We planted a tree on Arbor Day, but at UNT Dallas the day has deeper roots

President Bob Mong and a group of UNT Dallas students planted a Monterrey Oak tree near the basketball court Wednesday in celebration of Arbor Day. But, that's really just a small part of the Arbor Day story at UNT Dallas, a campus that sits on 264 wooded acres and is home to tens of thousands of trees of varying species.

A year ago, the UNT Dallas campus was named a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation, a rather select designation considering there are only 296 such campuses in the country. OK, so there's a lot of trees on campus. But the real impetus of creating the Tree Campus USA program is about big-picture thinking about how to be good stewards of the land, as well as to train and engage the leaders of the future to be environmentally conscious. That work is ongoing at UNT Dallas. On Tuesday, Dr. Donna Hamilton's environmental science class assisted Texas Tree Foundation expert Matt Grubisich in collecting tree data that will be used to inform the clearing of the land designated for a new project. 

"Because we’re sitting on this beautiful asset, it’s important that we continue to honor our great woods behind us and our land, and also have a plan for how we want to preserve this great asset of ours," Mong said. 

But, here's where it really gets interesting when grasping the scope of the fortuitous woodland ecosystem of southern Dallas that surrounds the university. Over the next 30 years, the Dallas-Fort Worth area is expected to double in population. The Texas Tree Foundation's 2017 Heat Island Mitigation study revealed that Dallas is the second-fastest warming city in the country because of all the infrastructure that has taken shape to handle the already monumental population growth to more than 7 million people.

"Dallas has a tree canopy cover of roughly 29 percent, and 60 percent of that is in what is south of I-30, so you guys are sitting in essentially one of the lungs of Dallas," Grubisich of Texas Tree Foundation said. "So how we preserve all of this area and how we develop it smartly is going to be very, very important, and you guys are a leader in that through your campus masterplan and what we’re doing in identifying what the tree resources are."

In other words, the UNT Dallas isn't just a place for educational learning, but it is going to be a benefit to the environment.

OK, so maybe all this tree talk doesn't excite you much as a student who's most pressing concern is acing your exams. Well, Grubisich has a message for you, too.

"The average person checks their phone 85 times a day, so think about that," Grubisich said. "What that does to our brains is it doesn’t let our brains shut down, and that leads to lower standardized test scores, it leads to lower patience, all of that kind of stuff. Studies have actually shown that just by spending five minutes out in a natural environment, there is scientific proof -- we’ve actually worked with the brain institute that is part of Southwest Medical District -- and it shows it gives the cognitive portions of your brain a rest, which allows you to focus better, which gives you more patience, which allows you to do better in class, all of those things that we need to be able to build productive societies."

So the next time you walk by a tree on campus with phone in-hand, think about taking a seat under one and cracking open a book for a few minutes.