Hunting Down the Reed Campus Lorax

Steve Yeadon On the Tree Removals Around Campus

In January, two emails were sent out in quick succession that left the Reed community stumped: two notifications of tree removals occurring around campus. No thunderstorm, harsh wind, or ice storm had occurred recently, meaning there was no weather event that caused either of the trees to be harmed or knocked down. So why were so many trees seemingly dying at random? To find out more about these two removals and the trees around campus, the Quest sat down with Director of Facilities Operations Steve Yeadon.

In the long run, a lot of it comes down to the life, safety, and health of people on campus. If the tree is in a heavy-traffic area it’s something we can’t risk.
— Steve Yeadon, Director of Facility Operations

Compared to most schools, Reed has a very mature canopy (read: a lot of the trees are big and old). The first major planting of trees on campus was in 1933, and many of the saplings planted back then are still standing on campus today. This initial planting, however, contained many “ornamental” trees. Yeadon compared these to a thoroughbred horse or a purebred dog; the trees have been “bred” for aesthetic purposes, which in turn limits their lifespan. “Over the years there’s been a good effort, especially in the canyon, to remove non-native species and let those trees that are native and natural to the area grow and mature,” he said.

As Director of Facilities Operations, Yeadon oversees all the building, custodial, and grounds services on campus. Yeadon and the grounds team maintain a Tree Health Program that is constantly being updated to ensure that the trees around campus are healthy and thriving. “If you go to… the larger trees on campus, if you look at the trunk you’ll find a little blue metal disk. That’s the number of the tree that we have logged in our inventory. We document [the trees] to mitigate problems or address health issues with that tree.” This health program includes a color scale used by the grounds team to indicate tree health and to determine which trees may be in need of help. Both of the trees removed in January had suddenly and unexpectedly reached a red “critical” status, which meant they were at risk of falling down and damaging a structure nearby— in both of the recent cases, the Blue Bridge.

The first tree removal, a large Red Oak tree between Bragdon and the Blue Bridge, was rather unexpected. One of Reed’s groundskeepers noticed while doing his morning rounds that the tree had begun to heave up, indicating a failure in the root structure. The tree had undergone load weight removal on some limbs in the past, but it was never viewed as a serious threat to fall over. Now, however, the tree had started to pull away from its anchorage and had to be removed as soon as possible. “With [the Blue Bridge] being such a major thoroughfare… for me as a facilities manager, it was like, ‘Oh, we need to take care of this right now.’ It was a perfect scenario. Most of the trees don’t last forever, and my most successful ending juncture with a tree is if I cut it down the day before it falls over. I really feel like that was the case with that tree,” Yeadon said. Red Oaks are a more “ornamental” type of tree; they are typically found growing in a more arid, dry environment, like on a hillside. They’re not particularly well-equipped to handle the damp soil at Reed, which can lead to failures like this one.

Most of the trees don’t last forever, and my most successful ending juncture with a tree is if I cut it down the day before it falls over.
— Steve Yeadon, Director of Facility Operations

The second tree removed was a Big Leaf Maple in the canyon that shifted position and had begun pressing up against the Blue Bridge. For trees in the canyon, the grounds team likes to take a slightly different approach towards removal. Yeadon explained, “We try to lean more towards a natural process with those trees [in the canyon]. Oftentimes people ask us, [they] see dead trees laying out in the lake or across the stream and ask, ‘Why don’t you clean those up?’ Well, that’s where it grew and that’s where it fell, so that’s what it’s supposed to do.” This naturalistic approach to dealing with trees in the canyon helps to preserve both its ecosystem and innate beauty. However, due to the fact that this tree in particular was in contact with the Blue Bridge and posed a threat to the structure, it too had to be removed. After the removal occurred, the grounds team discovered the trunk to be completely hollow.

Removing two trees in such quick succession was very unusual for Steve and the grounds team. Typically, there is a much more thorough process: “The grounds manager… [and] I assess the trees and go, ‘Yeah, this looks serious’. Then we reach out to one of our arborist teams that we work with on a regular basis and say, ‘Hey, we think this is pretty serious, what do you think we can salvage? Is this a potential surgery [in which] we lift some weight out of the tree and it settles back in?’… We’ll look at different methods to remove weight or balance the tree. Sometimes we’ll even run guy-wires and support cables over to other trees to salvage it and then just monitor them really closely. In the long run, a lot of it comes down to the life, safety, and health of people on campus. If the tree is in a heavy-traffic area it’s something we can’t risk. The potential failure of a tree… just makes my stomach churn.”

Yeadon and the rest of the grounds team remain committed to ensuring that Reed’s trees remain a premier piece of the campus environment. It’s not just work — there is a tremendous amount of love and care given to the trees here. Next time you’re taking a walk through the canyon or simply admiring nature around Reed’s campus, take a moment to appreciate not only the majesty, variety, and history of the trees on campus, but all of the work behind the scenes that goes into preserving their life and health.

If you have any further questions or comments for Steve Yeadon, you can reach him at If you’d like to learn more about the trees on Reed’s campus, visit the Reed Blog.

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richard stafursky
richard stafursky
2 years ago

All trees species belong to a species’ forest somewhere. Find the trees and you find the species’ forest. All invited to visit the 80-acre set-aside Species’ Forest in 2021. It is difficult speaking for nature and not speaking for people. — from the deep woods of the Species’ Forest, Conway, Massachusetts, 501(c)(3) land trust with an ethical vegan board of directors (Dick Stafursky, Vermont)

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