UK Appalachian Center, Green Forests Work Plant 2,500 Trees for Earth Day

By Jenny Wells

Volunteers planting trees on formerly mined land in Breathitt County, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Garland.

Earth Day 2017 may have been rainy in Kentucky, but that didn’t stop University of Kentucky students, faculty and staff from planting 2,500 trees.

The UK Appalachian Center collaborated with Green Forests Works (GFW) to host a volunteer tree planting event in Breathitt County, Kentucky, on April 22 in support of Earth Day and the United Nations Environment’s “Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign.” The event brought together over 50 volunteers, including local writers and artists, who planted indigenous hardwood trees and shrubs to restore forest habitat in an area that was previously mined for coal.

UK representatives included faculty, staff, students and alumni from the UK Appalachian Center; the Robinson Center for Appalachian Resource Sustainability; the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment; and the UK College of Arts and Sciences. Other participating organizations included the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), the Arbor Day Foundation, the American Chestnut Foundation and the Kentucky Writers and Artists for Reforestation.

“This planting event celebrated the two millionth tree planted by GFW,” said Christopher Barton, director of the UK Appalachian Center and president of GFW. “GFW’s reforestation projects not only benefit the environment through the creation of wildlife habitat, they also provide clean air and water and help mitigate climate change. Many of the trees and shrubs we planted will benefit pollinators and other imperiled species, such as neo-tropical songbirds and bats. These projects will also provide economic opportunities through site preparation, seedling production, forest management, and the future harvesting of timber and non-timber forest products.”

To prepare for the two millionth tree, GFW removed invasive shrubs from the site and loosened the soil by cross-ripping (plowing) with a large bulldozer. This method provides a good rooting environment for the new plants, and allows rainfall to infiltrate the ground instead of running off, therefore reducing erosion and improving water quality in local streams. Rehabilitation of these mines provides new opportunities for lands that are often considered marginal and contributes significantly to the development of a sustainable and economically viable future. 

“United Nations Environment is encouraged that their inaugural Plant for the Planet initiative gave birth to the successful Green Forests Work,” said Fatou Ndoye, acting director of UN Environment’s North America Office. “I would like to congratulate all those who have committed their time, energy and knowledge to the rehabilitation of coal mined areas. Forests are critical to global biodiversity as they help conserve soil and water, provide genetic resources and natural medicines, prevent desertification, protect coastal areas, and control avalanches. Safeguarding forests also makes good economic sense since the goods and services they provide are worth billions of dollars to the international economy.”

UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue

 

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