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Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

Stewards Serve As Guardians Of Vermont's Trees

Ric Cengeri / VPR
Tree Steward Sue Lovering stands beside a tree on Main St. in Johnson. Tree stewards keep Vermont's many trees healthy.

Hundreds of volunteer tree stewards are in charge of making sure Vermont's trees are healthy and treated fairly. With over three quarters of the state being forested, this is no simple task.

Vermont Edition walked with Sue Lovering, a graduate of the SOUL Tree Steward Program and member of the Johnson Conservation Commission and Tree Board, down Main Street in Johnson to inspect the trees, and to learn how to care for them.

On issues urban trees face

"I've loved trees and nature since my earliest memories," says Lovering. "I own a bunch of trees, and the thought of helping trees and planting more trees gives me great joy."

Trees planted in an urban environment face unique threats. Cigarette butts discarded at the base of their trunks can cause toxic leeching into the trees' roots, ultimately causing death. Planting the tree on a sidewalk near grates offers the potential risk of weed overpopulation.

Volcano mulching is one of the leading causes of tree death, according to Lovering. Piling mulch around the tree's trunk destroys the bark, allowing insects and disease to enter the tree. Mulch should never touch a tree's trunk, and should only be two to three inches deep. 

"It's a slow killer when it happens," says Lovering.

On threatened ash trees

The emerald ash borer is a looming threat to Vermont's trees.

"We found 2,470 ash trees in 46 miles of road," says Lovering. This number did not include the two state highways that run through Johnson. "So ash is a big problem. There's a lot of it in Vermont, and it really needs to be addressed proactively."

The state has a unique approach to raising emerald ash borer awareness: a human-sized emerald ash borer costume that has become locally famous.

"We call it the Big Bug," says Lovering. "We wear it to parades and functions just to get people to ask, 'What is that?' and then we point them over to our display tent where they pick up information and talk to somebody." Lovering has worn the ash borer costume on several occasions.

The annual Tree Stewards Conference is this Saturday, Oct. 10, in Bristol.

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
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