October 1, 2009

When the United Nations kicked off its Global Climate Week with a Billion Tree Campaign press conference Sept. 21 in New York City, University of Kentucky Department of Forestry Associate Professor Christopher Barton was part of the panel of international dignitaries. The panel included U.N. Under-Secretary-General and Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner, H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, Jia Zhibang, China's Minister of the State Forestry Administration and Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai among others.

The U.N.'s Billion Tree Campaign, begun in 2006, set a goal of planting one tree for every person on the planet. At last week's press conference, Steiner announced that the goal has been exceeded, with 7.3 billion trees planted in 167 countries.

Barton, who is the science team leader for the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, announced that ARRI is on track to fulfill their pledge of 38 million trees in 2010 -- the largest pledge in North America -- as well as the initiative's recently submitted proposal to the White House for ramping up reforestation efforts in Appalachia through a project known as The Green Forest Works for Appalachia.

The project is designed to reforest old mine lands that were initially reclaimed as grasslands. In the process, the project would create jobs in Appalachia where they're greatly needed, Barton said.

"We've actually had a very successful last few years of getting people to change their ways, so we're seeing a lot of reforestation on these mine lands that we didn't see before," he said. "But we're estimating that there are a million acres of land in Appalachia that have been reclaimed as grasslands. Because of the way they're reclaimed, it will take centuries for them to naturally return to a forest. So in our proposal, we proposed to plant 125 million trees and create about 2,000 jobs in Appalachia."

The jobs would include everything from nursery jobs to people planting trees and then managing the sites.

"Then it would be similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps program of the 1930s. When they're not actively preparing sites and planting trees, they would be working on trails or identifying areas in these mine lands where we could look at alternative bioenergy fuels and things like that," he said.

The press conference was a way to bring The Green Forest Works for Appalachia project to the attention of the international community Barton said, indicating that most of the media representatives in attendance were from other countries. Barton's fellow panel members also were impressed.

"The Prince of Monaco came up to me afterwards and told me how interesting our project was," he said. "And the director of the U,N,'s environmental programme mentioned several times in his statements to people's questions that this is a real model that we can look at for reforestation partnerships. He definitely recognized the importance of our effort. It was great instantaneous feedback from those folks."

Barton said all the efforts ARRI and the UK Department of Forestry have made over the last few years have really had an impact on the environment in Appalachia.

"We're putting back forest, and we're seeing a lot better environmental conditions with regards to habitat and water quality and carbon sequestration," he said.

And what did he think of his debut on the international stage?

"It was a really good experience for me," he said, "and for, I hope, our initiative. That's the main thing."