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Botany on the Beat

DATE: Friday, October 21, 2022

HCC students assess city trees for service learning project

Tyler Edwards, left, ane Timothy Corser measure the diameter of a maple tree on Northampton Street in Holyoke .

One recent Friday, a dozen or so botany students from HCC gathered downtown to size up some trees.

"Everybody needs a tablet, a tape measure, and a map," said associate professor Sage Franetovich, their teacher. 

Fully equipped, the students split off in small groups and headed down the sidewalks along Northampton Street not far from Holyoke High, where they began examining pin oaks, crab apples, sugar maples, catalpa, and the other city trees marked on their maps. They used the tablets to take photos, a phone app to help identify the species, their studied judgment to evaluate the relative health of each one, and special tape measures to calculate diameter, a key metric in the forestry industry. 

"Diameter tells us a little bit about how big the trees are and how wide the canopy spread is, which helps us determine heat mitigation for the trees," Franetovich explained. 

Heat mitigation is what this exercise was all about. 

As a service learning project this fall, Franetovich's General Botany class volunteered to participate in an urban tree inventory for the city of Holyoke as part of its Urban Forest Equity Plan

"The city's goal is to assess the health and diversity of its trees and plant more where they are lacking," said Franetovich, "because trees do so many good things for people. They not only help with mental health, they improve air quality, and, most importantly, they allow for climate resilience. In downtown Holyoke, there are heat islands in some areas because of a lack of trees. On a hot day when the sun beats down on the pavement, the heat doesn't really have anywhere to go. Tree coverage helps a lot with that. So this is climate justice in action – with trees." 

Before they got started, Franetovich's students had a project orientation from Yoni Glogower, the city's director of Conservation and Sustainability.

"Completing Holyoke's public tree inventory is one of the major recommendations that came out of our 2021 Urban Forest Equity Plan," said Glogower, "and The Office of Conservation and Sustainability was grateful to work with professors at Holyoke Community College and Smith College to help collect measurements. The city will use the information gathered by students to better understand the character of our urban canopy, make data-informed management decisions, and track progress over time. This is community science at its best and we hope it can be sustained as an ongoing collaboration with HCC and Smith."

So far, Franetovich's students have spent two Friday lab periods on the city streets, collecting data that they are sharing with the botany students at Smith who are also working on the urban tree inventory project. 

"We share equipment, we share maps, and we divvy up the area," said Franetovich. 

They also share at least one student, HCC alum Avery Maltz '22, who majored in botany at HCC and worked closely with Franetovich as caretaker of the HCC Greenhouse. Maltz is now a lab assistant in the botany program at Smith.  

"It's really nice to see that connection," Franetovich said.

PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Above) Botany students Tyler Edwards, left, and Timothy Corser measure the diameter of a maple tree for an urban tree inventory project. (Thumbnail) Lauren Perkins takes a photograph of a pin oak.