Planting One Million Trees, One at a Time

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Laura Webber, a high school junior, started the 4-H Million Trees Project (4HMT) as a way to combat climate change.

It all started with viewing Al Gore’s global climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

“At the end of the movie, [Al Gore] says, ‘What are you going to do to save the environment?’” said Julian Lévy, a sophomore at Everest Public High School and the 4-H Million Trees Project’s current team leader. “After seeing the film, Laura said she wanted every 4-H member to plant a tree.”

This past Sunday, 4HMT members visited Santa Cruz to plant 38 Monterey Cypress trees as part of their larger goal to plant 1 million trees. 4HMT partnered with Santa Cruz’s Parks and Recreation department to plant Monterey Cypress trees at La Barranca Park, above Neary Lagoon on Bay Street.

4-H is a youth development program with over six million youths enrolled. The name highlights four personal development areas of focus for the organization: head, heart, hands and health.

4HMT decided to plant Monterey Cypress trees specifically for the trees’ large size, which helps them capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their wood, ultimately reducing air pollution.

City of Santa Cruz urban forester Leslie Keedy was one of 15 Santa Cruz arborists who attended the event along with volunteers, foresters and members from both Santa Cruz and San Mateo’s chapter of 4HMT.

“Santa Cruz’s Parks and Recreation department loves to support these types of volunteer efforts for tree canopy enhancement,” Keedy said. “We are very excited to partner with 4HMT youth and other local volunteers to plant these large growing canopy trees to enhance our local environment.”

Although 4HMT started out as a community service project by a member of the Pacifica 4HMT chapter, it became an international campaign and expanded its outreach to other locations, such as Kenya.

Laura Webber conceived the program’s initial plan when she sought out to plant 4 million trees.

However, she soon realized it takes roughly 4 people to plant one tree. The goal from there shifted to planting 1 million trees instead.

Since then, 4HMT planted 750,000 trees involving just under 80,000 4HMT members.

While 4HMT was initially a climate change project, it transformed into something more, said project manager Tom Webber.

“4-H expanded to become an economic development project,” Webber said. “We have goals now to provide trees for rural farmers in East Africa to plant fruits and to get oils from seeds. It also serves as a way to earn extra money to expand economically.”

In addition to planting 1 million trees across the continent, 4-H youth members also have the opportunity to learn new life skills.

“We give kids opportunities to learn skills such as giving speeches and making presentations for grant proposals,” Webber said.

With the project approaching its goal of 1 million trees, the project continues outreach in places near and far, and most recently planted trees in Ghana and the Philippines.