Morton winner Kemba Shakur plants trees, improves lives

Urban ReLeaf executive director Kemba Shakur was in Nebraska City this past weekend to accept the Foundation’s J. Sterling Morton Award for her lifelong commitment to tree planting and conservation.

Shakur was one of 14 individuals, organizations and companies honored during the 41st annual Arbor Day Awards.

While much of Shakur’s impact is felt locally in Oakland, California, and surrounding communities, her influence on urban forestry has reached a national audience.

She started planting trees because her West Oakland neighborhood hardly had any — and she saw an immediate connection between the absence of greenery and the area’s struggles with crime, unemployment and pollution. Her experience working as a prison guard showed her what can happen to young people who don’t have enough positive influences and activities in their neighborhoods.

Shakur kept planting, in her front yard, on her block, in her neighborhood and eventually throughout the City of Oakland – block by block, turning “concrete jungle into a green oasis.” In the process, she created jobs and volunteer opportunities for young people, giving them the tools to give back to their own communities.

During Saturday’s awards ceremony, Shakur stressed that planting trees in cities is shovel ready, low-budget and able to make a real difference in people’s lives.

“Now is our time,” she said, of the urban forestry movement. She also shared a brief poem connecting young trees with the triumph of the human spirit:

There’s a tree that grows in Oakland.
It’s not just any trees, it’s a poor man’s tree.
It’s a tree that grows out of cracks in the sidewalk,
and out of abandoned lots, or discarded tires,
and if you cut off its trunk, it’ll just come back.
To behold such a tree is a magnificent sight,
trees that survive no matter what.

Shakur’s work caught the attention of NBC Bay Area, which profiled her in advance of receiving this year’s award. You can view the segment below.

Happy Arbor Day

In the mid 1880s, J. Sterling Morton arrived at what was then the Nebraska territories. He quickly became active in civic affairs, and championed a holiday for planting trees – which the prairie did not have a lot of at the time.

Loblolly cones  seedlings1 Ratcliff (2)Morton was on to something. Arbor Day is celebrated today in all 50 states and around the world.

Tomorrow, the Foundation will honor 14 outstanding tree plantings and conservationists at the annual Arbor Day Awards.

Our highest honoree, Kemba Shakur, is a nationally-known champion for urban forests who first started planting in West Oakland – after drawing a connection between many of her neighborhood’s challenges and the absence of green space.

Learn about this year’s Arbor Day Award winners here.

Americans interact with the Arbor Day Foundation in many ways throughout the year, but perhaps we’re known best for the Tree City USA program. Now in its 37th year, Tree City USA recognizes cities and towns for sustained investment in urban forestry. The U.S. Forest Service and National Association of State Foresters are key partners in this work.

See our complete list of current Tree City USAs here.

manhattantreesWe’re also excited by the growth of Tree Campus USA, which brings similar resources and recognition to effective forest management on colleges and universities. Check out the full list of 2012 Tree Campus USAs here.

Trees do so much for us without our even noticing sometimes. They beautify neighborhoods, remove harmful pollutants from the air and provide critical habitat for wildlife. Trees save energy, protect water resources and make our lives healthier. Our state and national forests are a treasure – but they need our continued support.

Happy Arbor Day. And don’t forget to visit us again soon to find out how you can plant trees and make our planet a better place throughout the year.

Arbor Day Award winners exemplify tree-planting spirit throughout the year

UPDATE: We’re pleased to announce the identifies of our 2013 Arbor Day Award winners. Kemba Shakur, executive director of the Oakland, California, based Urban ReLeaf, will receive the J. Sterling Morton Award, the highest honor given by the Foundation. Shakur will join 13 other individuals, organizations and companies this Saturday in Nebraska City to receive her award. The remaining winners are:

  • UPS (Atlanta, Georgia)
  • Eden Reforestation Projects (Glendora, CA)
  • City of Punta Gorda, Florida
  • Dr. Waddell Barnes (Macon, Georgia)
  • Alliance for Community Trees (College Park, MD)
  • Donna Love (Niceville, Florida)
  • Lakeshore Learning Materials (Carson, CA)
  • Plant With Purpose (San Diego, CA)
  • Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (Minneapolis, MN)
  • Friends of Grand Rapids Parks (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Florida Forest Service (Tallahassee, FL)
  • Dr. Burnell Fischer (Bloomington, IN)
  • Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign (College Station, TX)

Learn more about the winners here.

