Community Conservation Featured Science

Trout Unlimited activates 'tree army' in Michigan

By Jamie Vaughan

With planting bags slung over their shoulders, gloves and a specialized tree planting tool called a “hoedad” in hand, the Rogue River Tree Army descended toward the river. In just three weeks, 16,000 newly planted trees took root in their new home, providing immediate benefits to the Rogue River watershed that will only increase with time. 

This large-scale tree planting initiative was conceived by Trout Unlimited in 2017 and came to fruition this spring thanks to funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service and the help of community partners like the Kent Conservation District and Land Conservancy of West Michigan.  

The Rogue River Tree Army is not a novel idea. In fact, its inspiration goes back to the 1930s, when conservation-minded President Franklin D. Roosevelt put Americans back to work during the Great Depression to repair our lands from the damage of poor farming and forestry practices.  

Roosevelt’s initiative was the Civilian Conservation Corps, a workforce of over three million young men who planted more than three billion trees by 1942.  

While it was not without its problems, including racial segregation and lack of gender diversity, “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” made lasting contributions to the recovery of our nation’s forests and waterways and aided in the development of recreational infrastructure in our state and national park systems. These young men learned invaluable skills and service to community, which enabled them to succeed and benefited our nation through World War II and beyond.   

With the current initiative, Trout Unlimited and its partners aim to make the Rogue River, its tributaries, and its watershed more resilient by reforesting riparian lands at critical sites.  

As land use change continues, stormwater runoff increases, bringing higher flows, warmer water temperatures, excess sediment, and other pollutants into the river. Trees can help address these issues by providing shade to regulate temperatures, growing roots in the riverbank to keep soil in place, dropping wood and leaves into the stream for fish habitat, and soaking up and filtering runoff to reduce the amount entering and polluting a stream.  

In the first five years alone, the trees planted this year will result in 1.5 million gallons of water filtered, resulting in cleaner and colder water and more stable river flows. 

Trout Unlimited is also considering climate change impacts through this initiative. By selecting climate adaptive tree species to this region, including tulip tree, black gum, paw paw, and eastern red cedar, this effort can have a greater potential impact long term, making the Rogue River and its communities more resilient to climate change. 

While the Rogue River Tree Army’s size does not compare to that of Roosevelt’s, their achievements are noteworthy. In just three weeks, they planted thousands of tree seedlings at eight high priority stretches of river and stream. Sites included public spaces like a fishing access site along the Rogue River and private lands that add public benefit like a Consumers Energy and ITC Holdings easement that is home to a high-quality trout stream.   

The Kent Conservation District provided a five-person tree planting crew and sourced the trees for the project. Conservation Districts are a local resource for technical assistance to citizens and a close partner of Trout Unlimited nationwide. We encourage citizens anywhere to connect with their local conservation district and utilize their tree sales to support the important work they do across the country.  

You can support the Rogue River Tree Army by volunteering, planting trees on your own property or caring for your woods, or starting tree planting initiatives in your own community, wherever that might be.  

Trout Unlimited will continue this initiative with another tree planting this fall and will work to secure funding for many years to come. We are thankful to the U.S. Forest Service for their support as well as for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative which makes this project possible.  

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