Arbor Day

April 24th, 2015 Sections: Plants, Special Days
Bishkek was once hailed as the Greenest City on Earth

Bishkek was once hailed as the Greenest City on Earth

In the United States, today is Arbor Day – a day when individuals and groups are encouraged to plant and care for trees.  (It’s actually a ‘moveable feast’ in that it takes place annually on the last Friday in April)

Although Mankind has long had a special affinity with trees, the Celts, for example, held the Holly tree in high regard and the Norse held that an Ash tree supported the Universe, the idea behind this modern ‘holiday’ seems to have its roots in a small Spanish village at the start of the 19th Century.

However, the origins of the modern phenomena as a mass movement can be traced back to the US state of Nebraska in 1872.  At that time the state was virtually bereft of trees and a local character, J. Sterling Morton, proposed a campaign of tree planting … and the idea was enthusiastically taken up.  On 4th January that year an estimated million trees were planted across the state, (although one site suggests twelve million) … and more were to follow in subsequent years.

What’s more, the idea started to spread with other states adopting their own Arbor Days.

Then, in 1833, Birdsey Northrop of Connecticut was visiting Japan and introduced the idea there.  Later, having been made the Chairman of the Arbor Day Committee of the American Forestry Association, he was to take the idea global – well, at least to Australia, Canada and several countries in Europe.

The idea has now spread around the globe and is marked in over 40 countries and territories around the world.  National Arbor days are held on different dates, at different times of the year, to take account of the local climate and seasons.  In New Zealand, for example, the day used to marked in August – basically in the Winter, so it was moved to early June, (to coincide with World Environment Day on June 5th), which was a much more suitable time for planting seedlings.

It surprises me that there is no equivalent day here in Kyrgyzstan – given the number of special days and professional holidays that are marked here and the high regard in which the natural environment is held here.  The closest is probably the Professional Holiday for Forestry Workers, which is marked on third Sunday in September each year.

In recent years, however, there have been attempts to organize special tree planting campaigns here in Bishkek … especially as a result of the loss of trees and parkland as the city expands.

The city was once known as the Greenest city of Earth, but that claim has been challenged … In the days of the Soviet Union, it was estimated that there were about 100 square meters of greenery for every citizen living in the city, compared to a recommended figure of just 24 square meters, but the equivalent figure today is said to be just 6.4 square meters.  (To be fair, part of the reason behind the deterioration of this statistic is purely mathematical and arises out of “urban drift” and the rapid growth of the city’s population.  As the population has grown, the denominator in the ratio is larger, thus making the overall result smaller.)

The most widely spread trees are spruce, juniper (archa), and nut- and fruit-tree forests.  There are also spruce, maple, poplar-willow, and birch forests and Tien-Shan rowan-trees grow everywhere.  There are walnut forests occupying an area of over 600,000 hectares, (the largest walnut forests in the world – featuring not just walnut-trees, but also apple, pear, and other species), in the South-East of Kyrgyzstan in the Ferghana and Chatkal ranges at altitudes between 1000 and 2200 meters a.s.l.

The forests in the south of the country are currently facing serious problems of deforestation. As well as trees being cut down to provide valuable wood both for export and domestic use (for building, and firewood), areas of woodland are being turned into arable land by farmers looking for additional land resources. Livestock often trample underfoot young plants. Also, pests such as the Gypsy Moth are taking their toll on denuding the forested areas.

Kyrgyzstan has reduced, or eliminated the use of chemical agents in line with treaties that it has signed, and the sheer economic cost of such measures.  Steps such as the introduction of new species of insects to help control pests are being introduced.

Disease also takes a toll on the number of trees. There are also a number of international projects aimed at preserving and expanding the forest resources within the country.





You can download a 13-page history of Arbor Day, (in pdf format), from the Arbor Day Foundation.



Comment closed.