A team of HERO (Human-Environment Regional Observatory) fellows is hard at work to help determine strategies for preserving trees in urban neighborhoods.
The students join dozens of former fellows who have supported environmental projects across the state since the program’s launch in 1999.
At a May 20 reception for the HERO fellows, John Rogan, co-director and professor of geography, cited some of the program’s key accomplishments over the past two decades:
Rogan spoke at the May 20 reception announcing this year’s fellows: Haoyu (Novak) Chen ’21 (geography and math major), Juliette Gale ’20 (geography and global environmental studies), Sadie Murray ’21 (geography and biology), Benjamin Ryan ’21 (geography), and environmental science majors Shannon Reault ’20 and Cynthia Sellers ’19, both of whom are completing the earth system science track.
The 2019 fellows, with the guidance of geography doctoral students Nick Geron and Marc Healy, are surveying the status of urban tree cover in Pittsfield and Leominster as part of an ongoing collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Greening the Gateway Cities (GGCP) Program. The program sponsors tree planting to “increase the urban tree canopy in select neighborhoods, with the goal of reducing heating and cooling costs and improving the health and safety of residents.” The students’ research will complement previous data collected by their 2017 and 2018 HERO predecessors in five other Gateway Cities.
“What we’ve found so far in the cities of Revere, Chelsea, Fall River, Chicopee, and Holyoke,” said Rogan, “is that there are enormous differences in tree survivorship and stewardship between cities. We want to understand what makes juvenile trees survive despite enormous stresses. We want to understand the stewardship and governance aspects of what makes a tree-planting program successful.”
In previous years, students in the HERO Program have conducted research on urban trees planted by the Worcester Tree Initiative in the wake of the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) outbreak in the late 2000s.
“[HERO fellows’] findings are a meaningful resource for community forestry efforts statewide,” said Ruth Seward, executive director of the Worcester Tree Initiative.
Ryan Vazquez from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is program director for the ALB Eradication Program in Massachusetts. He echoes Seward’s assessment.
“The HERO program continues to provide a valuable perspective on the ALB program that we would not be able to gain on our own, by giving us a way to measure our success with our replanting efforts, public outreach, and public perception,” Vazquez said at the reception. “As we continue to find fewer infested trees, we need to look at additional ways to measure our success. The HERO program’s annual report is one of those metrics. The students’ presentation to our staff also serves as a motivator to many. It reminds us that the affected communities value their trees and the overall environment, and that our work is appreciated and necessary.”
One of the new HERO fellows offered her thoughts about why she applied for the fellowship.
“One of the biggest appeals of the HERO program was the opportunity to study human-environment interactions,” Sadie Murray explained. “I love trees, nature, and field research in many ways, and there’s an incredibly rewarding environmental justice angle. It’s also a great way to learn about both quantitative and qualitative methods of analysis.”
A special guest at the reception was Lara Roman, a research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service, who has been assisting the HERO Program since 2017 with her expertise in urban forests, human health, and environmental quality. She recently collaborated on an article with Rogan, program co-director Deborah Martin, and two other Clark Graduate School of Geography faculty, Samuel Ratick and Christopher Williams, on “Predictors of mortality for juvenile trees in a residential urban-to-rural cohort in Worcester, MA,” published last year in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.
Roman made two presentations at the reception, first addressing the importance of understanding urban-tree mortality, and then instructing the new fellows in field research techniques.
“Lara’s been enormously helpful and generous with her time by helping us standardize our practices in the field and interpret our data,” Rogan said. “She also mentors our Ph.D. students.”
The 2019 HERO Fellows will report their findings to stakeholders at a July 11 presentation at Clark University, as well as at the university’s two celebrations of undergraduate research, Fall Fest and Academic Spree Day. Support for their work was provided by the John T. O’Connor ’78 Endowed Fund for Environmental Studies.