About Sean Barry

Sean Barry is the director of media relations for the Arbor Day Foundation, based in Lincoln, Nebraska.

2013 Arbor Day Award videos posted, and other updates

Arbor Day Foundation members and supporters interested in learning more about this year’s award winners are invited to view the short video segments we put together for the 14 individual, organizations and companies recognized in Nebraska City on April 26.

Kemba Skakur, executive director the Oakland, California, based non-profit Urban ReLeaf, received the highest honor among this highly-accomplished group of tree planters and conservationists. Shakur and her staff wrote this blog post upon returning home to California. Her one complaint, which she noted at the time, was that the video segment covered much of the ground she had planned to address in her remarks. But she inspired the audience just the same.

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Accepting the Promise to the Earth award on behalf of UPS, Jerald Barnes said he and his colleagues have been dubbed “the tree guys” at the office as a result of their relationship with the Foundation and our staff. The video notes UPS’ partnerships with some the largest environmental groups in the world, including the company’s recent donation to the Flight 93 Memorial Project, a twenty-two hundred acre national park in Pennsylvania commemorating those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

Each winner offers inspiration of its own kind – Dr. Burney Fischer for his leadership and vision in developing urban forestry programs in Indiana, Donna Love for working with the Department of Defense to support sixty Nature Explore classrooms on military bases throughout the country and the non-profit Plant With Purpose’s  pioneering work to bring clean stoves — designed to conserve energy and wood, while reducing harmful fumes —to some of the poorest regions in the world.

You can learn more about all of our winners here.

If you have a chance, you might also visit our revamped programs page. Some found the previous version a little overwhelming, so we hope this iteration provides a bit more clarity and direction. We only have award winners in April, but the work with do with our partners and sponsors through these programs has an impact throughout the year.

That, in the end, is what the Foundation is about – bringing the tree-planting spirit of Arbor Day to every other day of the year. And we couldn’t do it without the work the daily efforts of this year’s winners and countless others.

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.

iTree software providing valuable benefits to professionals and non-professionals alike

When the Arbor Day Foundation worked with the U.S. Forest Service, Davey Tree Expert Company and others to launch a suite of urban forest management software, the tool was expected to be primarily used by city foresters and other professionals.

8050686652_68cc7fcc56Fast-forward several years and i-Tree has been downloaded thousands of times in more than 100 countries, with international users comprising the largest growth.

The Society of Municipal Arborists, International Society of Arboriculture and DC-based Casey Trees were also key contributors.

The latest version of the tool, 5.0, is especially equipped to help users map and manage urban trees in Australia and Canada. The i-Tree software can also be used on smartphones and tablets for the first time.

Teachers, researchers, non-profit organizations, consultants and homeowners are among the users who have relied on i-Tree to calculate energy savings and storm water interception, among other benefits.

At the Foundation, i-Tree is central to are growing partnerships with utility providers through Energy-Saving Trees, an innovative program that allows customers to secure free trees for their yards and reduce monthly electricity bills.

Participating customers are able to log-on to an interactive website that helps them select the most strategic location for tree planting.

In addition to providing approximate energy savings, the tool also estimates the tree’s other benefits, including cleaner air, reduced carbon dioxide emissions and improved storm water management. Many of these benefits are felt throughout the community.

Read more about i-Tree’s progress at the U.S. Department of Agriculture blog.

Idaho’s first Nature Explore classroom featured on local NBC affiliate

I’ll admit I was somewhat surprised to receive a phone call earlier this month about Funshine Early Childhood in Idaho Falls. It was among the first times we’d been asked about a Nature Explore classroom before even sending out the press release.

3FUNSHINESnaturescapeFunshine’s certification was definitely news worthy – the center, owned and operated by Kathy Reynolds – is the first Nature Explore Classroom in the state of Idaho.

Nature Explore is a collaborative project of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation developed in response to the growing disconnect between children and nature.

Reynolds began constructing the classroom after attending a Nature Explore training with educational services director Julie Rose. She posted an article in a local magazine, inviting friends, local businesses, civic leaders and the mayor to attend a groundbreaking event at her home, where she shared her vision.

The result is wonderfully captured in last week’s News Channel 6 segment showing children learning and playing in a creative outdoor learning space.

“There is a huge increase in childhood obesity because they are not getting outside,” Reynolds tells New Channel 6′s Summer Joy. She continues:

Unless they are outside learning and exploring a garden or harvesting what we grow, playing on rocks and boulders, balance on logs, they are not going to gain an appreciation for nature. They are the future – they are the ones that are going to be taking care of this world once we are gone and they need to be exposed to it.

We’d be hard pressed to better describe the importance of Nature Explore. View the segment for yourself here.

Photo courtesy of Nature Explore.

San Francisco divide over non-native eucalyptus highlights urban forest challenges

While this space is not meant for resolving local disputes, the trade-offs cities face in urban forest management often yield insight for others.

628x471 (1)The debate in San Francisco over the fate of largely-invasive species in the 61-acre Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, is one of those cases.

The culprit is the eucalyptus, a non-native tree that offers a towering and majestic forest at the heart of the city – and severe headaches to neighboring University of California San Francisco, the landowner.

Leave it alone, say some nearby residents, citing the forest as a special reprieve from a dense metropolis. Cut (many) of the trees down, reply UCSF officials, citing infestation and the danger of fallen limbs and fire hazards.

UCSF has plans to replace the eucalyptus with native trees and grasses. A “leave things as they are” attitude that downplays management could amplify problems later. Some residents agree.

Divides over non-native species are not new. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a neighbor in nearby Marin County sued a neighbor to force removal of a eucalyptus after warnings from an arborist. Current and prospective Arbor Day Foundation members often inquire about whether the trees we ship are invasives – and sometimes what is thought to be invasive is in fact a related species that adapts much better.

A recent op-ed in the Chronicle seeks a broader perspective. Asks Joel Engardio: why should the city take on an expensive forest overhaul when the buses aren’t running on-time and parks are overdue for maintenance? It’s not clear from the reporting whether taxpayers or UCSF would foot the bill for the project, but perhaps the broader point still resonates.

Engardio says: by all means, take down individual trees that pose a threat. But can land management be done in a piecemeal way? Is what UCSF proposes too far-reaching?

Cities grow and change, as so forests. Questions like these are the inevitable result of that change.

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Images courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle

Automatic federal budget cuts could increase risk of wildfires

Absent resolution this week from Congress, across-the-board spending cuts are slated to hit just about everything the federal government does beginning March 1.

Known in some circles as the “sequester,” the policy – enacted in 2011 as part of a deal to address the nation’s debt payments – will take 5.3 percent from domestic discretionary spending, including the U.S. Forest Service portion of the Department of Agriculture budget.

In Nebraska, the across-the-board agency cuts would result in a $1.3 million reduction in clean air and water programs, among other impacts, wrote the Lincoln Journal Star’s Don Walton.

“The sequester does not target or prioritize,” he added.

As a result of this absence of priorities, programs that support preventive steps against wildfires in our nation’s forests will be affected, with $134 million taken out of the U.S. Forest Service’s Wildland Fire Management Program.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, warned of “increased risk to communities from wildfires, with as much as 200,000 fewer acres treated for hazardous fuels.”

Added Sandra Postel of the National Geographic Society: “That means dead trees, dry brush and other fire-starting materials will not be removed.

“That would be worrisome even in a normal year, but in a severe drought it could prove calamitous,” she continued.

Officials have already struggled to keep up with prevention in Colorado and the Mountain West. Abrupt budget cuts would likely make matters worse.

Here’s hoping for a timely solution that gives our hard-working forest professionals the budget certainty they need to do their jobs.