New tree board member completes census

You could call Jonah Kliewer a man with a mission. Or a model appointee to a civic board.

Of course, some folks who don’t appreciate trees as much as Kliewer does might think he’s a man with too much time on his hands.

But as a relatively new member of the Hillsboro Tree Board, Kliewer took it upon himself to initiate a one-man census of the entire city to find out what kind of tree varieties can be found within.

About two weeks and 3,000 trees later, Kliewer had a written report ready to present at a recent meeting of the Tree Board he has attended. (See sidebar.)

It was also was the first meeting Kliewer had attended since his appointment.

“At the time I thought, I’ve been on the tree board for half a year and nothing’s happening,” said the retired Tabor College music professor. “I didn’t even know who was on it and I didn’t even know what it was about.

“I decided if I was going to be in this business, one of the things that would need to happen is that we would have to know what the tree population was-how many of each species and where they were, approximately.

“So I just did it.”

Since sharing his finding, he discovered that a few years ago the Tree Board had conducted a census of its own, “but it wasn’t a census as I ran it.”

What Kliewer did was to traverse every street in town and identify the species he could see from the street. He also diagrammed where he found them.

“I took three or four streets (at a time),” he said. “In one case I just walked, in another case I rode my bike, and in another case I drove the car. Each case seemed to work.

“When it came to counting the cedar trees, I drove every street because it’s easy to see the cedars. They don’t look like anything else.”

For Kliewer, taking his census was one way to see how the tree population in Hillsboro had changed from his earlier recollections.

“I was really interested in the fact that way back when the Dutch Elm disease came, Hillsboro’s main tree was the American Elm. I remember as a (Tabor College) student back in the ’50s, there were just a lot of American Elms lining the streets.”

Many local American Elm trees were lost when Dutch Elm disease hit in the 1960s and 1970s.

“But I counted something like 40 trees here in Hillsboro that are yet living,” Kliewer said. “And some of them are really very, very lovely, stately examples of the species.”

Kliewer said he’s always been interested in trees. As a result, he could recognize most species on sight. When he couldn’t identify the species, he researched the answer at the Tabor College Library.

“There are a bunch of other species which are introductions in hybrids of different sorts,” he said. “I can’t tell the difference between some of those.

“When it comes to the fruit hybrids, I can tell the Bradford pear, but then I know there are four or five varieties of Bradford pear. And then there’s the crabapple and its many derivations.

“All of them were chosen, partly because they’re fast growers, also because they are high color in the spring when they’re blossoming and high color in the fall when they change colors. But they’re short lived.”

Kliewer said the Tree Board felt his effort was useful to their work.

“It was information that they really did like, to find out the dominant species-and the fact that both the dominant species are the ones that are no longer recommended, and are the ones that sustained the greatest damage during the ice storm.”

Sharon Boese, owner of the Garden Center in Hillsboro and a member of the Tree Board, said Kliewer’s effort yielded useful fruit.

“It was a very thorough survey,” she said. “There were some small things he maybe he wasn’t aware of, but it’s very detailed for somebody who’s not of that profession.”

In addition to making a contribution to the work of the board, Kliewer, who makes furniture as a hobby, saw potential personal benefit as well.

“I began to look at trees as a person who, if you find a dead one, and if it is of the right variety, you’d say, ‘May I have that?’

“For instance, I’m waiting for one of the catalpa trees to die in town,” he added. “Those are long-life trees, but it’s also a very, very good wood. If it’s a big tree with a large trunk-something like 2 feet-in diameter, it can be cut up into boards to make furniture.

“Or, if it’s a smaller tree, you can make boxes.”

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