Global ReLeaf Program Is Initiated Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The organization American Forests initiated a tree-planting program designed to involve individual citizens and communities in the fight against global warming.

Summary of Event

In the 1980’s, many scientists worldwide pointed to deforestation as a significant cause of global climate change, which some believed to be the reason for record high temperatures, including five of the hottest summers of the century, during that decade. Toward the end of the decade, various news media covered the issue of a possible global climate change as if it were an environmental disaster comparable to “nuclear winter” (that is, the likely aftereffects of a major nuclear explosion or confrontation). Deforestation Global ReLeaf[Global Releaf] American Forests Environmental organizations Global warming;activism Climate change [kw]Global ReLeaf Program Is Initiated (Oct. 12, 1988) Global ReLeaf[Global Releaf] American Forests Environmental organizations Global warming;activism Climate change [g]North America;Oct. 12, 1988: Global ReLeaf Program Is Initiated[06940] [g]United States;Oct. 12, 1988: Global ReLeaf Program Is Initiated[06940] [c]Environmental issues;Oct. 12, 1988: Global ReLeaf Program Is Initiated[06940] [c]Organizations and institutions;Oct. 12, 1988: Global ReLeaf Program Is Initiated[06940] Sampson, R. Neil Moll, Gary A. Gangloff, Deborah Crouse, Rick Lipkis, Andy Lipkis, Katie

Many believed the problem to be unsolvable. Strategies of energy conservation and reduction of emissions from burning fossil fuels were seen as possible moderating actions, but such strategies were also seen as a giant leap backward in technological development. Debates raged about the rationing of fossil fuel, establishment of pollution credits, and implementation of some of the energy conservation strategies imposed during the fuel crisis of 1974-1975, when an oil embargo had resulted in greatly reduced fuel supplies in the United States.

American Forests (formerly known as the American Forestry Association) is the oldest national citizens’ conservation organization in the United States. Founded in 1875, the group works to educate the public and to conserve the country’s forest heritage. In June, 1988, the executive vice president of American Forests, R. Neil Sampson, spoke at a workshop for environmental educators in Colorado. Sampson took the position that “a healthy world cannot be made up of lots of sick pieces.” While many were singling out tropical deforestation as a major cause of increasing temperatures, others pointed out that not all the reductions of forest cover could be attributed to development in Third World tropical forests. Both developed and developing nations had been destroying forest cover for years to produce fuel, building materials, and space for crops, homes, and pastures.

Even considering second-growth forests (trees that are planted or regenerate naturally after harvest), there were still vast areas of former forest where parks, roadways, and backyards supported trees in much lower numbers than several decades earlier. Within this reduced area of tree canopy, many of the trees remaining were of poor or mediocre health. “We need,” Sampson told his audience, “a lot of healthy little pieces to form a healthy whole.” Creating and caring for the little pieces was a job individuals and communities could undertake and one at which they could succeed. Global climate change is, in part, a biological problem, and Sampson believed it could be solved—at least in part—through biological action.

Following two days of discussion with the Colorado educators, Sampson returned to the headquarters of American Forests in Washington, D.C., and began to plan a new campaign together with staff members Gary A. Moll, Rick Crouse, Deborah Gangloff, and Scott Wallinger. Wallinger, Scott The founders of the California-based tree-planting organization Tree People, Tree People Andy Lipkis and his wife Katie Lipkis, also joined the meeting. As a teenager, Andy Lipkis had begun to plant trees in California to try to replace some of the thousands that had been damaged or killed by smog. His tree-planting efforts had been nationally recognized when he rallied hundreds of volunteers to plant trees in Los Angeles in preparation for the Olympic Games in 1984; that campaign, given the title ReLeaf, had not been altogether successful, but the name suited the new American Forests campaign, which was called Global ReLeaf.

The team decided that the challenges to empowering citizens had to be met at three levels: individual, community, and national. Public education was needed to encourage individuals to plant trees, improve management of forestlands in their care, write to elected officials about conservation concerns, and contribute to educational and reforestation efforts. Community action could include taking inventories of street trees and informing local officials regarding the importance and value of trees to the community. It was decided that local citizen-action groups, called Partners of Global ReLeaf, would be founded to plan and carry out local tree-planting and forest-improvement projects. On the national level, the team decided, it was necessary to encourage people to inform themselves about policy issues affecting trees and forests and to support more positive environmental actions.

The campaign was designed to include urban and community forests, rural public and private lands, and tropical forests. The concept was intended to include suggestions for forest farmers as well as for high-rise apartment dwellers. Global ReLeaf sought to provide roles for children as well as for grandparents, to inspire corporate executive officers as well as kindergarten teachers.


