Students with newly planted tree

Lehigh students and members of the Office of Sustainability pose with the university's Tree Campus Higher Education banner and a Princeton American elm tree that they planted on the Clayton University Center lawn.

Tree Campus Inventory Aids 2021 Tree Campus USA Higher Education Recognition

Students catalog trees on the Asa Packer Campus and help Lehigh earn certification.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Christa Neu

Setting out in groups of two, Ajah Quawiy ’23, Matt Giovestis ’25, Christie Ortega ’23 and Gabriela Birardi ’23 explored a portion of Lehigh’s Asa Packer Campus last fall equipped with a specialized tape for measuring the diameter of trees, an iPad for recording data on spreadsheets and books to assist with tree identification. The students alternated three-hour shifts twice per week, depending on the weather.

Their mission? To catalog the trees to help Lehigh earn a Tree Campus USA certification from the Arbor Day Foundation. The students cataloged more than 500 trees and more than 50 different species, including honey locust, umbrella magnolia, red maple and black oak. A campus white oak, which has been growing on campus prior to Lehigh purchasing the university’s oldest building, Christmas-Saucon Hall, dates back nearly 300 years.

Students plant a tree on the UC lawn

Lehigh students plant a Princeton American elm tree on the Clayton University Center lawn on Arbor Day at the end of a campus tree tour.

With the help of the students’ work, Lehigh earned the recognition in April. The university became one of 411 campuses in the country to achieve the distinction by meeting five standards: a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance and student service-learning project.

A campus tree inventory had been in the works at Lehigh, but was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. The plan was to collect data that included the species of trees, their diameter at breast height and location, and to generate a map of the trees on campus. That baseline data would allow Lehigh to remeasure the trees again in a few years and estimate the amount of carbon each tree sequesters.

With the Office of Sustainability applying for the Tree Campus USA certification, the push to complete the inventory was revived. Ecologist Robert Booth, professor of earth and environmental sciences, trained the students to use the circumference tape and aided them in tree identification. Booth also accompanied the students on some of their campus expeditions as they collected data to calculate each tree’s biomass.

Instead of cataloging every tree at Lehigh, and because there is already data available on many of the trees on South Mountain from Booth’s ecology course, the team focused on the Asa Packer campus. They also picked an area that was representative of the tree diversity across campus so the data could be extrapolated, according to Booth.

“It gave me the chance to appreciate nature and Lehigh’s campus from a new perspective,” Quawiy said. “Measuring trees for three hours might sound boring at first, but it was actually very relaxing.”

In the spring, students worked with Ben Felzer, associate professor of environmental sciences, who introduced them to allometric equations, which can estimate the amount of carbon in the trees. The students also built an interactive web map with their data that can be used for a virtual campus tree tour.

In addition, the students hosted an in-person tree tour on Arbor Day, showcasing some of the trees they cataloged and demonstrating how they measured the trees. John Schleder, an arborist with BrightView Landscape, provided additional information on the trees, and the group planted a Princeton American elm tree on the Clayton University Center lawn.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Christa Neu

Related Stories

Community Mapping” project

Mapping for Change: A Collective Effort for a Healthier Bethlehem Environment

Lehigh students and Bethlehem community collaborate to address persistent waste challenges.

students in permaculture garden

From Urban Patch to Oasis

The student-led Permaculture Revolution is actively cultivating sustainable change throughout the Lehigh Valley.

Josie Krepps

IDEAS Student Joins Cultivated Meat Research

Josie Krepps ’24 will present her findings at the 2024 David and Lorraine Freed Undergraduate Research Symposium.