In 1872, the first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska. J. Sterling Morton, a resident of Nebraska City, was a tree enthusiast who recognized that the lack of trees, and all their benefits, in tree-bare Nebraska Territory was a serious deficit to the land and its people. When he became secretary of the territory, he was in a position to advocate strongly for the widespread planting of trees and is credited for bringing the holiday into being. Other states gradually added Arbor Day as a legal holiday, and today it is celebrated in all 50 states.
In 1972, the Arbor Day Foundation was formed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Arbor Day. Its mission is to inspire people to plant, celebrate and nurture trees. One of its first initiatives was Tree City USA, launched in 1976. The program encourages communities to plant and maintain trees to benefit the environment. Trees reduce energy costs up to 25 percent by shading buildings and protecting them from winter winds, as well as promoting economic value—homes with trees have higher property values.
Communities apply to receive recognition: requirements include that the community have both a community Tree Board and a tree ordinance, and that it celebrate Arbor Day. Today there are 3,676 recognized Tree Cities from all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
Another program aids the U.S. Forest Service in planting trees in America’s national forests in need of reforestation. The Rain Forest Rescue program, formed to save valuable land in South and Central America, helps local communities achieve sustainable agroforestry.