The following is a conversation between Dan Lambe, President of the Arbor Day Foundation, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer WNYM in New York City.
Denver: The year 2022 will mark the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day. To commemorate this milestone in a meaningful way, the Arbor Day Foundation recently launched a very significant initiative, and here to tell us about what that is, and the other work of the organization is Dan Lambe, the president of the Arbor Day Foundation. Good evening, Dan, and welcome to The Business of Giving.
Dan: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
Denver: Share with us the history of Arbor Day, where and how it got started nearly 150 years ago.
Dan: It was 1872 on the plains of Nebraska; there was a man named J. Sterling Morton who was a pioneer, a newspaperman, a journalist. He had moved to Nebraska from Michigan and realized there weren’t a lot of trees in Nebraska. People in Nebraska needed trees for wood supply, to build homes; they needed fences. They needed their resources and the sustainability benefits trees bring. Had the vision to launch a new holiday celebrating the value and importance of trees. They called it Arbor Day. It started in 1872, very ambitious and bold goals. Now, the holiday has grown to be celebrated, not just across the United States, but around the world. It continues to be a day that celebrates not just the beauty, but the value and importance of trees in our communities and on our natural forest lands.
Denver: I know it varies a little bit, but when is Arbor Day?
Dan: National Arbor Day is the last Friday in April every single year. Some states have adapted and adopted their own state Arbor Day celebrations that coincide with their planting seasons throughout the year. But National Arbor Day is always the last Friday of April, and it is celebrated thousands of ways all across the country every single year– in schools, with cities, with electric utilities and other partners who want to help celebrate the value and importance of trees.
Denver: The Arbor Day Foundation, which is headquartered in Nebraska, that started in 1972, and it was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of that first Arbor Day that you just explained. What are some of the programs of the foundation?
Dan: The Arbor Day Foundation was founded on the 100th anniversary, and from Day One, the foundation was about helping to inspire people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees; help to lower the bar of entry for people to be a part of the tree planting epic. So, we have had a membership program. We have almost one million members across the country who help to support and encourage the programs of the Arbor Day Foundation. Our program is really focused in a couple of key areas. One is working to help support and encourage and restore critical natural forest lands that have been impacted by forest fires or insects or other problems around the US and around the globe.
We help to restore and replant natural forest lands. We also work to help support and encourage best practices in our urban forests, the forests where we live, work, and play. People don’t always think about living in a forest, but whether you’re in New York City or Boise or Los Angeles, people live in hardworking and important forests. We work with cities and other leaders around the country and the world to encourage healthy, strong community forests.
The third key program area is just helping to inform people on the best way to plant trees, the right trees for the right place, and helping to make sure that if they are going to participate in the act of planting trees, that they’re able to do it in the most successful way and plant trees that are going to help provide beauty and benefits for years to come.
…if people are going to participate in tree planting, we want them to have as much success as possible. So, we try to inform them of the right way to plant, the right places to plant; and the hardiness zone map helps tell people: What are the right trees for my community?
Temperatures are varying and changing. As temperatures have been learned and solidified over the last many years, we help people understand which trees are best suited for your communities.
Denver: The right trees in the right place… that’s communicated on your website with a graphic called the US Hardiness Map. Tell us a little bit about that. We’re here from New York City; tell us about some of the trees that would do well here.
Dan: If you go to the Hardiness map on the Arbor Day Foundation website, the reason we created that map was to help people understand the right trees for where they live. If you’re in New York City, you’re going to be planting very different trees than they plant down in Miami or in Phoenix, Arizona. What we want to do, as I mentioned, is if people are going to participate in tree planting, we want them to have as much success as possible. So, we try to inform them of the right way to plant, the right places to plant; and the hardiness zone map helps tell people: What are the right trees for my community? Anyone from New York City could enter in their zip code and help identify the right trees for their hardiness zone, which means their climate zone.
Temperatures are varying and changing. As temperatures have been learned and solidified over the last many years, we help people understand which trees are best suited for your communities. In New York, there’s a wide variety of trees that could be planted and have great success – from oaks and maples. There’s a long list of trees, depending on what kind of service or benefits you’re looking for… whether you want a flowering tree in the Spring, a beautiful fall color in August and September. It really depends on what you’re looking for and why you want to plant. But the hardiness zone map will just make sure you’re getting the right trees for whatever your wishes are.
Denver: What a great tool that is. Looking at the nation as a whole, do Americans have a favorite tree?
