Vanderbilt implements new Tree Replacement Policy as part of FutureVU – The Vanderbilt Hustler

Vanderbilt implements new Tree Replacement Policy as part of FutureVU – The Vanderbilt Hustler

The university is new Tree Replacement Policy requires campus planners to replace trees on campus that were removed during construction.

This policy comes after the fall of the Bicentennial Oak in November 2022, a tree from before the founding of the university. Severe weather during a March 2023 storm also left 21 trees dead and another 12 damaged across campus, according to a plant operations representative.

The university has implemented the policy as part of its FutureVU initiative in November semester 2022, but announced it to the student body in February. This initiative, launched in 2015, includes environmental protection sustainability goals to lead Vanderbilt for the next 20-30 years. One such initiative includes “the preservation and expansion of the park-like setting of the campus.”

Vanderbilt as an arboretum

In the press release about the initiative, the university explained that the Tree Replacement Policy will be implemented in partnership with the university’s Arboretum Advisory Committee. Vanderbilt is the only university in Nashville with arboretum status, which it describes as an area dedicated to preserving a wide variety of tree species.

Judson Newbern, who previously served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Facilities and Environmental Affairs until his retirement in 2017, expressed enthusiasm for the new policy.

“I am so pleased that Vanderbilt continues to invest in its tree resources, which differentiates it from many other campuses both aesthetically and in supporting the quality of our local environment,” said Newbern.

Under the Tree Replacement Policy, site project managers are required to provide the university’s landscape architect, James Moore, with a worksheet in the early stages of a project outlining the expected impact on trees on site. The policy also requires project managers to consider the impact of construction work on tree root zones, which when damaged make it easier for trees to fall.

A plant operations representative described the vision behind the policy.

“It’s meant to be a tool that guides good design decisions toward preservation where possible, and replacement where necessary,” the representative said.

Under the new policy, any trees that need to be removed or will be adversely affected by construction must be replanted within property lines. Where this is not possible, the university must plant a new tree elsewhere on campus as part of a “tree bench” initiative.

While the policy targets the voluntary removal of trees for construction or maintenance purposes, a facility operations representative said the university has committed to planting trees annually outside of typical construction activities, resources permitting. The representative reported that the university had planted 55 trees on campus in the past two years.

The policy comes amid significant construction on campus, including Residential College C and renovations to Kirkland Hall. Vandy United also builds sports facilities broke ground in February, and the demolition of the Highland Quad to replace it with a residential college is planned begin in 2024.

Metro Nashville gardener Jennifer Smith expressed her support for the policy’s tree bench initiative and stated that she envisages successor plantings on the Vanderbilt campus.

“There is a saying that trees are useful and that they increase in value. As they grow, they offer more assets,” Smith said.

Moore, who also serves as chair of Vanderbilt’s Arboretum Advisory Committee, said in an email to The Hustler that the policy arose as a way to codify the university’s tree replacement work.

“Because Vanderbilt isn’t made up of 100 small projects, but rather a unified campus, this policy helps us think about replacing trees on a campus-wide level rather than on a project basis,” Moore said.

The final feature of the new policy mandates the reuse of logs from fallen trees. The Arboretum Advisory Committee will make recommendations on how wood can be reused in on-campus construction projects. Newbern said this initiative was put into practice during the expansion of the Owen Graduate School of Management. Red oak trees, removed to make room for construction, were used to construct conference room tables, which were then placed throughout the building. The university is currently deciding how the wood of the Bicentennial Oak can be reused.

Although Vanderbilt is an arboretum, it does not join neighboring Tennessee institutions as a Tree Campus, a certification that involves the larger Nashville community in decision-making about the preservation of the tree canopy on campus. Moore declined to explain why Vanderbilt chose not to be a Tree Campus.

According to Smith, Belmont University received its ninth Tree Campus certification. She said the university was honored with the annual award March 22 at Nashville’s Arbor Day celebration with Mayor John Cooper.

Tree Campus certification is part of the Tree Campus organization’s work to promote tree canopy on over 400 campuses across the country. Belmont joins six other Tennessee colleges recognized with this certification.

Smith said she hoped Vanderbilt would consider becoming a tree campus, citing the university’s 340-acre campus as significant space to foster an urban forest.

“As Vanderbilt moves forward, it would be a very positive thing not just for the campus, but for the city as a whole,” Smith said.

Tree loss on campus

According to an operations representative, two spring storms resulted in the loss of trees on campus. These storms, which occurred on March 3 and April 6, were the only severe weather events this school year that resulted in tree felling.

During the March 3 storm, Plant Operations reported that rain and wind felled 21 trees and damaged a dozen others. Falling branches and logs as a result of this storm damaged cars in front of the Owen Graduate School of Management and students reported mobility issues.

After damage to trees on the Vanderbilt campus earlier this year, students shared concerns about the university’s canopy.

“Classes should definitely have gone on Zoom if possible, given the unpredictable nature of where branches fall and the potential disabilities students may have, as well as overall safety,” said Senior Rahan Arasteh.

After the storm, Plant Operations removed another four trees due to faults in their root systems, citing safety concerns.

“Vanderbilt Facilities employees continue to proactively monitor, manage and preserve our arboretum and reduce risk to the community,” Plant Operations said in a message to The Hustler.

First grader Willy Theodore said he went outside on March 3 when he saw a tree fall near Owen and Calhoun Hall.

“I heard a loud crack to my right and I saw a large tree fall to the ground outside of Owen,” Theodore said. “Fortunately nobody was right next to the tree. I paused to look at the fallen tree, but then hurried to class, fearing more trees would fall.”

Smith, who grew up in Nashville, said recent severe weather events can be viewed as part of a growing pattern of storms that weren’t as common a few decades ago.

“We lose a lot of tree canopy to storms. It’s just another reason people need to understand the benefits of trees,” Smith said.

Smith also explained that trees can provide services to the environment, such as stormwater management and protection against flooding. Smith added that the trees on Vanderbilt’s campus have traditionally provided some of these services to the campus and the wider community.

After the fall of the bicentennial oak tree caught community attention in the fall of 2022, students have also reflected on the importance of trees on campus. Arasteh added that preserving the university’s canopy is vital for future generations of Vanderbilt students.

“We lost what many on campus believed to be our strongest tree last semester. The trees form a central part of Vandy’s campus,” said Arasteh. “You are the first thing you notice when you visit us and the last thing you see when you leave. It would be a travesty not to take good care of her to ensure we keep her for future Vandy students.”