Tree Lovers of Nashville: Eric Kuehler with Metro Water Services

Nashville is lucky to have new resident, but long-time tree advocate and expert, Eric Kuehler as our Metro Arborist with Metro Water Services.

Read more about this core member of the Root Nashville campaign team in the Q&A below.

Q: How would you describe your job as Metro Arborist?

A: I see my job as managing the urban forest to help maximize stormwater benefits. Ensuring the right tree is planted correctly in the right place and making sure the trees are fertilized and pruned properly will help to build leaf surface area in our tree canopy cover to intercept more rainfall and ultimately reduce stormwater runoff volume. Reducing runoff volume aids in higher water quality so that we spend less money treating our drinking water.

Q: What is your background, and how did you originally get involved in urban forestry?

A: Working as a Wilderness Counsellor for emotionally disturbed teenagers in the forests in East Texas, I decided that I really enjoyed being in the woods.  I got my graduate degree in Plant Physiology at Texas A&M University. While doing forest management research with the Forest Service in Pineville, LA I was asked by the mayor’s wife to chair the newly-formed tree board. That experience opened my eyes to the strategies that trees use to withstand the pressures of growing in developed areas. I spent 14 years at Urban Forestry South in Athens, GA as a Technology Transfer Specialist where I researched the role that urban trees play in stormwater runoff. I retired from the Forest Service in May 2020 and became the Arborist for Metro Water Services.

Q: You are new to Middle Tennessee! What brought you here, and what have you noticed about us so far (either residents and/or our canopy)?

A: I had spent a large portion of my Forest Service career investigating how trees reduce stormwater volume, so when I saw the notice that Metro Water Services was looking to hire an Arborist I decided to retire from my job with the USDA and do something that I really like. From what I have seen so far the citizens of Nashville are passionate about their trees and they understand the benefits that trees provide in their daily lives. That makes my job a bit easier because I don’t have to spend a lot of energy convincing people of the importance of trees in our built environment.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in your role?

A: The thing that I am most looking forward to is using all of the urban forest management tools that have been developed over the past 15 years to help us quantify the benefits that our trees provide. These numbers can help us efficiently manage the forest that we live in while helping to save tax revenues.

Q: If you had to choose one, what is your favorite tree and why?

A: That is a tough one because I have so many favorites. From a water quality standpoint I would have to say that the yellow poplar [also known as a tulip poplar] is my absolute favorite. Not only is the leaf shape beautiful, but a healthy yellow poplar has a very dense crown with lots of leaf surface area to intercept rainfall, and that reduces stormwater runoff.

Q: As we know, there are a ton of benefits of trees. What’s one benefit in particular that you would want to highlight, in order to encourage people to plant more trees?

A: Since we live in the watershed where we get our drinking water I would like to focus on the role that urban forest systems (trees, soil, and ground vegetation) play in improving water quality. By creating areas where tree canopy can intercept rainfall, reduce rainfall intensity, and allow stormwater runoff to infiltrate into the soil to filter impurities, we can improve our water quality. With improved stormwater quality going into the Cumberland River we can reduce treatment costs for our drinking water and that helps to keep our water rates low.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: I am really happy to be here in Nashville. I am looking forward to using all the research that I have done in the past and applying my forest management experience to help the citizens of this community by providing cleaner water.

Tree Lovers of Nashville is a series to highlight the amazing advocates and supporters of trees in our city. If you would like to suggest someone to be interviewed for this series, reach out to hello@rootnashville.org.

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