Air Force, community reps plant trees across America

  • Published
  • By Susan Wolbarst
  • Air Force Real Property Agency
In recognition of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, Air Force Real Property Agency officials enlisted the participation of people in 40 communities to plant a tree at one of 40 former and active Air Force bases, from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii to the former Loring AFB in Maine, as well as the Pentagon.

"The trees symbolize the Air Force Real Property Agency's commitment to environmental restoration," said Robert Moore, AFRPA director.

The trees were planted on Earth Day, or as near to it as possible.
Some of the trees planted on Earth Day may live into the next century, seeing several decades of Earth Days to come, according to AFRPA officials. Tree species selected are as diverse as the places they'll be planted, including a Blue Palo Verde, the Arizona state tree suitable for desert conditions, to be planted at the former Williams AFB in Mesa, Ariz.; a red maple at Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota; a Valley Live Oak, a tree that can stand torrid summers, at the former McClellan AFB in Sacramento, Calif. Hardy, drought-tolerant native species were planted whenever possible.

Volunteers of all ages were approached to plant the trees on the former and active Air Force bases. Among them are Gaye Pappas, chairman of a group building a veterans memorial park near the main gate of the former Wurtsmith AFB in Michigan, and Boy Scouts from Honolulu, planting a tree on Hickam AFB.

In addition, Debra Tune, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, joined this Earth Day initiative by planting a Valley Forge Elm in the courtyard at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Air Force Real Property Agency officials, coordinators of the Trees Across America initiative, have a twin mission of restoring and recycling property at closed Air Force Bases. To date, they have conveyed more than 76,000 acres of surplus Air Force property to benefit the public, optimizing assets such as runways and other infrastructure to strengthen local economies with jobs and commerce. Success stories from former Air Force bases include Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Arizona, which reportedly generates triple the revenue and many more local jobs than when it was Williams AFB, which closed in 1993.

Other communities which used to house Air Force bases still struggle, as the jobs lost to base closures have yet to be replaced. The current recession has hit those areas especially hard. But the effort to attract new businesses and public uses -- like colleges, aerial firefighting support, public safety training and distribution centers -- continues. By 2013, another 10,000 plus acres will be conveyed into public ownership.

As cleanup and economic rehabilitation efforts continue, trees will provide shade, beauty and oxygen for those living and working in these communities. Trees are recyclable and provide habitat, as well as many useful products. Some trees, such as the hybrid poplars at the former Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Ill., even help clean toxins out of landfills through a process known as phytoremediation.

A Chinese proverb says," The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now."

For more information call Linda Geissinger, AFRPA Public Affairs, [916] 643-6420, Ext 109