By Michael Jones, PEAK Student Worker for Landscape Dept.
Two trees by Taylor Hall along University Way have drawn attention and curiosity across campus since Fall Term, when SOU Landscape Department installed a sign next to one of the trees. This creative educational sign explains to those interested what a habitat tree is.
Ever wondered what a habitat tree is? These two campus trees are in decline. Rather than remove them, Mike Oxendine and crew decided to leave them for their habitat properties as examples how to promote biodiversity in the SOU urban forest. Natural habitat trees in the wilderness share similar characteristics to these two on campus, and they provide great living space for wildlife. This can range from bats, birds, bugs, raccoons, and more. These trees on campus also help SOU live up to its Values and Mission as a university.
Currently, one tree is completely hollow and houses a natural beehive, cared for in part by Bee Campus USA. There’s also signs of a raccoon that’s made its home in one of these trees as well. Future plans are to capture live footage at night of this raccoon, to confirm its tree residence.
Last year, Mike Oxendine hosted Brain French on campus to lead a class certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. This class taught the importance of and how to create habitat trees.
Mike Oxendine claims, “As arborists, it is our job to evaluate trees and give solutions to mitigate risks. Oftentimes, wildlife habitat or the potential for habitat, exists in trees that have an increased risk of future failure in the form of cavities, dead snags or broken tops. One of the jobs of an arborist is to identify wildlife habitat, then protect it whenever possible.”
The two campus habitat trees were assessed for safety by Mike Oxendine, because as a tree dies, its limbs and branches can topple, especially when hollow. Mike Oxendine is also an arborist and is the vice- chair of the Ashland Tree Commission, and serves on the Board of Directors for Oregon Community Trees.
“We decided to make the trees as safe as possible while preserving the habitat value that they provide,” says Oxendine.
He and the landscape crew pruned the tops of the trees recently, and tethered the remaining upper limbs via steel cables. This provides support for the trees’ overall structure, so as not to fall apart any time soon. They also drilled holes in the trees at varying heights to attract wildlife, so birds and other animals might take up residence in the tree. Each hole is located in a specific spot on the tree, catering to specific animals that would normally make a home in that part of a habitat tree.
Brian French also provided the habitat tree sketch for SOU’s Habitat Tree educational sign. French is an arborist, owner of Arboriculture International, co-founder and president of Ascending the Giants. He travels the world climbing trees to measure their height, health, and advocates for wildlife preservation in both natural and urban environments.