John Barbur

After studying forestry management in university, John Barbur went on to start the Abilene Tree Board in 1991.


While John Barbur isn’t the Lorax — an orange-furred, fantasy creature from a Dr. Seuss story — he has protected and cared for all the trees in Abilene since 1991. 

Before his time on the Abilene tree board, Barbur gained a degree in forestry management from the University of Missouri, which included specific classes in Agronomy. Agronomy means the study of producing and using plants in agriculture for food, fuel, fiber, recreation and land restoration. 

“You know when you think about trees, you can look at them from a different standpoint, you can look at them from an individual tree,” Barbur said. “For example, people who practice arboriculture, they are really concerned about the individual tree, looking directly at it and maybe it’s next closest neighbor. But, when you think about a forest, you think of big communities of trees that are growing together and so you’re looking at how to manage those big communities of trees…In forestry, it is kind of looking at a bigger piece of trees that are grouped together versus the individual trees.”

So, he took his knowledge of forestry and his work, since 1986, on Fort Riley’s equivalent of a tree board in front of the Abilene city commission in January 1991.

“I talked about the importance of tree boards and just what it could do to help or assist in maintaining the beauty of the city,” Barbur said. “You know how it will be beneficial for trees that are planted in the city, because we hope to get the knowledge of how best to take care of them.”

He can still remember the first members of the board and seeing a large group of community members coming out to support Abilene trees. 

“It was astonishing to me because the folks, there were a lot of folks that I mean, they were people that all loved trees that were on the board,” Barbur said. 

So with a team of retired residents, professionals, an attorney and himself, the tree board went on with their goal of caring for trees and educating other residents about their trees. 

“The tree board is set up to help manage city owned trees and trees that are in the right of way of streets,” Barbur said. “It also is kind of there to promote taking care of people’s individual trees, just getting out knowledge and stuff about how to care for them. Another aspect is the beautification of the city of Abilene. For example, when you think about the history of Abilene and Eisenhower and all those kinds of things, lots of trees along the streets and so forth in that time period. It’s kind of that whole aspect of maintaining the historic character of Abilene and just adding beauty to the community.”

In his 30 years on the tree board, Barbur found himself not favoring one type of tree for the community, but creating a beautiful diverse bouquet of trees. 

“It’s a funny thing,” Barbur said. “I’m not sure I have a favorite tree, but I think what I really favor is having good diversity in the trees that we plant, not planting so much of one kind, but many different kinds. By having really good diversity, you actually have a better community forest.”

Barbur couldn’t be prouder or happier to pass on his creation to the current tree board to become Abilene’s own tree-loving forest  protector.

“We have a really good group of people who are on the tree board and I am totally confident they will carry on and do a great job,” Barbur said. “I have no doubt about that at all. They are like the original people, they really have a love for trees and you know they have a love for Abilene as well. I think it’s in good hands, I have to say I’m going to be sad about leaving, but I also recognize that things will carry on just fine.”

For residents wanting to learn more about the tree board, please reach out to Abilene Public Works Administrative Assistant Jen Hiatt. 

“She does a great job of keeping us organized and keeping us on track,” Barbur said. “I just really appreciate all those folks.”


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