You probably have a favorite tree-lined street in your community. Or a tree-filled neighborhood you’ve always admired. Or a favorite forest where you like to bask in the beauty of the trees.
It’s important to remember that those beautiful spaces aren’t here by accident. The forests we enjoy today – which give us both pleasure and environmental benefits – are here because of the vision, courage and hard work of generations past.
When I find myself enjoying the solitude of a forest, I often remember the visionaries who helped preserve our forest lands. Theodore Roosevelt was a well-known champion of trees who risked political capital and fought short-sighted special interests to set aside large swaths of America’s forested lands for the enjoyment of future generations.
As president, Roosevelt used the 1891 Forest Reserves Act to protect 160 million acres of forests. He also set aside 16 national monuments, 51 wildlife refuges and five new national parks. Because of his actions and the dedicated foresters who have served America since, today our National Forests are a treasured legacy.
There are plenty of modern-day heroes, too, who manage our urban forests. Thanks to the tree advocates of recent decades, thousands of America’s cities and towns have been transformed into lush green spaces, and many of them are now Tree City USAs. These healthy urban forests include thriving parks, shaded homes and schools, and tree-lined parkways.
Some of our city foresters and volunteers who care for these trees must do so on limited budgets, often using creative ways to scratch resources to keep their trees vibrant. Fortunately, in many communities elected officials and citizen leaders have come to recognize trees as valuable economic and environmental assets that grow in value over time … as essential components of the urban infrastructure.
Trees ought to be integral parts of natural-resource sustainability efforts in our communities. Investing in trees pays off in so many ways, such as citizen health and well-being, energy conservation, improved watersheds, increased property values, and enhanced business results.
We are standing on the broad shoulders of many tree planters who have come before us. Every day, we benefit from their foresight through cleaner air, safe and abundant drinking water, and shady homes and neighborhoods.
Arbor Day is a holiday that celebrates planting trees, but it’s more than that. Let us remember those who planted trees before us, who helped establish and care for our nation’s forests and the beautiful, beneficial canopies of trees within our towns and cities.
Now it’s our turn to plant trees and to ensure that our forests grow healthy and strong.
As we celebrate National Arbor Day today, let’s make a commitment to plant trees, support replanting projects in our nation’s forests, and encourage our community leaders to invest in trees. When we plant trees, we have healthier forests to visit, greener cities in which to live, and a sense of pride in our neighborhoods.
Today, on Arbor Day, I propose that we act on behalf of future generations.
Let us each create our own legacy this year by planting trees.
John Rosenow is the founder and chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees.