Spring has Sprung with 15,000 Trees!

by Molly Geppert, Marketing Manager

After a long winter, we at Trees, Water & People (TWP) are excited to begin the planting season on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. This morning, we happily bid farewell to 15,000 Ponderosa Pine seedlings provided by the Colorado State Forest Service Nursery. These trees will help reforest areas burned by wildfires on Pine Ridge.

Planting the Ponderosas will sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gases, improve air and water quality, reduce soil erosion, reestablish wildlife habitat, and enhance ecosystem resiliency, while engaging Native Americans in the protection of their lands. One thousand of the seedlings were sent with special well wishes written on gardening stakes by the Earth Day patrons from TWP’s recent Earth Day event in Colorado with New Belgium Brewery and Topo Designs. The collaboration was a huge success and a whole lot of fun!

 

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Earth Day patrons wrote well wishes on garden stakes to be planted with their donated trees at New Belgium Brewery.

In addition to the trees, 1,000 veggie starters are also making the trip to South Dakota. The plants are destined for Solar Warrior Farm, an educational demonstration garden located at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. Solar Warrior Farm produces native and traditional foods such as, potatoes, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, corn, melons, peppers, carrots, and a variety of berries, all of which are harvested and distributed to local Lakota families.

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15,000 Ponderosa Pines and 1,000 veggie starters safely stowed for the trip to Pine Ridge.

Helping us plant all these trees and veggies is long-time supporter, Rob Buehler of BeHeady.com. Rob has been raising funds to plant trees with TWP for many years through the sale of his beautiful steel drums. We are so grateful to have his help and support!

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Sending off the trees with the well wishes from the Colorado Earth Day event. (Pictured from left to right: Richard Fox, Amanda Haggerty, Molly Geppert, and Rob Buehler)

If you would like to help us plant trees on the Pine Ridge Reservation, please make a donation to our Tribal Reforestation program.

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Capacity Building to Combat Climate Change in Central America

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

At Trees, Water & People we operate under the belief that communities living closest to natural resources are the best situated to manage them in a sustainable manner. National or Departmental governments often have the mandate to designate protected areas, but are also often strapped for funds to properly monitor use and enforce protections. Communities living along the edges of these protected areas understand the value of these areas, but often their agricultural activities are at odds with ecosystem health. Pressures between the communities and the protected areas grow even more acute in periods of drought or crop disease, which has been the norm in Central America for the past four years.

There are many who believe there are better ways to work with these families rather than monitoring and enforcing against their incursions into the protected area. Instead of seeing communities as an implicit threat against these treasures, we at Trees, Water & People see a resource that merits development. That’s why we’ve started a new Capacity Building Fund – a donor supported fund that allows us to send our implementing partners to attend training opportunities in their region that help build climate resilience. For instance, we are currently sponsoring two indigenous youth group leaders in Guatemala. These leaders want to develop skills in sustainable agriculture at a 10-day course at the Insituto Mesoamericano de Permacultura (IMAP), which they will in-turn teach to their community. We are also raising funds for two longtime partners from El Salvador and Honduras to attend a 3 week workshop on protected area management. This course is taught by CATIE and Colorado State University’s Center for Protected Area Management.

One of the participants in this second training is Armando Hernandez, Director of Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP), our partner organization in El Salvador. His team recently finished the first phase of a project in the Biosphere Reserve Apaneca-Ilamatepec in Western El Salvador. There they worked with communities surrounding the biosphere to develop a management plan. This included training park rangers and local guides from the community, developing biodiversity curriculum for the local schools, mapping and adding signage to the trails, starting an agroforestry program with help from a local coffee farm, and implementing fuel-efficient clean cookstoves that use less woodfuel than the traditional alternative.

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Armando Hernandez, Director of Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP), with a Mejorada clean cookstove.

René Santos Mata of the Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture (CEASO) is conducting a similar process with twelve communities in the Cordillera de Montecillos, a mountain range in Central Honduras that provides water to three major watersheds and acts as a stopover for migratory birds with threatened status in the U.S.

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René Santos Mata of CEASO working with his community members to develop a biosphere management plan.

Building the capacity of key actors with access to agricultural communities near protected areas creates a multiplier effect that results in a better relationship between community members and the natural resources on which their livelihoods depend.  Please visit the current home of our Capacity Building Fund to support the costs of this training for Armando and René. And be sure to check back with us quarterly to see new pairings of the people that help implement our programs and the educational opportunities they are pursuing. As always, thank you for supporting Trees, Water & People, and please pass this post to friends and loved ones that would be interested to hear about our work.

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Guest Blog: The Five Worst Things You Can Do for the Planet

by Jessica Reynolds, Community Manager at Solar Action Alliance

The bottom line is that the worst thing an individual can do is to increase – or not reduce – his or her carbon footprint. In other words, each of us needs to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants our activities produce as much as possible.

There are a number of things an individual can do that are truly bad for the planet, but perhaps the five that are the most common are:

Wasting energy, especially fossil fuel-based energy

bulbThere is a lot we do that wastes energy. Given that most energy is still generated by fossil fuels such as coal and oil, energy production still results in massive amounts of greenhouse gasses. The worst thing an individual can do, therefore, is to waste energy.

For example: leaving unnecessary lights on; allowing unused appliances, including computer monitors, to continue to run; using incandescent light bulbs; washing your laundry in hot water, not monitoring your energy usage, not installing thermostats and timers, and not replacing old appliances with ‘green’ versions. The US Department of Energy provides a great deal of information about what items and activities waste energy.

Wasting Water

Water is an increasingly valuable resource, especially in some parts of the world. Wasting or overusing water is a serious way to negatively impact our planet.

As stated on the Oxford Brookes University website, “Water scarcity has knock on effects not just for drinking water supplies. Food production can be affected, while landscapes can be altered and degrade without sufficient water [and] both the pumping and cleaning of water requires energy. As the majority of energy used in water sanitation comes from fossil fuels, these resources are also depleted, while additional greenhouse gases are emitted”.

Not Recycling

trashNot recycling negatively impacts the planet in several ways. Firstly, by sending all our household waste to landfills we introduce items that release toxins into the soil, groundwater, and air. A huge amount of our  junk, especially plastic of various kinds, finds its way into the oceans and seas where it kills marine creatures. Secondly, if you don’t “recycle” wasted food by composting it, it ends up in a landfill and rots and produces methane gas, which is a big greenhouse gas culprit.

Engaging in greenhouse gas and other pollutant generating activities

There are a lot of things we do each day that are bad for our planet because they generate pollutants of various kinds. One of the many things that has a negative impact is using your private motor vehicle on daily commutes. You could also buy a vehicle that guzzle fossil fuels and produces high levels of emissions. Instead use public transport, cycle, carpool, or even walk.

Additionally, you could eat a great deal of meat because as author and journalist Adria Vasil points out, “51 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry”.

Buying products that are resource greedy or toxic

waterMany products we use often are bad for our planet. For instance, indulging our passion for denim and taste for bottled water is not good for the planet. Both products involve production processes that use vast amounts of both fossil fuel energy and water. This means both manufacturing processes use a scarce resource and belch CO2 into the air.

A lot of products we purchase and use daily like soap, detergent, cleaning agents, and other personal care products contain chemicals, toxins and, in some cases, hormones. These find their way into the air, soil, and water through landfill seepage etc. Buying products in non-biodegradable packaging such as plastic and styrofoam also harms the planet.

However…

… If you want to work to heal the planet there are numerous websites, such as One Green Planet, and organizations that provide really helpful practical tools and tips.

Given many of these five are linked either directly or indirectly to the use of fossil fuels and their negative impact, isn’t it time to consider moving to clean, sustainable energy? Solar energy ticks all the right environmental boxes, and so many others too. For information on solar and related topics, visit the Solar Action Alliance.

If you want to help underprivileged communities in Central America and on Tribal Lands in the United States have access to renewable energy, please consider making a donation.

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Jessica Reynolds is a Community Manager at Solar Action Alliance. She loves her Brittany spaniel named Frankie, traveling, Michigan summers, and helping promote sustainable energy.

Solar Action Alliance is a group of environmentalists who want to spread the word about the cleanest, most reliable and abundant source of renewable energy: the sun.

 

 

 

 

Volunteer Voices: A Bittersweet Trip to Pine Ridge

by Gemara Gifford, TWP Intern and CSU Alum

Those of us who work in sustainable development and conservation know all too well the roller coaster of “inspiration highs” and “heartbreak lows” that go along with this line of work. Working from an office is one thing, but working directly with the communities we are supporting is another. I am so grateful to have had the chance to visit Pine Ridge Reservation as a part of my internship with Trees, Water & People. As hard as it was to see the striking overlap between rural farmers in Guatemala, and Lakota families in South Dakota, it is incredibly important to recognize how these stories weave together.

