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The Power of Trees

I have a yearning to return. Perhaps it’s nostalgia. Perhaps its ego—I want to see how all of that hard work is faring. But mostly I think it’s love. It’s similar to the kind of love I feel for my daughter, Bryn.

Thankfully, I am one of the few who get to return, year after year to the many streams where Guardians staff and volunteers ranging from 1 to 70 years old have planted over a million trees. I wish I could take all of you with me to see the power of this transformation.

Blue Creek 2009Each time I go back to a restoration site, I witness changes that we started and that the wild has generously taken over and continued in the years since I first began planting trees.

From these pictures you can see the dramatic shifts in color and density, but what the pictures can’t convey is the abundance of new sounds. In the restored habitat, you can hear sounds of wildlife; birds constructing nests, calling to one another, beaver in the underbrush or slapping their tails at dusk, and the humming of bees. These signs of renewal are my greatest reward.

One creek in particular stands out in my memory. In the spring of 2009, I traveled to Bluewater creek in the Zuni Mountains, southwest of Grants, New Mexico. This creek runs through a slice of state land sandwiched between the Cibola National Forest and Bluewater Reservoir State Park.

My first reconnaissance revealed a denuded stream with hundreds of off highway vehicle tracks crisscrossing like scars through the streambed. The creek was devoid of wildlife, not much more than a mud bog recreation area for illegal dirt bikes and ATVs.

I felt overwhelmed by the task before me: to restore this landscape from the damage created. But I also felt excited about the possibility of changing the paradigm of this wild place.

When our team arrived, a month after my scouting trip, we worked together for weeks planting thousands of cottonwood, willow, box elder maple, chokecherry, currant, New Mexico olive, and red-ozier dogwood along the streambed and surrounding area. Then we built fences to protect the stream from off highway vehicles and livestock from trampling the stream and the newly planted trees.

I will never forget one sign that gave me hope for Bluewater. The dirt was still freshly turned over around the base of newly planted tree trunks. Nothing had leafed out on our saplings, and the land was still dusty and brown. Not a day after we had finished planting, mountain blue birds started perching on the slender cottonwood branches. Blue Creek 2014

Over the last five years, Bluewater creek has been transformed. Today the area is home to multiple beaver ponds. The grass, sedges, and wildflowers are thigh high. Cottonwood and willow are 10-30 feet tall and home to multitudes of birds and other wildlife. 

As a Guardian, I believe that public lands are our shared backyards that belong to all of us.

One resident of the small neighborhood adjacent to Bluewater wrote an essay to the Albuquerque Journal after we completed the restoration work saying, I’m amazed and delighted to see a colorful autumn trail of vegetation all the way to the lake!”

Guardians’ mission is to protect and restore our public lands and wild places, to preserve habitats of solace for nature lovers of all ages to enjoy. Our health depends on the health of the many species that can only survive as these habitats flourish and thrive.  

I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude to the hundreds of volunteers over the years who have supported our tree planting efforts, and to those who are planning to join us in the Valles Caldera National Preserve this year. Twenty years from now, the streams and rivers, the wildlife that make their homes nearby, and your grandchildren will thank you.

From the Wild,

Jim Matison Signature

Jim Matison Headshot,

Jim Matison
Restoration Director
WildEarth Guardians

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