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Mr. Bush and his billion trees.

Mr. Bush and His Billion Trees

Washington wags are calling President Bush's new tree-planting campaign the "Thousand Points of Shade." Though it trivializes the President's call for greening of America, the appellation is apt. The success of his plan to plant a billion trees a year rests on volunteers, or Points of Light in the Bush lexicon.

The crucial role of volunteers is one of the few certainties about the America the Beautiful plan, for many of the details are still in the making.

Friendly kibitzers might worry, for example, whether the President can reach his 1991 goal of planting four trees for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. And then do it again - plant another billion - every year for "the next several years" or "10 years" (both phrases have been bandied about).

Unfriendly kibitzers scrutinizing the plan might suspect, as one pundit has observed, that there is "less grand design to what goes on inside the White House than most people assume."

But if so, the intention is laudable. No matter how many trees end up planted (the White House is still trying to figure out how to keep an accurate count), our children and grandchildren will thank President George Bush.

The odds are in his favor. When a President of the United States blesses a program with his personal stamp of approval, the federal government tends to snap to and get the job done. No matter how awesome.

Americans have already demonstrated their eagerness to plant trees. As a Forest Service fact sheet on America the Beautiful points out, "Several successful volunteer [tree-planting] efforts by the private sector are already underway, such as [the] American Forestry Association's Global ReLeaf campaign."

To be sure, one White House official told me, there's no point in working out the details until you have all your ducks in a row. Until Congress decides how much to allocate to America the Beautiful, why spend the taxpayer's dollar dotting every i and crossing every t.

Briefly, here is what the White House proposes:

Two-thirds of the $630 million budgeted for America the Beautiful will go to expanding our public lands and protecting our natural resources. The Department of the Interior will administer this piece of the pie.

The Department of Agriculture is to be the lead agency for the other third - the tree part - with a budget of $175 million for 1991. The tree plan will in turn have a rural slice ($110 million) and an urban slice ($30 million) with an additional $35 million for establishing a private foundation.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Patricia Kearney will manage day-to-day policy for the relevant Ag agencies. For the rural part, she told me, "private citizens will go to the Soil Conservation Service, Forest Service, and Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service to see what land is eligible."

Much of it will be environmentally sensitive or economically marginal cropland and pasture - acreage included in the Conservation Reserve Program.

For other treeless land, the White House is considering a suggestion by Dallas developer Trammell Crow, named by President Bush as a pioneer in the greening effort, to reforest the borders and median strips of America's highways.

Private landowners who convert to trees may be reimbursed for 50 percent (or up to 75 percent) of the cost of purchasing and planting, though this is one of the t's still to be crossed.

Federal personnel increases will be modest since the existing delivery system - the SCS, ASCS, Forest Service, and state foresters - will be utilized to process applications, distribute cost-sharing funds, and provide technical assistance.

Do we have enough seedlings? The Forest Service insists that state and industry nurseries, along with private firms, are capable of gearing up to meet demand.

Now for the urban slice: In the 1980s, the government's support for the relatively young environmental science of urban forestry averaged $2.5 million a year. The America the Beautiful budget calls for a dramatic expansion.

The federal dollars will go to provide leadership, coordination, promotion, marketing, and technical assistance to help achieve the urban goal of 30 million trees a year. Tony Dorrell, who heads up the Forest Service's role in America the Beautiful, told me, "We won't try to reinvent the wheel. We'll use successful models already going on like the Tree People in Los Angeles."

Dorrell added that the approach will be highly variable. "We'll size up different communities and see where they are right now and whether they need to start from scratch or build from something already going on."

Decisions will not be made in Washington, he insisted. The community "Plant a Tree" initiative will be a partnership with state foresters and local organizations.

National leadership will be shared by the Forest Service and a new private foundation, the National Tree Trust, to be capitalized by one-time appropriation of $35 million (that is, over half of the urban tree slice).

With a blue ribbon board of prominent Americans appointed by Bush, the Tree Trust's job will consist of raising funds from the private sector (corporations and communities), promoting public awareness, and mobilizing individual volunteers, businesses, civic groups, and local governments in America's 40,000 cities and towns. The big bucks are intended to encourage an all-out volunteer contribution of labor and funds to plant street trees on curbsides and lawns and to reforest local parks.

"The foundation will go out and aggressively leverage private fund," said Ag's Pat Kearney. "We would like to see the $35 million matched on a one-to-two or even one-to-three basis." In other words, the Tree Trust's goal will be approximately $100 million in private contributions. How the money will be doled out is one of the details to be worked out by the Tree Trust's board.

"There will be no one formula in such a massive undertaking," she said. "The government will send out a set of materials that educate communities on how to go about putting projects together." When people call in, they will be directed to any one of a number of national groups that will all have the same basic how-to packet.

