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Tree angel of Santo Domingo.

Michigan State University professor, urban forester, tropical forester, legislative understudy, fundraising apprentice, AFA's liaison, and treeplanting guru in the Dominican Republic. Who are all these people? Correction. Who is this man? That's right, just one person somehow finds the time and energy to fill all these roles. His name is James Kielbaso.

The role that has excited Jim Kielbaso most in recent years is that of tropical forester in the Dominican Republic, a country that shares an island with Haiti. Haiti's name has become almost synonymous with forest loss and destruction in recent years, but the Dominican Republic has a better track record, and aims to improve.

In 1982 Kielbaso was contacted by Partners of the Americas, a private volunteer organization that links more than 15,000 people throughout the U.S. and Latin America in partnerships at the community level. Each state has a "partner country" (or part of a country) in Latin America. Michigan has two-Belize and the Dominican Republic, whose capital of Santo Domingo was hit by two major hurricanes in 1979, leaving the city with far fewer trees to cover its sun-baked streets. Enter Jim Kielbaso, professor of urban forestry at Michigan State.

Even at that time, Jim was no stranger to tropical forestry. As early as 1968, he had developed an interest in tropical forests and participated as a student, then faculty member in an Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) graduate course in Honduras and Costa Rica. In 1974-76 he supervised a MSU contract with the Peace Corps and spent one month each year in Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines observing Asian forestry practices and helping agricultural Peace Corps volunteers.

His Partners project has since taken him several times to the Dominican Republic, where his work is two-pronged. One effort is a watershed-reforestation project in the Rio Bani region, about an hour west of the capital; the other involves development and implementation of an urban-forestry program for storm-ravaged Santo Domingo.

"When I went down there for the first time in 1982, it was the most exciting 10 days of my life," said Kielbaso.

His visit and contact by the Partners of the Americas came about through i promise made by Dr. Jose Francisco Pena Gomez while campaigning for mayor. Pena pledged to re-green the city, and once elected, he set out to do just that.

That's how Kielbaso's first meeting with Pena came about. The mayor must have been struck at first by Jim's wide grin that seems to work only in conjunction with smiling eyes-a persona that puts people at ease immediately. His soft-spoken yet purposeful manner undoubtedly worked in his favor with students he taught in the classroom-perhaps that is where he acquired it.

Kielbaso's job, abetted by John Giedraitis, was to prepare an urban-forestry plan for a city that, since its loss of trees during the hurricanes, had felt temperature increases of about nine degrees Fahrenheit (five degrees Centigrade). Giedraitis, then an energetic young Michigan State grad student, was to become city forester of Austin, Texas. Within their 19-point plan, 3,000 to 6,000 "demonstration" trees to be planted in the first year "in prominent locations for maximum visual impact and acceptance" would start the city on its way to shadier, cooler days.

Dr. Pena and his team of city employees (led by Fernando Badia), in their enthusiasm to re-green the city, must have imagined this: if 3,000 trees would set the city in the right direction, 100 times that number would get it there that much quicker, for 300,000 is the number of trees planted in the first 20 months of Pena's term.

Perhaps Pena also suspected that 100 times the recommended number of trees would garner that much more public attention and fervor to the act of tree planting. Perhaps he was right., But as with any new endeavor, there were problems in planting even 3,000 trees, and these too were magnified.

"In a way, I was chagrined to find they had planted all these trees that will ultimately cause them problems," said Kielbaso. Some of the problems he refers to are the lack of resources and personnel to maintain the fast-growing trees, and planting some wrong trees in the wrong spots (tall, fast-growing trees beneath wires, for example).

"But it's the same way here in the United States," Kielbaso added. "People and government are more excited about planting trees than they are about maintaining them." And for a developing country where the average annual salary looks more like what a middle-class American makes in a month, where food and water are not taken for granted, where VCRs and CDs are practically unheard of, the Dominican Republic-and Santo Domingo in particular-has been very progressive to prioritize trees and urban forests. There is probably no U.S. city, on a per-capita-income basis, that has invested similarly in tree cover.

