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A tree named Fletcher.

Arbor Day attitudes, youthful energy, and a motivated Tree Committee are planting green, growing life in this high-desert city.

In the ancient capital city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, are four people dedicated to planting trees. Lots and lots of trees. And like most other cities in the United States, Santa Fe can use all the trees it can get.

In 1986 four Santa Fe conservationists, inspired by their involvement in the local bioregional movement and anxious to take immediate environmental action, formed The tree Committee. With spouses, friends, and anyone else they can recruit, they are enthusiastically applying themselves to holding back the desert, holding down the soil, and regreening Santa Fe by plating the much-needed trees. The act of planting trees, they believe, is a simple, direct, and positive statement for conservation and for the future. And their success as a grassroots ("tree roots!" they insist) organization can be an inspiration to action-oriented groups everywhere.

The tree Committee members have diverse backgrounds but work well together. Anna Bryson, a former teachers, has a knack for fund-raising and, as she puts it, is "always good for a couple of volunteers." Le Adams uses the knowledge and dedication she employs in her work at the Trust for Public Land. Larry Toth, a horticulturist and owner of Blue Corn Nursery, brings his technical expertise to the care of the trees. Fletcher Dean (who recently left New Mexico for Vermont) brings to the effort his skills in public relations, logistics, and "general cheerleading." Dean says, "All decisions are by consensus" and that all four share a love for the earth.

Santa Fe is a place that inspires love in many people, both enraptured visitors and contented natives. It is known by the general description of "high desert." (See the article that follows, "Designing the Ecological City," for an expanded look at how trees can shape the ecology of arid cities and urban environments in general.) The term describes an area where evaporation precedes precipitation at a high-plateau altitude (Santa Fe's elevation is 7,000 feet). A more accurate description, however, is "pinon-juniper woodland." The uncultivated areas of the city are covered by low-growing scrub pinon and juniper. But this growth did not occur naturally.

Santa Fe and the surrounding area were once savannah-like, covered in tall, heavy grasses so thick that hay could be made from them. The juniper and pinon grew tall, more like trees than the shrub-like vegetation they are today, and were mixed with abundant ponderosa pine. The Spanish explorers of the 1500s and 1600s brought with them thousands of head of livestock, which adapted quickly to the excellent feed conditions. Spanish settlers, following the conquistadors, were attracted by those heavy grasslands and the moderate climate - late winters and early springs - that made an ideal place for their horse-breeding endeavors and for grazing vast herds of sheep and cattle. Legend tells us that the Native Americans, aware of the newly arrived Spanish, noticed the movement of the high grass on a windless day and parted the grass to discover completely hidden sheep!

But the late 1986s overgrazing and overuse had caused the grass to die out. The ponderosa pine had been logged, never to return to the lower elevations of 5,000 to 7,000 feet. And since that time, Santa Fe has had an erosion problem - dry and fragile topsoil, a lack of vegetation, strong winds.

The Tree Committee's original intent was to plants thousands of trees. "It seemed overwhelming," says Dean, "but then we began to think of it in terms of giving thousands of school-children one seedling each." And so the Committees's first goal became that of reawakening the interest of school-children in Arbor Day.

As Dean explains, "I think children today are angry about the world they're going to inherit. They can be tremendously alienated from their mother earth. Witness how much time they spend watching TV or playing video games. If we expect them to help us clean up this mess (environmental damage), they've got to care first. One step toward that bonding with the earth is to give them a tree to plant and nurture."

During the first revitalized Arbor Day celebration in 1986, the Committee distributed 500 seedlings. That number was doubled the next year, and in 1988, 4,000 trees were distributed to excited children.

Administrators, teachers, and children have now enthusiastically taken up the celebration of Arbor Day. Ceremonies are held to plant six- to eight-foot "ceremonial" trees, grown in the Committee's nursery, on playgrounds. The children participate with delight, not only helping to shovel soil and water newly planted trees but also writing poetry, planning the ceremonies, and learning about the environment where their trees will grow.

