What did the tree planter say to the White House?

Dr. Jackie Cole watched half her city’s trees—some 100 years old—die as Galveston became a “city of dead trees” after a drought weakened 40,000 of them, and a hurricane flooded them afterward with saltwater.

Dr. Cole’s leadership in helping remove the dead trees and plant new ones gave her insight into the value that government agencies assign to city trees. FEMA funds were used to remove the trees, but no funds were available to replace them.

Honored as a “Champion of Change” at the White House last month, Dr. Cole made three key points:

  • Trees must be shifted over from being thought of as beautification and landscaping to being thought of as critical infrastructure.
  • Trees clean our air, filter our water, help with stormwater runoff, lower asthma rates, lower energy use, increase property values, and lower crime levels.
  • We cannot live without trees.

Forward to 2:30 in this video to hear Dr. Cole herself.

March 30, 2012 Irvington, Alameda, Sabin & Grant Park
Trees clean our water (Holly Talkington)

So far Dr. Cole and the nonprofit Galveston Island Tree Conservancy have planted 8,000 new trees, and they plan to plant another 3,000 this year.

By partnering with the U.S. and Texas Forest Service, the Galveston Island Tree Conservancy developed a template for cities to use after “global weirdness” events like Galveston’s, which are increasing in frequency. The Arbor Day Foundation hopes the template can be used by other cities that face similar challenges in the future.

One part of the template addresses tree removal. The city of Galveston didn’t want the trees to go to waste. Through partnerships with FEMA and other groups, they made sure all the trees were used. Some went to Connecticut to rebuild an ancient whaling ship. Some were carved into statues. Some became mulch and biofuel.

Kudos to Dr. Cole and the Galveston Island Tree Conservancy for their incredible work. And thank you, Dr. Cole, for speaking for the trees.

What did the tree planter say to the White House? Trees are critical infrastructure. Trees should be funded as part of every urban project. We can’t live without trees.