Kielbaso updated his recommendations for Santo Domingo in 1984, urging that fewer trees be planted annually and that more efforts be spent to protect and maintain those already planted. Because tropical trees grow so fast, an aggressive pruning program is important during the first few years to prevent the young trees from coming into conflict with traffic and wires. Also, proper pruning helps prevent a tree from developing weak structure and being more susceptible to storm damage, an important consideration in the Dominican Republic, where the records show storms and hurricanes to be an almost yearly occurrence.

Because of its availability, yellow acacia (Albizia lebbek) was one of the primary trees planted in Santo Domingo's first year of re-greening. It grows rapidly and branches at obtuse angles, two of the very characteristics that will require Santo Domingo to establish a regular and aggressive pruning program in immediate and coming years. In the updated recommendations, trees that are better suited to street living and can stand up to tropical climate and storm conditions-mahogany, almond, and gmelina-were emphasized.

Despite the lessons learned, the project is being touted as the success story of the Dominican Republic-and deservedly so. In fact, its significance does not stop at city boundaries or Dominican shorelines. In a world where global warming makes headlines daily, Santo Domingo points to the difference trees can make. Though there have been no scientifically based comparisons of temperatures before and after tree cover, residents have noted a generally cooler climate.

Several other of the 19 original recommendations were acted upon. Just days after becoming mayor, Pena created a department of urban forestry. Headed up by a director, the Department consists of planning, production, education, and administrative divisions, as well as nursery, landscape, and maintenance sections.

Department employees have been trained in tree-care practices, and a maintenance program-though limited in budget and personnel-was begun.

Reaching beyond city boundaries, the Santo Domingo program has benefitted several other Dominican cities. Seven cities have received technical advice from the Santo Domingo staff, and four cities have followed the program on their own.

A tree week was held in December 1982, as well as Arbor Day and a Conservation Week. Unfortunately, these celebrations have not been repeated in subsequent years.

One recommendation that was not immediately heeded was creation of an emergency-preparedness plan to cope with a disaster such as a hurricane. In 1984, however, the Partners of the Americas offered competitive small grants for emergency preparedness, and a proposal to develop such a plan for Santo Domingo was awarded a $5,000 grant. The tree-related aspects of the plan range from pruning to prevent trees from blowing over and blocking critical transportation routes (to hospitals and shelters, for example) to defining those access routes based on tree species and/or size.

Perhaps the most important success of the Santo Domingo program is that it's gotten people to "think trees" and be more aware of how they affect the environment. Even though Pena is no longer mayor, the re-greening of the city is still perceived as one of the best things he left behind. Jim Kielbaso's own personal success is in having been "instrumental in forming a plan and actually seeing the people following through. " "It's too bad the watershed project in Rio Bani is not as successful," Jim added. Phone conversations led him to believe that a tree nursery had been started there. "So when I went down and saw no trees in the nursery, it was a big disappointment for me," he said. "Because Partners has sunk so much money and time into it, I'm tempted to hold out a carrot and give them another chance. "

Dr. Kielbaso spent 50 percent of his recent six-month sabbatical from MSU at the Partners of the Americas headquarters in Washington, DC, learning how to raise the funds to finance such worthwhile projects.

The rest of his time was spent here at AFA, learning and trying to affect the legislative process that shapes what industrialized nations such as the U.S. do to influence their own and world forests. He epitomize s AFA's Global ReLeaf program on all its levels -urban, rural, and tropical.

"If I could stay another month or two, I'd probably start to see some of the fruits, " Jim said of his work at AFA before he left DC in March to return to his family his wife Gloria and a teenage son and daughter-and students. But the, leaving his accomplishments for others to see and benefit from is nothing new for Jim. Ask any Santo Domingo resident.
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Title Annotation:James Kielbaso
Author:Boerner, Deborah A.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Previous Article:Land lease: sporting rights for "rent."
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