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Volunteer Tree Planters Keep Digging Against the Odds : Environment: One nonprofit group, North East Trees, has planted thousands in the last few years. But it takes lots of help and follow-up, which is almost as hard to come by as funds.


NORTHEAST LOS ANGELES — Four years ago, Scott Wilson and Lynne Dwyer-Hade envisioned an army of volunteers planting 10,000 trees by Earth Day's 20th anniversary in 1990.

They didn't make it, and they still haven't.

But the nonprofit organization the two Eagle Rock environmentalists started, North East Trees, has planted thousands of trees, including 2,000 oaks on a once-barren hillside above Occidental College in Eagle Rock.

"We were all smart people. But we didn't have the knowledge we have now," said Dwyer-Hade, a 40-year-old landscape architect who is the group's vice president.

That first year, squirrels devoured hundreds of pine seedlings. "We had been told that ground squirrels didn't like to eat pine seedling roots," she said. "But we found out that when squirrels have lived through years of drought they love pine roots."

Wilson, Dwyer-Hade and hundreds of other volunteers have planted thousands of trees from Eagle Rock to Claremont and from El Monte to the Angeles National Forest in reforestation efforts.

Although there have been many one-day, short-lived tree planting attempts since Earth Day 1990, a few nonprofit groups, such as North East Trees and the Arroyo Seco Council in Pasadena, have survived. They are among a handful of the region's ongoing tree planting programs.

Even as they battle volunteer burnout and turnover, the groups are supplementing beleaguered tree-planting budgets of communities and governmental agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service.

Without help from San Gabriel High School students, Scouting groups, TreePeople, and the San Pedro chapter of the Izaak Walton League, trees would not be planted in the Mt. Baldy District of the Angeles National Forest because of a funding shortage, said Charlotte Whelan, who coordinates volunteer tree planting efforts in the area.

Last year in the San Gabriel Mountains, volunteers helped plant 2,400 conifers and oaks, and this year 3,000 to 4,000 trees have been planted.

In Claremont last year, a state grant helped the city buy 1,200 trees, but they could not have been planted without the barn-raising spirit of civic clubs and youth groups, said Larry Wheaton, maintenance supervisor for Claremont.

In Pasadena, one group has launched a fund-raising effort to supplement the city's once-ambitious tree-planting program, which was eliminated because of budgetary problems last year. The Pasadena Beautiful Foundation received a commitment that the city would match the funds the organization raised for tree planting, President Alice Frost Kennedy said.

In its initial effort, the group raised $7,000, although it is a far cry from the $200,000 a year that Pasadena had proposed spending when a five-year tree replacement program was started in 1989. Up to a thousand trees a year die from disease, storm damage or other causes, Kennedy said.

In addition, the group started a "Save Our Street Trees" crew that goes out one Saturday a month to maintain existing trees.

Public-private arrangements such as this will be increasingly required to keep the "urban forest" vital, said Tim Brick, executive director of the Arroyo Seco Council, which started its tree planting efforts with Earth Day 1990 activities.

As an example, he pointed to a program last summer that involved the Arroyo Seco Council hiring a dozen disadvantaged workers to plant 864 trees along Pasadena streets. The trees had been donated by the state forestry department.

The group is overseeing another joint venture with a $170,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is paying for 13 people to train as arborists while they work as temporary city employees.

North East Trees is also involved in several projects funded by grants that are supplementing tree-planting projects in Los Angeles.

One, at Loreto Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, is funded by a state grant and money from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The agency funded the project in hopes that rows of sycamore trees will shield the school from the sun and lessen the demand on the school air-conditioning system.

The biggest project for North East Trees is planting native oaks, toyon, elderberry and sycamore trees with $260,000 in state funding along a stretch of the Arroyo Seco just above the Los Angeles River.

The more trees group members plant, the more they learn about how to teach volunteers. "You have to train them that you have to nurture the trees," Brick said. "A lot of people haven't caught on to that concept."

Much wiser now as tree planters, Wilson, Dwyer-Hade and Brick say it is easy to find people willing to attend an Earth Day tree planting ceremony and far more difficult to find volunteers to nurture trees over the long term.

Hauling water in buckets or digging weeds with a hoe or by hand is not what some tree planters have in mind.

"I need help to water trees and sometimes I get absolutely no response to letters I send out seeking help," said Whelan of the Angeles National Forest.

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