The Arbor Day Foundation Celebrates World Rivers Day

Sep 27, 2021 7:45 AM ET

Former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once compared the world’s forests to being the “lungs of our land” as trees provide us all with clean, breathable air.  Renowned conservationist Mark Angelo likens our waterways to the body’s cardiovascular system, explaining that “rivers are the arteries of our planet; they are lifelines in the truest sense.” In a nutshell, the Earth consists of many intertwined environments that essentially serve as the planet’s vital organs – one cannot survive without the other, and neither will the whole.

This week, the planet celebrated World Rivers Day, and the Arbor Day Foundation would like to recognize the important role that trees play in providing clean water, thriving wildlife communities, and a stable climate in our riparian ecosystems. Many of the projects we do involve reestablishing forested areas along critical water ways so that they may thrive and help restore the health of our rivers and floodplains.

In Oregon, the Arbor Day Foundation teamed up with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and other local partners to plant over 1.3 million trees in sites along the Willamette River and Columbia River – North America’s largest river flowing into the Pacific Ocean. Since the 19th century, deforestation, industrialization development, and wildfires have caused significant damage to the region by polluting, diverting, and destroying key habitats and sacred cultural sites, resulting in a drastic decline in the salmon population. This decrease in salmon is also just the beginning of a series of potentially devasting chain-reactions. Since salmon are a keystone species which 137 species rely on, their decline significantly effects the well-being of other wildlife, such as the endangered orca whales whose diet primarily consists of salmon migrating just off the coast.

Additionally, this project has benefited local communities in numerous ways, from helping to fortify the area’s floodplains and watersheds, to providing relief from the impacts of wildfires. Just last year, the Santiam Fires destroyed over 400,000 acres and caused an immense amount of loss in community members’ lives. Together with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and the North Santiam Watershed Council, native trees were distributed to more than 128 landowners impacted by the fires around North Santiam Canyon. “When you drive through the canyon and you see all of the burnt and the black, the new green growing is like hope," explained Rebecca McCoun, executive director of North Santiam Watershed Council. "We are just super happy to be able to get something green back. This is a healing process.”

The tree-plantings in this project area were completed just this past spring, with maintenance and progress-tracking efforts to be carried out for the next 3-5 years. Through the support of our dedicated partners, this multi-year project will ultimately work towards rehabilitating an important ecosystem consisting of the diverse micro-climates needed to sustain wildlife habitats, clean water, and better environmental conditions for all who live along these rivers.

Furthermore, we would like to recognize the Bonneville Environmental Foundation – a collaborator of Team Willamette, who won the 2019 Headwaters Award – for their tremendous work in bringing this project into action. They have been outstanding stewards and collaborators in providing rehabilitation and revegetation projects of degraded riparian and floodplain forests, and public awareness in support of increased tree-plantings in the region.

The following is a list of the partners supporting the Columbia River Basin project: Champion Home Builders, DraftKings, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, GSN Games, International Paper, Pine Gate Renewables, Pottery Barn, EC30, Quilted Northern, and #TeamTrees. This work would not be possible without their generous contributions.