The gift

The gift – Global ReLeaf Forest

John T. Rehorn

Every Global ReLeaf Forest has a story to tell. This one’s a tale of fast fire, slow trees, Native American traditions, and a sportsman-turned-retailer’s love of the outdoors.

From Canada to Mexico, the Rocky Mountains define and delineate regions, watersheds, even cultures. In Colorado the mountain system towers to more than 14,000 feet, making everywhere downhill from here. Spruce and fir forests at the heart of the wild San Juan Mountains give way to foothills bearded with aspen groves, ponderosa pine, and gambel oak. Down slope and a bit further south, before the desert badlands, lies a transition zone of pinon pine and juniper trees. This is the home of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

In 1994, a lightning-caused wildfire coursed through a densely forested section of the reservation called Black Ridge. Aided by dry conditions, steep terrain, and strong winds, the blaze devastated more than 13,000 aces of pinon pine and juniper before firefighters could extinguish it. It became one of the worst wildfires in Southern Ute reservation history, occurring at a time when federal funding for reforestation was quickly becoming scarce.

That timing was especially bad for the slow-growing pinon pine; without human intervention to help it reestablish itself, the process can take centuries. So, for the first time, the Bureau of Indian Affairs/Southern Ute Agency turned to the private sector to augment federal funds.

Citing the unique cultural value of the pinon forest to the tribe, the agency applied for funding as one of AMERICAN FORESTS’ Global ReLeaf Forests, ecologically important public lands that have been devastated by natural or human disasters and have little or no hope of reforestation funding elsewhere.

Black Ridge was selected as a 1996 project and singled out as one of eight to be sponsored by specialty retailer Eddie Bauer (see “The Story in the Stores,” page 30).The grant award allows the Southern Utes to plant 63,000 pinion pine, speeding up the reforestation process by centuries, according to BIA forester Jeff Nelson.

“The pinion is a large seed. If you can imagine how far back the seed sources are from the burn area, for a seed that size to be transported back into the area would take centuries and centuries,” Nelson said. “One of our main objectives was to reintroduce pinon to that site. In 50 to 100 years, those trees will start putting out some seed.”

The pinon and juniper forest of Black Ridge will not reappear in our lifetime, nor that of our children or grandchildren, Nelson warned. Trees that survive the first few years will grow slowly, and after 100 years may have reached a height slightly above that of an average man. It will be our grandchildren’s grandchildren that will again relish the forest as it existed before the fire.

Celebrating the Gift

In late November, the Southern Utes celebrated the first steps toward bringing back Black Ridge. Tribal council members, Conservation Corpsmen, natural resource division staff, and BIA personnel – bundled against the chill and rubber-booted against mud from a winter storm the night before – watched as Nelson and tribal officials planted an 18-inch pinon pine sapling, the half-millionth tree planted in the U.S. and Canada as part of Eddie Bauer’s partnership with AMERICAN FORESTS. Spiritual leader Everett Burch gave a traditional blessing with tobacco, prayer songs, and gratitude. In planting trees, as in any undertaking, Indian People make a peace offering so that events will proceed in harmony.

“Way back, long time ago, Indian people used to sing a song and make an offering to the Creator – the Grandfathers,” Burch explained. “We’re asking their permission to do this. In that way, we’re singing the songs and offering this tobacco to them. Tobacco means peace, so we can do this in the right way.”

As the gathering dispersed, the Conservation Corps got to work to finish the planting. In four-wheel drive trucks loaded with small trees and planting tools, they plowed through a muddy access road up to the burned area and began their paces to space the planting sites evenly. Corpsman Henry Taylor, a Southern Ute, knelt in the shade of a burned tree and carved a hole in the earth on the north side of the trunk. The seedlings are planted in protected places that will hold the most moisture, and Taylor found grass stalk and other organic material to mulch the baby trees, giving them their best chance for survival.

Taylor was a paid worker that day, but he was also carrying out a tribal tradition – giving back to Mother Earth. “If you really want to look into it, you can see the tree provides paper,” Burch explained, tugging at his braids. “Tree has given up his life when a logging company goes out and shreds it down and makes paper. So with that people make wealth.

“Now some of the people are beginning to wake up. They’ve been used to taking, but they’re not used to giving. People have come here in the past and requested something. We tell them, ‘If you really want to do it in our cultural way, our belief is you have to bring something as a gift. Then you give something back, and we know you’re not going to destroy what we have given you.'”

Partnerships that Give Back

The Southern Ute’s tradition of returning life to the Earth made it a natural for the Global ReLeaf Forests program, says AMERICAN FORESTS’ Rick Crouse. The Global ReLeaf campaign was founded in 1988 with the idea that by planting trees citizens could take small steps that would benefit their communities and ultimately the globe.

The Global ReLeaf Forests project, with its first planting in 1990, sought new ways to develop and fund ecologically important reforestation projects. This spring the 5 millionth tree will be planted through $1-per-tree donations from citizens and through corporate sponsors, who have been enthusiastic supporters of the program.