Organizers at the local level will vary from town to town. In one case it might be the Boy Scouts; in another, the state forester. However it works, Kearney insisted, the local group will take the credit.

So that's the plan. Now how did it come about?

White House staffer Emily Mead credits Robert Grady, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), with putting together the original idea. During the 1988 Bush campaign, Bob Grady was the one consulted when environmental issues came up. Grady told me that Bush outlined the idea for the land acquisition part of America the Beautiful during a speech in San Diego.

The tree planting part came about when OMB was pulling together the 1991 budget. "We talked about how we might address global climate change," Grady said. "There are a number of policies that make sense on their own merits, regardless of how the debate on climate change turns out. One is reforestation."

In midsummer of 1989, the White House called on the American Forestry Association for tree information. Subsequently, in November, five representatives of AFA - Don Willeke, Bob Skiera, Neil Sampson, Gary Moll, and Gerry Gray - met with Bob Grady and White House staffers James Pinkerton, Emily Mead, and four others (see American Forests, January/February 1990). During the two-hour meeting, AFA was asked for more information on how to involve citizens in tree planting. Since then, there has been a constant exchange of information with the White House.

"We've met with AFA on a number of occasions and been enormously impressed with Global ReLeaf - the ideas behind it and the enthusiasm it's been greeted with around the country," Bob Grady told me. "We would hope that AFA would help provide the foundation [Tree Trust] with technical expertise to help us get communities involved. Perhaps the foundation can provide some of the resources to take the Global ReLeaf idea and expand it even further."

On August 3, the White House initiated a series of meetings with the departments of Agriculture and Interior to flesh out the reforestation and land acquisition aspects. The Environmental Protection Agency participated in ancillary discussions on expanding climate research.

According to Grady, part of the impetus for America the Beautiful came from requests the White House was receiving from major corporations and private individuals ready to make a contribution. "The paper industry and forest industry," he added," approached the President with offers of help."

In February of this year, Time magazine reported a related development. A nonprofit corporation called the Earth Corps had been established, funded by private donations. Headed by John Wheeler, the man responsible for the success of the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial, the Earth Corps will recruit young men and women - mostly the poor - whose job will be reforesting the nation. Other tasks will include firefighting, protecting wetlands, and cleaning up oil spills.

Time reported that Jim Pinkerton, a 31-year-old deputy assistant in the White House, "hatched" the idea. Whether it was Pinkerton's "inspiration," as the columnist reported, has since come under some dispute. However the idea originated, the Earth Corps is not a government agency and therefore made its debut through the Time column rather than an official announcement.

As for America the Beautiful, Bush announced it during the State of the Union message in late January. Subsequently, on March 22, he sent legislation to Congress to establish the Tree Trust. He and Mrs. Bush commemorated the event by planting an eastern redbud on the south lawn of the White House. Unfortunately, the press failed to note the Tree Trust announcement and instead focused on Bush's reply to a reporter who asked - irrelevantly - about the President's famed dislike for broccoli.

America the Beautiful will no doubt garner its share of press as the legislation makes its way through Congress. The White House's objective is to get the program out of Congress and up and running by the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. After that, the challenge for Bush will be to mobilize the public to plant those first billion trees in 1991.

During an interview following the March tree planting, Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter told me, "I think every member of Congress realizes that this is a winner. Politically, it has no downside. Some of them have their own views as to what should be done legislatively, and those views may not be fully consistent with ours, but certainly the overall thrust and motivation are comparable." Yeutter went on to explain that some members of Congress are considering programs that are "unrealistic during a time of budget austerity."

Senators Richard Lugar (IN) and Patrick Leahy (VT), chairman of the agriculture committee, are co-sponsoring the Bush legislation. In a letter calling for additional co-sponsors; the senators wrote that they look forward to "sending a clear signal to the international community that the United States is prepared to move to address the threat of global climate change."

Criticism on the Hill has been muted. Rep. Harold Volkmer (MO) told me, "The House has already spoken that we want to encourage more tree planting. There's no question in my mind that they've just picked up on what we've already done. You'll find the most of the things he's now proposing we've already proposed last year."

Agriculture's Pat Kearney admitted that the urban forestry bill introduced by Rep. James Jontz (IN), the global warming bill introduced by Rep. Claudine Schneider (RI), and Senator Leahy's global warming bill "all contain elements of the legislation that will be part of the initiative."

But Rep. Jontz for one echoed a complaint voiced by some environmentalists that the President is planting trees with one hand and cutting them with the other. "With the President's proposal," Jontz said, "trees are finally receiving the attention they deserve as the most cost-effective means of addressing the global warming problem. But to be reasonable stewards of our nation's environment, we must also take steps to stop the destruction of our remaining old growth ancient forests."

