Tree-mapping project helps St. John’s win recognition

By Karen Frantz

St. John’s University students and faculty are engaging in a project to digitally map the location and characteristics of all trees on the campus, a program that helped the school earn recognition as a 2012 Tree Campus USA institution of higher learning.

Thomas Goldsmith, the university’s director of energy and environmental conservation, said the mapping project helps the school, at 80-00 Utopia Pkwy., keep track of the health and upkeep of all its campus trees.

It also teaches students about environmental conservation, an issue the university has been committed to through its support of a city plan to reduce its carbon footprint 30 percent by the year 2017 and its participation in the city’s Million Trees NYC initiative, which brought 700 additional trees to the campus.

“You’re able to connect the dots as a student between the campus mission and vision and greening the campus,” Goldsmith said.

The tree-mapping plan was developed by a school faculty member, Paula Lazrus, who is an archeologist and uses Geographic Information Systems for mapping data during excavations she participates in across the world. As part of a freshman class she taught in 2012, Discover New York, she built off of her experience with GIS to propose that students map campus trees and she helped create the database.

Goldsmith said the map now includes information such as what types of trees exist where, how quickly trees are growing, when they flower, when they need to be pruned and other data.

“It brings awareness of all the vital signs of keeping a tree,” he said.

The tree-mapping project helped the university fulfill one of five different criteria for recognition as a Tree Campus USA institution of higher learning, which is conferred by the Arbor Day Foundation. Other criteria included establishing a tree advisory committee, allocating dedicated funds to a tree care plan and developing Arbor Day events.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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