Thousands of Presbyterians in Michigan will celebrate Earth Day 2009 by planting 12,000 trees across a 400-mile area.

The interfaith Upper Peninsula EarthKeeper Tree Project will distribute the 12- to 16-inch White Spruce and Red Pine seedlings to more than 100 churches and temples in all corners of northern Michigan, said Gail Griffith, EarthKeeper Implementation Team co-chair.

The tree planting project is “another opportunity to work cooperatively with God and nature to replenish the earth,” said the Rev. Dave Anderson, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Sagola, MI, and chaplain for the Dickinson County Healthcare System.

The EarthKeeper team comprises 10 faith traditions — Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist Church, Unitarian Universalist, Baha’i, Jewish, Zen Buddist and Quaker — with more than 150 participating churches/temples, as well as the nonprofit organizations Superior Watershed Partnership and Cedar Tree Institute and the Northern Michigan University EarthKeeper Student Team.

The trees were purchased or donated by the Upper Peninsula EarthKeeper team and other organizations.

The team will host a blessing of the trees ceremony on Earth Day, April 22. Congregations will pick up their trees May 2 at several conservation offices in the area. The trees will be planted the next day.

“This is about more than putting trees in the ground — it’s an expression by the faith communities of love and care for God’s creation,” said Kyra Fillmore, Catholic EarthKeeper team member and the project’s communications coordinator for faith communities.

Participants will be provided with planting instructions and are encouraged to plant and water their trees as soon as possible.

Twelve thousand mature trees absorb 3 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually and produce enough oxygen to support 24,000 humans.

In addition to providing oxygen, trees are important for other scientific, economic and practical reasons.

Not only are they fun to climb, trees contribute to healthy soil, said Jill Martin, Presbyterian EarthKeeper and an environmental scientist in Escanaba, MI.

“They help sustain the ecological web, from the soil organisms to birds that nest in the trees,” she said. “They have a substantial cooling effect on summer temperatures, particularly the deciduous trees.”

Economically, trees are key as well.

“Trees are a big part of the economic commerce of this part of the world,” Martin said. “The upper Midwest is very tightly integrated to the forest as a sustainable resource.”

Planting trees is important because “there is so much harvesting going on just for profitability,” Anderson said, adding that planting a tree “can stand in contrast to a materialistic mindset.”

“Trees can be enjoyed for their beauty and charm, without always having to be seen for their market value,” he said. “Let’s plant this year to beautify the Earth and to enjoy God’s creation for the right reasons.”

Taking a faith-based perspective to caring for the environment reflects another reason for planting trees.

“Our interfaith tree planting effort is more than another conservation project,” said Rev. Jon Magnuson, EarthKeeper Initiative co-founder and executive director of the Cedar Tree Institute. “With prayers, hymns and the blessing of 12,000 seedlings, it’s a gentle proclamation of a new consciousness and commitment among our faith communities to care for God’s creation.”

This idea of being stewards of God’s earth is important to faith communities, including Presbyterians.

“Presbyterians view ourselves as servants in God’s world, and this effort is service to sustaining God’s world,” Martin said.

An annual Jewish holiday celebrates the blossoming of the almond trees in Israel at the start of spring, said Constance Arnold, president of the board for Temple Beth Sholom in Marquette, MI.

“Tu B’Shvat is a very ancient holiday we observe yearly,” said Arnold. “This is a reminder of the importance of trees.”

Bishop Alexander K. Sample of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Marquette said he encourages parishes to participate fully in this Earthkeeper project, adding that trees have a connection to the Easter season.

“We have just celebrated Christ’s victory over death, accomplished through the tree of his cross,” Sample said. “These new trees that will be planted can symbolize for us the new life that the Lord has won for us.”

This is the fifth year that the Upper Peninsula EarthKeepers have launched an Earth Day environmental project.

From 2005-2007, more than 15,000 local residents turned in more than 360 tons of household hazardous waste at a dozen collection sites across the area. Most of the items were recycled, and the remainder was properly disposed under federal guidelines. That project helped residents properly dispose of waste such as cell phones, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, oil-based paint and vehicle batteries as well as electronic waste like computers, monitors and printers.

Last year, the EarthKeepers provided a household energy conservation checklist that resulted in more than 3 million pounds of carbon being reduced.

Greg Peterson is a news reporter and volunteer media advisor for the Upper Peninsula EarthKeeper team.