Talking Green: Why we plant trees |

Talking Green: Why we plant trees

Michelle Stewart
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Local artist Jill Bergman created the ReTree 2020 print with the message: we “plant for the future” when we plant trees together.
Jill Bergman/courtesy

On Oct. 3, the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council will host its community planting event known as ReTree for the 11th year in a row. Since 2010, ReTree has convened 3,604 volunteers, ages 2 to 72, to plant 26,720 trees at community open spaces throughout Routt and Moffat counties. 

Community reforestation projects like ReTree not only facilitate place-making and community-building, but planting trees is an effective form of climate action. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, a fast-growing hardwood tree species, like cottonwood, can sequester as much as 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide over 50 years, as much as an average car emits in a year.

The markers of climate change are well-known to us in the Yampa Valley: drought (signified by the recent call on the river); higher than average summer and winter temperatures; higher frequency, higher intensity and more massive wildfires; rain on snow and earlier spring thaw; reduced snowpack; and numerous other ecosystem changes. Planting trees mitigates climate change and increases community resilience to continued changes.  

This year’s ReTree planting event will support the second year of the sustainability council’s Yampa River Forest Restoration Program at the city of Steamboat Springs Rotary Park. The council launched the Yampa River Forest Restoration Program in 2019 in response to the city’s 2018 Yampa River Health Assessment and Streamflow Management Plan, which found that the riparian forest along the Yampa River is degraded on the reach above the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area and through town to the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Enhancing the quality of the vegetation, particularly the shading canopy cover, was identified as a top priority action in the Stream Management Plan to improve stream temperature and water quality on the Yampa River, over time. Reforestation will also help to restore aquatic and terrestrial habitat and stabilize the river channel, thus making it more resilient to floods, droughts and human impacts. 

Following last year’s planting successes — when we planted more than 200 native narrowleaf cottonwoods in Rotary Park and more at the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management — this year, we will be planting approximately 320 narrowleaf cottonwoods in the Yampa River riparian zone just downstream from the 2019 site. 

Thanks to the generous support from the city, Yampa River Fund, U.S. Forest Service and our valued supporters, we have been working throughout this past summer to maintain and water last year’s plantings and look forward to continuing our reforestation efforts along the Yampa River this year.

A special thanks to the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Service Learning Crews — made up of 11- to 13-year-olds — and their crew leaders who came to the reforestation site every Friday this summer to help with weeding and site maintenance. 

As we reflect on all of these reasons why we plant trees, we are grateful to our local artist Jill Bergman, who can so profoundly convey through her ReTree 2020 print the clearest message of all: we “plant for the future”  when we plant trees together. 

If you would like to volunteer or support ReTree, email

Michelle Stewart, Ph.D., serves as the executive director of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.

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