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Ecology Action Center Wants To Plant 100,000 Trees In McLean County

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Ecology Action Center
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White Oak trees, like this 300-year old White Oak tree, can get up to 80 feet tall.

The Ecology Action Center is challenging itself and the community to go big or go home, with plans to plant at least 100,000 new trees in McLean County.

Center director Michael Brown said if the initiative plants all 100,000 trees over the next decade, then nearly 14,000 metric tons of carbon could be sequestered.

“It is one of the most significant and cost-effective strategies out there for carbon sequestration and for emissions we cannot address through other means,” said Brown.

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Credit Ecology Action Center
Michael has served as Executive Director of the Ecology Action Center since November of 2007.

The EAC is raising the money to do it through private donations. 

“This is something we've been talking about with some church congregations and we're inviting other community groups to take advantage of this as well,” said Brown. “Any group can form a tree team, set a goal of how many trees they want to help us plant and help us raise the money towards that. We're only talking about $5 a tree. These are very cost-effective trees that we will be planting.”

In April, Brown said, the center will host a couple planting workdays, where people can come out and actually contribute to make this happen. 

The project is a nod to the Ecology Action Center’s history. Operation Recycle, which later became the EAC, planted most of the trees you see at Comlara Park.

Fifty years later, Tree Corps is branching out and partnering with community partners like the Friends of the Constitution Trail, the ParkLands Foundation, and Living Lands and Waters to achieve the goal of 100,000 trees.

Living Lands and Waters is the EAC’s latest partner and is a nationwide non-profit founded by Chad Pregracke. 

“We all do have shared values in that we all value trees,” said Brown. “Parklands Foundation is a land trust, and they're really about protecting and restoring natural areas. Our work with them is going to be focused on some of these properties that they own that need to be restored back to native habitat.”

The EAC plans to plant a diverse selection of native hardwood trees that will complement the habitat and improve and restore it to something that's similar to what it was in pre-settlement times.

So what was McLean County like back then? 

Brown said McLean County was a mix of woodlands, prairie and savannah, and so there were wide open spaces with native wildflowers and grasses. There were places with some moderate tree cover with big Burr oak trees and white oak trees.

“There were forested areas and heavily wooded areas, especially along the Mackinaw River or even Bloomington itself,” said Brown. “The name Bloomington comes from the grove of trees that was here. It was originally called Blooming Grove.”

Brown said the initiative could have some non-climate change benefits as well. 

“Looking at the wildlife habitat and native biological diversity, the trees that we plant will solely be native trees,” said Brown. “Native trees in particular are what have been here for at least the past 10,000 years, since the Pleistocene.

"Ecosystems were developed here. So the tree species and the rest of the plant species are what support the animal species. And unfortunately the more native habitat we've lost over the past many years since development and agriculture and everything has happened here in our community, that means there's less and less food sources for the animal species, including pollinators.”

Brown said native tree species are part of that food chain. 

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Credit Ecology Action Center
According to the US Forest Service, in Chicago, trees remove more than 18,000 tons of air pollution each year.

  

“The more we can increase our native tree species plantings, whether it's through these large efforts or just through backyard, that's going to support the root food chain all the way on up,” said Brown. 

But it doesn’t end there. Brown said the initiative will improve public health. Brown said McLean County has excessive ozone missions. 

“We're actually borderline in non-attainment for the air quality standards for ozone,” said Brown. “Excessive ozone does contribute to respiratory disease. The more we can reduce the ozone emissions, the more that we can improve public health in our community.”

Ozone emissions are regulated by federal law. McLean County is almost above those limits.

Trees are natural air conditioners. Ozone formation is temperature dependent. If the air stays cooler, then less ozone will form.

Donations to the EAC’s new Tree Corps Fund are tax-deductible.

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