Environment Column

How planting one tree can turn into an environmental revolution

Ally Moreo | Photo Editor

The OEC’s community tree plantings can be a vital part of furthering environmental sustainability in Syracuse's urban forest.

Planting a tree may seem like a small step toward sustainability, but with new funding the city of Syracuse is growing its urban forest and public morale.

Syracuse is one of 15 U.S. cities selected to receive a $25,000 grant to engage the public with its Urban Forest Master Plan. Other donors have matched the grant, meaning Syracuse has $50,000 to determine where trees are most needed to optimize community desires and environmental benefits, as well as keep the urban forest healthy.

Even though it’s just a small move, Syracuse’s Urban Forestry Initiative brings diverse communities together to care about the environment. It could be the first step in creating a more environmentally-conscious city — if Syracuse continues to ensure environment action is accessible, engaging and appeals to the next generation.

The Urban Forest Master plan is a joint effort between the city of Syracuse and The Onondaga Earth Corps, a local nonprofit that works to engage the community, especially local youth, in environmental campaigns through leadership and service opportunities.


The OEC says it will create a committee for Syracuse’s Urban Forest Master Plan including tree experts, neighborhood experts and local organizations, helping the group best understand what the community wants and needs.

With all the different groups the master plan brings together, the OEC already seems to be on track with that goal.

Youth will be at the forefront of the forestry campaign, getting trained to collect surveys at public meetings and reach out to groups that are not always able to get involved in neighborhood planning.

To increase accessibility to planning and education meetings, OEC Executive Director Gregory Michel said the organization hopes to implement successful components of a similar campaign in Pittsburgh. This would include working with small business owners to incentivize meeting attendance and providing childcare and transportation for meetings.

“People have such busy lives and all sorts of concerns and sometimes it’s not at the forefront, but if you reach out in compelling ways and go to them you find you get much richer input,” Michel said.

All these moves are key in ensuring the Urban Forest Initiative’s success. Syracuse is a diverse city, and it would be impossible to create and sustain a movement without engaging as much of its population as possible.

Likewise, maintaining an urban forest is a crucial component of sustainability, especially in cities such as Syracuse. In the 1990s, Syracuse experienced a huge storm, resulting in lower canopies and many removed trees that need replacing, Michel said.

Urban forests also benefit both human and environmental health. Dr. Marianne Krasny, a Civic Ecology professor at Cornell University says there are numerous studies that have found “forest bathing” — spending time in a forest or around trees — decreases stress levels.


Trees also help cut carbon dioxide levels, stabilize soil and absorb rainwater to keep it out of storm drains, Krasny said. It’s good for the community too.

“Volunteer engagement in these activities is, for some, an avenue to get engaged in all kinds of citizen action,” Krasny said.

Community involvement in tree-planting campaigns such as this one can even lead to more frequent environmental action.

For starters, residents can come to the OEC’s community tree plantings almost every weekend in October.

Residents can plant trees on their own front yards, and even ask their government to replace concrete areas with trees and gardens to aid water absorption.

Though they take a little more work, residents can also consider planting a butterfly garden. These consist of flowers that are particularly attractive to pollinators, keeping green areas thriving. Butterfly gardens are an easy way to involve and educate youth, which is key to creating a new generation of environment lovers.

Michel said the OEC hopes the urban forest campaign will further involve youth and provide a platform for Syracuse residents to get directly involved in their community.

“Our program’s mission is to empower youth, and we see this as an opportunity to empower them by engaging them in this civic process of community planning, and I think the end result of that will be empowering the community and giving the community voice around the urban forest and the environmental plans that they want.” Michel said. “We will be inspired by young people.”

People often take trees for granted, but they are a vital part of environmental sustainability and an easy avenue  for getting involved in local green movements. The future of our planet depends on trees remaining plentiful and healthy, and funding local organizations who inspire younger generations helps to ensure a green and thriving future.

Bailey Benzinger is a sophomore magazine journalism major and environment and society minor. Her column appears biweekly. She can be reached at bpbenzin@syr.edu.


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