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Forester urges ’time for trees is now’

David Adlerstein
The Apalach Times
The Apalach Times

A partnership between the private sector and the state has made a dent in the need to reforest the Panhandle in the wake of Hurricane Michael, but with millions of acres lost each year to forestland around the world, the time for trees, both here and around the planet, is more urgent than ever before.

That was the message of William Liner, urban forestry program manager for the Florida Forest Service, whose Arbor Day speech at the Mill Pond Saturday morning, "The Time For Trees,” drew an enthusiastic audience.

After acknowledging the nearly 150-year history of the “fun and inspirational holiday that aims to inspire positive human traits like hope, teamwork, and stewardship,” Liner moved quickly to outline “another, often overlooked quality” of the holiday.

“Arbor Day is a holiday of urgency. From its beginning 148 years ago, it has been a celebration about recognizing a time-sensitive problem and acting urgently upon a solution,” he said. “Trees are amazing, but they take years grow to the size we want and sometimes decades to fill the niche we need. The holiday is about recognizing that fact and realizing the old adage is true: the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is today.”

Liner described a presentation he recently heard by Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation, about their new initiative “The Time for Trees.” Lambe had painted a picture about the ongoing crisis facing humankind, which included polluted air and waterways negatively impacting human health, cities hotter than ever and getting warmer due to the heat island effect, shifting weather patterns that leave communities more vulnerable to disasters, and a society with access to powerful social technologies but more polarized and isolated than ever.

“The time for trees is now, a critical part of the way forward into this new decade. Obviously, trees will not solve anything and everything, but there is solid research and experience that undeniably points to trees as an important part of the solution to these problems facing mankind,” Liner said. “Every year we learn more about how trees benefit human health, how trees reduce energy consumption, and how trees restore ecosystems. Though these things are just being quantified and scientifically explained, these are not new ideas.”

He noted that cities such as Savannah, Georgia; New Orleans, Louisiana; and here in Apalachicola, all founded over 150 years ago, well before the first celebration of Arbor Day, each prioritized the establishment of publicly accessible parks or squares filled with trees for citizens to enjoy.

“Today these cities are home to world famous parks and trees, still open to the public for the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike. It is with that same forward focus and that desire to establish a lasting, meaningful legacy that the Arbor Day Foundation and its partners embark on the Time for Trees initiative,” Liner said. “Participation of communities large and small is a vital component of this new initiative and some of the most beautiful parks and thriving organizations I know are in small towns.”

He said the Arbor Day Foundation has pledged to engage 5 million volunteers and to plant 100 million trees in forests and communities around the world within the next two years.

“Through these tree plantings, the foundation hopes to restore forests, strengthen communities, and to inspire people. Here in the Florida Panhandle, we are feeling the need for trees right now more than most. We have all seen the terrible destruction caused by Hurricane Michael and the countless trees left bent, battered, and broken by its fury,” he said.

A partnership between the Arbor Day Foundation, Florida Forest Service, and other sponsors has provided residents of five of the impacted counties with over 12,000 trees, Liner said.

“But this has only scratched the surface of the reforestation need in the Panhandle. It is my hope and my goal that we can work together to ensure that the Time for Trees initiative helps us replace the tree canopy lost during the storm,” he said. “100 million trees is a lofty goal and will make a significant positive impact on the world around us, however, that is only the start.”

He said that globally, around 18 million acres of forestland is lost each year to development, wildfires, insects, diseases, and other natural disasters.

“Don’t be intimidated by the large numbers, the most important thing is you,” Liner said, urging people to learn more at www.timefortrees.org.

“The Arbor Day Foundation is certainly a reputable non-profit, but there are many other great tree planting organizations you can get involved with. Or you can participate completely on your own,” he said. “Plant a tree in your yard, volunteer with a local group, or look into the global initiative. No matter how you prefer to participate, I encourage you to support the planting of trees for the benefit of your family, of your community, and of the world.

“It doesn’t require a pledge of hundreds or thousands of dollars, or a commitment to plant thousands of trees. Every tree planted counts, every personal effort matters, and time is of the essence,” he said.

Dennis Winterringer, chair of the Apalachicola Tree Committee, said three other experts - Ryan Hensel, senior/county forester with the Florida Forest Service, Apalachicola resident Alex Skovronsky, forester at Tate's Hell State Forest, and Edwin Duke, with the Florida A&M University Extension Service and professor teaching horticulture and plant biochemistry – joined Liner in providing help in answering questions about tree planting and care.

“The weather gods favored us with a sunny day,” he said. “We had a steady stream of persons visiting our booths.”

Apalachicola Mayor Kevin Begos earlier in the week signed a proclamation designating Saturday, Jan. 25 as Arbor Day in the city.

Winterringer said Hensel and Skovronsky handed out for free 80 live oaks and long leaf pines provided by the forest service, while Duke answered questions on tree care and proper ways to prune trees. City Commissioner Anita Grove, who works as communications coordinator for the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, handed out ANERR information on Apalachicola Bay-friendly landscaping.

In addition, Master Gardeners answered plant questions, Bring Me a Book Franklin gave away children’s books about trees, and the Franklin County Ukulele Orchestra and Choir entertained with tree songs.