Whether your concern is health, property values, crime, jobs, energy costs, flooding, recreation, clean water, clean air or climate change, you’re going to have the same answer for how to make a real difference: trees.
Because of the wide-reaching positive impacts of trees, there is a large industry around the planning, planting, maintenance and reuse of trees, and the need for employees is growing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, within the next five years, the tree industry will need 30,000 new people.
That’s where Sarah Anderson comes in. A nature lover from the tree-filled Pine Barrens region of New Jersey, Anderson is Senior Manager of Tree Equity programs for American Forests. Tree Equity is an American Forests program that seeks to connect people with tree careers and training.
When asked what she loves most about trees, she pauses. “It’s going to sound corny, but they sustain life. They literally sustain life.”
“Throughout the entire tree’s life—even after a tree has given its life [trees sustain us],” says Anderson. “They give us fruits and nuts and shade and beauty.” She continues, listing more of the many benefits of trees, concluding that, “trees, by existing, give us life.”
But not everyone gets to experience the benefits of trees, Anderson explains. “Overlay a map of any American City, and in the higher income neighborhoods, you will find that there are typically more trees there. How fair is it that people who are already wealthier have more trees too? When lower-income people are in greater need of those trees and the benefits that these trees provide?”
But the solution isn’t for the state or an environmental organization to come in and plant trees alone. Without inclusive planning beforehand and tree care after planting, in some cases, planting trees in underserved areas can lead to negative perceptions.
“A lot of the time, specifically in very urban and very rural places, those populations are left out of the planning process to determine how their forests should look. They’re not included in the planting, maintenance or reuse of that canopy,” explains Anderson. “That’s what Tree Equity seeks to correct.”
The tree industry has opportunities for every level of education and mobility, and Anderson works to make sure those opportunities in trees make their way to the people who need them most. “There’s room for everyone. There’s room for someone who just has their GED and wants to be out in trees all day. There’s room for someone who wants to teach, but maybe prefers teaching outside the classroom.”
“Anyone who has a passion for making the world better through tree planting and care can.”