Thanks to Dr. Seuss’ famous children’s book The Lorax, many people grow up believing that planting trees is a conscious act of doing good. Perhaps this lasting impact of The Lorax is cemented by the quote that he chose to end with: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This quote presents
In response to that universal childhood message, Vassar students are upholding environmental stewardship on campus and doing so on both the collective and individual scale, at a time when sustaining human and ecological populations is the demanding issue of the century.
This past Saturday, Sept. 28, the Environmental Cooperative at Vassar Barns hosted a community tree planting event from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. near Kenyon Bridge, located at a Casperkill stream site at the northeast corner of campus. On this sunny day in early autumn, about 40 Vassar students offered their helpful hands to designate homes for young trees. Planting one tree requires an elaborate process of preparation, potting and then protection. Volunteers were mainly comprised of returning Environmental Cooperative workers, experienced tree-planters and environmental studies majors, but many were also first-timers when it came to planting trees. Martin Burstein ’23, for example, never planted trees before. By volunteering this past Saturday, he shared how he not only learned how to create safe and secure homes for
Burstein commented on the broader necessity of tree planting: “We should plant more trees because they’re getting cut down at a much faster rate.” He also pointed to the key roles that trees play in our ecosystem, including carbon sequestration, soil compaction, erosion control
His new friend and
In the Essentials of Environmental Science course Brown is currently taking, students are conducting field research in the local Casperkill and Fonteynkill streams, which run from the north to south ends of campus. Students in the class are studying the drinkability, biodiversity and overall quality of water at each respective source on Vassar’s campus. According to the students in the course, one concept they learn is that trees act as one of the best buffers and water purifiers, providing Vassar with a healthier, cleaner and more inhabitable Sunset Lake to enjoy.
However, Vassar did not always have courses devoted to environmentalism in this fashion. While the college boasts an extensive arboretum and ecological preserve, fewer campus residents notice aspects of our ecosystem such as water quality. In fact, Vassar is situated in proximity to multiple bodies of water: the Hudson River, Sunset Lake
One of the main streams linking bodies of water throughout Vassar’s campus is the Casperkill stream. For instance, the 1932 closing of a brick plant near Casperkill created a pit in the stream, which became a site for the dumping of garbage and ashes (Vassar College Environmental Research Institute, “Health of the Casperkill, Dutchess County, New York,” February 2009). Although such violations of the Clean Water Act are now prohibited, the water quality of streams running through campus
Scientific research and community action have prioritized the recovery of Sunset Lake and the Casperkill stream. Small actions such as planting trees along streams—like what Vassar volunteers did this past Saturday—contribute to the purification of water quality and the revival of native ecosystems. “There are things that we can do to repair the damage that we have done,” Brown echoed.
Returning to The Lorax, people may have grown up to believe that planting trees is a good deed, and therefore they do it. But this naturally raises the question: Why do people really do it? Is it simply an obligatory action, or something to gratify people with a sense of relief from the guilt of anthropogenic impact on the environment? Or is it truly because people feel intrinsically connected to our environment and believe that what affects it also affects them? These are questions that can help people assess the extent of our own environmental stewardship and