Dan: It’s a great question. Everybody has a favorite tree. Everyone has a personal story they could share about trees. I’m not picking favorites. I can’t do that. We did a survey – I think it was about 17 years ago where we polled the nation on America’s favorite tree. The mighty oak, the oak tree was voted on and chosen as America’s favorite tree. But you know how it is, a lot of people love the beauty of the maple. A lot of people love the beautiful fig or Banyan tree, the exotic nature of that. A lot of people love just their flowering trees. Everyone will have their own favorite story about trees and often has their own favorite tree, and a lot of people have a personal connection to trees. That’s one of the more exciting parts of our work is we get to help people celebrate trees in all kinds of ways.
Denver: Is there anything about trees that we know now that maybe we didn’t know a couple of decades ago?
Dan: Yeah, we do. We are fortunate in the research that’s going on today with trees around the United States and around the world is amazing. We’re learning about new medicines and products that we could be harvesting from trees to help create healthier communities. We all learned very early on at about third grade that trees help clean the air and clean water. We’re learning even more details about the connections between trees and human health – the calming effects of trees, the shade and the scientific reduction of how to help prevent sun exposure, the specificity around how high-density tree canopy in neighborhoods can help reduce childhood asthma and adult asthma. There’s really more and more information coming out through research about the benefits of trees, but also we’re learning more about how to make sure trees are planted the right way, how to ensure through pruning and care, that the lifetime of those trees can be continued. Every day there’s more and more research coming out through our friends at the US Forest Service and other universities around the country.
Right now is one of the most important times for trees… NASA tells us the last five years have been the hottest years on record. And we’ve all seen, and some of us have felt firsthand, the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters that are damaging and destroying trees through hurricane, tornadoes, and floods. This list goes on and on. Our forests are under pressure like never before. And the results of those pressures on our forest are pressures on people. That’s why we say at the Arbor Day Foundation, “If ever there was a time to be planting trees, now is that time.”
Denver: As I mentioned in the opening, you recently launched a new initiative, the Time for Trees Initiative. That’s connected to your 150th anniversary. Tell us about it, Dan.
Dan: Right now is one of the most important times for trees. Anyone who’s picked up the news has seen stories about the raging forest fires last summer in California. It wasn’t just California. Last year alone was one of the worst forest fire seasons in the history of the United States. We lost about 5.8 million acres of forest lands last year due to wildfire. And it’s been hot. Hot, not just in New York City, not just in Nebraska, but everywhere. NASA tells us the last five years have been the hottest years on record. And we’ve all seen, and some of us have felt firsthand, the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters that are damaging and destroying trees through hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. This list goes on and on. Our forests are under pressure like never before. And the results of those pressures on our forests are pressures on people. That’s why we say at the Arbor Day Foundation, “If ever there was a time to be planting trees, now is that time.”
That’s why we are launching the Time for Trees Initiative as a way to help restore forests, help to bring life and canopy cover back to communities that have been damaged by disasters, and helping to improve water quality, and quality of life and wellness for citizens around the US and around the world. And it’s the most ambitious initiative we’ve ever been a part of. We’re committing through the Time for Trees Initiative, to plant 100 million trees and engage 5 million tree planters to get that work done. And when we’re done in 2022, we will see measurable impact on important critical forest lands and watersheds and habitat, and healthier, thriving, more resilient cities. It’s exciting; it’s going to be a lot of work, but we are very fortunate, and we have tremendous partners, collaborators, and members to help us get it done.
Denver: Tell us a little bit about those. You have something called the Evergreen Alliance. Who makes that up, and what are they doing for you?
Dan: We are fortunate we have fantastic planting partners we work with all around the country and around the world. I mentioned we work with the US Forest Service to restore natural forest lands, state forestry, state parks, cities and towns. But what we’re hearing and finding is that a lot of leadership around the urgency for these issues is coming from corporate citizens… corporate leaders who are stepping up because of sustainability, because of corporate social responsibility, and because they’re seeing the risks associated with losing important tree canopy. We’ve created a group called the Evergreen Alliance, which are some of our most passionate and strategic corporate partners; 17 companies who operate on a global footprint, who are committing to helping to reach the goals of planting 100 million trees and engaging 5 million tree planters by 2022.
These companies are also helping to bring really strategic thought to where we can plant, how we can plant, and how we can have the most impact through those trees. These are some of the best stewardship companies we’ve ever worked with, like FedEx as an example. Target is a member of our Evergreen Alliance. Exelon. We are fortunate the Hershey’s company, Marriott International…some of these companies who have already proven to be great citizens and stewardship in a lot of their corporate sustainability work, are turning to trees and forests as a way to make a difference.
