Phillips Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies Robert "Bob" Carson realized a long-term goal last week when he and students from his Introduction to Environmental Studies class planted 100 ponderosa pines in a field at the edge of Walla Walla.
"My greatest concern about this earth is global climate change," Carson said. In a world where carbon footprints grow wilder with every airplane trip, planting trees is one way to offset the environmental impact of modern life. Carson's own home is hidden behind more than 50 trees that he has planted with his wife, recently retired Associate Dean of Students for Academic Support Services Clare Carson.
A tree-planting project had been on Carson's mind for a very long time, as it would serve the dual purposes of carbon sequestration and habitat expansion, plus provide a hands-on learning opportunity for his students. To finally make it a reality, he needed the trees, a space to plant them and the labor to get it done.
For the trees, he turned to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the headquarters of which are located near Pendleton, Oregon. Carson has worked with the CTUIR for years, and even negotiated something like an education discount. The Carsons hauled the hundred ponderosa pines back to Walla Walla in their own car.
"This area is marginal for getting trees to grow," Carson said. Ponderosa pines need less water than other types, a deciding factor in determining which trees will thrive here.
Carson had looked around the area for suitable places to get the trees into the ground, but it wasn't until he discussed the idea with Dwelley Jones, Jr. '74 at a Whitman event that he found the perfect stretch of land. Jones and his wife, Julie Thomassen Jones '79, had a site on their farm that would turn out to be just right.
"It's a quarter-mile from Bennington Lake," Carson said, close enough that a person could stand on Mill Creek Dam and watch the trees grow. "If you had a pair of binoculars."
Jones and Carson worked with biologist Mike Denny of the Pomeroy Conservation District to make sure the plan will result in healthy trees. At the farm, Jones prepared a patch of land on a north-facing slope - the side that retains the most moisture - putting in stakes where trees might go, and procured a water truck and deer repellent for the planting event itself.
Finally, on a bitingly cold November day, it was time to put the trees in the ground. Twenty-five of Carson's students made the field trip out to the Jones' land, and managed to plant all 100 pines in under two hours.
"I can't express how important this is to me," Carson said of the project's completion. "I have been dreaming about it for years."
Photo credit: Briant Kimball