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Giving something back.

These unsung heroes have overcome hurdles from indifference to insolvency to make their cities greener.

What sparks people to devote themselves to work in the urban forest? Everyone has a different story.

* A man is energized by the sight of chainsaws near some old trees on city land in front of his house.

* A recent college grad takes a summer job that develops into a full-time career.

* A corporate manager hears about a new kind of community service.

* A volunteer worker attends a community meeting after a devastating hurricane.

* A retired woman wants to "give something back."

These anecdotes are clues to the inspiration that has launched just a few of the unsung heroes who are fueling the rapid expansion of the urban forestry movement. And their work is a perfect fit with AMERICAN FORESTS' Global ReLeaf campaign, started in 1988 in part to make our cities and towns more livable.

Americans today plant only one-fourth of the trees urban areas need to replace those that die naturally or are removed. Global ReLeaf, with the sweat of thousands of dedicated people around the country, is attacking this green deficit. The six women and men we've chosen to highlight here are making a real difference in the urban forest. In their individual ways--as members of citizen groups, a corporation, and state government--they're essential in the developing Global ReLeaf network.

Pepper Provenzano

As he approached his house one afternoon in 1987, Pepper Provenzano spotted trouble. In the adjacent block, six venerable ash trees had been cut down and hauled away.

When the chainsaw crew approached trees in front of Provenzano's house the next morning, he says he "went off the deep end." Two of those trees buffered his house from the dust, noise, and visual pollution of a busy street.

Provenzano, an editor for The Salt Lake Tribune, knew where to call--the city forester's office. That's when this nighttime newspaper editor got his first taste of urban forestry, which soon became his daytime passion.

Some of those street trees were disease-infested because of old age and having been topped to clear power lines. Provenzano sought an opinion from the Red Butte Garden and Arboretum. Result: A compromise saved some of the trees.

In the process, Provenzano learned that because of budget limits, the city forester had only a five-person crew to care for 45,000 or more city trees. The crew needed to remove some 800 trees yearly and could plant only 400 new ones. Provenzano also learned about successful nonprofit citizen-based groups in other cities that were planting and caring for trees. He told the Salt Lake City forestry board that it needed a similar group. Mary Pat Matheson (now president of the Arboretum) agreed and told him, "You should start it."

Provenzano didn't need further coaxing. He founded and became president of TreeUtah.

"Part of the magic of TreeUtah plantings," he says, "is that we get whole neighborhoods to help plant trees in front of their homes." And Provenzano never misses a chance to remind listeners that trees are the only parts of urban infrastructure that grow more valuable with time.

TreeUtah, a nonprofit organization, is dedicated to the planting and care of trees in and around the state's population centers. Its major goals are to foster civic pride and heighten public awareness of the value of trees. About 700 volunteers, for instance, turned out on a Saturday in the fall of 1990 to plant trees and shrubs on the watershed of Deer Creek Reservoir, which had been severely damaged by forest fire.

The organization gained national prominence when it was recognized in 1992 as one of President George Bush's "Points of Light." TreeUtah is also associated with the Alliance for Community Trees (ACT), a coalition of fiercely autonomous tree-planting groups across the nation.

Provenzano attributes TreeUtah's success to actions of people all across the state. "Here, as in pockets around the world," he says, "there's a quiet kind of spiritual awakening. Ordinary people are stepping forward. They realize the time to do something for the environment is now. Their example inspires other volunteers to do likewise."

Pepper's own No. 1 inspiration is his wife Denise. Calling his active life these days an "incredible juggling act," he credits Denise with being his "center of gravity." In addition to working part-time and running a small household that features two young children, Denise provides a much-needed support unit in this activist's busy life.

Dolores Reece

When Dolores Reece retired after 30 years with the U.S. Social Security Administration, she saw the need for a grassroots effort to bring neighbors together to "greenify" their Los Angeles neighborhoods. Reece had long believed in "giving something back," and she now had the time to follow through.

In 1987 she attended TreePeople's Citizen Forester Program to get the information and skills she needed. (Later she became a member of TreePeople's board of directors.)

Starting cold, Reece ran into a sea of indifference from potential donors when she requested money to help plant trees. She was not accustomed to people who say they'll do something and then don't come through.

Reece phoned Bob Kanner, chief engineer at nearby station KFTH. As Reece puts it, "A light went on." She realized a company would never write a check to private citizen Dolores Reece no matter how great her goals. So she founded Green Islands in the City, Inc., a nonprofit corporation, and became its executive director. She got a local board of directors, a logo (now registered), business cards, and a letterhead. She operates out of the den and kitchen of her home. Reece, a third-generation Californian, grew up in a big house with a yard. The condition of her community and its natural surroundings have always been important to her.

