Trees are our partners on the planet. Through photosynthesis, they absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. A single tree can absorb up to 330 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, while providing enough oxygen for a whole family. An integral thread in the web of life, trees keep our entire planet healthy. Trees reduce the need for heating and cooling. Their root systems filter rainwater. Trees reduce erosion and provide habitat for urban wildlife. The life-giving properties of trees are what prompted journalist and former Salt Lake resident and Pepper Provenzano to found TreeUtah in 1988. TreeUtah’s mission is to improve Utah’s quality of life by enhancing the environment through tree planting, stewardship and education.
Putting Down Roots
In its 30-plus years, TreeUtah has planted more than 500,000 trees with the help of 150,000 volunteers. Most planting takes place on Utah’s public lands, from city parks to schoolyards to national forests. The organization coordinates with public entities and municipalities to beautify parks and other public areas.
In the past few years, TreeUtah has focused on growing to provide educational tree planting throughout Utah. “We’ve increased statewide presence and partnerships. We want to be available as a non-profit partner throughout the state rather than just Salt Lake City and Provo.” says Executive Director Amy May. “We want to be the tree-planting organization for the state.”
TreeUtah currently operates with a full-time staff of four dedicated individuals. These include executive director, planting coordinator, education and volunteer coordinator, and bookkeeper. Between 2,500 and 4,000 people volunteer each year to participate in TreeUtah’s events.
Even during COVID, TreeUtah planted between 7,500 to 12,000 trees each year. In spring of 2020, when everything shut down, TreeUtah staff members and their families planted all the trees they’d ordered for volunteer events. As the pandemic progressed, and they learned more about gathering outdoors safely, they expanded to groups of 10 volunteers and later, groups of 50. Now they’re back to pre-COVID numbers.
Volunteering for TreeUtah
Some volunteers come to plantings individually; others come in groups. TreeUtah partners with dozens of companies whose employees get together to plant trees. People bring their families and enjoy each others’ company outside the workplace. You can customize tree-planting events to fit your group. For example, families will often plant a tree to honor a newborn or a family member who has passed.
TreeUtah follows up on the trees they and their volunteers plant. They make sure the trees they and their volunteers plant are properly watered and cared for to improve their survival rates.
Before she became executive director of TreeUtah, Amy May volunteered for the organization for more than 15 years. “I loved volunteering, when the opportunity came up, it seemed like a great fit,” she says. “I love gardening and planting trees, and love to be involved in an organization that engages people in nature.”
TreeUtah Teaches About Trees
TreeUtah’s educational programs are a centerpiece of their mission. Schools have precious little funding for things like landscaping. So TreeUtah combines tree planting for schools with innovative curriculum tied to state core science standards. They teach children about the importance of trees. At the same time, they leave schoolyards a little greener. New research suggests who tree canopy in schoolyards benefits students. Benefits include higher test scores for students. TreeUtah sends home materials with students so families know a little more about how to plant in their own yards, too.
The organization also provides adult educational opportunities. Adults can learn about planting, pruning and tree identification. Tree identification classes take place in the winter, before trees have leafed out. This shows participants that leaves are not the only way to identify trees.
How Can You Help?
If you’re interested in volunteering, either as an individual or with a group, you can find out more at the volunteer link on TreeUtah’s website. By registering to volunteer, you don’t need to make a long-term commitment. You can attend open tree plantings whenever you choose. TreeUtah posts open plantings on Facebook events page or at treeutah.org/events.
Every Saturday in April, May, September and October, TreeUtah holds public events. You can sign up the week of the event. They also sponsor after-work events. “You don’t need to have a green thumb to volunteer,” says Amy. TreeUtah provides the tools, gloves, etc., and educates volunteers about the trees they’ll be planting and how to plant them.
A veteran tree planter and educator, Amy says. “I love the way that tree planting gets people of all ages engaged in the nature in their own back yards. It’s an opportunity to volunteer with an organization where you can bring your kids, your grandparents—everyone is welcome, all abilities and age levels. It’s a fun way to make a positive impact in your community. The whole point is to teach people how to plant trees and why. So many people say they don’t have a green thumb. We open up a new world to people that they might not normally get to experience. Hopefully, they go home and plant more trees in their yards.”
Through the end of June, a portion of your purchases will go to TreeUtah to support their work in the community. Hugger Mugger is proud to partner with this great organization.