After its inauguration on October 12, 1988, Global ReLeaf became the foremost international program promoting education and action in urban and community forestry. What began as a tree-planting program evolved into a range of programs dealing with forest ecosystem restoration, famous and historic trees, new communities, and so-called master tree planter awards, as well as the Global ReLeaf Fund for urban and community forestry. Global ReLeaf provided information and conducted national education campaigns about environmental issues (including global climate change), connected people to local technical resources for community action, directly supported tree-planting programs, and coordinated efforts to reform federal laws, programs, and budgets.

Global ReLeaf and its marketing partnership campaigns offered the general public the opportunity to get involved in tree planting, either directly, with a shovel, or financially. The goal was to plant ten million new trees in the United States. Global ReLeaf Forests were established, areas designated for restoration of forest ecosystems damaged by human or natural events. Among the earliest of the Global ReLeaf Forests were a bottomland hardwood forest in Bayou DeView, Arkansas; a riparian (streamside) forest in Afton Canyon, part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem in California; threatened pine forests near Miami, Florida; and the longleaf pine ecosystems in the Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina. The last two of these areas had been devastated by Hurricanes Andrew and Hugo. Wyoming’s Little Red Creek required replanting because of wildfire. Other Global ReLeaf Forests were planted to cover strip-mined lands, abandoned landfills, and marginal agricultural lands. Still other sites that had been declining as a result of neglect or mismanagement were targeted to become Heritage Forests.

The success of Global ReLeaf can be attributed in part to the partnerships that American Forests forged with dozens of corporations, foundations, and state and federal agencies, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who joined Global ReLeaf to “plant a tree and cool the globe.” In its first six years, Global ReLeaf joined with approximately fifty corporations, as well as with state and federal forestry and natural-resource agencies and conservation associations. Corporations’ contributions ranged from planting a tree for every haircut given or product sold over a designated time period to contributing a percentage of their annual profits.

Jean Giono’s book The Man Who Planted Trees Man Who Planted Trees, The (Giono) inspired many of the Global ReLeaf participants. The fictional account of a shepherd who collected acorns and other tree seeds as he tended his flocks epitomized the Global ReLeaf belief that one person’s dedication to reforestation can change a barren wasteland into a verdant forest. In honor of the inspiration provided by the story, American Forests established its annual Jean Giono Award, which is presented to individuals who make a significant personal commitment toward achieving the goals of Global ReLeaf.

Sampson’s vision became an international success story. After the unveiling of Global ReLeaf in 1988, more than two million trees were planted in thirty-eight states through forest restoration programs. In the ensuing years, Global ReLeaf programs expanded throughout the United States and to twenty-one other countries. As its twentieth anniversary approached, more than eleven million trees had been planted in more than five hundred forest ecosystem restoration projects, including in urban zones. Global ReLeaf[Global Releaf] American Forests Environmental organizations Global warming;activism Climate change

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">American Forests. Global ReLeaf Curriculum Guide. Washington, D.C.: Author, 1989. Presents background information and five lessons for exploring global climate change and the importance of planting trees.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Global ReLeaf Information Packet. Washington, D.C.: Author, 1994. Provides information on the Global ReLeaf program along with copies of clippings about the work of American Forests from local and national newspapers and magazines.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Giono, Jean. The Man Who Planted Trees. 20th anniversary ed. Post Mills, Vt.: Chelsea Green, 2005. Captures the spirit of Global ReLeaf in the biography of a fictional character who changes his world through personal action and commitment. Special anniversary edition includes a new foreword by Wangari Maathai, 2004 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gray, Gerald J., Maia J. Enzer, and Jonathan Kusel, eds. Understanding Community-Based Forest Ecosystem Management. Binghamton, N.Y.: Haworth Press, 2001. Collection of papers originally presented at a national workshop held by American Forests includes contributions by academics, community ecosystem management practitioners, and staff of nonprofit environmentalist organizations. Examines the challenges facing the field of community-based forest management.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robbins, Michelle. “A Thousand Points of Green.” American Forests 100 (January/February, 1994): 32-34. Outlines the variety of programs and activities of the component of Global ReLeaf that focuses on urban forests.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schneider, Stephen. Global Warming: Are We Entering the Greenhouse Century? San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1989. Provides an overview of global warming and discusses future prospects and models.

Chipko Movement Protects India’s Forests

U.S. Congress Revises Resource Management

U.S. Congress Expands Eastern Wilderness

U.S. Congress Limits Forest Clear-Cutting

United Nations Creates a Panel to Study Climate Change

Spotted Owl Prompts Old-Growth Timber Controversy

Earth Summit Convenes in Rio de Janeiro

Clinton Convenes the Forest Summit

Kyoto Conference on Greenhouse Gases

Categories: History