“Every tree planted in a Global ReLeaf Forest represents an individual,” said Crouse, the organization’s vice president for development. “We have a wealth of great partners – the individual contributors and the people who actually do the planting: the agency folks and the citizen groups. But we never could have reached 5 million so quickly without our nonprofit and corporate partners.” Companies like The Discovery Channel, Dayton Hudson, Chevrolet/Geo, and MasterCard International were early supporters, seeing Global ReLeaf as a way to give back to the environment.

Eddie Bauer has been an enthusiastic partner in the Global ReLeaf Forests effort, and Crouse calls the company “our most significant tree planting partner.” When it launched the add-a-dollar, plant-a-tree effort in October 1995, Eddie Bauer set a goal of 535,521 trees planted (the number needed to complete eight projects), including a company match of the first $75,000 donated by customers. The company has recently upped that goal to 2.5 million trees as part of AMERICAN FORESTS’ Global ReLeaf 2000 effort – planting 20 million trees through the year 2000.

“Global ReLeaf is a program that ties right back to our heritage,” said company spokesperson Cheryl Engstrom. “When Eddie Bauer in 1920 created his sportswear store, it really stemmed from his love of the outdoors. He spent countless hours in the woods and on the rivers, fishing and hunting and hiking.”

Employees share this love of the outdoors and recognize the need to preserve it. “The opportunity to restore damaged forests just fit right into that heritage,” Engstrom said. Employee commitment is important, she adds, since it is the employees who introduce customers to the add-a-dollar program.

That same kind of commitment is necessary for a project to become a Global ReLeaf Forest. Community support ensures trees will be planted and cared for; in this case, the Southern Utes had a wealth of good partners backing them. BIA forestry officials and the tribe’s natural resources division devised the reintroduction plan. Federal money covered greenhouse costs and some plantings to control erosion in the most susceptible areas.

Help from the private sector made it possible to reforest the vast areas that remained. The Sheridan Arts Foundation of Telluride, Colorado, kick-started the effort with a $1,500 contribution a few months after the fire. Then, with the support of Global ReLeaf, the tribe put Conservation Corpsmen to work beside BIA foresters raising the seedlings and planting them.

Ellis Tanner Trading Company in Gallup, New Mexico, donated 300 pounds of pinon pine seed. Four generations of Tanners have provided dry goods in trade for jewelry, weavings, and other items produced by the Navajo people, and Ellis Tanner has long served as a broker for pinon nuts gathered by tribe members and sold worldwide in specialty grocery stores.

Ellis Tanner said he was eager to be part of this first-ever effort to grow the slow-maturing, noncommercial pinon pine on a large scale. In donating seed, he too is practicing giving back to the earth.

“We didn’t do it for any monetary gains,” he said. “Life has been awful good to me so I just wanted to give a little back.”

That’s true also for Wayne Nagai, who manages Eddie Bauer’s Scottsdale. Arizona, store – the top Global ReLeaf Forest tree “selling” store in the U.S. “I believe that we have a responsibility to leave something for the future. And I think Global ReLeaf is a great program that allows us as a company to solicit help from our customers to make that dream become a reality.”

RELATED ARTICLE: The Story in the Stores

Black Ridge is among the 19 1996 and 1997 Global ReLeaf Forest projects that are benefiting from the partnership between AMERICAN FORESTS and specialty retailer Eddie Bauer. The add-a-dollar, plant-a-tree campaign is simple: Customers can add a dollar to their purchase to support the Eddie Bauer Global ReLeaf Tree Project.

The program kicked off in October 1995 with a goal of planting 535,521 trees on eight sites. On behalf of its employees, the company promised to match the first $75,000 in customer donations. Two weeks later, customers had donated enough to plant 145,000 trees.

This year Eddie Bauer upped its goal to 2.5 million treesover five years. This makes the company the largest contributor to American Forests’ Global ReLeaf 2000 – a campaign to plant 20 million trees through the year 2000. The 5 millionth Global ReLeaf Forest tree will be planted this spring in a project also sponsored by Eddie Bauer along Oregon’s Applegate River. The 1997 projects – 11 sites in the U.S. and Canada – range from restoring habitat for the Coopers’ hawk on California’s Big Morongo Canyon Preserve to imparting the value of trees to at-risk youth in Rhode Island.

To join the add-a-dollar campaign, simply ask to have the donation added to your purchase total. Catalog shoppers should use the order number N98 041 7971 or check the appropriate box on their order form.

The Eddie Bauer Global ReLeaf Tree Project last year also funded urban projects in or near Denver, Detroit, Chicago, and Paramus, New Jersey through a percentage of sales at local stores. The projects, coordinated by AMERICAN FORESTS and developed in cooperation with local nonprofits, continue this year in New York and Seattle.

John Rehorn and Janine Guglielmino

John Rehorn is the staff writer for the Southern Ute Drum.

COPYRIGHT 1997 American Forests

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