Planting trees for now, tomorrow

IRVINE — UC Irvine joined the likes of UC Davis and UC San Diego in being anointed Friday as a tree-friendly campus.

To celebrate UCI's distinction of being named as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation, nearly 100 students helped plant 23 new species in Aldrich Park.

To date since the fall of 2008, 74 colleges and universities across the country have received the distinction. UCI counts 24,000 trees on campus, nearly a quarter of them inside the park alone.

In all, there are 53 species, including the peppermint tree, the desert museum palo verde, the African tulip tree, the California bay laurel, the Mexican cypress, sweetshade, Catalina ironwood, Englemann oak and the tecate cypress.

Chancellor Michael Drake was on hand to thank the students who volunteered their time and green thumbs. He urged them to leave as little an imprint in their daily lives as possible, encouraging them to try and "live lightly on the land."

"It's an important part of our legacy and our future to stand here today in Aldrich Park," Drake told the crowd, with sycamores and eucalyptus forming a backdrop.

"When the university first came into being, rather than be founded around a quad of bricks, we were actually founded around this park," he said. "And as you can see now it's an incredible urban forest that surrounds us."

The tree-planting ceremony was the result of a nationwide $1.3-million grant that has been disbursed to colleges and universities by Toyota in conjunction with the Arbor Day Foundation, which launched Tree Campus USA in 2008.

The program strives to encourage environmental stewardship at institutions of higher learning, according to Tree Campus USA officials and Toyota, which had a plug-in hybrid car on display for promotional purposes.

"You don't need to enter the real world, to make a difference," said Michael Kroll, strategic planning manager for Toyota's corporate communications office in Torrance. "You're making a world of difference now. You should be proud of yourselves. Your work will stand for generations to come. You now join universities like Duke and Penn State and Tulane."

Richard Demerjian, director of UCI's environmental planning and sustainability, said that the newer species will only promote a healthier and more diverse urban forest on campus.

"Diversity is good. It's always smart to add younger trees and different species as the older ones get sick or they die off," he said. "It creates a nice healthy blend."

Kevin Schlunegger, a UCI student who was in charge of the Think Green Initiative Fund, told the students to "Think globally, act locally."

"The sky's the limit," he said. "We can change the campus — by the students for the students.

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