Richard W. Harris, an influential UC Davis arboriculturist who pioneered methods for maintaining healthy urban forests, died Sept. 16 of Alzheimer's disease, his family said. He was 92.
Dr. Harris helped enhance the quality of life in communities as a leading expert on caring for trees in public parks and streetscapes. Besides more than 100 scientific and professional papers, he wrote chapters on tree maintenance for Ortho books. He helped developed the certification test for arborists and authored a textbook, "Arboriculture," that is a bible in the profession.
At a time when trees were trimmed mostly for aesthetic reasons, he devised pruning methods that produced healthy and structurally strong urban forests. He helped start the city of Davis' Street Tree Program during the 1950s and taught pruning methods to city parks workers and electric utility crews.
"He was a leader in developing new knowledge about trees and their management," said Alison Berry, University of California, Davis, plant sciences professor.
Dr. Harris joined the UC Davis pomology department in 1950 and transferred to environmental horticulture in 1958. He served 12 years as department chairman and was UC Davis Arboretum administrator when the Peter J. Shields Oak Grove was founded. He retired in 1986.
He led students on field trips to local, state and national parks to camp out and learn about tree care and management. He taught many who went on to careers in environmental management, urban planning, and parks and recreation.
"He was the professor who taught me to do pruning," said Heather Fargo, a former state parks planner and Sacramento mayor. "That skill has been very useful all my life."
Born in Fresno in 1920, Richard Wilson Harris grew up on a fruit tree farm near Reedley. He earned a horticulture degree at UC Davis and was a Navy PT boat commander during World War II.
He earned a master's degree from UC Davis and a doctorate from Cornell University. He married Vera Cook in 1946, raised three children and lived in Davis.
He served on the Davis Recreation and Parks Commission from 1964 to 1971. He belonged to the Cal Aggie Christian Association board for many years and was active at Davis Community Church.
The National Arbor Day Foundation recognized Dr. Harris with its highest honor, the J. Sterling Morton Award, in 1989. The western chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture launched its Excellence in Education Award in his name in 2003.
He received the 1973 UC Davis Distinguished Teaching Award and the 1991 Award of Distinction from the UC Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Science.
"His students went on to parks departments all over California and other states," his wife said. "It got to the point that every time we went to a state park, there would be someone there who would say, 'Hi, Dr. Harris.' "