MoDOT and Dept. of Conservation partner in Trees for Tomorrow program

The program has distributed more than 2.5 million trees in six years.
Missouri Department of Transportation's Trees for Tomorrow campaign aims to plant trees along roads where construction previously tore them down. The program will plant 75,000 trees this year.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has agreed to purchase 250,000 tree seedlings from the Missouri Department of Conservation to help replace trees that were cleared at roadway construction sites around the state.

2012 marks the sixth year of the Trees for Tomorrow partnership between the departments, said Gayle Unruh, MoDOT Environment and Historic Preservation Manager.

“We really see this as a great partnership between sister state agencies as it’s something very cost effective and educational for the public,” she said. “They get to see their tax dollars put to good use for an environmental cause.”

This year, MoDOT will purchase the trees for $75,000. For the past five years, MoDOT has purchased 500,000 trees at a cost of $150,000 per year, but scaled back the program after departmental funding was reduced.

“In this next year MoDOT has a greatly reduced project list and will be doing less tree cutting so we’re also reducing the Trees for Tomorrow program from 500,000 to 250,000 trees per year,” Unruh said.

The Department of Conservation oversees the distribution of seedlings to schools and youth organizations like FFA and 4-H, Unruh said. MoDOT also does some of the seedling planting itself in areas that were cleared for roadway construction projects.

Since 2007, the departments have provided more than 2.5 million trees for planting throughout the state, according to a MoDOT news release. Unruh said that MoDOT and the Department of Conservation aim to distribute more trees than are cut down by MoDOT each year.

“Our original goal was that we would replace every tree over 6 inches in diameter by planting two new trees,” Unruh said.

A number of free seedlings are distributed to the public in celebration of Earth Day and Arbor Day each spring.

MoDOT signed a five-year contract with the Department of Conservation, but it opted to extend the contract for just one additional year instead of signing another five-year agreement. Unruh said she expects that Trees for Tomorrow will continue in future years, despite the fact that another five-year contract has not yet been signed.

The temporary extension allowed the departments to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to plant trees that would accommodate the Indiana bat, a federally endangered species in the area.

“The Indiana bats have specific requirements for the trees that they use for their habitat, and we want to tailor our trees to match trees that they use,” Unrah said.

Department of Conservation resource scientist Tony Elliott said although Indiana bats commonly roost in dead trees, they can also be found in live trees, particularly as shellbark hickories and varieties of white oak.

The species’ limited range of habitats has contributed to its endangerment.

“The Indiana bat has been on the endangered species list since the beginning of the list," Elliott said. "They’re pretty concentrated so they’re vulnerable to disturbance.”

Indiana bat preservation is a priority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service because the bats are among the species affected by White Nose Syndrome, a deadly fungal infection that has been responsible for millions of bat deaths across the eastern United States. The disease has been spotted as far west as Lincoln County, but no fatalities have been reported yet.

“Based on what we’ve seen from the eastern United States, mass mortality would come, at the earliest, not this winter but the winter after,” Elliott said.

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