Restoration student club launches 1 Million Trees campaign

hand and tiny plants

A small group of Colorado State University students in the Society for Ecological Restoration Student Association wanted to make a big impact.

They chose a goal of planting a million trees.

These students launched their “1 Million Trees” campaign Friday, April 20, when they planted the first tree in CSU’s Sherwood Forest, just south of the Forestry Building.

“It was a number we liked,” said Mark Paschke, the association’s faculty advisor and research associate dean for the Warner College of Natural Resources. “It’s big enough to get noticed.”

This association is an official student chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration. The professional organization encompasses a global community of restoration professionals engaged in restoring damaged ecosystems through research and practice.

The campaign is ready to do both, and be noticed. Planting and collecting information for 1 million trees over the next few years will become a large data set. Students behind the initiative spent the last year testing their efforts at a smaller scale, growing their first batch of trees. Next, they found a platform to record planted tree data, and, now, they are getting the word out to show others how they can get involved.

Gaining momentum

Liz Kehm, who serves as president for the student group, said she is already seeing some momentum in the project. Last fall, she recruited club members to help purchase or collect seeds from around the CSU campus and Fort Collins community, and rented space in the university’s greenhouse to grow trees from these local sources.

“It started off slow, but we had some regulars who always showed up and next thing you know, we have 10,000 seedlings in the greenhouse,” Kehm said. “We thought, ‘Wow, that’s a great start.’”

Now, they just have to start getting these young trees in the ground. The student club plans to sell these seedlings at events on campus and in Fort Collins, and use the proceeds to sustain the project. For students without a place to plant a tree, Kehm said there are other ways to get involved. The club is developing planting packets, with instructions, so anyone can grow seedlings in the smaller “greenhouses” of their own residences. Students can also help staff the club’s tree sales, and donate time to participate in future plantings the club coordinates.

“If every student at CSU planted one tree, that would make 30,000,” said Paschke, also a professor in the Forest and Rangeland Stewardship department. “And if each student planted 10 trees, there would be 300,000 just like that: We’d be a third of the way to our goal.”

Tree Planting Instructions

Dig a hole as deep as the container, and 3 to 4 times as wide as the container, setting aside dirt on a tarp and mix with compost.

Remove seedling or tree and dirt from the container.

Put the root wad and dirt into the hole and pack soil around the seedling or tree.

Be sure to apply pressure to remove air pockets, and cover with mulch.

Water tree daily and record its progress on the 1 Million Trees citizen science webpage.

row of small plants
Young trees grown over the winter are ready to be planted this spring. (Photo by Liz Kehm)
woman carries plant tubes
SER Student Association President Liz Kehm carries small trees her club planted in CSU's greenhouse. (Photo by Nana Ueno)

Recording each tree

The club designed this effort to spread to communities outside CSU, which will also help the count rise exponentially. Anyone around the world can become part of the project: plant a tree from other sources, and record it in the count toward 1 million.

Gathering this momentum and talking large numbers begs the question: How do you record and keep track of it all?

The club developed a “1 Million Trees” citizen science project on CitSci.org, with help from Evan Cox, a Forest and Rangeland Stewardship graduate student. To use CitSci.org, people can scan a QR code on a planting packet or a flyer using the camera from a phone, or they can go directly to the website and open up the project page. Instructions will guide that person through recording the right information.

“We’ve tinkered around with it in our testing phase, and it looks like it’ll be an effective tool to gather all the data we need,” Cox said. “It can generate a map with markers for all the planted trees, keep track of tree species names and measurements, and keep the count for us.”

While the computer program continues counting, the Society for Ecological Restoration Student Association will continue spreading the word. The campaign has already created a partnership that brought together faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students all working toward a common goal.

“We want this to snowball,” Paschke said, expressing hope that the momentum will continue to build. “We hope it grows and grows, and that other student clubs, organizations and individuals both inside and outside CSU get involved.”

For more information about “1 Million Trees,” contact the student club organizers.