A central Pennsylvania veteran recently was concerned about water quality on his farm and reached out to an agency that helps those that once served our country become better farmers.
“We were able to get a technician on his property who noticed there was a stream that could be better protected,” said Mimi Thomas-Brooker of the Pennsylvania Veteran Farming Project. “Instead of going through some long process to put a buffer in, he was able to access the 10 Million Tree Partnership and has already been planting trees that will improve the streambanks significantly. As trees are going in, he is seeing results and it’s all because of the partnership with 10 Million Trees.”
The partnership launched in April of 2018. Since then, collectively between partners, state and federal programs, the initiative has led to 2.5 million trees finding roots in the Commonwealth.
“We use a tracking system and submit data to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) so that the work of all our partners in the Keystone partnership will effectively count toward the Chesapeake Bay blueprint goals,” said Sieglitz. “It is quite exciting to have that work be counted in a variety of ways.”
Maintenance of trees that have been planted is one of the most expensive and difficult issues the partnership faces.
“We received a $2 million Fish and Wildlife grant that will be implemented sometime this year to help us over the next three years to tackle maintenance issues,” Sieglitz said.
Those issues include tracking mortality rates.
“We ask our partners to check back periodically with landowners to see how trees are doing and to track what may be causing mortality issues,” said Sieglitz. “Whether that is through deer browsing or the flooding we saw the first two years of the partnership or the drought we had last year.
“We also use special data from NASA imaging to look at trees from space, but you can’t always get a good visual until the trees are quite large. Ultimately, we are using all facets of technology and in-person evaluation to get a better handle on things.”
As the program expands, there have been a number of supply-and-demand issues. Thankfully, the 10 Million Trees Partnership has contracted with four growers in Pennsylvania and Maryland. While Sieglitz and her team are excited about the increased tree availability that provides, it does pose a bigger issue.
“We need to know we have appropriate homes for 500,000 trees next year, which we anticipate needing an additional 1,300 landowners to come forward and volunteer their land for 2022 planting,” she said. “We have partners out in the field, looking for people who have land along streams, or who may have stormwater issues. We are looking at urban areas and old mine-land properties that could use help in cleaning up the water table.”
Many waterway benefits
Trees are a valuable asset in this area for a number of reasons, according to Sieglitz.
“They cover a great network in their root structure, and through that they provide excellent water quality benefits,” she said. “They actually are able to take up the nitrogen load that is in our water and filter that out. They are also instrumental in stabilizing banks along streams and rivers. We have miles – tens of thousands of miles – of streams and creeks and rivers in Pennsylvania, and many of them have eroded over time. So, we plant these trees along streambanks to help provide stability and that keeps the soil on the land where it belongs.”
Another important benefit of trees along waterways is the shade they provide.
“That shade allows different microorganisms and things like the brook trout and hellbenders that we all love to support to survive and thrive in these aquatic environments,” said Sieglitz. “There are so many unique things that happen in water that these trees can be a really important component in. Without having trees along streams, you lose all those crucial benefits that can help both the environment and humans.”
Importance of biodiversity
The 10 Million Trees partners utilize a variety of trees to achieve those results, with “work force species” such as sycamores and river birch along with maples and oaks, but there is also an effort to incorporate biodiversity.
“It isn’t a matter of just planting species that people are used to seeing in the landscape, but thinking broadly. How can the buffer they are planting work for them?” Sieglitz said. “There are agri-forestry species such as the pawpaw and elderberries and hazelnut shrubs, along with other fruits and nuts, that allow landowners to harvest some for income or to feed animals or bring in wildlife. It helps to diversify species. We work closely with our growers to find the right mix.”
Among the partners connected to the initiative are conservation district offices.
“They are really the go-to technical assistance providers in every county. They are already working with the agricultural community ensuring best practices, so if farmers can’t use a certain program connected to a governmental project, we have 10 Million Trees to help them out,” said Sieglitz. “We provide free trees without the long-term commitment of other programs.”
Another valuable partner includes the network of smaller watershed groups throughout the state.
“Many of these are volunteer associations who are plugged in to the needs of the local community,” said Sieglitz. “We encourage everyone to get involved with their local watershed groups and think about volunteering a few hours a month with stream cleanups, tree plantings and other clean water and clean air initiatives.”
However, the best way to get involved with the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership’s mission is to spread the word among friends and neighbors.
“Offer some grassroots efforts to be out there in the community talking to people,” said Sieglitz. “Perhaps you see a neighboring property that would benefit from additional trees or see a need in the local community. As more people get excited about the importance of trees along streams, our neighbors become our best advocates.”
For more information, visit tenmilliontrees.org
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.