Some of the employees from our Ruston Timberlands office and Arcadia OSB plant who came out to help plant trees in Ruston, Louisiana, on Dec. 8. “The Weyerhaeuser team also came with energy, smiles and a willingness to get dirty to get the job done,” says Joshua Simon from American Forests.
When Weyerhaeuser announced a new partnership with American Forests to expand its Tree Equity program into smaller, more rural communities last year, the best way to celebrate seemed obvious: A tree-planting event in Ruston, Louisiana, one of three operating communities selected to pilot the innovative program.
On Dec. 8, about 45 employees from our Ruston Timberlands office and our Arcadia OSB plant in nearby Simsboro gathered at the high school and a local park to dig holes and plant saplings.
In fact, so many volunteers showed up that event organizers didn’t have enough equipment for everyone.
“There were more people than shovels at first,” says Joshua Simon, an urban forester and senior manager of community engagement with American Forests, the event’s nonprofit co-sponsor. “Fortunately, some Weyerhaeuser folks came prepared with extra shovels in their trucks.”
And they brought more than shovels.
Timberlands area manager Seth Carpenter admires a newly planted oak tree in Ruston’s Duncan Park. The event was part of our recently announced collaboration with American Forests. The joint program aims to bring tree equity to urban centers in large and small communities across the U.S.
“We weren’t just planting trees,” says Gary Hill, region manager of North Louisiana-Arkansas Timberlands. “We were building connections, building pride in the community and building futures.”
Our volunteer team was joined by 20 local high school students and their teachers and chaperones. The group planted 38 trees: 33 at Duncan Park and five at Ruston High School.
“It was an especially great day for the community of Ruston,” Joshua says. “And it was a great kick-off to build on the ongoing partnership between American Forests and Weyerhaeuser.”
Tammy Mattox from our Arcadia OSB mill assists a Ruston High School student during the tree planting event on Dec. 8.
PILOTING TREE EQUITY
Announced late last year, our Tree Equity collaboration aims to eliminate disparities in tree canopy cover in communities where our employees live and work.
“Communities are unique in so many ways, including how many trees are planted in backyards, schoolyards, street rights-of-way and other public spaces,” says Ara Erickson, our vice president of corporate sustainability and a board member of American Forests. “When most people think of communities that lack trees, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a dense urban environment. But smaller, rural communities often face similar challenges, and we want to address these head on.”
The Tree Equity program takes its name from American Forests’ Tree Equity Score, a tool that gauges which neighborhoods in a community most need trees. With support from Weyerhaeuser, the tool recently expanded from primarily urban areas to smaller, more rural communities — including those that are home to many of our operations.
Ruston High School student Shavone Spears talks about her experience with American Forests’ Tree Equity curriculum. Shavone and 199 of her peers were the first students to participate in the program, which explores the benefits of trees and green careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Tree Equity aligns with our 3 by 30 Sustainability Ambitions, especially our goal to help our rural communities remain thriving places to live, work and do business. Ruston was the first of three pilots, and later this year the second and third pilots will take place in Tacoma, Washington, and then Natchitoches, Louisiana.
“Trees provide so much for communities,” Ara says. “Their shade can reduce peak summer temperatures in cities and towns by as much as 10 degrees. They filter groundwater and reduce runoff that causes erosion. They provide shelter for birds and other wildlife.”
Trees also provide many other less-obvious benefits. Those include a growing body of medical research suggesting people who live near trees are physically and mentally healthier, and the fact that tree-covered neighborhoods have also been linked to improved economic vitality in both small towns and large cities.
Ruston mayor Ronny Walker speaks to volunteers before the tree-planting event in Duncan Park. The park was selected using American Forests’ Tree Equity Score, which indicated the park lacked trees when compared with other community sites.
LAYERING IN EDUCATION
That’s why the Tree Equity partnership goes far beyond tree planting. It also includes a brand-new high school curriculum we developed in coordination with American Forests and Project Learning Tree, an environmental education advocacy organization.
“The study unit opens eyes about trees as well as forestry and green careers,” says Anne Leyva, our people development and giving programs manager, who also co-leads the community pillar of our 3 by 30 Sustainability Ambitions. “It also includes hands-on learning projects, so it made sense to combine the educational effort with American Forests.”
The high school curriculum, piloted by more than 200 high school students in Ruston, provided exposure to green careers, taught the importance of tree cover and used the Tree Equity Score to help students better understand equity and environmental justice issues in the community. Building on Project Learning Tree’s Green Jobs Quiz, the curriculum allows students to explore urban and community forestry and its intersection with factors such as ecosystem services, pollution, income, ethnicity, age and health.
After taking the quiz, students were matched with a related green occupation and then worked in groups to design and implement a greening project. The unit culminated in the Dec. 8 tree planting at Duncan Park and the high school — one of several experiences our teams hope students remember for a lifetime.
Volunteers from Weyerhaeuser, Ruston High School and American Forests gather before planting trees in Ruston’s Duncan Park.
GROWING TREES, GROWING COMMUNITIES
As volunteers worked in small groups of four to five people to plant the trees, Gary and his fellow Weyerhaeuser volunteers chatted with the students about their interests and what they had learned. They talked about Weyerhaeuser — our timberlands nearly surround Ruston about 40 miles outside of town — and the care we take to manage our forests for generations to come. And they also discussed careers in the forest products industry, from growing trees to making OSB and everything in between.
The next tree-planting event will be on April 14 in Tacoma, Washington. Local employees are welcome to participate and can register to take part if interested!