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UND achieves ‘Tree Campus USA’ designation

University honored this week by Arbor Day Foundation with 2020 Tree Campus Higher Education award

For its commitment to effective urban forest management, UND has achieved the designation of 2020 Tree Campus Higher Education from the Arbor Day Foundation. UND archival photo.

“Nothing happens fast in the tree world,” as Jared Johnson, arborist at the University of North Dakota, likes to say. But even for Johnson and the other patient people who tend to UND’s trees, this week’s news – which has been years in the making – was worth the wait:

For its commitment to effective urban forest management, UND has achieved the designation of 2020 Tree Campus Higher Education from the Arbor Day Foundation. Johnson shared the green good news with other University leaders, for the first time, on Monday (3/22/2021).

The Tree Campus Higher Education program recognizes colleges and universities for successful campus forest management and for engaging students and staff in conservation goals. As of 2020, only two other campuses in North Dakota had achieved this distinction, according to the Arbor Day Foundation.

To obtain the honor, the university met the foundation’s five core standards for effective campus forest management:

• Tree advisory committee
• Campus tree-care plan
• Dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program
• Arbor Day observance
• Student service-learning project

“Year after year, UND is voted the most beautiful campus in North Dakota, and trees are a very big part of that,” said Mike Pieper, associate vice president for facilities.

“This is a wonderful honor that represents not only Jared and others’ hard work, but also UND’s focus on our campus as a Living Learning Lab – a place that adds to students’ experiences from the day of their very first visit throughout their entire lifetimes as alumni.”

Environmental stewardship

UND students stroll beneath the trees, study under the trees’ shade, and at times study the trees themselves, using GIS tools to map the University’s tree inventory and performing other academic and service projects.

The Tree Campus Higher Education designation also helps highlight UND’s commitment to environmental stewardship, Pieper said.

Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation, agreed. “Tree Campuses and their students set examples for not only their student bodies but the surrounding communities, showcasing how trees create a healthier environment,” Lambe said.

“Because of UND’s participation, air will be purer, water cleaner and students and faculty will be surrounded by the shade and beauty trees provide.”

The Arbor Day Foundation is a million-member nonprofit with the mission to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees. Currently, there are 403 campuses across the United States with the Tree Campus Higher Education recognition, the Foundation reports. Last year, Tree Campus Higher Education schools collectively planted 39,178 trees.

At UND, Johnson is the University’s first arborist, coming to the campus in 2019 after eight years with the Grand Forks Park District. One of his goals from the start has been earning the Tree Campus Higher Education designation for UND: “As we told the Arbor Day Foundation, our goal is to plant trees that will have long lives on campus, providing a sense of comfort and a welcoming environment for students, giving privacy and improving air quality,” he said.

With that in mind, Johnson and the UND Tree Advisory Committee monitor and manage UND’s population of about 6,000 trees. That means pruning trees, removing dead trees, planning UND’s tree landscape in partnership with university architects and engineers, and managing the canopy that’s such a huge part of the campus’ appeal.

“I think about the Twamley Quad – the area between the Twamley Hall and the Chester Fritz Library,” Johnson said.

“That’s the centerpiece of campus, the place that people think about when they think of UND. Trees have a lot to do with that, which means trees have a lot to do with the students’ overall experience.”

When Johnson crosses the Quad on a spring day and sees students putting up hammocks between the trees, he feels pride in a job well done. “I’m glad I’m able to be here, and to help make this campus be absolutely stunning,” he said.

More information about the Tree Campus Higher Education program is available at