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Opinion

Roots of Arbor Day stretch around world, through history

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April 25, 2013

The snow is still on the ground and the trees are still bare, patiently waiting for spring to arrive so the leaves can finally bud.

Every year on the last Friday of April, shortly after Earth Day, Arbor Day is observed in many countries throughout the world.

Arbor Day is a holiday to encourage people to plant and care for trees. Many people often take the trees outside for granted, but they do in fact serve an important role in our environment. They add beauty and interest, provide shade and oxygen, and they even control high wind speeds. Arbor Day is the perfect day to appreciate the benefits of trees, even when they still look so barren.

Arbor Day was founded in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton. The first Arbor Day was held on April 10 of that year in its place of origin, Nebraska City, Neb. That day, around 1 million trees were planted around the area.

Now, the same traditions are still observed in many countries. The holiday was made international in 1883 by Birdsey Winthrop of Connecticut. He globalized it when he visited Japan where he delivered an Arbor Day and Village Improvement Message. Winthrop was also responsible for bringing Arbor Day to Australia, Canada and many parts of Europe.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt was accused of limiting his conservational speeches to the workers of the lumber industry. Du Bois, Pa., conservationist Major Israel McCreight suggested that Roosevelt also cater to youth education and conservation. He also pushed for Roosevelt to speak publicly about trees and how to conserve American forests and protecting them from destruction.

Chief Conservationist Gifford Pinchot of the United States Forest Service agreed with McCreight, emphasizing the importance of teaching children about trees and conserving forests. They both also believed that this conservational practice should be taught in schools around the country.

One year later, on April 15, 1907, President Roosevelt issued an “Earth Day Proclamation to the School Children of the United States,” expanding the ideas of Arbor Day to American youth.

Several countries around the world also celebrate Arbor Day, whether it is the same holiday as the United States or a day with their own traditions. Canada devotes an entire week to its forests in late September, simply called “National Forest Week.” The Wednesday of this week is Maple Leaf Day, similar to Arbor Day. Ontario observes Arbor Week during the last week of April, like the United States.

Arbor Day planting began in New Zealand on July 3, 1890, in Greytown in the Wairarapa. Every year, the New Zealand Department of Conservation focuses on restoring plants and trees that have been destroyed by chemicals or natural disasters.

Many groups are involved in working to restore biodiversity around the country. The first official observance of the holiday took place last August in Wellington, when pohutukawa and Norfolk pine trees were planted along the Thorndon Esplanade.

The small Republic of Macedonia focused on conserving trees and forests after devastating summer 2007 wildfires. On March 12, 2008, the “Tree Day-Plant Your Future” campaign was launched. More than 150,000 Macedonians took the day off of work and planted 2 million trees in one day. Two million was symbolic for one tree for each citizen. Millions of trees were planted in the following years in order to encourage conservation.

My family has also observed Arbor Day in the past. In our yard at home, we planted “family trees,” one tree for each family member. It is interesting to watch them over the years grow from a tiny twig to something that towers over our house. The trees bring life to our yard and something to enjoy throughout the year.

In 1998, the straight-line wind storm in the Twin Cities wiped out thousands of trees in our neighborhood alone, including a family tree. We did not only make it a priority to clean up the fallen trees, but we also found it important to plant new ones and restore an appreciation for nature around us.

This Friday is a special day to appreciate trees and forests. They provide many benefits, including beauty, oxygen, and even family traditions. The trees this year may be completely bare from the long winter, but they will soon bud and be something that we will not take for granted.

Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.