Southern University designated a tree-covered ravine running through the campus as an educational forest Friday.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell was on hand when the college unveiled its “outdoor learning laboratory.”
Tidwell’s visit coincided with a $120,000 federal grant Southern received to help run its urban forest training program and help develop a landscape plan for the school’s mid-campus forest.
Tidwell credited Southern for having the foresight two decades ago to start a program training students in a field that has saved the U.S. “hundreds of billions of dollars” over the years in energy costs and has contributed to cleaner air and water in cities across the country. The U.S. needs urban foresters to help engineers, architects and city planners design energy efficient cities, Tidwell said.
“We need the professional thinking at the start of the planning process,” Tidwell said. “It reduces costs when you do it right from the get-go.”
The roughly 100 million acres of urban forest nationwide limits energy consumption as tree canopies keep cities cool and reduces the need for drainage infrastructure as trees capture storm runoff, Tidwell said.
“Twenty years ago, we didn’t have the data proving the economic benefit of urban forests; now we do,” Tidwell said. “We have to celebrate Southern’s leadership in recognizing the importance of urban forestry.”
Southern University Chancellor James Llorens said the reserve, near the Student Pavilion on E.C. Harrison Drive, would have walking paths, and different species of trees would be identified.
Llorens said he anticipates the grant could become a multi-year commitment from the U.S. Forest Service as the program gets stronger.
“The forest provides for us a strong academic offering, and it also creates within the campus an attractive natural resource that all students can take advantage of,” Llorens said.
Urban Forestry students will have the benefit of working in Southern’s Natural Remnant Bottomland Forest, filled with oak trees, maple trees and several species of gum trees which run through about one-third of the campus and drains into the Mississippi River.
“It represents a unique species diversity,” said Kamran Abdollahi, chair of Southern’s Urban Forestry program.
The outdoor learning laboratory, will help students pursuing bachelor’s, master’s
and doctorate degrees study which trees are suitable for different environments and protections against diseases that threaten vegetation, Abdollahi said.
In a state where coastal erosion is a major crisis, Abdollahi said Southern’s proximity to the Mississippi River makes the university uniquely positioned to study landscape ecology and ways to limit the further eroding of the coastline.
“In some cases, river action is greater than the ocean’s action on the land,” Abdollahi said. “Our students can observe different ways land can be managed to keep soil from further eroding.”
Abdollahi called the Urban Forest Education Experience Grant a public investment that will train the country’s future conservation leaders.