Arboretum offers TreeKeepers training program

Participants to learn how to maintain trees in community

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 2:49 p.m. CDT

LISLE – Residents will again have a chance to impact the longevity of urban trees by taking a course offered through the Morton Arboretum this spring. 

The Openlands TreeKeepers training program will be held Saturday mornings from March 8 to May 3 at the Arboretum.

This series of eight, three-hour classes will teach participants the biology of trees, how to identify tree species and how to monitor for insects and disease, according to an Arboretum release. There will also be hands-on demonstrations for tree pruning and care. 

“TreeKeepers gives people like you and me the tools they need to make a difference for trees,” said Megan Dunning, manager of community education and outreach at the Arboretum. “And making a difference for trees means a better future for all of us who live in the Chicago region.”

TreeKeepers are volunteers who plant, protect and advocate for trees in their communities, Dunning said.

The TreeKeepers program first came to the Arboretum last fall through a partnership with Openlands, a conservation organization that protects the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region to ensure cleaner air and water, protect natural habitats and wildlife, and help balance and enrich lives.

Both the Arboretum and Openlands participate in the Regional Tree Initiative, a strategy to improve the vitality and sustainability of the region’s trees, according to www.mortonarb.org. 

Daniella Pereira, regional forester with Openlands, oversees the TreeKeepers program.

She said it was created to focus on tree protection and continued maintenance and is one of the only comprehensive tree care programs working with volunteers in the Chicago area.

“What makes TreeKeepers unique is that our certified stewards adopt and care for trees and green space for the long term,” Pereira said. “It is not until trees age that their full environmental, social and economic benefits are realized.” 

The TreeKeepers program originated in Chicago, but participants from the suburbs and other counties have traveled to participate, as Openlands is a regional organization, Pereira said. But as part of the Regional Tree Initiative, the TreeKeepers program will continue to expand to one county per year to make it tangible to residents who live in that county, Pereira said. 

TreeKeepers, which originated in Chicago, expanded to DuPage County last year, the first county to be chosen for the program's expansion. The Arboretum was chosen as the host site of the program because of its strong turnout of participants in the Regional Tree Initiative, Pereira said. 

“Each year as the program gains in strength and numbers, advocacy for trees will expand and the health of our urban and community forests will improve,” Pereira said. “Hosting the class [at the Arboretum] is a plus because the faculty uses the Arboretum as an outdoor classroom.” 

Dunning emphasized the importance of the TreeKeepers program, as municipalities around the Chicago region are making cuts to staff in charge of managing and caring for trees. This, along with the 12.7 million ash trees in the Chicago region affected by the Emerald Ash Borer that need to be treated or replaced, has created a need for TreeKeepers, Dunning said.

“Sometimes it seems as though every time we go online or open up the newspaper, we’re faced with another story about damage to the environment,” Dunning said. “I find the best medicine for these messages is action.”

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For more information on the TreeKeepers course, visit www.mortonarb.org. For more information on the program or on Openlands, visit www.openlands.org. 

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Criteria to become a certified TreeKeeper

- Attend all eight course classes

- Pass written exam

- Complete practical exams on tree planting, mulching, pruning

- Pledge to volunteer 24 hours within year following graduation

- Participants encouraged to be 18 years and older

- Ages 16 and 17 are allowed, but must be accompanied by an adult attending course 

Source: Daniella Pereira, regional forester with Openlands 

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