Daniel Burcham, Ph.D., joined CSU’s Horticulture and Landscape Architect (HSA) department about 1.5 years ago as the university prepared for the retirement of Jim Klett. Klett’s career at CSU spans 40-plus years and his role will be covered with two new people. Burcham takes the ‘woody plant’ portion of Klett’s work.
Prior to his position as assistant professor of arboriculture and urban forestry at CSU, Burcham had lived and worked in Singapore for more than 10 years. He was doing applied research on tree management issues for a government agency that managed green spaces in the city. “I loved discovering new information and developing new insights about trees,” he says. He also loves problem-solving, analysis, working with data, and having an impact on people’s lives.
When the position at CSU became available, Burcham saw it as an opportunity to move to the academic environment, something he aspired to. “I also knew of Klett’s reputation and was glad to come to program that was already in good standing.”
From the tropics to Colorado
“The climate setting in Colorado is a polar opposite to Singapore,” he admits, which meant a shift in his research. To make this shift, he has been asking himself some important questions. “How can I use the skills I’ve already acquired in a way that is useful to the industry and communities around me here?”
“In the past, I have worked on tree diseases, pruning and risk management, among other topics. Some of the skills I’ve acquired for studying trees will be useful in Colorado, but I will also have opportunities to develop new interests and expertise,” he says. “I also carry within me a passion for trees and plants, and I have a general curiosity about the natural world that draws me to evaluate any kind of problem, especially those significant to people.”
In Colorado, he recognizes that “everyone is concerned about the responsible cultivation of plants in urban areas.” The shade canopy over Colorado communities reflects peoples’ deep affinity for trees, and many groups are working to expand tree cover in towns and cities for greater societal benefit. But the resilience and sustainability of community trees is threatened by drought, heat and severe storms. Burcham hopes his work will help people work with these climate realities.
In this semiarid climate, he acknowledges the challenge of responsibly sustaining landscapes with limited water resources, and he continues to learn from those who have lived in and learned from this environment, over longer periods of time. He immediately recognized the immense value of the work done by Plant Select®, a collaboration with CSU, Denver Botanic Gardens, nursery growers and others, to promote the use of hardy, water-wise plants that can survive this tough environment.
Burcham wants to at least sustain the success of the department and will try to build greater regional and national awareness of the HLA department and programs at CSU. He wants to strengthen and develop more partnerships with the industry and will focus on managing plants in urban landscapes.
“Given that the majority of my focus is on woody plants, I want to continue developing CSU’s reputation in arboriculture and tree care,” says Burcham. “During my time so far at CSU, I’ve found there is a strong community of professionals who proactively share their experiences and challenges, and are willing to engage with the university.”
“Colleagues and I have been talking about setting up some kind of specialization in urban forestry that would be interdisciplinary, and I think that is really cool! Though the idea was circulating before I got here, it hasn’t been implemented and I would like to continue to pursue it.” In Burcham’s mind, it would start small, maybe as specialization in an existing program and grow as interest increases.
Of course, he also wants to continue to maintain the CSU’s rapport with the nursery industry which Klett helped develop during his time at CSU. “It’s great to come into this department where it’s apparent that a lot of effort went into building industry relationships, and I hope to maintain the connections with nurseries and the tree industry.” Burcham also wants people – readers and stakeholders – to know he is committed to working together on shared problems and encourages people to reach out to him. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.