Public response has been guarded. Early on, environmental groups viewed the land acquisition part of America the Beautiful with some suspicion. Calling it a public relations gimmick, the Wilderness Society charged that the government is simply shuffling funds around rather than committing new money to the environment.

Rep. Bruce Vento (MN) went so far as to charge, as reported in the Washington Post, "They want to buy a whole new image and a whole new program, and they're trying to do it on the cheap."

Whether the tree initiative is vulnerable to a similar criticism depends on the intricacies of budget interpretation. Some charge that the administration's budget reflects a reduced commitment to reforesting our national forests. The Forest Service replies that the reforestation budget has actually been increased.

For their part, professional foresters are backing the President's plan. Arthur Smyth, the newly elected president of the Society of American Foresters, told me that the SAF "will help in any way we can."

John Mixon, vice president of the National Association of State Foresters, said that the NASF is "eager to endorse" the initiative, although he also expressed concern that the 50-50 cost share with rural land-owners may not be a large enough incentive.

Perhaps the loudest voice of concern, however, has come from the very groups most committed to planting trees. Andy and Katie Lipkis, founders of the Los Angeles-based Tree People (the nation's largest local tree organization), reported in a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal that some contributors are backing off. Apparently, President Bush's pledge to plant a billion trees a year is in danger of creating a backlash of complacency. Early public response is, "Now that the President is supporting you with millions of tax dollars, you won't be needing me."

Agriculture's Pat Kearney replied that the government's intention is not to compete with the many community groups raising funds for tree planting. "All organizations will win," she said. "It will strengthen everyone's hand. This is not a competitive venture. It's a massive job - planting one billion trees - so we see it as enlarging the pie, not fighting over a limited pie."

"Obviously, we're enthusiastic about the goals," said AFA's Neil Sampson, "but we question whether a foundation with a board appointed by the President is truly private. Also, past experience - like Nancy Reagan's `Just Say No' Foundation - indicates aggressive fundraising dries up contributions to existing organizations."

One local group that is not eager for public support is L'Enfant Trust, based in Washington, DC. John Nelson explained, "We wouldn't kick a government grant out the door, and I'm glad that the President is putting his weight and credibility behind tree planting. But I'm a little concerned that the program may not take into account already existing groups."

Nelson added that a number of local groups around the country wonder whether the President's initiative is the most efficient use of taxpayers' money.

Andy and Katie Lipkis expressed a related sentiment in a story in the Los Angeles Times, where they wrote: "A simple law of humanity is that we take care of those we care about. If we invest time, money, resources, spirit, and love into a community tree planting, we're going to water and watch over our charges."

Large sums of outside money carry the danger, they continued, of robbing neighborhoods of the shared struggle to raise cash to buy trees. This "sweat equity" is what leads those neighborhoods to provide the protection and care needed to ensure the trees' survival.

The White House is receiving visits and letters from people who have been investing sweat in planting trees for years. Some, like Marcia Bansley, executive director of Trees Atlanta, admit that federal dollars could help solve the on-going problem of attracting funds to run day-to-day operations. But most visitors are not seeking financial help. They simply want to report their success and receive the President's endorsement. The implication is that Presidential pats on the back could be Bush's most important contribution to tree planting.

Tony Dorrell of the Forest Service pointed out, "If we look at the history of conservation in this country, we've had only two Presidents who have gotten personally involved. Both were Roosevelts. Others have dabbled in it, but President Bush is the first to come along [since them] and want to be personally involved with conservation."

Bush's tree-planting initiative has the potential to become a legacy that will last for generations to come. Though the cost of planting 10 billion trees is likely to be enormous - how big is one of the questions that the White House has yet to address - the rewards will be incalculable.

On March 22, George Bush sounded a clarion call "for each American to become a volunteer for the environment." As we got to press, Congress has the ball, but it should be back at the White House before long. Stay tuned.

PHOTO : White House lawn: Bush plants the first of his billion trees.

PHOTO : Pushing for trees: Pat Kearney talks with the author.

PHOTO : White House staffer Emily Mead is one of the architects of America the Beautiful.

PHOTO : Bob Grady of OMB is another of the plan's prime movers.

PHOTO : Preaching tree planting: the Bushes, Rep. Kika de la Garza, Secretary Clayton Yeutter, Senators Richard Lugar, Patrick Leahy.

PHOTO : Tony Dorrell, Marcia Bansley at White House tree planting.
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Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:President's tree-planting campaign
Author:Davis, Norah Deakin
Publication:American Forests
Date:May 1, 1990
Words:2921
Previous Article:Good guys, bad guys, hard cash, and the environment.
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