Denver: Dan, in looking at planting these 100 million trees, are we talking here in the United States, or is this across the globe?
Dan: We’ll be planting all across the globe. We believe by 2022, approximately 80% to 90% of the trees will be in the US, but we are finding more and more projects that are in need and are ready to go internationally. We’ll be planting those trees in front yards and backyards, in city parks and city right-of-ways, and in critical natural forest lands all across the US, and in some really strategic projects around the globe. This year alone, we planted in about 25 different countries with urban tree plantings and natural, rural forest lands.
Tree planting is not the hardest thing in the world. Anyone can do it. That’s one of the exciting things about tree planting is with a little care, a little attention, anybody can participate in tree planting.
Denver: Talking about planting trees, what’s the biggest mistake most of us make when we plant a tree?
Dan: That’s a great question. When I give presentations, I tell people the Arbor Day Foundation is fortunate. People turn to our website for information about trees. What kind of tree is it that they saw at the end of their block that their neighbor has… how to plant a tree? We always try and give the best tips on how to plant. There’s some really important things. You’ve got to make sure you pick first of all the right tree for your space. You can go to the hardiness zone map to make sure you’re picking the right kind of species for your climate zone. But you also want to make sure you’re thinking about: are you planting a tall growing tree under a utility line? That’s just going to create problems in the future. You want to dig a properly-spaced hole, and you don’t want to plant it too deep.
One of the more frequent problems we find is that people are planting trees too deep, and it’s not giving their roots and the tree the best opportunity for success. Tree planting is not the hardest thing in the world. Anyone can do it. That’s one of the exciting things about tree planting is with a little care, a little attention, anybody can participate in tree planting. If you go to our website, we give you all kinds of great information on how to make sure you’re selecting the right tree, digging the right hole, and planting properly.
Denver: Do you have an estimated cost of what this Time for Trees Initiative is going to be?
Dan: The Time for Trees Initiative, as I mentioned, is the most ambitious tree planting initiative we’ve ever been a part of. We planted millions and millions of trees since we opened our doors in 1972. But planting 100 million trees and engaging 5 million tree planters by 2022, within the next few years, is going to be a huge chore. We know it’s going to cost an excess of $200 million. We’re fortunate. We’ve got great members. We’ve got great partners who are helping to step up and create a pathway to success. We’ve been able to shore up a great deal of support already for this, but as we’re identifying the right planting projects and the most strategic planting projects, we know it will cost us in excess of $200 million to identify these trees, source the trees, and help find partners to help get the trees in the ground.
Denver: I know you’re still in the early innings, but how many trees have you planted thus far?
Dan: So far, we started over just this last year, we publicly launched the campaign, an initiative on March 20th, the first day of Spring this year in New York City with a great celebration with a lot of our planting partners– the City of New York, a lot of our corporate champions and partners and leaders on this. By the end of this calendar, we will have already planted and distributed close to 30 million trees, and that’s with our members. It’s in national forests, it’s in state forests, and its critical projects. For example, some of the exciting projects we’re going to have coming up in the next year or two – we’re going to be helping to plant more than 3 million trees in California to help restore those forest lands that were devastated by the natural disasters and the forest fires that we’ve all read about. We’ll be planting those on public lands and on private lands with great partners like the US Forest Service, the American Forest Foundation, and other great forestry leaders in California. We’ll also be planting in communities that were hardest hit by those fires. We’re also planting in backyards and front yards to help shade homes with electric utility companies who are offering free trees to shade homes, to maximize energy conservation, and increase tree canopy and shade in communities.
Denver: What a wonderful and timely initiative. Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation. I want to thank you so much for joining us this evening. For listeners who maybe want to be part of this Initiative and do so in an organized fashion, how would they go about doing that?
Dan: Anyone who would like to learn more about the Time for Trees Initiative can visit our website at timefortrees.org and/or visit the Arbor Day Foundation website @arborday.org. What we’re excited about in this initiative is not just in planting so many trees and engaging so many tree planters, what we’re feeling and hearing is there’s this movement that as citizens, as cities, as corporations are looking to find natural solutions to the challenges that they’re facing, looking at trees and forests as a part of that opportunity is exciting and, as we said, timely. If ever there was a time for those natural solutions, the Time for Trees Initiative is one pathway.
Denver: Absolutely. Dan, it was a real pleasure to have you on the program.
Dan: Thank you very much. I appreciate the time.
Denver: I’ll be back with more of The Business of Giving right after this.
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