In the cool April air, several dozen people in casual clothes huddle around an evergreen tree. With its roots bundled in burlap, Stephen Wood demonstrates how a transplanted tree should be removed from the ground.
If the observers seem unusually focused on the presentation, it's with good reason. In a few hours they'll graduate from the New Hampshire Tree Steward program and become local forestry experts in their communities. As a large clod of dirt falls out of the burlap, one student chuckles, "Now I won't feel so bad the first time I blow it myself."
The Tree Steward program is a unique partnership between federal, state, county, and local agencies in New Hampshire. Volunteers attend more than 70 hours of classes over 10 weeks, covering everything from soil sampling and tree identification to public speaking. After graduation, the Stewards return to their community where they are expected to contribute at least 40 hours of community service.
"They will work in the community to connect people with natural resource professionals, and try to enhance the natural resources in the community," explains Mary Tebo, who heads the Tree Steward project.
In Philadelphia, the Tree Tenders serve as educational resources for their neighborhoods after completing a 12-hour course. The program, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, is particularly focused on working with the schools to develop forestry-related instructional plans, in a program called "Adopt-A-School."
"Kids can be real good friends and caregivers to trees, or their worst enemies," says Mindy Maslin, manager of the Tree Tender project. "If they're not given positive tools to impact the environment, they do what they can, which is usually negative."