“For me, it was difficult to see and hear about the state of people’s living conditions on the reservation, and their own personal struggles. Though, I also saw hope in the people we met who take pride in their culture and are excited to share it with others.” – Julia Matteucci, CSU Freshman

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Building a house for a Lakota family using sustainable Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB) from local materials on Pine Ridge. Photo by Vanesa Blanco Lopez

I wasn’t alone on this roller coaster ride, however – nine enthusiastic Colorado State University (CSU) students participated in a week-long service learning trip as a part of their Alternative Spring Break. In fact, the TWP-Pine Ridge-CSU partnership has been in existence for over 10 years! During our week, we worked alongside Henry and Gloria Red Cloud and Lakota community members on a variety of service projects. On our first day, we prepared the Solar Warrior Farm for planting, an initiative that feeds hundreds of people each season who usually only have access to over-priced-and-processed foods found at the only grocery store in town. When I learned that over 60% of people in Pine Ridge suffer from diabetes and other diet-related illnesses, I realized first-hand how important food sovereignty initiatives are and have been within the Lakota Nation.

“By working on the farm, we were setting a foundation for Henry to feed people on the reservation and help educate people on how to grow healthy food and find a sustainable way to feed themselves.” – Amy Borngrebe, CSU Junior

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CSU Alternative Break students and TWP intern, Gem (far left) at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC). Photo by Gemara Gifford

Among the cross-cultural experiences we had, such as meeting a storyteller, visiting Wounded Knee Massacre, and participating in a Sweat Lodge Ceremony, we engaged in meaningful reflections each night at the Sacred Earth Lodge, and embraced the ups and downs of visiting Pine Ridge. After a week of bonding with new friends, and experiencing a forgotten culture so close to home, we promised to return one day.

If you would like to donate your time and volunteer with Trees, Water & People, please email Molly Geppert at molly@treeswaterpeople.org to see what opportunities we have available. If you’re short on time and can’t make a trip to Pine Ridge, please consider making a donation.

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Notes from the Field: Overcoming Challenges of Nicaragua’s Drought

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Drought, searing temperatures and significant reductions in water levels are on the top of the news cycle here in Nicaragua. April marks the peak of the summer season and the first week of the month still exhibits the full wrath of a still strong El Niño. Major issues have included news and events such as the following:

  • Lower lake levels have complicated ferry crossings and transport on Lake Nicaragua, particularly to and from the ever popular island of Ometepe.
  • A rash of howler monkey deaths in and around the Rivas area has been attributed to the ongoing drought, decreasing their food and water sources.
  • A famous tourist site and strategic water source, the Estanzuela waterfall outside of Estelí has completely dried up.
  • The Tisma lagoon, an internationally important migratory waterfowl and RAMSAR wetland, that links the two great lakes of Nicaragua has completely dried up for the first time in recent memory.
  • The Río Coco, which forms a significant portion of the border between Honduras and Nicaragua and supplies critical watersheds on both sides, is also completely for stretches in some places.

Despite the intense heat and the severe problems exacerbated by the extended drought, the work goes on. In February, board member Jeff Hargis came to Nicaragua and spent a few days with us in Managua. He was here as part of a personal trip for Spanish study in nearby Granada, but took advantage to see our programs, projects and places first hand. The obligatory visit to Proleña´s stove workshop was first on tap; at the moment they were bursting at the seams with a huge order of five different types of stoves for a key government entity and an important local foundation: The Ministry of Tourism and the Pellas Foundation. Following that visit, we headed out to La Paz Centro to tour the grounds of our flagship project: the Center for Forests, Energy and Climate (NICFEC).

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Board member Jeff Hargis holds a jicaro fruit during his visit to arid Nicaragua

A system of tube containers, designed to create sturdier roots and easier mobility for the plants, was used in a previous Proleña project and those containers have been relocated to the NICFEC site. Within the next month they will be part of an effort to plant 5,000 – 10,000 trees as our on-site nursery will expand and provide access to woodfuel, fruit and ornamental trees for the wider region.

In March, Sebastian Africano, TWP´s International Director, arrived in Managua for a week of meetings with Proleña and to provide strategic guidance on NICFEC´s construction and business development. In addition to time spent perusing and reviewing the final NICFEC plans, we found time to visit our friends at the BioNica demonstration center just outside of Tipitapa. They have improved their drip irrigation systems considerably and also expanded the number of biointensive beds and continue to improve their seed and agroforestry programs. I look forward to attending a two-day workshop on good agroforestry practices for arid zones at their demonstration site next week.

