American Forests President & CEO, Scott Steen
American Forests President & CEO, Scott Steen, speaking at our 50 millionth tree planting on November 11, 2015 in Lake Arrowhead, California.

Scott Steen, president and CEO of American Forests, gave the following speech on Wednesday, November 11th, at the planting of American Forests’ 50 millionth tree.

“There is a Chinese proverb that says ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’

Well, 25 years ago, American Forests started the Global ReLeaf program with a simple, compelling mission — to find threatened, ecologically important forests, and to fund tree planting initiatives that can make a real difference in restoring these landscapes to health.

Today, on this mountain, we will plant our 50 millionth tree as part of the Global ReLeaf program. To put that number into context, 50 million mature trees, laid end to end, could encircle the globe 30 times. Fifty million trees could forest a treeless plot of land nearly 40 times the size of Los Angeles’ Griffith Park.

And, while 50 million might be a hard number to get your head around, the reality is this:

Every one of these trees matters.

Every one of these trees is helping to clean our air and water.

Every one provides oxygen for us to breathe.

Every one provides food and shelter for wildlife.

And, when combined together in a forest, their impact is exponentially greater.

‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’

Eddie Bauer began planting trees with American Forests 20 years ago.

Since the beginning of our collaboration, we have planted more than 6.5 million trees in more than 150 forest restoration projects. And today, Eddie Bauer is renewing and expanding that commitment.

Our work together has made our water and air cleaner, and our cities greener. Together, we have helped cool the planet and slow the creep of climate change. And together, we’ve protected and restored habitat for dozens of threatened and endangered species, from grizzly bears to gopher tortoises.

Much of our partnership has focused on restoring forests that have been profoundly damaged by wildfire — much of it here in California.

This place is a great example.

Back in the early 2000s, this community watched as waves of pine beetles made their way across the mountain, turning beautiful pine forests red as the trees lost their needles and died.

And then, to add insult to injury, the great Fire Siege of 2003 struck.

Fifteen separate wildfires raged throughout Southern California that October. On this mountain alone, 90,000 acres of forest burned. Within a 25 mile radius, 60,000 people were evacuated.

When they returned, 450 homes had been destroyed and thousands of people were left homeless. Their beautiful mountain forest was reduced to fields of blackened shards. The diverse wildlife of this landscape vanished. And the tourist economy, based on the community’s natural beauty, vanished with it.

But then, the people of these mountains did a remarkable thing. They decided to not merely rebuild the homes, but to rebuild the forest itself.

New organizations were born, and new alliances formed. Neighbors, businesses, Boy Scouts, college students and even the tourists themselves were enlisted to collect seeds, prepare soil, and grow and plant trees. Distant communities got in on the action. And, from the very beginning, American Forests joined hands with these families, friends and neighbors to bring this forest back to life.

Since then, American Forests has helped this community plant 400,000 trees here. Cheryl Nagy, one of the leaders in this effort, told me that American Forests’ involvement has been critical to making this work possible.

This is at the core of what American Forests does.

We find important projects that can make a significant difference in real places and to real living things. And then, working in concert with local teams who know the “ground truth” of a place, we create positive and lasting change.

We do this because, quite simply, forests are essential for supporting life on our planet.

So, if you care about wildlife, think forests.

If you are concerned about climate change, think forests.

If you appreciate how important biodiversity is for human life, think forests.

If you drink water, think forests.

If you breathe air, think forests.

Today, I am delighted to welcome Ryan Reynolds as a partner and ambassador for this work. Ryan’s deep love of nature and commitment to the environment make him a perfect messenger  for the important role that forests play in the overall health of the planet.

As we plant American Forests’ 50 millionth tree today, my hope is that this is merely a symbol of the millions more we will plant together and a recognition that, while the best time to plant a tree may be 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”