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Save The Elms Program Celebrates Success!

October 1, 2016

It was a brisk, sunny, fall morning Saturday, October 1st as we gathered underneath the immense canopy outside of the Coloma Community Center in the Elmhurst Neighborhood of Sacramento. We were there for a celebration, to acknowledge the important work of our STEP Citizen Scientists and to recognize the dedication of the City of Sacramento's Urban Forest Services Team to our public tree population.

After enjoying a hearty breakfast donated by Ink Eats & Drinks and delicious pastries provided by volunteer, Katherine Jang Schulke, we dove into our successes. 2016 was a pilot year for our Save The Elms Program as we brought it back from a multi-year hiatus. The purpose of the program is to recruit and train motivated advocates to monitor Sacramento's most majestic residents, our American and English elms, for Dutch elm disease (DED), a fungal disease with no known cure, which has been plaguing our city since the 1990s. For year one, we had the simple goal of training 50 volunteers to monitor at least 500 of our approximately 2200 public elm trees. Great news, we sprinted past our goals with 50 volunteers monitoring 750+ elms, 34% of the population!

But was the monitoring effective? For Kevin Hocker and Jesus Munoz, two of Sacramento's City Arborists, the answer was a resounding YES! More than 100 trees were marked as possibly having DED and subsequently followed up on, 10 were placed on a list to be continually monitored, and 5 were confirmed as having the disease and removed. One of the most effective ways to fight DED is early detection, our Citizen Scientists were the eyes and ears out there this summer, relaying important information to the Tree Foundation and the City of Sacramento.

The day was also used to gather important feedback from volunteers. One area for improvement will be in the continuing education of our Citizen Scientists throughout the summer months. It is very difficult to detect elms affected by DED without binoculars. Trees that are damaged by squirrels or drought stress might look similar. "Photographs of real-life examples of false positives of elms with DED on the foundation's website will be helpful", Nita Davidson, a Citizen Scientists and charter member of the original STEP program, explained. Next year we'll work more closely with the city to visit trees that are confirmed DED cases creating videos that can be used to teach volunteers more about the symptoms of DED.

A few other great suggestions were the creation of a Facebook page for Citizen Scientist to quickly and easily communicate with each other, a method of reporting tree problems besides DED to the City using the Greenprint Maps app, and closing the feedback loop where volunteers could see if the trees they marked as possibly having DED actually had the disease. It was exciting to see the group of 25 offer feedback openly and indicate that they'd like to take part in the program next year!

We know that our elm canopy is critical to Sacramento’s urban forest history and community priorities. For this reason taking every possible action to increase their health and longevity is worthwhile and, in some ways, a responsibility that spans arboricultural, urban forest and societal values. Next summer we'll be back with a bigger and better STEP 2.0, you should join us!

Many thanks to Councilmember Eric Guerra for his sponsorship and support of the program and for joining our celebration; to the City of Sacramento's Public Works Department for their sponsorship; to Kevin Hocker and Jesus Munoz for being champions of our urban forest, monitoring the trees our Citizen Scientists identified with symptoms, and for representing Urban Forest Services at our party today; to Ink Eats & Drinks and Starbucks for the food; and to our tremendous Citizen Scientist volunteers, you rock!