As Co2 levels continue to rise, contributing to global temperature changes and warming, humanity is increasingly forced to reflect on its responsibility and involvement in caring for the planet. A single mature tree can absorb up to 48 lbs of carbon dioxide per year. Ojai Trees is a grassroots organization that plants trees not only to support local forests and conservation efforts, but on a broader level, to help offset carbon emissions and help curb the destructive outcome of human activity.
I sat down with Ojai Trees board member Anna Mahar to discuss the organization’s mission, the impact they hope to have, and some of the obstacles they face.
Q: Let’s begin with who you are and how you’re involved with Ojai Trees.
A: My name is Anna Mahar and I’ve been a board member and volunteer coordinator for Ojai Trees since April, 2018. I moved to the Ojai Valley around a year ago and initially got involved with the organization as a way to give back to the community and to be a part of the local conservation movement.
Q: Tell me a bit more about Ojai Trees.
A: Ojai Trees is a non-profit, all volunteer based community forestry group, founded in 2008 in Ojai, CA. Since its inception, Ojai Trees has planted over 1,200 trees. We work directly with property owners and the City of Ojai to promote the planting of healthy trees to replace an aging tree population. We also educate and train community members on planting and caring for trees.
Over 75% of the land in the Ojai valley is privately owned. The founders of Ojai Trees knew that if they were going to support the urban forest, they needed to get property owners to plant trees. For a donation to Ojai Trees you get a tree planted for less than it would cost to do it yourself. Everyone associated with Ojai Trees is a volunteer. We can buy trees and supplies for less and we pass that savings on to the property owners. Ojai Trees is the easy choice if a property owner believes in the need for trees, can’t afford a contractor or gardener, and/or wants to support a locale organization that gives 100% back to the community. Ojai Trees helps property owners select a tree based on the characteristics of their property. Once trees have been selected Ojai Trees taps into our community network to recruit interested individuals who want to learn more about planting trees and helping the environment. Volunteers are organized into planting teams of 3-4 people, lead by an experienced board member/forester. We hold planting events 2-3 times in the Fall and Spring.
Q: What is the need in Ojai that Ojai Tree’s responds to?
A: We are losing trees due to the ongoing drought, increased summer heat, and the less than healthy tree population. In particular, Ojai is now experiencing a growing problem with (possibly) two types of shot hole borers: tiny beetles that infect several species of native trees with a complex of fungal diseases. These conditions are killing trees in the Ojai Valley at an increasing rate each year. We need to educate people about the benefits of trees, show them how to plant and care for trees, and eliminate the hassle factor in getting trees planted.
Q: Can you tell me more about the tree planting event that is coming up in February?
A: We have volunteer planting days in the fall, winter and spring… we don’t plant in the summer because of the heat. The next planting event is February 16th from 8am-12pm. Our tree order deadline is always the Monday before the Saturday planting. The trees are ordered from growers around Ventura county. They are then delivered to Ojai on the Thursday before the Saturday event. Volunteers deliver the trees to the property along with the necessary supplies: soil amendment, tree stakes, and tree ties. We will be meeting up in Libbey Park (in downtown Ojai), and will do a mini training on planting trees and then split up into smaller groups. Each group will often plant at two to four different sites in the Ojai Valley. We all meet back up and have a picnic lunch. It’s a really short and sweet volunteer event! We did one in the fall and will do three in the winter/spring.
Q: For those who are interested in signing up for the tree planting event, how would they go about doing that?
A: You can sign up in advance by going to our website, or find us on Facebook. You can submit your interest, and as long as there’s room we will send you all of the information. We usually can take around 15-20 volunteers every planting session. It’s nice to have a larger group to share the work with because planting trees also means a lot of digging holes and physical labor and that can be a challenge in arid or rocky soil. Kids are welcome too if they are of course accompanied by an adult.
Q: Anything else you would like to share about Ojai Trees?
A: Ojai Trees has received numerous grants over the years for planting trees in Libbey Park and planting over 60 street trees around town. We just wrote and had a grant funded from the Ojai Valley Women’s Fund for $7,500 for a program we’re starting called Shade For Ojai’s Children. This program is going to be focused on planting shade trees at schools, daycares and community centers where kids play outside. We have already six schools confirmed that we are working with and we’re hoping to have ten total. It will be a collaborative effort as the kids will help us plant the trees, getting them involved in their stewardship. The planting will start this spring and continue in the fall, and we will plant around 50 trees with the grant money we received. We just received the check a few weeks ago and are really excited and proud!