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Saplings in the Woods

The Chicago Region Trees Initaitve hosts interns with a variety of  backgrounds throughout the year. Their unique perspectives on the work we do is a fascinating reflection of what urban trees mean to the people of this region. See their blog posts below!


August 1, 2017: Science and Conservation Communication

Hi - new sapling here! My name is Melissa and for the past two months I was working as a Science and Conservation Communications intern at The Morton Arboretum. What’s equally as exciting is that I get to work closely with the Chicago Region Trees Initiative (otherwise known as CRTI). But first, I’ll introduce myself a little more. I became involved with the arboretum as an undergraduate biology student at North Central College back in 2014. Little did I know that I would end up working here on four different occasions! I spent two consecutive summers here as a research intern, a chilly winter in the gift shop, and now as a communication intern working with CRTI. If my returning four times to work at the arboretum isn’t convincing enough of how amazing this place is, then I don’t know what is! 

Okay, back to why I am so excited to work with CRTI the past few months. First of all, this group of ladies does some seriously awesome stuff. From teaching the public about tree care, to helping communities grow their tree canopies, to holding training workshops for professionals - they do it all and with 110% effort and passion. As an intern, I’ve helped create a resource hub on their website for anyone (truly anyone!) to access information about tree care, sustainability, oaks, stormwater, forest pests... the list goes on. This required weeks of reading articles, websites, reports, guides, and everything in between. Using a spreadsheet, I recorded the authors, title, and date, wrote a description, and assigned keywords, tags, type, and audience. Boy, did I learn A LOT about trees. Among all of the things I learned, I was most surprised by the term “urban forest”. Now, as a visitor on CRTI’s website, there’s a chance that you may already know what I mean when I say urban forest. But for the rest of you, be prepared to have your minds blown. 
First, what image pops in your mind when you hear “urban forest”? When I first heard those words, I immediately pictured something that resembled a forest preserve because it’s a large stand of trees (forest) in the Chicago suburbs (urban). However, this doesn’t capture all of it! An urban forest includes all of the street trees, trees found in parking lots, in residents’ backyards, and even in bustling downtowns. Collectively, these trees all make up the urban forest. Think about it! They are still providing homes for wildlife and clean air for us to breathe, just like in a forest. But this forest just happens to have houses and buildings and roads. Did that blow your mind or what? Next time you’re out driving around or taking a walk through your neighborhood, glance around at all of the trees and think about how they together form a forest. To relate this back to CRTI, their mission is to help make our urban forest healthier and more diverse so that generations to come can enjoy the many benefits trees provide us. If you’d like to learn more about how you can join them in their mission to protect and care for our urban trees, check out the resource page! (ha, see what I did there?)
Well, this blog post also serves as my goodbye. I’m off to graduate school at Northern Illinois University in a few weeks to continue my education. But who knows, perhaps I’ll be back again one day! After all, I just can’t seem to leave this marvelous place. 
Until then,
Melissa Nelson, the ever-growing sapling
December 1, 2016: A Tree by Any Other Name...
Hi. I’m Wendy, and I am a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Adler University. One of the requirements of my program is that in my first year I must work 200 hours in a “social justice” program. Social justice has become a politically and socially charged phrase in the past few years, but at Adler University it is synonymous with the phrase “socially responsible.” That means helping society as a whole, and understanding and improving all communities. Alfred Adler, the inspiration for Adler University, held that a healthy community makes for healthy individuals, and that is how I ended up at the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, headquartered at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois.
I am not a plant person. I tend to kill off pretty much any plant, in spite of my best intentions. Mold, fungus, weird alien blight, insects, critters, over-watering, under-watering, not enough light, too much light – you name it, it’s killed some plant I was tending, so people who know me were surprised (and a little concerned) that I was going to be spending a year working with a group that promotes planting and caring for trees.
Fortunately for me (and the poor trees), my primary project so far has been researching demographics for the municipalities in our target counties. This means finding census data on every town, village, and city in the area. I have been learning incredible amounts about how my neighbors live. The question everyone consistently asks is, “how can we make everyone’s lives better?” One of the answers to making their lives better, it turns out, is “plant and maintain trees.”
