Jennifer Killian; Keeping Corvallis Green, One Tree at a Time

One of the best parts of Corvallis is wandering through downtown in the fall. The leaves of the trees are changing and the colors are radiant. In late spring, the fresh green leaves offer shade from the increasing heat and the crisp smell of new life. Corvallis has some incredible trees, and Jennifer Killian, the interim Urban Forester for the city, manages them.   

Killian first started working with trees in 2007 while working for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. In 2007, Wisconsin detected the Emerald Ash Borer, a highly invasive pest that attacked and killed Ash trees in the state.   

“My team was responsible for coordinating the state-wide effort to eradicate the beetle,” Killian wrote in an email interview for The Advocate. “I quickly developed a passion for working with street trees, communities, and urban forest planners on management of these very important street trees.”   

During the Ash Borer project, Killian also learned about the challenges facing trees that live and grow in urban areas.   

“It was during that time that I realized that trees, especially in these urban settings, have it tough,” she writes. “I really like being an advocate for the trees and doing what it takes for each individual tree to maximize their canopy benefits so that everyone in the community can take advantage of those ecosystem services.”  

Tree Stewards  

Currently, Killian serves as the interim Urban Forester for the City of Corvallis. Her job involves many different facets, but the primary roles are to “manage City-owned trees in public right of ways (the grassy strip between the street and the sidewalk), parks, natural areas, and riparian corridors,” Killian writes. “This includes coordinating the work for the planting, structural pruning, removal, and inspection of over 15,000 trees and counting!”  

On top of this, she also helps to coordinate the Neighborhood Tree Stewards, a group of local volunteers that help to plant more than 200 trees a year. They also help the city by taking on important but time-consuming tasks like watering, weeding and putting mulch around the young street trees. Killian says of the group, “The work they do is invaluable as it frees the crew’s time to do other important tasks such as structural pruning and emergency work.”  

Killian’s passion for trees extends into her work within the community as well. “I absolutely love talking about trees! Each tree has a unique set of needs, and I really like working with the crew, the adjacent property owner, and other community members to address these needs,” she writes. “Easily, my absolute favorite part of my job is working with community members. I serve as the liaison between community members, their trees, and the work that needs to be done now and in the future. I field calls, perform site inspections, and often consult with property owners about the street trees adjacent to their homes.”  

Trees are incredibly beneficial to the community that they grow in. Besides the obvious benefits of cleaner air, pollution abatement and absorbing stormwater, trees can actually help make the people around them happier.   

“Studies show that trees have calming effects that reduce traffic speed and noise, [and] provide inviting and cool areas for recreation,” Killian writes. “Other studies show the link between trees and healing, a reduction in violence, and [they] provide an overall sense of place. Trees are truly remarkable!”  

Communities can help these benefits reach their full potential by working with their local Urban Foresters and learning about tree maintenance. Focusing on the roots of trees that grow near your home can be very helpful.   

“The critical root zone is the circular area on the ground where the most important roots are located, sort of the area at the edge of the canopy where water falls to the ground after landing on the tree. Keeping this area clear of debris, rocks, landscape fabric, compacted soil, or other impenetrable surfaces will keep the roots healthy and the tree happy!” Killian also asks community members to get in touch with her if they notice anything wrong with a tree in their neighborhood. This can help the crew address the problem early and avoid bigger issues.   

Corvallis Tree Inventory  

A new and exciting way to learn about the trees around you is by viewing the tree inventory that is now available to the public.   

“We use tree inventory software that allows us to keep accurate and up to date information on each tree. We monitor attributes such as tree height, diameter, crown width, and overall health assessment for each tree. We can also log work orders and track crew time, which keeps us very efficient,” Killian writes. “This year, for the first time ever, we made the inventory available to the community in the hopes that anyone who wants to learn more about trees in their neighborhood could simply access the inventory and discover all of the unique trees all over the City! There is even the ability to send trees emails through this inventory software!”  

Killian has one reminder for the residents of Corvallis.   

“One very important message that I will be working to get out to the community is that the trees in these City-owned rights of ways are under the jurisdiction and management of the City. This means that any work done on these trees is the responsibility of the City. Anyone who wants to do work on the trees in the right of way adjacent to their property should apply for a permit first. Performing any work without a permit could result in a fine.”  

Long Term 

Killian has big goals for the future of trees in Corvallis. “One long term goal I have for this position is the preservation of tree canopy across the City. A recent canopy analysis revealed that Corvallis has a 28% canopy cover, up from 26.9% in 2004, which is great but maintaining canopy can be challenging,” she writes. “The City’s land development code specifies that trees can only be planted in right of ways that are 4 feet or larger and certain distances away from utilities such as fire hydrants, water lines, sanitary sewers, and storm drains, and infrastructure. This means that if a tree has to be removed for any reason, it’s not always feasible to plant the same tree back in that location. I work closely with the tree crew and community members to not only preserve large canopy trees, but also replace [them] with large canopy trees whenever possible.”  

Killian is excited to continue her work with the community and the local trees, helping both residents and trees live their best lives.   

By Kyra Young