My Internship: Compiling information on the water needs and growth rates of the trees on the Walla Walla Urban Forestry Advisory Commission’s tree list.
Sponsor: Betsy Kaiser
My internship consisted largely of researching (in numerous books and on the internet) the water needs of all the trees on the Walla Walla Urban Forestry Advisory Commission’s tree list. I spent two to four hours weekly, usually on Friday mornings meticulously looking up this information on each species and cultivar. For some reason, the species and especially the particular cultivars on the tree list were often hard to find information on. I used books from the Walla Walla Public Library, from Whitman’s library, as well as from Betsy Kaiser’s personal collection of tree books. The internet was often helpful when I was searching for newer varieties of cultivars, because I was told they change so frequently (i.e. the ones that are currently popular) that books such as the Sunset Garden Book can hardly keep up.
While I have not been able to get in touch with my sponsor in the weeks following Thanksgiving vacation, (I have just learned today that she was delayed in California due to a death in her family, thus she had not been to work in several weeks) the completion of the water needs table has brought me some sense of accomplishment. With the many weeks of research I have put in and the meetings with Betsy that have taken place, I feel that I have created a useful piece of information that the Walla Walla Urban Forestry Advisory Commission will hopefully be able to employ. I have learned a bit also about regulations for planting trees in the city of Walla Walla, including the four different classes of tree species that are recommended for the area. I noticed in my reading that the vast majority of the trees are, not surprisingly, foreign species, mostly originating in Europe. In Walla Walla, the Forest Service (for whom Betsy works, in addition to her volunteer duties on the Walla Walla Urban Forestry Advisory Commission) provides certificates for those homeowners wishing to plant trees in the area between the sidewalk and their house, which basically pays for the cost of the tree. When the city chooses what kind of tree is to be planted (usually to replace fallen or diseased trees), the tree list, with its four classifications of trees, information on growth rate, appearance, and the water needs (which I have essentially updated) of several dozen species is consulted.
While it is hard to judge the impact and importance of the work I did this semester, as I have not yet been able to get feedback from my sponsor or from the organization, I feel satisfied with the finished product and hopeful that it will prove useful. Due to logistics (I had class during the meeting times and my sponsor worked mostly in the field so was rarely in the office to take my calls or answer my emails) I was not able to attend an Urban Forestry Advisory Commission meeting, nor was I able to meet with my sponsor as often as I would have liked. This made things such as finding the right books, as well as the work and information that went into my internship poster difficult.
Reflecting on the greater purpose of the internship, I feel that it is important for the city to be aware of the care and maintenance needs of the trees they plant, especially those regarding water use. Water is obviously a precious and finite resource, and in an arid climate like that of Walla Walla, it makes sense to plant trees whose water needs are minimal. Most of the trees on the list did not demand excessive watering (most had “average” water needs—which, Betsy specified, was all I needed to provide by way of information) or only needed intense watering during certain stages in its growth or in particularly dry seasons. Still, it is interesting to think what Walla Walla would look like with its native vegetation. In a sense, I love the huge trees that line the streets of the city and that are even more abundant, along with other kinds of foliage, on the Whitman campus. However, I feel that the Walla Walla Urban Forestry Advisory Commission’s fundamental purpose is to not allow the now-lush landscape of the city to revert to its desert-like beginnings. In this sense, the Commission’s purpose seems more intent on beautifying the city (i.e. using elements of nature as an instrument of the city’s amelioration) than on sustaining or maintaining elements of the natural world for the sake of nature’s inherent value. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to incorporate some of the pleasing aspects of nature into a town which would otherwise be essentially void of greenery. Indeed, my feelings of ambivalence toward an organization which chooses to plant non-native tree species undermines, or at least puts into question the assumption that a town should be established at all in an area like the one Walla Walla is in. However, the fact remains that the city does exist, as do the surrounding agricultural areas. Planting trees in the city (even if they require more water than the native species of the area), while perhaps not intended for the purpose of allowing city people to commune with nature, at least improves look and feel of Walla Walla. In the end I am glad to have helped such an organization.