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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)


Air Date: Week of

For politicans who want to seem green, tree planting is an easy pasttime. But those politically inspired projects; don't impress commentator, Robert Leo Heilman.


CURWOOD: For politicians who want to seem green, tree-planting is an easy pass-time. But those politically-inspired projects don't impress our commentator, Robert Leo Heilman.

HEILMAN: A while back, the local television news ran a piece showing some folks in suits and government uniform standing around watching a tree get planted with a gold-painted shovel. This particular seedling, it seems, was the one-millionth tree to be planted as part of a government program. Some kind of volunteer thing, mostly for city folks, it seems. Planting 1,000,000 trees sounds like a bigger deal than it actually amounts to. Reforestation crews generally plant about 500 seedling trees to the acre. So a million trees only covers 2,000 acres of land. The news piece got me to thinking about an old friend named Billy the Weasel, and I got to wondering about when and where he planted his one-millionth tree. The Weasel isn't exactly the sort of guy you'd see in a TV commercial. He's not the square-jawed, handsome woodsman type the corporations like to show, nor the soft, caring sort who serve as poster children for Arbor Day committees. He's a small, wiry, snaggle-toothed guy who chews tobacco and drinks his whiskey straight from the bottle. If you saw him on a city street, you'd probably try your best to walk past him, without making eye contact. He's not much of a hero, but when it comes to tree-planting, he's the genuine article. A steady 1,000 good trees every day, 5 days per week, 20 to 30 weeks per year, for the last 20 years. It's a tough way to earn a paycheck, pumping up and down mountains all winter, but he's used to it. I saw Billy last week. He was busy, stealing firewood off some timber company land at the time, and tossing the rounds into his pickup to haul back to the tarpapered shack he lives in. I was on my way into town, and we howdied, but didn't stop to talk, so it didn't occur to me to ask him about it. Come to think of it, he probably wouldn't remember that one millionth tree of his anyway. It might have been planted in Oregon, or Washington, Montana, Idaho, British Columbia, Alaska, Arizona, or Colorado. It was probably a lot like the 20,000 others he planted that month, and I'm sure that nobody handed him a golden shovel, or took his picture for the occasion.

CURWOOD: Commentator Robert Leo Heilman lives in Myrtle Creek, Oregon.



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