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.


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.

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.

At Partners in Community Forestry Conference, trees seen as central to great cities

Last week, I joined a number of my colleagues in attending the 2012 Partners in Community Forestry Conference in Sacramento, California.

The Foundation sponsors the now-annual gathering, which gives urban forestry professionals from around the country the chance to reconnect with peers and share best practices.

Increasingly, community trees and how we care for them are seen as integral to effective growth and development and improved quality-of-life in our nation’s cities.

California, with 95 percent of its population in urban areas, is at the forefront of that discussion, due in part to two recent state laws.

The first, AB 32, requires California to develop a plan for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. The second, SB 375, asks communities to build housing and transportation system in ways that further those emission reduction goals. Growing and maintaining tree-rich neighborhoods is part of how these laws will be implemented.

“It’s sort of a one-two punch going on there,” said presenter Connie Gallippi, senior policy consultant for the Sacramento-based Conservation Strategy Group. “I think we’ll see a good deal of funding come into urban forestry from this.”

I had a chance to see these opportunities during a walking tour of two of Sacramento’s neighbors: Davis and West Sacramento. Though reduced to one full-time city forester, Davis has a robust and healthy tree canopy and an involved citizenry. West Sacramento got a later start, but is in the midst of a number of innovative projects, including planting along major thoroughfares and in medians to enhance commercial districts and improve storm water management.

But whether it’s the shading of our homes, cleaner air, vibrant main streets or improved health – none of these benefits will reach their potential unless they are communicated to a broader audience.

“We’re good at putting our programs together and being successful and really poor at telling our story,” said Ray Tretheway, executive director of the Sacramento Tree Foundation. (He’s also a past Sacramento City Council member and Arbor Day Award winner).

The tie-in to regional planning and great cities almost writes itself, if only urban forestry advocates make their stories known to the right people.

Despite tough financial times, “money still follows great ideas and the people behind them,” said panelist Craig McMurray, managing director of corporate development for Capital Public Radio.

That summarizes the sentiment of the conference well: big challenges, coupled with enormous opportunity.

Participants compare notes during general session.

All photos courtesy of Karina Helm of the Arbor Day Foundation.

New study links urban trees to lower crime

Many people have personal experience with the crime-fighting potential of urban trees.

Photo courtesy of Baltimore Brew.

Just ask the New Jersey Tree Foundation – recognized with an Arbor Day Award in 2011 for their tree-planting initiatives in some of the state’s toughest neighborhoods.

Now, a new study conducted in Maryland’s Baltimore County and City, provides numbers to back up what neighbors have already seen for themselves.

According to the study in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, the frequency of crime in both the City and County decreased as the number of trees increased. Overall, a ten percent increase in tree canopy was associated with a 12 percent drop in crime.

The State of Maryland has been pioneering in its support of urban forestry, due in large part to the leadership of Governor Martin O’Malley.

While proving a direct causation is nearly impossible to do, Baltimore officials and the study’s authors have speculated that the shading effect of a robust tree canopy both encourages neighbors to spend more time outside and offers the impression of a community where people take care of their surrounding and each other.

Both factors would be expected to push away gangs, drugs and other criminal activity.

Data like this offers yet another reminder of the importance of professional and well-funded urban forestry programs. According to the Baltimore Sun, the city arborist’s budget has been cut from $4.4 million to $2.9 million the last two years. Baltimore has recovered some of the money through the help of other agencies and non-profits, but imprudent budget cuts can easily lead to greater costs down the road.

In awarding the New Jersey Tree Foundation last year, we told the story of long-time Camden resident Sheila Roberts and the changes on her block that resulted from newly-planted trees.

“My neighborhood is now one of Camden’s most desired places to live,” she said. “People ask me all the time: ‘how did you do it?’ I always say the same thing: it all started with the trees.”

The Baltimore Sun has more about the study, which was co-authored by an ecologist from the U.S. Forest Service.

Alaska plans Arbor Day around small window for spring planting

A little less than a month ago, Scoutmaster Duane Robison traveled to Nebraska to accept an Arbor Day Award on behalf of Boy Scout Troop 367 and Cup Scout Troop 367 for their  contribution to the 2011 Arbor Day Celebration in small-town Palmer.

Today, Palmer joins the Mat-Su Valley and the entire state of Alaska in marking the tree-planting holiday once more. Facing long and dark winters, Alaskans have a small window for getting new trees in the ground.

“We try to get the planting in when we can,” Robison said.

