Tree stewards enhance urban forest
By Marissa Bond
The Las Cruces Bulletin
The City of Las Cruces Parks and Recreation Department is beginning a new cycle of its Tree Stewards Program beginning Tuesday, Sept. 15. The program, which is in its fourth cycle, was started in June of 2012.
“Its purpose was to recruit and train volunteers from the community who really understand how critical trees are to the community, and our mission is actually advocate for, plant and maintain trees in all of our public spaces within the city limits,” said Cassandra Dresler, program coordinator for the tree stewards program.
To become a tree steward, volunteers undergo 20 hours of training in classes taught by professionals from within the community. Some classes are taught by NMSU professors, other by nursery owners or employees. Classes include tree identification, irrigation practice, propagation, soil sciences, pathologies of plants, landscaping, pruning and sustainability in planting.
“The majority of the classes are useful for our tree stewards, but they are also useful for anyone to use in their own homes, too,” Dresler said.
After the 20 hours of training, tree stewards agree to volunteer for 40 hours within the year after they graduate. Stewards may spend their volunteer time planting trees, doing nursery work, repotting or pruning and maintaining trees. They may also help at outreach events, such as tree giveaways celebrating Earth Day or Arbor Day. Dresler said the tree stewards plan to have a booth set up in every Wednesday and Saturday Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market by spring.
Currently, the Parks and Recreation Department is in the first phase of a tree inventory project in which the city is inventorying every city-owned tree on park property. Part of the training for the upcoming tree steward class will involve overview training on how to do inventories. For tree stewards who decide to dedicate their volunteer hours toward the inventory project, a more in-depth training will follow.
Dresler said the Parks and Recreation Department has taken over the Las Cruces Dam Environmental Restoration Project stretching along three miles of Telshor Boulevard. The project is a wetland and meadow area that is being restored to a riparian environment. Tree stewards will be taught about native plant species and how to recognize noxious weeds or invasive species to be looking out for.
“Our tree stewards don’t really just do trees,” Dresler said. “They kind of are an advocate for the entire urban forest or community in Las cruces and its development.”
Currently, approximately 50 tree stewards have gone through the training. The Department of Parks and Recreation also partners with Groundworks Doña Ana, a local nonprofit.
As a group, the tree stewards have planted more than 550 trees and volunteered more than 1500 hours since the introduction of the program in 2012.
“I worked for the city before, but I really wanted this job because I actually started as a tree steward,” Dresler said. “I was completely hooked on it. So now I’m the program coordinator for it. “I really, I just love trees. I think they hold a huge place in this community. I mean, even taking out the oxygen factor – just giving everyone shade, keeping everyone cool, having a place to just sit underneath when you are sitting in the park and watching your kids play. Trees save a lot of people. And they save a lot of people money, even … if you have a big, beautiful tree in front of your house, it’s going to increase the value of that house dramatically.”
Nancy Sharp had been living in Las Cruces for a few months when she heard about the tree stewards program from a friend who had participated in the previous cycle. She said it sounded like a way to become educated about the tree canopy in her new home.
“I’ve always said I have to live in a place where I can go outside,” Sharp said. “I have to be outside. … One of the things that is really important and that I want to participate in as much as possible is preserving the trees that we do have. I don’t think people understand the value of trees to our world – much less to the state, to the entire world.”
Sharp said the training has been personally very valuable. “I certainly look at the vegetation – the trees and the bushes and the shrubs that are in my area of the city differently than I did before,” she said. “And when I’m driving out in the city or in the county I’ll be looking and say, ‘Oh, that tree needs some help,’ or I’ll try to say, ‘What kind of tree is that?’ or ‘Is that tree getting irrigation?’” “It’s kind of like having an extra set of glasses, where you are not only looking at a tree, but they are looking for signs,” Dresler said. “We’ll get emails and we’ll get phone calls from tree stewards, and sometimes just from citizens, letting us know that there’s an insect or some type of disease that’s affecting a tree. So those are extremely helpful, just to have that.” The Las Cruces Parks and Recreation Department will train volunteer tree stewards from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Occasional Saturday classes will run from 9 to 11 a.m. Volunteers must be 18 and older. For an online application, visit www.las-cruces. org/en/departments/parks-and-recreation/ parks/ community- wellness/ tree-stewards. For more information, contact 541-2550 or email@example.com.
“We can always use everyone’s help,” Dresler said. “Every tree needs everybody.”