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2017 Save The Elms Program (STEP) Wrap-Up

October 17, 2017

On a cool, sunny morning in late September, members of our team of volunteer Citizen Scientists, SacTree’s staff, and the City of Sacramento’s staff gathered for delicious brunch under the oaks and elms in Land Park to celebrate another successful year of our Save The Elms Program (STEP). It had been exactly a year since we last met for the purpose of discussing the overall impact of our team’s efforts to monitor Sacramento’s public American and English elms for the pervasive Dutch elm disease (DED), a fungal disease with no known cure which has ravaged our city’s elms since the 1990’s. As our monitoring season wasnearing its end, everyone was anxious to find out how we did this time around.

Colleen Cadawaller, our Deputy Director, and Torin Dunnavant, our Director of Education & Engagement, started us off by once again thanking our STEP Citizen Scientists for their continued commitment to saving Sacramento’s elms, some of the city’s largest and most iconic trees. Their task – to adopt at least 5-10 public American and English elms and monitor them for the symptoms of DED at least 3 times during the summer, reporting any they find through our Greenprint Maps application – was not an easy one. Our STEP Citizen Scientists not only had to correctly identify the symptoms of DED, but distinguish them from symptoms of other issues that affect elms that look similar, such as squirrel damage, broken branches, and damage from elm leaf beetles. Each STEP Citizen Scientist was required to attend a training led by SacTree’s certified arborists to learn how to do so.

“Our goal for 2017 was to train 100 STEP Citizen Scientists to monitor 1,100 of Sacramento’s public elms for DED, about half of the total population,” explained Colleen. “We’re excited to report that we actually trained 101 STEP Citizen Scientists to monitor 1,500 public elms for DED in 2017, about 65% of the total population. Approximately 100 elms were ultimately reported as having DED-like symptoms through Greenprint Maps, and 14 of these elmswere eventually confirmed as having DED through testing by the State’s pathology lab and subsequently removed by the City’s arborists.” Left unchecked, DED transmitted through the elm bark beetle can spread quite rapidly to neighboring elms through root grafting (i.e., connected roots), so this news was a relief to our team. The only way to slow the spread of DED is remove the elms around the City that have it. Without our STEP Citizen Scientists identifying diseased elms early, many more would die from the disease.

Kevin Hocker, the City of Sacramento’s arborist, was in attendance to provide more information about the program’s impact before answering our STEP Citizen Scientists’ many questions about elms, DED, and the City’s tree ordinances. “In 2016, the City’s Urban Forestry Department removed over 80 elms, and about half of those removals were due to DED. This year, we removed a total of 66 elms, and only 33 were confirmed as having DED,” Kevin happily announced. “So, I feel confident making the following prediction: we will see the spread of DED slow even further in 2018, perhaps only removing 14-16 diseased elms.” Our team was thrilled to have this concrete evidence that STEP was meeting – and exceeding – its intended results.


After an extended Q&A with Kevin, we had an opportunity for our STEP Citizen Scientists to share their feedback about the program with SacTree’s staff. Some of the suggested improvements we heard were: find ways for STEP Citizen Scientists to interact with each other further more (possibly through Facebook or a chat room), add multi-colored tree markers to Greenprint Maps to indicate which elms need to be monitored or have been monitored, continue offering the Saturday morning “walkabouts” to STEP Citizen Scientists for additional training, and provide opportunities for STEP Citizen Scientists to see elms with DED up close before they’re removed. Throughout the conversation, SacTree’s staff took scrupulous notes, assuring everyone they would do their best to implement whichever changes they could next year.

The winners of our contests for STEP Citizen Scientists were also announced. Tracy Bieberly and DD Cathcart were awarded our coveted Most Elms Monitored Awards as each of them single-handedly monitored over 100 elms downtown. Kelly McDole’s adopted elm “Elmira Hass-Greenleaves” and Athol Wong’s adopted elm “Woodstock” won our Best Tree Nickname Awards for their obvious cleverness. Jennifer Stuck and Tracy Bieberly won our Best Photograph Awards for their submissions, “Eye of the Tiger” (Jennifer) and “RIP Ziggy” (Tracy), too. Each winner received a $25 gift card to a location of their choosing.

Ray Tretheway, our Executive Director, concluded our brunch by once again emphasizing the importance of STEP: “This year, wediscovered 14 elms with DED. That may not sound like much. But, because many of these elms are planted near a dozen or more other elms, and because DED spreads so quickly, your efforts are directly responsible for saving two, three, four, or even five times that many elms. We cannot thank you, our STEP Citizen Scientists, enough for preserving Sacramento’s remaining elms for as long as possible.”

Optimistic about the future of Sacramento’s elms and full of donuts, coffee, and breakfast pizza, many of our STEP Citizen Scientists left excited at the prospect of contributing to the program again next year. For those that weren’t available to participate in the celebration, we sincerely hope you’ll consider joining us again in 2018 too! Our goals for 2018 will certainly be even bigger and bolder.

Want to stay updated on our Save The Elms Program or volunteer as a STEP Citizen Scientist in 2018? Sign up for our program-specific newsletter here.