ORIGINAL POST: Four years ago, the nation was in the early throes of a deep recession, yet the winners of that year’s Arbor Day awards persevered through tough economic times to leave legacies of stewardship, as Americans have done throughout our history.

nebraskaThat same spirit is evident in this year’s winners, as 14 individuals, organizations and companies gather in Nebraska City this Saturday to be recognized for their extraordinary advocacy in tree planting and conservation.

The winners, who will be officially announced tomorrow, include an inspiring non-profit executive director and mentor, a statewide forestry agency that plants millions of new trees every year and an educational materials company that has inspired staff and customers to make outdoor learning spaces for children a priority.

Other winners are using technology to help resident create real-time tree maps, reversing deforestation and improving lives through clean stoves and replanting in areas recovering from natural disasters.

Observant visitors to Lied Lodge & Conference Center at Arbor Day Farm, the site of this weekend’s ceremony, will note the flags in the lobby signifying the home states of the 2013 winners — Florida, Maryland, California, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, Georgia and Texas.

One of our exceptional winners from 2012, the Arbor Day Foundation’s 40th year, was Dr. James Middleton, a Kentucky physician whose recognition for planting 750,000 trees on his own property was noted by CNN. The U.S. Forest Service received the highest honors last year for a legacy of partnership in community forestry, replanting in national forests and support for the conservation mission of Lied Lodge.

We were also delighted to welcome Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, whose home state has been a pioneer in urban forestry and woodland restoration.

“We not only have the intellect and imagination to harness nature,” O’Malley told last year’s audience. “We also have the intellect and compassion to preserve it.” (You can view our video we put together about the Governor below).

We look forward to hosting the 2013 winners this weekend — and announcing their accomplishments in the coming days.

NASCAR sponsoring community tree planting as part of conservation effort

NASCAR is working with the Arbor Day Foundation this year on tree-planting in communities around the country.

As part of the sponsorship, NASCAR is appealing to teams, sponsors and fans to make donations, with every dollar planting one tree through the Foundation. We’re grateful that NASCAR chose to sponsor these projects, and hope their involvement continues in future years.

Through the sponsorship, $1 goes toward one tree in a high-need areas – many recovering from trees lost to natural disasters. NASCAR is also working with UPS, which has an existing partnership with the Foundation.

Some have asked whether NASCAR is supporting conservation and good stewardship outside of their work on tree-planting with the Foundation. NASCAR has, in fact, taken several steps toward increased conservation through alternative energy and innovative technologies, among other strategies.

First, NASCAR’s large-scale recycling program is preventing millions of pounds of electronics from entering the world’s landfills each year

Second, NASCAR is working with partners to recapture and recycle 200,000 gallons of race-used oil annually.

Third, NASCAR recently moved into an office facility with LEED certification, the signature designation for energy-conserving buildings.

Fourth, NASCAR’s Pocono Raceway installed a 3-megawatt solar farm to power all of the track’s energy needs, with 40,000 solar panels on 25 acres of land next to the track.

And fifth, New Hampshire Motor Speedway has protected more than 520 acres of land as open space throughout its 1,200-acre facility.

We’re glad NASCAR has sponsored the Foundation’s community forestry efforts as a part of its conservation program, and look forward to planting trees with the support of fans, team members and sponsors this year.

Another study finds connection between trees and crime reduction

Last year, we pointed to research in Baltimore City and County linking tree canopy with reductions in crime.

treesNow, the journal Landscape and Urban Planning and Temple University have released similar findings for Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Both studies cut against the conventional wisdom in a sense, as many intuit that shade from urban trees makes crime harder to detect.

Says Jeremy Mennis, associate professor of geography and urban studies at Temple: “There is a longstanding principle, particularly in urban planning, that you don’t want a high level of vegetation, because it abets crime by either shielding the criminal activity or allowing the criminal to escape.”

But in both cases, the findings indicated the increased presence of grass, trees and shrubs correlated with lower levels of robberies and assaults, along with other violent and property crimes.

The Temple study established controls for other factors linked to crime, including poverty rates, educational attainment and population density.

Adds Mennis: it may not be the greenery itself as much as the increased social interaction and public supervision that deflects criminal activity.

Increased community pride and connectivity join a long list of already ample urban forestry benefits.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.