How, exactly, do trees and tree-related programs help create a better, healthier community? Drs. F. E. Kuo and W. Sullivan published a paper in 2001 about the impact of green community spaces, in the form of parks and street plantings, on community crime and wellbeing. In their study, they discovered that proximity to green spaces lowered interpersonal crime, improved mental health, and increased inter-community interactions. Neighbors became more neighborly, people were more likely to be happy and interact with one another, and everyone felt safer (Kuo & Sullivan, 2001). There are other benefits as well. “Trees clean our air and water, reduce flooding, improve our property values, create habitat for wildlife, and provide significant social and health benefits” (CRTI, 2016). Trees make us feel better, and they make our lives and our planet better. CRTI isn’t just about planting trees, though. A big part of the mission is to educate communities on their trees.
CRTI's first intern chronicled her experiences with CRTI from October 2015 to February 2016, sharing the inside scoop on the challenges of the urban forest, the benefits of trees, and the thrills of working for CRTI with a fresh, outsider perspective.
February 2016: A Breath of Fresh Air: Increasing the Tree Canopy
Happy Spring, Everyone! The robins are out, the plants are budding, and my winter coat is officially in storage. While it’s not technically spring yet, the weather lately has me convinced.  
As the trees begin to leaf again, the buzz around CRTI has been establishing tree canopy goals for the region. Tree canopy is determined both by the size of trees and by the amount of trees in a given area. Larger trees produce more benefits for the community. Greater tree canopies are correlated with reduced flooding, urban temperature, and crime. But how do we measure our current tree canopy? The University of Vermont has been commissioned to analyze LiDAR imagery—which is basically remote sensing technology that can be used to model three dimensional surfaces such as trees vs. water vs. roads. According to NOAA (2015), “  LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. These light pulses—combined with other data recorded by the airborne system— generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics.”   From LiDAR research, we’ve been able to determine the current tree canopies of at least 3 different counties: Cook at 27%, DuPage at 26%, and Lake at 30%. In order to determine the amount of desired increase in these percentages, we must consider land use, prairie lands, staff limitations, and available funding. Yet in order to promote canopy increase, we also must present specific secondary goals such as reducing temperature, improving air quality, and reducing flooding.
What we’ve learned is that most cities have aimed to increase canopy between 13%-35% depending on the area, population, land availability, and so on.  There’s a lot to consider and a lot of data to crunch. But there are simple things we can do to help out our canopy. Engaging the public and encouraging stewardship are both excellent ways to maintain and increase our tree canopy. Not only can we push government officials to fund the planting and care for new trees, but we can also work to maintain the trees that we already have.  While there is a still a lot of behind-the-scenes work to do to determine our trajectory from here, I think we’re off to a steady start!  
Peace and all good things
Sarah the Sapling
January 2016: Back to Work
Hello Fellow Tree Lovers!
I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday! Everyone is right back into the swing of things here at CRTI with lots going on. I just put the finishing touches on our collection of resources for the CRTI website so hopefully we can start the next stage in the resource webpage revamp. There’s been a lot of talk with the communications and marketing team as to how we can effectively display our gathered resources and what kind of set up is needed to have a user-friendly resource database. While I hope to see the conclusion of this project, it sounds like there’s quite a bit of tech work to do to get the job done.
Another thing we’ve been working on is a full list of which northern Illinois-friendly trees are available at the different nurseries in our area. We hope that those wishing to select a tree for planting will be able to locate their desired (non-invasive) tree online and link to various nurseries that carry that particular tree. It certainly takes out a couple steps for the consumer and will (hopefully) make more diverse and hard-to-find trees, including natives, much easier to find! (No excuses people!)
Speaking of native trees, we’ve also officially secured OAKtober for October 2016! Oak trees support vital ecosystems in northern Illinois that simply aren’t offered by any other tree. With the loss of so many of our original oak groves, those ecosystems are disappearing right along with them. Sure we have plenty of tall, old oaks, but our young oaks are so sparse that they can hardly hope to replaces the much older, dying trees. So while it is important for us to be cognizant of our tree diversity (here’s looking at you, maple tree), it is equally pertinent to make up for the loss of our existing ecosystem supporters. Luckily, our governor recognizes this and has made an effort to contribute to our cause!