Reece has a talent for bringing together and motivating volunteers who feel a responsibility for their area but haven't moved beyond complaining about it. Among Green Island's objectives is the beautification of schools, traffic islands, and blighted areas. Reece looks at a traffic divider in a shopping mall and asks, "Why isn't this planted?"

Green Islands chooses sites for planting projects; selects appropriate trees, shrubs, and plants; arranges for the actual planting; and coordinates continuing maintenance. Dolores Reece gets commitments from people like Anthony and Cornella Green to water two trees outside their Sir Speedy print shop on La Cienega.

Reece, 61, says the older she gets, the more she sees how easy it is to criticize instead of doing something positive. The toughest part of her work? Red tape. But with goodwill and perseverance, Reece is getting things done. Pear trees grow on Sawyer, jacarandas on Guthrie, and liquidambars on the traffic island at Genesee and Fairfax.

"I need to keep reminding myself," she says, "that anytime we move five steps forward and slip back three, we're two ahead of where we were."

Kirk M. Brown

After his hitch in the U.S. Navy, Kirk Brown was aiming for a forestry career. He worked summers repairing portages for the U.S. Forest Service and majored in forestry at the University of Minnesota.

Upon graduation in 1977, he took a summer job with the Twin Cities Tree Trust (TCTT), which had been founded in Minneapolis-St. Paul only the year before. TCTT, at its outset, hired and trained disadvantaged youths to reforest public and low-income properties devastated by Dutch elm disease.

"We shouldn't underestimate," says Brown, "how the sight of all those big dead and dying elms affected people."

Brown had to write a report for the Tree Trust on the possibility of establishing a tree-planting program for adults. His recommendation was adopted by the organization, and he was hired full-time. By 1982, Brown had become TCTT's president, a position he still holds.

Most of the Tree Trust's spring, fall, and winter operation focuses on trees--planting, maintenance, and removal. The Tree Trust has been responsible for planting more than 30,000 balled-and-burlapped trees and more than 600,000 seedlings in the parks and open spaces in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.

Time for Trees is a TCTT statewide program that encourages, educates, and assists community groups to plant trees. It combines the resources of the Tree Trust with community initiative and volunteers.

"I'm constantly amazed," says Brown, "at how tree planting draws people together."

Another aspect of Time for Trees is a pilot program to teach the basics of urban forestry to students in 12 elementary schools.

During the summer, when tree planting isn't advisable, the Tree Trust does substantial landscape-construction projects. TCTT annually hires more than 800 disadvantaged youths from five counties and more than 900 adults from Hennepin County for work aimed at providing long-lasting benefits to various communities.

These projects have two basic goals: Employees must have challenging, worthwhile work; and communities must get quality results.

Most of the Tree Trust's funding comes from state and federal contracts. This money is administered by the counties in which the work is done and covers workers' wages and some of the cost of support and administration. The Tree Trust also gets support from foundations and corporations.

The state, counties, and municipalities request projects and provide all necessary materials. The Tree Trust designs each project and provides a trained and supervised crew, which completes the job to high standards. Communities get projects they otherwise could not afford.

"The success of Tree Trust is certainly not the result of one person's work," says Brown. "It's the result of many dedicated individuals who believe in the cause, and many municipal professionals who have staked their reputations on the belief that disadvantaged youth and adults can help their community while helping themselves."

Lydia Evans

When Hurricane Hugo blasted Charleston, South Carolina, on September 21, 1989, it clobbered not only houses and other buildings but also the city's trees. Ironically, groups concerned about the area's need for urban reforestation had already scheduled a meeting.

Hugo's aftermath delayed the meeting slightly but greatly boosted interest. Representatives of many civic, business, and government groups showed up. Among them was Lydia Evans, a public-affairs volunteer for the Junior League of Charleston. This was the first meeting of what was soon to become Lowcountry ReLEAF.

Evans got the job of chairing a task force to plan Arbor Day ceremonies for December 1, 1989, in each of 35 communities in the Lowcountry area--Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties.

Evans accepted an offer by Lowcountry ReLEAF's emerging leadership to be its executive director and started in January 1990. Lowcountry ReLEAF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees in the tri-county area and to raising public awareness about their care and significant values.

Evans and her group, among other accomplishments, have planted 3,700 large trees (caliper of 1 1/2 to 3 inches) and distributed 650,000 seedlings. They've also started a nursery for hardwood trees.

After long conversations with Andy and Katie Lipkis and Jim Hardie of TreePeople in Los Angeles, Evans founded ShadeMaker, which she calls "my baby." The 20-hour training course broken down into seven sessions offers community members substantial training in urban forestry.

