Sprucing up Utah

Summer 2016
Jason Barto ’89 leads a group planting trees with a mountain in the background

Jason Barto ’89 leads a community planting, during which he also teaches proper planting procedures and explains the benefits that trees provide.

Jason Barto ’89

Talking to arborist Jason Barto ’89 right before both Earth Day and Arbor Day was like interviewing Santa Claus at Christmastime. Despite being honored as Utah’s 2015 Arborist of the Year and even getting a day named after him, Barto is a humble man. “I’m just one person who tries to bring together like-minded people to plant trees,” he said. The Utah Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture recognized Barto for his work as the founder of the nonprofit Wasatch Back Trees and owner of ArborDocs.

Notable numbers: In 2015, Barto and Wasatch Back Trees planted 2,000 seedlings, distributed 800 seedlings to students, and potted another 800 for future planting. He donated nearly $19,000 in labor to the organization.

According to the proclamation: Feb. 10, 2016, is “declared Jason Barto Day in honor of his achievements and contributions to the natural beauty of Summit County.”

Cultivating life: “I was a Salt Lake City firefighter from 2001 through 2006, but I left the fire department early because of PTSD from two events. I was in New York City on November 12, 2001, as part of an honor guard detail to go to FDNY funerals. We were getting ready to go to a funeral when we were notified of a plane that crashed leaving JFK.  By the time we arrived on the scene, there were no survivors. It was a very surreal experience, seeing the devastation and the deceased covered in sheets. That stuck with me. Then in April 2004, we lost a four-year-old girl in a fire, and that didn’t sit well with me. I left the fire department and discovered the therapeutic benefits of working with trees. I went from a destructive, burning situation to one where I’m able to plant a living thing and nurture it. We’re trying to share some of these benefits with military veterans as well.”

Branching out: “In addition to caring for individual trees, I work on building relationships with other entities — businesses, municipalities, volunteer groups, Eagle Scouts, schools, fire stations — to plant more trees to improve our community forest, take care of the existing trees we have, and educate people about the benefits of trees.”

Healthy environment = healthy kids: “We are beginning to research the number of sick days among elementary school children at schools that have trees versus schools that don’t. The pilot project is at a school with essentially no trees. We’re looking at a decade of their student health numbers and working with Utah State University landscape architect students to add approximately 100 trees to the school grounds. Once we’re done, we’ll see if there’s a correlation in a reduction of sick days.”

Preserving the Willow Path: “At Colgate, I was on the campus planning and physical resources committee, and during that time, the Willow Path trees had become infected with a disease and were succumbing to maturity. We went through several concepts that included replacing them with a different species. That exposed me to the personal relationships that people have with specific types of trees. Imagine if we were the guys who replanted the willow trees with beech trees? Ultimately, we were able to find a vigorous, disease-resistant species of willows, and to this day we can continue to enjoy the Willow Path.”

— Aleta Mayne