Last year, one hundred people came out for Palmer’s celebration from a variety of organizations. The youngest participant was a 7-year-old Tiger Cub from the Cub Scouts, who planted trees with a 97-year-old World War II veteran. The Scouts also helped establish a Veteran’s Grove in the heart of downtown Palmer and on the grounds of the local Alaska Veterans and Pioneers Home.

Alaska’s Division of Forestry stresses that trees and forests are “important to our way of life in Alaska, and as our towns grow, the value of trees increases.”

According to the state forestry officials, some towns in Alaska have lost as much as 40 percent of their tree canopy, hindering the ability to maintain clean air, safe drinking water and quality-of-life. The state has two full-time urban forestry staffers and a 5-year blueprint for improved community tree management.

The State of Alaska is currently home to 8 Tree City USA communities, accounting for 388,293 people. The largest Tree City USA in Alaska is Anchorage, population 286,174; the smallest is Eielson Air Force Base, population 2,740.

Here is our video about Troop 367 and Pack 367 from last month’s award.

Washington Post surveys efforts to preserve pine trees and the ecosystem they support

One of last month’s recipients of a 2012 Arbor Day Award was the Greater Yellowstone Whitebark Pine Committee, a multi-agency partnership to alleviate threats to the critically endangered whitebark pine tree in America’s mountain west.

The stakes are high. Without sufficient action to keep pine trees vital, a major source of our nation’s fresh water is at risk.

Earlier this week, Washington Post environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin wrote about a variety of strategies the U.S. Forest Service has pursued to protect pine trees and the critical habitat they support. The challenge has been heightened by an increase in beetle infestation brought on by a warming climate

Drought, whitebark blister rust and competition with other tree species are related threats facing both the whitebark and several other species of pine.

The whitebark pine tree was recently determined to be warranted for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. A number of groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, are working toward getting the species officially added to that list.

According to Eilperin, federal officials are in a race against the climate to figure out how to best protect and preserve vital benefits.

Scientists know that global warming will reshape these forests, which provide crucial habitat and food for key species, curb soil erosion and slow melting snow destined for local water supplies. What they don’t yet understand is which trees are best poised to survive under these changed conditions and how they can help them adapt in the decades to come.

One strategy currently being pursued is the deployment of pheromones to send insects a false signal that a tree has already been mass-attacked, prompting the beetle to move on. “It’s like we draw them in and we tell them, ‘The hotel’s full,’” Jeff Witcosky, a Forest Service official, told Eilperin.

Another strategy Eilperin discusses is the collection and storage of seeds from high-elevation pine trees, one of the areas in which the Greater Whitebark Pine Committee has participated. The seeds are an insurance policy in case direct combat against infestation is unsuccessful.

Read the whole story here. And, check out our short video about the Greater Yellowstone Whitebark Pine Committee below.

Partnerships central to Arbor Day Awards, inspiration for top honor to U.S. Forest Service

This year’s Arbor Day Awards, held at Lied Lodge & Conference Center on Saturday, April 28, took on a special meaning due to the 40 the anniversary of the Arbor Day Foundation and the 140th year of the tree planting holiday.

John Rosenow, founder and chief executive, noted that the first Arbor Day Awards were presented on the east portico of Arbor Lodge in 1972.

“A lot has happened in the tree planting world in the four decades since – both extraordinary accomplishments, and trends best reversed,” he said, echoing similar themes from an op-ed published in the Dallas Morning News the previous day.

The Arbor Day Foundation has been able to make progress on replanting in our nation’s forests, investing in effective management of community trees and other priorities in the past 40 years because of our strong partners. The invaluable contribution of Foundation partners was the inspiration behind our highest honor this year: A Legacy of Partnership Award for the United States Forest Service.

With the Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters, the U.S. Forest Service in 1976 launched Tree City USA to provide resources and recognition to communities for sustained investments in tree management and care. Today, more than 140 million Americans in 3,500 communities live in a Tree City USA.

The U.S. Forest Service has supported the planting of 24 million trees in more than 60 of our national forests, in partnership with the Foundation. The agency was also instrumental in the construction of Lied Lodge and Conference Center at Arbor Day Farm, where many of the Foundation’s core principles come to life.

The U.S. Forest Service was represented at the Arbor Day Awards by Deputy Chief Leslie Weldon, who was one of only two speakers during the presentation – Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was the other.

The short film prepared by the Foundation speaks to our enduring partnership, as well as the agency’s work with local stakeholders in its earlier years conserving land for future generations and collaborations with the Civilian Conservation Corps and Veterans Administration to create jobs.

You read more about all 16 of our 2012 Arbor Day Award winners and watch the short videos we put together here.

Governor O’Malley tells fellow Arbor Day Award winners “reversing deforestation is complicated; planting a tree is simple”

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was among the 16 organizations and individuals honored with an Arbor Day Award this past weekend.

