Trees for All The Arbor Day Foundation

Since its founding in 1972, on the centennial anniversary of the very first Arbor Day, the Arbor Day Foundation (ADF) has been steadfast in its mission to "plant, nurture, and celebrate trees."

The organization, with founder John Rosenow still at the helm as chief executive, is active in educating the public about the beauty and significance of trees in our world and in our lives.

Headquartered in Nebraska City, Nebraska, ADF staffs about 300 associates who work hard to promote the positive benefit trees have on the environment, in our communities, and even on our children. Through numerous programs, ADF enables thousands of towns and cities across the United States to follow its mission to plant, celebrate, and nurture trees.

"John Rosenow is tireless in his mission to inspire people," says Woodrow Nelson, vice president of marketing communications for ADF. "I think that culture permeates throughout the entire organization. Everyone is very true to the idea that we should get the word out that it's a great thing for people to plant trees."

Near the ADF’s main office is the birthplace of Arbor Day, Arbor Day Farm, part of the former estate of J. Sterling Morton, who founded Arbor Day back in 1872. Located in Nebraska City, Nebraska, the farm owned and operated by ADF is an activity-packed, learning-based resort right in the center of the United States.

Programs Plant Trees and Hope

In addition to offering membership status and benefits to nearly a million members nationwide, ADF also sponsors many programs and initiatives that aid in carrying out its mission. One of the biggest initiatives is a comprehensive program for children called Nature Explore.

Nature Explore offers support materials for educators, caregivers, parents and grandparents of young children, ages two to eight. These resources are intended to help adults get children connected to nature.

"Research is showing that an early connection with nature really benefits these young children developmentally and behaviorally," Nelson points out.

ADF also publishes a series of 'idea books' that act as practical guides for educators. The “Learning with Nature Idea Book” is one such idea book that helps educators create outdoor classrooms. It offers everything from advice on design from the International Society of Landscape Architects to lists of natural materials educators can use to build these classrooms.

Tree City USA—A Nationwide Effort

ADF also offers the Tree City USA program as a means of connecting with more than 3,400 towns and cities across the nation. This program, which works with state coordinators, state foresters, city foresters, mayors, and any concerned community members, is a proactive way for ADF to support communities in their efforts to plant more trees and also to learn how to take good care of the ones they already have.

Tree City USA, which is sponsored in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, educates people on a community-wide level about the value of trees in our lives. ADF writes and publishes about 40 educational bulletins that help a city's tree board learn about different topics related to planting and maintaining trees. Topics range from 'Resolving Tree-Sidewalk Problems' to 'Living with Urban Soils' to 'How Trees Can Save Energy.'

New Jersey is home to more than 160 Tree City USA participant communities, some of which have been in the program for more than three decades, and some of which are relative newcomers. Among New Jersey’s 566 municipalities, 167 towns and cities are officially designated as Tree City USA.

The aptly-named Garden State is in fact on a mission to plant more trees. Almost half of New Jersey is wooded. The chief tree of the northern forests is the oak while a large part of the southern section is pine. The New Jersey Tree Foundation participates in a tri-state planting initiative called Plant One Million. This aim of this initiative is to plant one million trees in the 13 counties of the Greater Philadelphia region, southern New Jersey, and Delaware. Since spring 2006, the program has planted 8,560 trees and employed 40 parolees in doing the planting.

The New Jersey Bureau of Forest Management, which administers the Tree City USA program in the Garden State, acknowledges the efforts of Tree City USA participants. Last year, they reported that New Jersey Tree City USAs spent a combined total of $21,804,131 on their urban forestry budgets benefiting the more than four million New Jersey residents who live in those communities. The dedication of New Jersey’s urban and community foresters, city officials, and citizens to planting and caring for trees in their cities and towns helps increase energy savings, clean the air and water, and beautify the entire state.

River Vale, Sayreville, Lebanon, Plainfield, Livingston, Dumont and Wyckoff are celebrating their first year in the program. In April 2010, Livingston was recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City USA community for its commitment to urban forestry. The town planted a cherry tree to commemorate the honor.

The benefits towns like Livingston receive from being Tree Cities can be applied to just about any other community, regardless of location or size. Tree City USA communities may also obtain grants or funding from forestry programs more easily.

