• This year, Arbor Day can remind us that trees are a symbol of national resolve and optimism.
  • A new platform, hosted by the World Economic Forum, is bringing together international efforts to plant one trillion trees.
  • Despite the COVID-19 crisis, this goal should give us hope for the future.

Arbor Day 2020 - a holiday dedicated to planting and appreciating trees - arrives as America is living through a public health crisis unparalleled in the last century. The combined loss of life, employment and even simple free movement are felt deeply across our nation. In the face of such a profound national crisis, it might seem logical to skip our annual day of celebration for America’s trees and forests.

But America has a proud history of rally, not retreat, in the face of our greatest challenges. That is why I believe we need to use this Arbor Day to embrace trees as a symbol of our national resolve and hope for the future.

After all, there are few actions in life more hopeful and forward looking than planting a tree. It is an act of faith to imagine a small tree seedling can withstand storms, invasive insects and other threats to grow up and provide us with so many natural gifts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown we need these gifts more than ever. This includes the gift of being able to breathe deeply, which trees help us do by absorbing air pollution. There is also the gift of a peaceful mind, which we can discover by interacting with nature—even a tree we see out of the window while sequestered in our homes. And the gift of products that come from trees, like medical supplies and home paper products.

Right on time, a new movement is building in the US and around the world to conserve, restore and grow 1 trillion trees by 2030. The trillion trees goal is based on rigorous scientific analysis of the potential space worldwide for planting trees and how to maximize their benefits for people and wildlife - which includes their potential to help slow climate change. Research suggests that reforestation, combined with other actions such as avoiding deforestation, could nearly double carbon capture in America’s forests.

Leaders have emerged for the trillion trees movement. A new global platform, 1t.org, was launched by the World Economic Forum in January to bring all trillion trees efforts together with new scale and integration. President Donald Trump has pledged US leadership to help achieve the trillion trees goal. Other government leaders, companies, non-profits, civic groups and individuals across America are rallying to help. My organization, American Forests, has partnered with the Forum to integrate this strong US leadership into 1t.org. The movement is ready for lift off.

America’s leadership of the 1 trillion trees movement can do more than heal our environment. It is also a strong investment in the economic recovery we so urgently need, especially for rural communities that were trailing economically even before COVID-19. Each million dollars we invest in tree planting and other forest restoration activities creates as many as 39.7 jobs, according to research from the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute. Ramping up reforestation for 1 trillion trees will add to the nearly 3 million existing jobs in America’s forest sector.

America’s leaders from both political parties have long appreciated the power of trees to build and rebuild our nation, especially in times of great need. It was President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, who led the establishment of our national forests and other landmark conservation measures. He expressed his appreciation for forests in a letter to the children of America on Arbor Day 1907:

"A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as hopeless… When you help to preserve our forests or to plant new ones you are acting the part of good citizens… If your Arbor Day exercises help you to realize what benefits each one of you receives from the forests, and how by your assistance these benefits may continue, they will serve a good end."

It was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat, who used trees to rebuild our land and economy with the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Corps planted 3 billion trees and employed 3 million Americans in conservation work on our national forests. We still enjoy these forests, and the economic stimulus provided by this massive tree planting initiative helped our nation overcome the Great Depression.

On this most unusual Arbor Day, we can’t yet safely go out and start this work together in many places across the country. But we can commit in our hearts and politics that, when we all can throw open the doors to a healthier and brighter day, we will make planting and caring for forests together part of our national healing. Just imagine, 1 trillion trees across the globe, planted with leadership from America - a nation that was built on the power of our uniquely abundant forests. That is a vision of hope to which we can look forward.