TRAVERSE CITY — Northwest Michigan’s Conservation Resource Alliance’s Wild Roots program began in 2019 with a bold goal — to plant 100,000 native seedlings in five years. The initiative now launches year three with 32,000 in the ground and 68,000 to go.

The reforestation initiative aims to improve the health and resilience of habitats through partnerships with area property owners, conservation districts and other organizations.

“One of the easy ways landowners can help the environment is by planting trees, flowers and shrubs,” said Kama Ross, district forester for Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelanau conservation districts.

“We’re trying to capture more carbon and provide natural habitat. Anyone of any age can do it and it doesn’t take a lot of room.”

Wild Roots encourages the effort by offering super discounts on native trees and shrubs. Bundles of 40 seedlings sell for $12 on a first-come basis.

“There are many reasons to plant trees on your property, and how fun to plant, water and watch them grow over the years,” said biologist and program director DJ Shook.

“It’s a great resource for landowners to take advantage of.”

Consumers Energy Foundation, Huron-Manistee National Forests, ITC, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative via the United States Environmental Protection funds the cost-sharing program.

A $200,000 Great Lakes Restoration grant supports Wild Roots’ current effort to get 11,000 trees and shrubs planted across the region this spring.

The Wild Roots initiative partners with specialists of Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee and Mason-Lake conservation districts.

“Conservation districts have been selling trees for decades,” Ross said. “We partner with them (CRA) to provide our expertise.”

Trees play a vital role in a healthy ecosystem by reducing runoff and flooding. They filter pollution and provide shade and habitat, according to CRA.

Each Wild Roots bundle includes four species designed to support either upland or riparian landscapes. A package supporting wildlife is also available. Species sold out may be purchased at discounted prices during county conservation districts’ annual spring seedling sales in February and March.

Norte, a Grand Traverse region bike-centric, youth-focused advocacy organization, forwarded its mission last season by distributing 600 Wild Roots’ trees to people in Grand Traverse, Antrim, Leelanau and Kalkaska counties.

“It was 100 percent successful and a bright spot in the year,” said Norte Executive Director Ty Schmidt.

This planting season Schmidt ups the goal. He would like to see Norte distribute 1,000 trees. Schmidt appreciates the fact that planting Wild Roots trees calls for a pledge.

“Not only do you stick them in the ground, but you also have to commit to care for them,” he said.

Ross spearheads the new experimental Assisted Tree Range Expansion Project, an effort focused on long-term forest health.

She said disease, invasive pests and climate change haven taken a serious toll on area forests.

“People who aren’t even in tune with the forest know something is wrong,” she said.

ATREP addresses the impact of warmer average seasonal temperatures, higher precipitation levels and other forces detrimental to the future of the region’s natural landscapes.

The project mimics natural range expansion through human-assisted movement of species native to central and southern Michigan.

According to ATREP, 54 percent of Michigan forest land is in private ownership. ATREP offers opportunity for citizens to play an important role in the forests of tomorrow, on private land or for business owners or community groups.

Townships, county parks and schools can also take part planting select trees in backyards, abandoned fields or woodlots.

“We’ve seen so much loss,” Ross said. “Keeping diversity, even in our backyards is important.”

Participating “citizen scientists” plant up to 10 trees, monitor and report on their progress.

Wild Roots offers a five-pack of trees for the expansion program.

Species include shagbark hickory, tulip poplar, sassafras, black tupelo, hackberry and swamp white oak.

Local conservation districts offer free on-site consultation to help those interested in planting trees determine which species best suit their property and goals.

Tree protectors and other conservation products are also available from local conservation districts at discount prices.

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