Forest Service Chief Visits Harlem School To Promote Urban Forests

Wednesday, October 10th 2007, 7:19 am

By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The head of the U.S. Forest Service visited a Harlem elementary school to talk about trees and to promote a program that will give $1.5 million to 24 schools nationwide to send kids into nature.

Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell later joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Bette Midler and Big Bird at a tree planting Tuesday in the Bronx.

At the Harlem Link Charter School, third-graders asked Kimbell questions such as ``Do they rake the leaves in the forest?'' and ``Does a bell ring when there's a forest fire?''

Kimbell said the Forest Service learns about fires from radio calls from lookout towers, not from bells. And leaves aren't usually raked in the wild.

``When you're out in the forest, move some of those leaves aside and look real closely at what's crawling around underneath,'' she said. ``You'll find out there are lots of bugs and worms and really cool things.''

Kimbell, a 30-year veteran of the Forest Service who took over as its chief in February, visited the school to kick off the ``More Kids in the Woods'' program, which will pay for field trips at Harlem Link and 23 other schools.

Harlem Link is getting $17,500 from the agency to spend on trips to Staten Island's wetlands, a wildlife refuge and other sites.

School co-director Steven Evangelista said his students aren't familiar with the wilderness. ``Many of them do spend the summer just hanging out on the playground here, on the sidewalk, with no real exposure to nature,'' he said.

Other Forest Service grants will benefit schoolchildren in Baltimore; Denver; Santa Fe, N.M.; northern Utah; and Ithaca, N.Y., among other locations.

Kimbell told the Harlem kids: ``You are very lucky because the city of New York is planning to plant a million more trees over the next 10 years.''

She then joined Bloomberg at an event to kick off the tree-planting effort.

Celebrities including Midler, Big Bird from ``Sesame Street'' and cast members from the Broadway show ``Wicked'' watched as a 12-foot Carolina Silverbell tree was paraded down a Bronx street before being ceremonially planted.

About 50 trees will be planted in the area as part of Bloomberg's goal to increase the city's greenery.

``We are going to transform New York City from a town that's mostly asphalt, mostly steaming in the summer, to a place that's cool, green and refreshing to be in all seasons,'' said Midler, who runs a nonprofit organization called the New York Restoration Project.

New York City has about 5.2 million trees, or 24 percent canopy cover. By comparison, Chicago's canopy cover is 11 percent and Atlanta's is 37 percent.

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