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TWP’s International Director, Sebastian Africano (right), examines Biotica’s thriving garden with the garden manager, Alexi (left), during Nicaragua’s three-year drought.

During Sebastian´s visit we also met with Henrik Haller, a Swedish eco-technology professional and permaculture expert, who we are looking to partner with on several initiatives at NICFEC. Henrik is a professor with Mid Sweden University in Sundsvall, and is also the founder and director of the Centro Integral para la Progación de la Permacultura (the Integral Center for the Propagation of Permaculture) and a bioremediation expert. Towards the end of March, Henrik and I were able to tour the NICFEC area. We also met up with one of Bionica´s graduates, who is now heading up a project for Vassar College, and Noel Sampson, a young architect who is from the area and has lots of information and contacts. As we continue to develop our strategies and approaches for NICFEC, these types of relationships and collaborations will become more critical.

As extreme weather conditions become the norm, climate adaptation will become more and more important for Central American farmers. TWP’s NICFEC will be a resource for these farmers and their communities, providing them with a suite of technologies, proven methods, tree seedlings, and curriculum that will support them in this transition.

Thank you for supporting these farmers as NICFEC gets closer to opening its doors!

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Heather and Heidi: TWP’s MVPs

by Molly Geppert, Marketing Manager and Volunteer Coordinator 

In many ways, volunteers are the lifeblood of many nonprofits and Trees, Water & People is no exception. It’s hard to imagine where we would be without our wonderful volunteers. As the Volunteer Coordinator at our home base in Fort Collins, I am lucky enough to work with many of the dedicated volunteers who are willing to donate their time and energy to making our organization great.

In particular, Heather and Heidi have been a huge help. They assist with some of the most time consuming tasks, such as mailing out Thank You letters, helping manage junk mail, data entry, and sending out our newsletters. They have been coming into the office every Thursday (and sometimes Mondays or Wednesday depending on the project) since August 2015 and so far have contributed 60 volunteer hours each!

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Heather (left) and sister Heidi (right) working diligently at our Fort Collins office.

Their hard work has made a huge difference in what we can get accomplished in a week. Not only that, but having them around makes the office that much more fun and lively. TWP’s office dog, Kiva, loves to welcome the ladies by running in circles around them. Heidi cracks us all up with her funny stories and sarcastic sense of humor. For Christmas, Heather made a homemade, hand drawn Holiday card featuring a happy Christmas tree, a mound of presents, and a Santa Claus peaking out of the fireplace.  Valentine’s Day was a big surprise when Heather and Heidi made us all “Love Bugs” and went around the office personally delivering them to each staff member.

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Valentine’s Day Love Bugs

In their free time, Heather and Heidi are avid knitters and crocheters; they even have their own company called Touchy Feelies.  We are all so thankful to have both of these wonderful ladies in the office every week.

If you would like to donate your time and volunteer with Trees, Water & People, please email Molly Geppert at molly@treeswaterpeople.org to see what opportunities we have available. If you’re short on time or do not live in the Northern Colorado area, please consider making a donation.

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Project Update: Turning Four Walls and a Roof into a Home

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by John Motley, Assistant National Director

The Great Plains have seen a milder winter thus far, which has been beneficial for many reasons.  For our project, this means that we have been able to move forward on the interior of the Shields’ new Compressed Earth Block (CEB) home. In January, we were able to run all water and electrical lines throughout the home. We are now seeing the house become livable. Now that we do have electricity, we are able to heat the home, allowing us to plaster the interior block walls and completely seal up the house.

The sustainable CEB design provides a unique heat sink where the walls hold heat long after the heating source has stopped running. But heating a home with gas or electricity is not ideal on the reservation, as electric and propane costs can skyrocket in the winter. This is why we are very much hoping to fund a grid-tied Photovoltaic solar panel system to offset some of the homes electrical costs. Please see our microproject to contribute to this solar PV system!

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Over the past month, we have started hanging drywall on the interior walls and ceiling. Soon we can begin insulating the attic with “Rez Paper,” as our partner Henry Red Cloud of Lakota Solar Enterprises likes to call it. This particular cellulose insulation is partially made from recycled newspaper from the reservation along with clean cellulose plant material.

As the home progresses this spring, we look forward to showing the people of Pine Ridge and beyond that Compressed Earth Block construction is not only functional but livable. We are putting the finishing touches on the Shields’ house but we need your help to truly give it that finished feel. The Shields family is anxiously waiting to move in so please consider contributing to this important project!

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