He received the inaugural Vision Award, in recognition of his extraordinary work promoting urban and forestland conservation and planting.

The Governor stressed the importance of planting trees in his acceptance speech on Saturday in Nebraska City, recalling the story of the child who asks her grandfather about the best time to plant a tree.

Her grandfather says, “Well, it takes time for those roots to go deep and for branches to spread… and so the most important time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.” And the little girl asks, “Well, when is the next best time to plant a tree?” The grandfather responds:”Right now.”

He also put his own spin on the often ideologically charged term “pro-growth,” broadening it to include growth in opportunity, quality-of-life and the enjoyment of earth’s bounty. “In Maryland,” the Governor said, “we consider ourselves pro-growth Americans.”

You see, we believe in growing jobs, and growing opportunity. Like you, we believe in children growing healthy, growing educated, and growing strong. We believe in grandparents growing old with dignity and love. Like you we believe in growing trees, growing stream buffers, growing food for a hungry world.

Governor O’Malley shared his remarks on the Huffington Post yesterday. Below is the video the Foundation put together detailing his accomplishments.

Western states sport forests in vast mountain ranges and dense urban centers

(Ed. Note: 24 states celebrate Arbor Day on the last Friday in April, the same date as National Arbor Day, which this year falls on the 27th. This week, we’ll be highlighting what a variety of regions are doing to prepare for the tree-planting holiday. Today, we will feature Western states; Monday was New England; yesterday was the Mid-Atlantic; Thursday the Midwest; and Friday the Great Plains.)

Four Western States – Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah – and one Southwestern State – Texas – are among the two dozen whose state Arbor Day celebration coincides with the national holiday this Friday. Tree-lined Boise, the capital of Idaho, is pictured above.

While information on Arbor Day activities from state officials is limited, residents are encouraged to take advantage of the arbordaynow.org Volunteer Center.


The Montana, Wyoming and Idaho-based Greater Yellowstone Whitebark Pine Committee is one of 16 individuals and organizations being recognized by the Foundation at the annual Arbor Day Awards.

Whitebark pine trees are critical to the ecosystem of the Greater Yellowstone Area, but the species faces several threats, including white pine blister rust, increasing mountain pine beetle outbreaks and competition from other forest species. The Greater Yellowstone Whitebark Pine Committee has been effective at beginning to address those threats.

The State of Idaho is currently home to 71 Tree City USA communities, accounting for nearly one million people. The largest Tree City USA in Idaho is Boise, population 205,314; the smallest is Menan, population 102.


Montana, a name derived from the Spanish word for mountains, is about one-third mountain ranges. It is one of the least populous states in the country, sending only one representative to the U.S. House, despite covering 150,000 square miles.

Gallatin National Forest covers more than two million acres in south central Montana. The forest has been the focus of replanting efforts led by the Foundation and Enterprise. Bitteroot National Forest has also been targeted for replanting.

The State of Montana is currently home to 42 Tree City USA communities, accounting for nearly half a million people. The largest Tree City USA in Montana is Billings, population 105,845; the smallest is Drummond, population 325.


The Silver State is vast and mountainous, with the bulk of its people condensed into large metropolitan areas like Las Vegas and Reno. Nevada also sports some of the hottest and driest temperatures in the country. The shading effect of a well-placed tree is invaluable.

The State of Nevada is currently home to 12 Tree City USA communities, accounting for 1.3 million people. The largest Tree City USA in Nevada is Las Vegas, population 606,846; the smallest is Nas Fallon, population 3,000.


The Beehive State has large patches of uninhabited land, much of which is owned by the Federal Government. While dispersed on the whole, Utah is in fact one of the more urbanized states in the country. It is also among the fastest-growing.

Utah joins a number of states in offering an Arbor Day poster contest for children.

The State of Utah is currently home to 77 Tree City USA communities, accounting for 1.8 million people. The largest Tree City USA in Utah is Salt Lake City, population 174,000; the smallest is New Harmony, population 209.


In February, we wrote about the Lone Star State’s loss of 5.6 million urban trees this year due to drought. Fortunately, many of the largest cities in Texas are making a concerted effort to plant and nurture their trees.

The Committed to Community Growth Program, a project of Irving-based TXU Energy, is also receiving an Arbor Day Award this weekend in recognition of its effective partnership to improve the tree canopy in population-rich North Texas.

The State of Texas is currently home to 72 Tree City USA communities, accounting for 10 million people. The largest Tree City USA in Texas is Houston, population 2.3 million; the smallest is Buffalo Gap, population 463.