By Donna Boynton
Worcester, MA (April 29, 2011)- Jose Herrera remembers the trees that used to line his Hawley Street neighborhood. The trees fell victim to the Asian longhorned beetle, and were removed, taking with them a little something from everyone- memories, shade, a sound barrier and even a natural buffer to hide those things that shouldn’t be seen.
“It’s kind of empty,” said Mr. Herrera, 23. “Whenever I would walk in my neighborhood, I would remember seeing trees. Now it’s just empty. Something is missing from that whole block where I used to live. It used to be whenever you see trees, it meant you are home.” Carlos Lopez, 21, of Bronx, N.Y., never gave much thought to trees other than where he built tree houses. “I didn’t know much about trees, other than just to look at them. I’d kick it and keep on going,” Mr. Lopez said.
Nicholas Fernandez, 21, of Worcester, used to hang on branches of trees. Now he has a new respect for the trees, and their importance beyond an urban jungle gym. “The trees are like the filter of life,” Mr. Fernandez said. Now, Mr. Herrera, Mr. Lopez and Mr. Fernandez are likely to be spotted pruning, watering and maintaining the trees that have been replanted in place of those lost to the Asian longhorned beetle infestation. The three men are part of a pilot program called Worcester’s Young Adult Foresters that is a collaboration among the Worcester Youth Center, the Worcester Tree Initiative and the city of Worcester Forestry Department.
The program is funded by federal stimulus money distributed through the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. For the past eight weeks, a group of 11 young adults have been training three days a week from 8 a.m. to noon, learning not only business skills, such as how to interview and apply for a job, but also about urban forestry. The first class will graduate from training next week, and then, working with the city’s Forestry Department, will be maintaining replanted trees daily through the summer and fall to help ensure they thrive in the efforts to reforest the city.
The young foresters will earn $8 an hour, and work 20 hours a week with the city’s forestry department. The Asian longhorned beetle was first discovered in Worcester in 2008, and the infestation spread beyond the city to Boylston, West Boylston, Holden and Shrewsbury. Nearly 30,000 trees have been cut down and removed from those towns, and of those trees, an estimated 19,000 were infested with the beetle and another 10,250 were host trees that the beetle are usually attracted to.
The Department of Conservation and Recreation, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, began replanting trees last summer, after receiving $4.5 million in stimulus funds. The trees – which are several different species – are supplied by Bigelow Nurseries of Northboro. To date, about 3,800 trees have been replanted – 1,775 in Worcester alone. The goal is to have an additional 5,000 in the ground by July, said Shannon Williams, a forester with the DCR.
Residents living in the regulation zone – whether they have lost trees or not – may call DCR to request a meeting with a forester. The forester will work with the homeowner to determine which type of tree is most compatible with existing conditions. There is no charge for the tree or the replanting. “We don’t want to just plop a tree in the ground for the sake of planting a tree. You have to have the right conditions,” Mr. Williams said. There are four crews of about a dozen people each that are planting trees daily.
By the time the grant ends in May 2012, it is hoped to have 15,000 trees replanted. The Worcester Tree Initiative, working with DCR, hopes to have a total of 30,000 trees planted by 2014 through the efforts of DCR, the city, the tree initiative itself and private plantings.
“Planting is good, but we also need to take care of them for the next three years,” said Peggy Middaugh, director of the Worcester Tree Initiative. Through the Worcester’s Young Adult Foresters program, the Worcester Tree Initiative was able to bridge a gap that spanned ecological and environmental needs and created jobs for disconnected youth.
“We wanted to create jobs and we have a real need,” Ms. Middaugh said. Mr. Herrera said he was initially was attracted to the program by the chance to earn some money, but what he has gotten instead is an opportunity to pursue a career. “I’m starting to get the hang of trees. I didn’t know much about them before,” Mr. Herrera said. “Hopefully, I’ll own my own landscaping business or tree service company.”
The program teaches not only about the three main parts of the trees – the roots, bark and crown – but about watering, staking, mulching, pruning the trees, all the skills that will prepare them to work along side the city’s Forestry Department. The group was at Bigelow Nurseries in Northboro earlier this week, potting, pruning and preparing trees to be used in the reforestation.
Quiava Brown of Worcester is the program supervisor. He was recommended to the program by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, where he had been a seasonal worker. He said the program gives him a change to work with struggling young adults, as he once was, and teach them a skill. He said he is inspired by students, such as Mr. Lopez, who have been shown to be leaders and dedicated to not only learning but bettering the community.
“We’ve learned how to unite, to work as one to save the environment,” Mr. Lopez said. “Between the Asian longhorned beetle and the ice storm, we lost a lot of trees. Ten years from now, five years from now, our kids’ kids’ generation can say, ‘My grandfather took the time out of his day to plant trees so we can breathe better, so we can walk down a street and not just see houses and buildings, but trees. There are a lot of memories with these trees, and when they were torn down, a part of each person left with them, and you won’t be able to get that back. But wait 10, 20 years from now. You can be on your porch, look out at a tree and say, ‘I did that.'”
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