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October 12, 2010

EAU CLAIRE - Polar Bears International, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving arctic sea ice, has announced $30,000 in donations to support tree planting in the city of Sparta and the Juneau county forest.

These two projects come as part of a 2008 pact between Polar Bears International and the state Department of Natural Resources that launched a 10-year effort to encourage Wisconsin residents to plant and care for trees on their land and in their communities.

Planting trees reduces carbon in the atmosphere, creating better conditions for retaining arctic ice and improving polar bear habitat and survival.

The DNR is the first state agency in the nation to form a reforestation partnership with Polar Bears International, offering the agency's expertise, its knowledge of the land and its relationships with a network of private woodland owners. DNR foresters are helping PBI design pilot projects to be used as templates in other states.

The city of Sparta, already faced with a dwindling tree canopy due to budget constraints, is now facing catastrophic canopy loss - up to 50 percent of its public trees - because of the emerald ash borer, a tree-killing insect less than 35 miles away. The borer infestation could overwhelm staff and budgets, requiring the city to divert resources to tree removal and disposal.

PBI is donating $24,000 toward the restoration of Sparta's tree canopy with a diverse mixture of tree species. Approximately 240 trees, 1.5 inches in diameter, will be planted in city parks and street rights-of-way next spring. Maintenance will be performed by city staff and local partners. A secondary goal is to increase awareness of the climate benefits of the urban tree canopy and to stimulate tree planting by residents on their own properties.

Patricia Murphy, DNR regional forestry supervisor in Eau Claire, was instrumental in forging the partnership. She is scheduled to be in the arctic in November, working with polar bear scientists.

"We're hoping this endeavor will generate a lot of local interest in Sparta and motivate residents to plant additional trees on their own property," Murphy said. "For homeowners, each sapling planted reduces summer cooling costs and winter heating costs, increases property values and benefits wildlife. People are starting to understand that planting trees offsets their carbon footprint."

The city plans to continue preemptive ash removal for the next six to eight years unless the appearance of EAB forces accelerated removal. This allows replacement planting to begin right away, giving new trees more time to reach canopy size before EAB appears.

Replacement trees planted in parks and on the golf course will be maintained by staff; adjacent property owners will be encouraged to water and mulch right-of-way trees to relieve the cost to the city and to increase their investment in the project's success.

PBI also announced a grant of $7,600 to the Juneau County Forestry and Parks Department. The county will plant 33 acres of red and white pine in the Town of Armenia next spring. PBI funding will pay for the cost of site preparation and machine tree planting. The county will provide the tree seedlings. The goal is to reforest land currently dominated by hazel. The planting will establish a dense young forest that will improve wildlife corridors, aesthetics and county forest timber resources.

More information on Polar Bears International (exit DNR) is available on their website.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Patricia Murphy, DNR regional forestry supervisor, 715-839-3760 or Ed Culhane, DNR communications, Eau Claire, 715-839-3715

Last Revised: Tuesday, October 12, 2010

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