And although Arbor Day has never become firmly rooted in America as a major celebration, many adults fondly remember the Arbor Days in which they participated as children and still point with pride to the trees they planted years ago. These people are the focus of The Tree Committees's second goal: saving existing young trees from destruction during land-clearing and building projects.

Dean says his personal goal was for the Committee to "become a credible office to which developers must report before any piece of land is destroyed, so that we could salvage trees to be replanted elsewhere. Sadly, I've seen too many piles of plowed-up trees at construction sites." Though it has not yet achieved that sort of civic strength, the Committee has managed to save a significant number of trees by making people aware that trees can be moved and replanted, rather than needlessly destroyed.

The Committee's "tree orphanage" on land donated by John Stephenson, a Santa Fe, philanthropist, harbors rescued trees until they are made available to nonprofit organizations or used for ceremonial Arbor Day plantings. The nursery began with "30 little cottonwoods," says Anna Bryson, and now covers one-third of an acre installed with drip irrigation. She finds satisfaction in using rescued Russian olives, ponderosa pine, and cottonwoods in her work with the "Living Treasures" program in which older Santa Fe citizens are honored for their lifetime achievements. A tree is planted in each person's name, a most appropriated way to honor both human and tree.

As an organization, The Tree Committee was started simply and expanded rather easily. "We didn't wait for a big office and a secretary and grants," says Bryson. "We just went ahead and worked."

Dean suggests that those inserted in starting Tree Committees gather seedlings, containers, and soil from nurseries and chain stores, from landowners who are clearing property or thinning trees, and from nursery supply houses. "We found that if children pay 50 cents apiece, it covers the purchase cost and gives them greater incentive to care for the tree."

Dean also suggests that new tree committees "keep it light, have fun with it," and he stresses the importance of volunteers enjoying their work and feeling a sense of accomplishment. "This is one of the most nonpolitical, yet powerfully important, jobs you can do today. Educate yourself about all aspects of trees, then start publicizing and talking about it - often!"

In its three years of work, The Tree Committee has been able to achieve success in both planting thousands of trees and in making Santa Fe aware of the necessity of healthy trees and a greener city. Its work with children has been the most rewarding, as these youngsters will grow up with a better understanding of nature and a deeper respect for the earth. They will be powerfully aware of the good that can be accomplished by the simple act of planting and caring for a tree.

Each Committee member has developed a stronger sense of the powerful influence he or she has on improving the environment and righting ecological wrongs. For Fletcher Dean, his moment of personal satisfaction came last Arbor Day, as the Committee members stood in a schoolyard watching excited children hurrying toward home with their trees seedlings. One of the teachers had suggested that the children name their trees.

"Since I have an unusual name," Dean says, "and had spoken briefly to the assembled students during the ceremony, one young boy looked up at me and asked my name again. He and his buddies giggled as I replied, 'Fletcher.'

" 'That's what I'm going to name my tree,' he said."

Arbor Day Kit

Planning an Arbor Day event? AFA's global ReLeaf Arbor Day kit contains everything you'll need to plan an publicize your Arbor Day festivities. It can be used for this year's Arbor Day, or, if Arbor Day has already passed in your state (see "Arbor Days Across the Nation" on page 74, now's the time to start planning for next year. But why wait for Arbor Day? This kit will help you pull off any tree-related event, and at the same time, you'll be helping AFA in its ambitious program of getting 100 million trees in the ground and growing by 1992. Read more about AFA's global ReLeaf program in "AFA Action" on pages 12-13.

Here's a sampling of what the Global ReLeaf Arbor Day kit has for you:

* Ideas for Arbor Day events

* List of state ReLeaf coordinators

* Whereas to get technical assistance

* Samples media advisory

* Arbor Day song list

* Sample feature article for local media

* Checklist for a press conference

* Global ReLeaf poster

* Global ReLeaf/Arbor Day proclamation and resolution
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Forests
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related information; tree planting in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Author:Sheasby, Kimberly
Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 1, 1989
Previous Article:The pear-thrips factor; a humorous look at tree farming on a shoestring, with some advice for fellow innocents.
Next Article:Designing the ecological city.

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