Honoring a Giant: Mike Kuhns recognized for career & legacy at tree planting ceremony

By Scott Bunker | October 31, 2023

On Tuesday October 10, The Utah Community Forest Council and ISA Utah Chapter organized an honorary tree planting for Dr. Mike Kuhns at Sugarhouse Park in Salt Lake City.  Dr. Kuhn’s was joined by his wife Jennifer and his sons, Ben and Noah.  On Dr. Kuhn’s behalf, a large Bur Oak tree was planted in the Northwest part of the park on a beautiful hill overlooking that amazing park.  Dr. Kuhn’s loves Oak trees and so the planting of a giant Bur Oak is a fitting selection to match the giant Dr. Kuhns is in the professional field of Arboriculture.

In 1993, I started working with the Urban Forestry program in Provo.  Dr. Kuhns was one of the most influential mentors I had as a young City Forester.  In one of my early trips to the National Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska, I was nervously flying on one of my first business trips for my new job.  I’m sure it is no coincidence that I was seated right next to Dr. Kuhns.  I had not met him before then and vaguely knew of him.  For the next few hours, I got to spend some incredible time being tutored by him as he listened to my questions and taught me some valuable lessons.  The one-on-one training I received on that flight and at that conference with Dr. Kuhns provided a foundation for me that gave me the mentoring I needed to start a new forestry program in Provo.  For the many years since, much of Provo’s Forestry Program was built and based off of lessons learned from Dr. Kuhns.

 Dr. Kuhns is a valuable resource of knowledge in arboriculture across the entire state of Utah. He has been an expert in his field for many years and has contributed greatly to the understanding and care of trees in the state. He has been a dedicated and passionate advocate for the preservation and protection of trees, and his work has benefited many individuals and organizations. 

Mike received his bachelor’s in forestry and his master’s in forest ecology/tree physiology from the University of Missouri. After working two years in timber sale preparation for the Medicine Bow National Forest in southern Wyoming, he returned to school for a doctorate from Auburn University, specializing in tree stress physiology.

Mike Kuhns standing with the giant bur oak that was planted in his honorA native of Omaha, Nebraska, Mike’s first Extension position was forestry specialist at the University of Nebraska. He then moved to Utah in 1992.   He has been a Professor and Extension Forester in the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University.  His work moved toward urban forestry, so focusing on landscaping around buildings was a natural topic because he understood the vegetation. Early on, he was on a committee that popularized the term ‘firewise’ and developed research and education materials to help people maintain firewise landscapes, especially in our critical urban and wildlife interfaces.

The breadth of Dr. Kuhns’ impact on the field of urban forestry is deep and continuous, especially for us since he moved to Utah in 1992. Mike has influenced many projects. He authored the popular book, “Trees of Utah and the Intermountain West”, “What Tree is That?”, a tree guide and produced the booklet “Firewise Landscaping for Utah”. The list of his scientific and extension factsheet articles is extensive, as is the countless number of presentations and workshops he’s given. He is also responsible for the popular website TreeBrowser and the app called MyArboretum.  Although he has retired, we are grateful to know we still have access to his many years of experience and expertise.  He leaves behind a legacy of knowledge and commitment that will continue to benefit the state for many years to come.  All of us that know him cannot thank him enough for the foundation he built and the legacy he leaves for us.  His impact is immeasurable.  Hopefully we can make him proud as we try to live up to the important standard that he has set and more importantly help his legacy live on.

Mike Kuhns talking with another attendee at the tree planting ceremony

A special thank you to Thrive Nursery for providing the tree and to Chaz Addis, Provo City Forester, and his staff for transporting it to the park and helping us plant it.  Also, a big thank you to Nicholas Dankers, the Salt Lake Co

unty Arborist, and the good people caring for Sugar House Park for accommodating and helping to care for the tree.  Thank you also to many professionals that came from across the State or who worked with Dr. Kuhns to recognize him on this important and special day.

Scott Bunker


Side note: We are working to have a bench fabricated out of steel to place near the tree with an inscription honoring Dr. Kuhns.  Anyone that would like to help fund that bench, please contact Lisa Hanussak with the Utah Community Forest Council at Lisa@UtahUrbanForest.org and she will accept your donation for this project.