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Updated 4:00 PM August 11, 2003



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The forest for the trees

Pick any of the 16,000 trees on campus and Jane Immonen has information about its location, size, health condition and maintenance history at her fingertips.

(Photo by Marcia Ledford, Um Photo Services)

This wealth of knowledge is obtained from a serial number engraved on a metal tag the size of a quarter nailed near the base of the larger trees, or hung from the branches of small or newly planted trees, says Immonen, a forestry technician at the University. The serial number provides easy identification, showing what trees are planted where.

This is especially helpful in treating trees if disease breaks out, or when specific maintenance is required.

"For example, if there is a pine disease reported, we can pull the list and see where all the pines on campus are located," says Immonen, whose duties as a forestry technician also include insect and disease control, maintenance support and snow removal.

The tree identification system is a massive undertaking. It was initiated in 1999, and Immonen completed recording the required data for each tree earlier this year.

"It took those four years to get through the first run; now we have to start over at tree one to update the information," she says.

Subsequent check-ups will take much less time now that the initial gathering is done, although the process will be ongoing, Immonen says.

"There are changes every day. Trees are cut down or planted. It is never going to be absolutely finished," she says.

Immonen accepts that because she loves being outside with her trees. "I don't think I would ever like to have a job where I am stuck behind a desk eight hours a day. Starting in late April, I am outdoors 90-95 percent of the time," she says.

While the inventory of trees mainly serves to facilitate maintenance work, eventually it may help U-M foresters gain an understanding of the lifespan of campus trees, Immonen says.

"Right now you can't tell how old the trees are without cutting them down," she says.

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