It’s been a busy couple of months so far, but I feel like we really are making some great progress in the conservation and care of trees.  
Until next time!
Sarah the Sapling  
November 2015: Behind the Scenes
Hello All!
This month at CRTI I’ve been busy doing some behind-the-scenes work on the website. We’re planning a small overhaul of the links and resources page, so I get to do all the organizing! I’m not going to lie, it’s not the most exciting thing I’ve done for CRTI so far, but I get a chance to read some pretty interesting articles about trees. Since I’ve been busy at Adler with final papers, projects, and tests, this task is a nice departure from studying and being stressed from end-of-term happenings.
Recently I attended the “  Writing a better RFP”   workshop in Riverside which I thought was pretty interesting. There are a lot of technical bits to consider when writing an RFP that can make or break the project. Some things like making sure the proposal is clearly written and organized are easy fixes, while other tasks, like researching the contracting companies and checking for positive feedback from others who have used them are a little more tedious. The moral of the story here is that research and presentation are everything. If you want an RFP to stand out, you really have to slow down and take your time to make sure you have been thorough and concise.
I also got the opportunity to attend a CRTI Tree Stewardship and Planting Work Group meeting in Chicago (only two blocks from Adler University!) where we discussed community engagement and started brainstorming ideas for the next Community Tree Network workshop. The workshop, on January 19 in Hazel Crest, 2016, will be on grant writing. I’m especially excited to attend this event as I’m sure I’ll be writing grants in my own field (art therapy) for various community projects in the future. As someone who is completely naive to how the grant writing process works, I’m anticipating that I’ll walk away with a lot of really useful information from people who have a lot of experience.
For now, I’m going to get back to organizing those website links!
Sarah the Sapling
OAKtober 2015: Meet the Intern
Hello, All!
Sarah, the intern, here! Starting today, I’ll be doing monthly blog posts on my experience with the Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI). But first, a little bit about myself. I’m from Mokena, IL (south of I-80 for those of you who have never heard of it). I graduated from DePaul University in 2014 with a B.A. in Psychology. I’ve worked with Chicago Lights, an after-school program for inner-city students, Ridge Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, and am a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts. Currently, I’m a Masters of Art Therapy student at Adler University in Chicago, IL. I’m interning here as a part of my Social Justice Practicum (SJP) that helps to promote community service and socially responsible practice. As you can see, my interests are a little eclectic, so when I was placed with the Morton Arboretum, I thought, “  This is completely different from anything I’ve done before. Perfect.”
I’m about a month in now and I’ve learned a lot about trees and how integral they really are to our communities. For instance, did you know that there is a correlation between how many trees are in a neighborhood and the crime rate? (More trees mean less crime, although there are some small stipulations). Or that hospitals surrounded by trees tend to have shorter patient stays? (This means that the bill is lower. Two thumbs up!) Trees also help to prevent asthma and clear out pollution in the air andnatural water systems. Working with CRTI has opened my eyes to the fact that trees are vital to community and individual health and wellbeing.  
Coincidentally, my neighborhood, as well as many others in the area, is cutting down trees—specifically, the ash trees that dominate the Chicagoland area. The pesky emerald ash borer has done a great job of infiltrating most—if not all—of the untreated ash trees. Good news for the emerald ash borer, bad news for trees. But this is what happens when one plants a lot of one kind of tree in an area. (Here’s looking at you, elm tree) In fact, the park down the street from my house that used to be sprinkled with beautiful, shady ash trees, now looks a bit bald, and quite frankly, uninviting. But I think there’s reason to have hope. Illinois is also losing a lot of its oak trees due to old age and changing landscapes. October was named “  OAKtober”   by the governor to raise awareness of the great oak’s decline. However, realistically, they are a perfect replacement tree. Oaks are hardy, fire resistance, and native to the area. Additionally, they grow well in open spaces and provide great habitats for native wildlife. Their potentially huge size provides plenty of shade for hot summer days, which can save you some money on cooling costs. It seems to me that the loss of ash trees due to invasive species and the decline of oaks due to old age and land availability are almost too easy of a problem to solve: Plant more oaks and maintain what oaks we still have!  
I still have a lot to learn about trees and their effects on community wellbeing, but I think for now, the sponge is full.  
Happy Planting!
Sarah A Mueller