April 26, 2000: Column on Arbor Day



April 26, 2000

"Each generation takes the Earth as trustees. We ought to bequeath to posterity as many forests and orchards as we have exhausted and consumed." These words belong to J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day, and formerly Secretary of Agriculture. Spoken more than 100 years ago, they couldn't be more current today.

Originally from Detroit, Morton moved to Nebraska, where he became editor of the territory's first newspaper. Unhappy that his new home was devoid of trees, he proposed Arbor Day to encourage his fellow pioneers to plant trees.

This week, as Americans celebrate National Arbor Day, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman will follow his predecessor's example, and along with the White House Millennium Council, urge citizens and communities all across the country to plant more trees than ever before.

We all know the environmental benefits of trees: A windbreak of trees can lower home heating bills, and strategically planted shade trees can cut cooling costs. Trees support birds and other wildlife. Trees act as buffers, keeping pollution out of our water. They act as carbon sinks, capturing greenhouse gases, and emitting clean oxygen. By slowing the pace of storm-water runoff, trees help prevent flooding, and slow the erosion of precious topsoil. And of course, trees enhance the quality of life in communities lucky enough to have tree-lined bike paths and leafy parks.

Despite these valuable qualities, rapid growth and development over the course of the past several decades have contributed to the destruction of large numbers of trees in many urban areas. Trees covered 30 percent of Washington, D.C., in 1973. Today, that number has dropped to 13 percent. And in Atlanta, where the population has doubled in the past 20 years, 60 percent of the city's trees have been lost.

This is a problem that government alone can't solve. But around the country, political leaders are joining forces with community activists committed to returning the green to our cities. In Seattle, King County Executive Ron Sims initiated a public-private partnership to plant 200,000 trees by the end of this year. The state of California has pledged to plant 20 million trees. And in Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley calls the planting of hundreds of thousands of trees his proudest achievement.

Outdoor outfitter Eddie Bauer has teamed up with the environmental group American Forests to plant 20 million trees. And two young people, Tara Church and Melissa Poe, inspired by the President's Youth Summit in Philadelphia, vowed to enlist a million youngsters to plant a million trees. So far, their forces have planted more than 800,000.

This weekend, on the grounds of the beautiful Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Fla., Secretary Glickman will plant the National Millennial Arbor Day Tree. A 15-foot, long-leaf pine sapling from a tree that President Franklin Roosevelt planted at The Little White House in Warm Springs, Ga., it will now be known as the FDR Millennial Arbor Day Tree.

In Nebraska, thousands are expected to visit Arbor Day Farm, the former estate of J. Sterling Morton. There, The National Arbor Day Foundation, at their 28th annual Arbor Day awards celebration, will honor leaders in tree planting and environmental stewardship.

The White House Millennium Council is sponsoring Millennium Green, a national campaign to turn every community green. Our goal is to encourage every American to plant a tree; every community to identify and protect a heritage tree, grove or other natural wonder; and every business or corporation to plant a tree or garden, or to protect a natural resource for the new millennium.

As part of Millennium Green, Secretary Glickman has announced the gift of 100 trees to each state and the District of Columbia to create Millennial Groves in every capital city. At the kickoff of Millennium Green last December, the first 100 trees were given to Washington, D.C.'s Mayor Anthony Williams. At the ceremony, which was held in front of the Agriculture Department, I was honored, as chair of the Millennium Council, by the dedication of a majestic, 75-year-old white oak in my name.

That day, we listened as a local choir sang the theme song that was written specifically for Millennium Green. I was especially struck by these lines: "It's in our hands. Let's make it happen. We hold the seeds of a rebirth."

The words to this song -- and the words spoken so long ago by J. Sterling Morton -- reflect the theme that the President and I chose for our celebration of the new millennium: "Honor the Past, Imagine the Future."

As we imagine the future, let's remember that we hold the fate of our forests, our trees and our planet itself in our hands. What better occasion than Arbor Day to contemplate that fate -- and to plant a tree?

If you'd like to learn more about Millennium Green and National Arbor Day,

you can visit this web site: www.green.gov.

To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.


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