Groups that have provided technical expertise and other resources for ShadeMaker include the South Carolina Forestry Commission, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Clemson University Extension Service.

ShadeMaker's emphasis is on creating successful partnerships within each community by bringing residents together with people from local government and businesses.

"It's generally easier to get trees planted than to get them watered so they'll survive," says Evans. "One neighborhood group asked around and found an older couple that not only had access to a water truck but also was eager to water trees in their area."

Tuition to the once-a-year ShadeMaker course has so far been free.

"Maybe that's a mistake," says Evans. "We think people might take the course and their commitment more seriously if they had to pay a nominal fee." Course graduates are qualified to organize their own neighborhood tree-planting projects.

What surprises Evans most in her work is that practically everyone can relate to it. In talking with prospects, she refers to her group as "the tree-planting people."

"I believe the most effective way to make a permanent impact on the urban forest," says Evans, "is to work with communities from the inside out. We can't just go in and plant trees and move on."

Don L. Mueller

Plenty of job security was something Don Mueller had while combating the gypsy moth for Minnesota's Department of Agriculture. Then the posting of a job in Texas caught his attention.

Since May 1991, Mueller has been urban forestry coordinator for the Texas Forest Service. Mueller says he benefits from the organization already put in place by his supervisor and coworkers.

"It's an ideal framework from which to deliver the state's program of urban and community forestry," he says. "We have a topnotch staff at all levels. We work very closely with the Texas Urban Forestry Council, a statewide network of regional councils, individual communities, and civic organizations."

Mueller says his agency's work in urban forestry has bipartisan political support that continues to strengthen. And he notes that he and his colleagues have greatly increased the effectiveness of their program by forming alliances with compatible groups.

"I supervise seven regional urban foresters and work with other agency foresters who help deliver technical assistance and grants," Mueller says. He coordinates training and continuing-education opportunities in urban forestry, and he helps administer grant programs for the Small Business Administration.

One of Mueller's big challenges is the sheer size of his adopted state. From his College Station office, he typically drives hundreds of miles to attend most meetings. And if the meeting is in El Paso, he's in for a 1,400-mile drive.

Says Mueller: "I love the variety of the work in Texas, and I'm surprised at the variety of trees. There's a tremendous momentum for urban forestry in this state. The spirit of volunteerism is strong, and almost every community of any size has a civic group that can embrace urban forestry as either its sole function or part of a broader mission."

Eric Graves

Eric Graves was a seasoned planner and manager of community-service campaigns for Texaco--U.S. Public & Government Affairs in and around Houston. When his boss learned through corporate channels from New York that the company wanted to get involved in tree planting in selected communities, he thought of Graves. Graves had distinguished himself through his ability to involve both company and community people in complicated projects that benefited the Houston area.

The idea was for Texaco, in cooperation with AMERICAN FORESTS' Global ReLeaf campaign, to make a significant impact on communities in which the company has facilities. The program was to become known as The Texaco/Global ReLeaf Urban Tree Initiative.

Graves and his counterparts in the company's New Orleans and Denver offices received their mission and a budget, and had to rapidly develop detailed plans.

Almost nothing in a Graves plan is left to chance. On the checklist is everything from rights-of-way permissions to tools and work gloves.

"In brief," says Graves, "Global ReLeaf, through competitive bids, finds trees to fit the plan we engineer." The trees Texaco buys must be at least six feet tall for immediate impact, and they must be suitable for each specific site the company approves.

Another must for each plan is the direct involvement of Texaco volunteers. Employees sign up well in advance and receive thorough training, some as crew chiefs. The company goes all out to show its appreciation to its volunteers. Texaco employees are encouraged to register family members for the event. Some people arrive on chartered buses, and parking space is provided for volunteers who drive their cars. Color-coded maps tell each team member where to report.

The company supplies a continental breakfast before work starts. Actual planting is scheduled to take about four hours of hard work in an enjoyable and friendly group.

"Then," says Graves, "Texaco provides lunch for everybody, and we all have a big family picnic under the trees we just planted." An essential part of the company's commitment is that each plan must provide for maintaining trees for three years to ensure that they are well established.

Texaco's tree planting is favorably received by its communities (about a dozen so far), and the results have won recognition and awards.

Graves, after getting the program rolling in Houston, took the offer of a transfer to Denver. There he also plans and manages tree-planting events. Of all the community-service activities Texaco gets involved in, he says, no other develops such "unbridled enthusiasm."

After a checkered career on the editorial staffs of a variety of outdoor magazines and book publishers, Chet Fish is now a gentleman writer/consultant from his home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Forests
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:making cities greener
Author:Fish, Chet
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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