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Lesser leads inventory of campus trees

ISSUED: 4 August 2016
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — There are a lot of trees on Shepherd University’s 325-acre campus and soon, for the first time, there will be a complete inventory of their species, height, diameter, and condition.

Dr. Mark Lesser, assistant professor of biology, is leading the effort to document the trees.

“We don’t know how many trees are on campus, and we don’t know what species are represented,” Lesser said. “This is going to allow us to guide facilities to help us plant more trees representative of West Virginia, the Appalachians, and eastern North America. We’ll be able to build up an arboretum here on campus and use that as a really valuable teaching resource as well as just for the aesthetics that it provides.”

Lesser, Benjamin Lanham, a biochemistry major from Martinsburg, and Rodney Dever, a Shepherd alumnus and local botanist, have been systematically walking around the campus inspecting each tree and collecting data. Lanham is volunteering his time during the summer months, but when the semester starts he’ll work on the project for credit as a research student helping build a database and do analysis. Lanham said he finds the work interesting.

“I just enjoy trees,” he said. “I have a grandmother who lives up in the mountains who, when we were younger, took us out on nature hikes and introduced us to the local trees and flowers. I am learning how to identify trees based on their leaf structure and their bark.”

Shepherd’s biology honor society, Tri Beta, has also been heavily involved, holding three events throughout the 2016 spring semester. Shepherd’s Tree Committee and Tanner Haid of the Cacapon Institute are also supporting the project, which Lesser said will offer many benefits to the campus community.

“We will compile a database and be able to produce maps. This will help guide facilities in what type of trees get planted in the future and where we need trees planted,” Lesser said. “We’ll be able to do analysis on how these trees are providing benefits to the campus in terms of energy savings in heat and air conditioning based on their position relative to buildings around campus.”

East Campus has now been completely inventoried, with a total of 274 trees. There are 56 different species represented, of which 37 are native to West Virginia, with the remainder being a mix of exotic and ornamental species. The project will continue this fall, once again involving students in Tri Beta, to inventory West Campus.

Listen to the interview HERE.

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