"These programs look very carefully at cities, asking 'Are they a Tree City USA community?' And, if so, that usually gives the grantor a little more confidence," notes Nelson. "They think, 'Okay, this community really does care.'"

Before becoming a Tree City USA community, however, cities or towns must meet four requirements: 1) they must have a tree board or tree department made up of dedicated people who will look after the community trees; 2) the community needs to have an established tree care ordinance that gives the tree board responsibility for implementing an annual community forestry work plan; 3) the community needs to spend at least $2 per capita on their forestry program, maintaining trees and planting new trees; and 4) the city must observe Arbor Day, which falls on a different day depending on the state. New Jersey—whose state tree is the Northern Red Oak—celebrates Arbor Day on the last Friday in April. The official state celebration will be April 29, 2011 when 100 large shade trees will be planted.

"We have 3,400 Tree City USA communities nationwide and they all take great pride in being recognized as such," Nelson says. "This is a great program where we work with communities and support them in their mission to make their city's trees and their communities healthier—and to plant more trees."

Goals, Successes and Programs

The ADF has some other exciting programs in the works as well, says Nelson. "Here's a scoop for you: It is our goal to plant nearly 2.3 million trees in national forests, since last year was a record [wildfire] year with over nine million acres of national forest land burned to the ground. And the U.S. Forest Service has had to divert so much of their budget to fighting the fires, they don't have the resources to go back and plant new trees in those forests that have been devastated. So we're on a real campaign."

Replanting burned forests and helping the National Park Service to preserve and rehabilitate the natural environment underscores what the ADF is all about, Nelson continues.

"I would say, if we have one policy, it's just to stay positive—because we're making a very important difference to the earth and to the future. ADF is not driven by what corporations are driven by; rather, we're driven by a mission of simply making a difference."

And making a difference by improving natural resources is something Nelson and his organization are rightly proud of. "Creating the Nature Explore program is something we're proud of," he says. "Research has shown that a connection with nature is just so profound and makes such a difference with children. We're proud to not only understand the problem of nature deficit with children but also to package a program like Nature Explore so we can do something about it."

Resources for Trees

In addition to its many programs that encourage people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees, ADF also offers a helpful website that provides everything from information about specific trees to a new 2006 Hardiness Zone Map that graphically separates the country into ten temperature zones that help people plant the appropriate trees for where they live.

"This Hardiness Zone Map has been a very popular spot on our website," says Nelson. "People are interested. Some people are just interested in global warming, but tree planters are interested in particular about how their climate may have changed and how that affects their different options for trees."

Another resource available on the website is extensive information about the various programs, including Tree City USA. People can get online to see if their city is already a Tree City USA. If it's not, the website will explain the application process.

The website also gives details about the many ways people can donate to ADF. Donors can help with reforestation, rescuing the rain forest, Katrina Tree Recovery, or other sustainable conservation programs. According to the website, donations will help in ADF's educational programs, conferences and seminars, planting, reforesting, and much more.

According to the website, planting a tree is a "gift of generosity and kindness and a worthy way to celebrate special occasions and pay tribute to life's many milestones."

"Instead of giving your father a necktie or a shirt—he already has plenty—you can donate $10 to the Arbor Day Foundation and we'll plant ten trees in his name in a national forest and register those ten trees in his name in the U.S. Forestry Registry," explains Nelson. "It's just a nice alternative to a gift."

Beauty and Pride

Planting trees and contributing positively to the greening of your community's environment not only improves value, but it also has a salutary effect on morale and community involvement.

"Most citizens want to live or conduct business in a beautiful place, a place they're proud of," says Nelson. "And it can really enhance the public image when you know your community has a tree board, when your community is spending a little bit of money taking care of its trees and planting new trees. It just establishes some great community pride."

If you're interested in turning your community or town into a Tree City USA, "You can contact the mayor's office," says Nelson. "We're finding that the mayors are really a great advocate of this program. It's hard to band together a whole bunch of council persons, but go to your mayor and say, 'Have you looked into this, it would be such a great way to get the community involved with parks, with street trees, with cleanup, with planting new trees, and just give us a great sense of community pride.' Cities often need that kind of thing."

Jim Douglass and Pat Gale of New England Condominium, a Yale Robbins’ publication, contributed reporting to this article.

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