As world leaders discuss climate policy at the U.N. Climate Summit in Scotland, Hawaii will take a small step toward fulfilling the governor’s pledge to plant, conserve or restore 100 million trees by 2030 when community members plant 4,000 trees for Arbor Day on Saturday.

While some recognize Arbor Day as an opportunity to take home a free tree, the Division of Forestry and Wildlife Urban Community Forester Heather McMillen said it has a much larger impact on the health and well-being of the community.

“‘When you thrive, we thrive,’ and that’s so true with the trees that we live with,” she said.

Volunteers bag free trees for Kailua residents to take home and plant in celebration of Hawai'i's 115th Arbor Day Saturday, November 7, 2020. Each November, Arbor Day Hawaiʻi events distribute thousands of trees to residents across the state to create a greener Hawaiʻi. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
Volunteers bag free trees for Kailua residents to take home and plant in celebration of Hawaii’s 115th Arbor Day. Each November, Arbor Day Hawaii events distribute thousands of trees to residents across the islands. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat

McMillen said most people know that trees improve air and water quality by absorbing pollutants, but she said trees have impacts closer to home as well.

Trees also reduce electricity bills by decreasing the need for air conditioning, enhancing a sense of community by providing shaded gathering spaces and improve overall health by decreasing anxiety and depression, she said. But it’s important to choose the right trees since some species are harmful for Hawaii’s unique environment.

“You can actually roll on down to your big-box store or nursery and buy invasive species and plant them in your yard without knowing that thousands of dollars are being spent on the other side of the fence to remove those very same species because they are deteriorating the health of our forests,” McMillen said.

Before planting Arbor Day trees, she recommends visiting Plant Pono and SelecTree, two websites created to help community members find the perfect plant to aesthetically enhance their yard, while also making sure it’s in an environment that’s destined for a successful life in Hawaii’s ecology.

Limahuli Garden and Preserve is a peaceful refuge on the north shore of Kauai. Contributed by National Tropical Botanical Garden

The Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a statement that free trees are available in one-gallon pots on a first-come-first-serve basis for adoption through partnerships with nonprofits on Oahu, Maui and Kauai, and masks and social distancing will be required at every site. Depending on the location, some events require prior reservations.

Hawaii was the first state to declare a climate emergency in April and commit to achieving a 100% clean energy goal by 2045. Ige is currently at the U.N. Climate Conference with a COP26 delegation representing the state that’s “at the forefront of advocating aggressive action to curb global warming.”

Even if you don’t get your hands on a free tree Saturday, McMillen recommends taking time to take care of the trees that are already in the ground.

“That’s where you really make a difference, by preserving and maintaining,” she said. “Humans and trees share about half of our DNA — we’re so interconnected and reliant upon each other, especially in our urban and community spaces.”

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