Saving the forest one small ornament at a time

<i>Courtesy photo</i><br>
Holiday ornaments made from small diameter pines send a message of environmental sustainability, store greenhouse gases and send youth to forestry camp.

<i>Courtesy photo</i><br> Holiday ornaments made from small diameter pines send a message of environmental sustainability, store greenhouse gases and send youth to forestry camp.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - This holiday season you can put small diameter pine trees to use, cultivate tomorrow's foresters, send a message of environmental sustainability and store greenhouse gases on your holiday tree all at the same time. Northern Arizona University's Centennial Forest is selling "tree cookie" ornaments made from unwanted skinny ponderosa pine trees that have overpopulated Southwestern forests. Proceeds from the $8-15 ornaments will send youth to forestry camp.

Centennial Forest Junior Forester Camp Director Cheryl Miller says she can carve out about 50 ornaments from a small tree and is taking orders. "These are becoming very popular for families who want to display photos of their loved ones in a unique way. Companies can put their logos on them for a holiday gift to their employees. We also have snowman ornaments and other symbols of the season made from the thin trees."

During the past century, ponderosa pine thickets have grown into what used to be openings in the forest creating millions of unhealthy acres prone to insect outbreaks, disease and catastrophic fire.

"The key to restoring forests all across the Southwest is finding a use for all these small diameter trees. Small businesses that can harvest the wood for particle board, furniture or firewood likely will be the heroes that save our forests in the near future from widespread devastation," said Ecological Restoration Institute at NAU Director of Outreach Bruce Greco. "The tree cookie ornament program sends a very positive message about using the wood and restoring the forest."

Trees, three to five inches in diameter, often are the target of thinning and burning projects. However, burning the wood releases carbon that is stored in the trees, putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which scientists say adds to global warming.

Finding a use for this abundance of wood is one of the goals of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative. 4FRI is a historic effort involving the Forest Service, ERI researchers, environmentalists, organizations and communities aimed at returning health to 2.4 million acres across northern Arizona's pine forests.

Miller says the Centennial Forest Junior Forester Academy south of Flagstaff has provided an outdoors experience and conservation training to more than 500 young people ages 9 to 16 in the last seven years. The weeklong camp costs $650 per camper, which she hopes to offset with sales from the tree ornaments.

"Connecting our youth to the natural environment and instilling a conservation ethic are Centennial Forest goals," she said. "Through this tree cookie holiday ornament fundraiser, we strive to leave no child inside this summer."

Tree cookie ornaments will be available at Heritage Square on Dec. 3 during First Friday Art Walk from 6-9 p.m. Those interested in purchasing the ornaments or placing customized orders also may log on to www.nau.edu/cfcamps or call (928) 523-6727.

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