100 conservation-minded higher education institutions received this honor for 2011, and Rice is one of nine colleges and universities in Texas on the list.

To earn the Tree Campus USA recognition, a school must meet five core standards of tree care and community engagement: establishment of a campus tree advisory committee; a campus tree-care plan; dedicated annual expenditures for the campus tree-care plan; an Arbor Day observance; and a service-learning project aimed at engaging the student body.

Neville Mann, Rice’s lead arborist, said this honor is especially meaningful because of the challenges posed by Houston’s severe drought last year.

“We implemented a rigorous watering program to make sure that every tree got watered at least once a week,” Mann said. He noted that the underground spring at Founders Court turned out to be a sustainable resource for watering the trees near entrances 1, 2 and 3, which are the biggest areas of forest on campus.

Tree Campus USA logo and Rice treesHe estimates that Rice lost about 20 trees last year, mostly water oaks and willow oaks, due to pathogens and insects.

“I’m very passionate about trees, and it runs in the family,” Mann said. His grandfather was a forester and his father was a commercial arborist in the United Kingdom. “I grew up with trees and I’ve never been able to leave them alone.”

Mann and his team of three arborists routinely survey the grounds to monitor the health of trees on campus. “You get to know the trees so well that you tend to notice differences very quickly,” he said. “If we see a problem, we do a closer inspection. Certain pathogens might require that we give special care to a specific tree and treat it to prevent further damage.”

Neville is a member of the board of directors of the Texas Urban Forestry Council and the Houston Urban Forestry Council, and he serves on the Advisory Board of the Bayou Land Conservatory. He is also a board member of Rice’s Lynn R. Lowery Arboretum.

He said he likes to educate students and others about taking good care of trees so that more people adopt tree-care plans like Rice’s, which entails checking the soil to make sure it contains the appropriate nutrients and keeping trees watered properly.

“Whenever I’m at a social event around the city, everybody comments about the beautiful trees at Rice, and that encourages my stewardship to go further,” Mann said.

Rice students, faculty and staff will add to the campus’s tree canopy by planting more trees at an April 13 event as a prelude to Arbor Day, April 27. And Rice will celebrate its Tree Campus USA honor by unveiling a plaque at an April 14 ceremony during the university’s UnConvention – a campuswide open house for the Houston community.

For more information about the Tree Campus USA program, visit arborday.org/TreeCampusUSA.


About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.