Two million trees in 4 years? If anyone can do it, Cincinnati can

Posted at 7:30 AM, Oct 21, 2016

These days, even in the forest, it’s not easy being green.

The problem: Invasive insect and plant species have been wreaking havoc on several of the region’s trees and taking them out in large numbers. But Greater Cincinnati is reclaiming its green spaces with a grassroots campaign called Taking Root.

The initiative aims to restore our local tree canopy with a goal of planting two million trees across the region by 2020.

It’s an ambitious goal, Taking Root’s executive director Matt Stenger admits. It’s also a much-needed call to action, he said.

“We’re seeing an unprecedented loss of trees from invasive insects; and when they die, invasive plants, like honeysuckle, move in. It’s thick and dense, and blocks out the sunlight… And that kills our young trees,” Stenger said. “We’re in a situation where our forests can’t regenerate naturally.”

The solution: The community needs to come together to plant more trees, he said, and Greater Cincinnati needs to better manage and conserve its existing forests.

That’s what Taking Root is all about. Its growing army of partners on both sides of the Ohio River is making a difference with tree planting events and other volunteer opportunities, community and business partnerships and education outreach. Thanks to their efforts, the number of new trees currently stands around a quarter of a million, according to Stenger.

“The word is getting out, and the community is really stepping up,” he noted. “We’re definitely making progress.”

Leading the charge in the endeavor is Great Parks of Hamilton County. The system has waged war on invasive species in its forests, including bush honeysuckle, and will plant its ceremonial 100,000th tree for national Make a Difference Day on Saturday during a Reforestation Celebration at Winton Woods.

Go here for a full list of partners and volunteer opportunities.

Details on how to help celebrate Great Parks of Hamilton County’s 100,000th tree:

Great Parks of Hamilton County’s Reforestation Celebration – 9 a.m.-noon, Saturday, Winton Woods/ Sweetgum Slopes Picnic Shelter. Event will feature tree planting opportunities, a live animal program and lunch. Registration and details here.

“Originally, we hoped to plant 60,000 trees by the end of 2016, and we exceeded that goal,” said Kimberly Whitton, Great Parks’ communications coordinator. “We’re excited to celebrate our progress with all the groups that helped make it happen.”

The parks system has hundreds of volunteers and a network of corporate partners. That support coupled with scores of volunteer events and opportunities has been the key to its progress, according to Bret Henninger, Great Parks’ natural resources director.

“You can’t plant 100,000 trees by yourself, and that’s why community support is so important to this campaign,” Henninger said. “We have to get everyone on board to make it work.”

Great Parks has also acquired land throughout the county, using grant funding, and reforested areas that used to be mowed, he said.

Groups need to be that aggressive to combat the vast number of trees that have died as a result of a myriad of invasive insect and plant species, Stenger said. One of the biggest culprits locally is the emerald ash borer, an insect that attacks all species of ash tree.

“They have wiped out an entire genus of tree,” he noted. “Ash trees will likely be functionally extinct in five to six years.”

Another is the Asian longhorned beetle. Locally, 13 tree genera, including maple, are vulnerable to the insect.

It’s a crisis because when trees die, the local ecosystem suffers, Stenger said. Aside from aesthetics, a healthy and diverse tree canopy provides immeasurable environmental benefits, including less air/water pollution and stormwater runoff, stable hillsides and healthy wildlife, he said.

Taking Root’s partners are working this weekend to get the word out – and plant more replacement trees.

The campaign’s new tree tally will get a boost this weekend as groups across the region celebrate national Make a Difference Day with tree planting events. Last year, 21 communities held planting events, which resulted in nearly 1,100 new trees.

Taking Root was one of ten groups nationwide to be awarded $10,000 last year from the Make a Difference Day Foundation.