Arbor Day Celebrates 150 Years

In 1854, J. Sterling Morton, a prominent newspaper editor and publisher, moved from Detroit to what is now Nebraska. He and other pioneers noticed a need for trees, which could act as windbreaks to stabilize the soil and give shade from the sun. Morton planted many trees around his own home and encouraged others to do the same.

On Jan. 4, 1872, he proposed a holiday to plant trees on April 10 that year. This was known as “Arbor Day.” 

Individuals and counties that planted the most trees that day received prizes. About one million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day. Over the next 150 years, Arbor Day celebrations have spread to all 50 states and around the world.

Today, many Wisconsin communities celebrate Arbor Day as part of their involvement in the Tree City USA program. This program, sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation and administered in Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), provides communities with a tangible goal and national recognition for their community forestry efforts. Communities must meet four criteria annually to maintain their Tree City USA status:

  1. A tree board or department
  2. A tree care ordinance
  3. A community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita
  4. An Arbor Day observance and proclamation 

In 2020, Wisconsin had 201 Tree City USAs, ranking it second in the nation! A 2020 summary by the Arbor Day Foundation provided the following statistics on Wisconsin’s Tree City USAs:

  • Sixty percent of Wisconsin lives in a city designated as a Tree City USA
  • $51,319,634 was spent on urban forestry management ($14.65 average per capita)
  • 31,413 trees were planted

Investing in Wisconsin’s community trees pays us back with rich dividends. It is estimated that every dollar spent on community forestry is worth $2-5 in benefits such as cleaner air, lower energy costs, improved water quality and increased property values. 

Join us in celebrating the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day on April 29, 2022.

Visit the DNR’s urban tree planting webpage for information on choosing and planting a tree, and check out the Arbor Day Foundation’s website for other celebration ideas.

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