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Despite fire, Michigan trees take root

Daryl Davis (left) and his wife Ginny, members of First United Methodist Church in Marquette, Mich., plant evergreen seedling as part on the interfaith Upper
Peninsula EarthKeeper Tree Project. A UMNS photo by David McCowen.

By Greg Peterson*
June 4, 2009 | MARQUETTE, Mich. (UMNS)

The Rev. Grant Lobb’s parents used to tell him that "many hands make light work."

The United Methodist Marquette District superintendent found the adage to be true when volunteers from 16 United Methodist congregations planted about 1,600 trees in May across the Upper Peninsula—just before two large forest fires in the region.

Those trees were part of the 12,000 trees planted near homes, camps, parks, American Indian reservations and other places as part of the interfaith Upper Peninsula EarthKeeper Tree Project.

Kathy Foulks (from left), Darcy Rutkowski, Ginny Davis, Daryl Davis, and Steve Foulks are among volunteers from 16 United Methodist congregations.
A UMNS photo by David McCowen.

Children as young as two joined in the project. "So many of us were pleased to see people of all ages and backgrounds taking part in a relatively simple physical act that is truly a gift for decades and possibly centuries," said Lobb, whose district has 8,372 parishioners and 60 northern Michigan congregations.

One of the forest fires that started on May 20 ripped through a Native American cemetery used by members of the Zeba Indian Mission United Methodist Church, destroying 45 spirits houses located next to the graves.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community owns the sacred Pinery Cemetery, “but the Zeba church has always been a keeper since the 1800-1900s," said Susan J. LaFernier, church member and the community’s vice president.

Sacred cemetery

"My mother, father, and brother and many other family and friends are buried there so, as you can tell, we are very protective of the cemetery," said LaFernier, the great-great-granddaughter of a Methodist missionary. "The Zeba United Methodist Church and the tribe have always worked very closely with each other in regards to our sacred Pinery Cemetery."

Lobb believes the fire "is just another example of God providing our needs before we even know that there will be a need."

When the blaze swept through the cemetery, LaFernier was preparing for her cousin's burial. "I tried to put out a small fire there to save the houses and cemetery but was not able (because) it had already jumped across the road," she said. "We do not know how many trees will be lost yet."

LaFernier was among those who helped plant the seedlings that were passed out during the Mother's Day church services. "We gave gifts to the mothers in our congregation, honoring them for the loving nurture they had given us," explained the Rev. John Henry, pastor of the Zeba, L'Anse and Sidnaw United Methodist churches. "We honored Mother Earth for her nurturing love by distributing the trees to nurture the earth."

At the cemetery’s Memorial Day Service, "the grass was green with a beautiful pink flowering crab tree, while all around, the pines and oaks were charred black," LaFernier said. "God was with us and always is and he is a great God. We thank everyone for their prayers and are grateful that no lives were lost."

A larger forest fire about 60 miles east of Zeba in Marquette County destroyed 30 buildings including 12 houses. There were no deaths or serious injuries in either fire.

Spreading seeds

The fires underlined the importance of the tree project, organizers said. Some trees, like the many Upper Peninsula Jack Pines, need a fire to help spread their seeds. The Jack Pine's resin-filled cones remain dormant until a fire causes the cones to pop open and the seeds to fall or blow out, according to experts.

Hours after members of the Zeba Indian Mission United Methodist Church planted trees, a fire burns in the Pinery Cemetery in Baraga Country, Mich.
A UMNS photo by Susan LaFernier.

"Planting trees also helps speed the natural recovery process after a fire," said Carl Lindquist, executive director of the nonprofit Superior Watershed Partnership in Marquette.

White spruce and red pine seedlings measuring 12 to 16 inches tall were given to more than 100 churches and temples in all 15 Upper Peninsula counties and Minocqua, Wis., according to Catholic EarthKeeper Kyra Fillmore of Marquette, the project distribution coordinator.

Trees were given to United Methodist churches in Gwinn, Houghton, Ironwood, L'Anse, Manistique, Marquette, Menominee, Munising, Skandia, Sidnaw, South Range, St. Ignace, Trenary, White Pina and Zeba.

A group of volunteers planted several trees at the United Methodist camp in Michigamme. In Escanaba, EarthKeeper volunteers from the First Presbyterian Church and the Central United Methodist Church separated and bagged 1,000 trees.

EarthKeepers is "focused on how the faith communities can work together" despite theological differences, said Northern Great Lakes Synod Lutheran Bishop Thomas A. Skrenes.

"Religious differences are a huge factor in many parts of life and certainly there are big differences between different religious communities," said Skrenes, an original signer of the EarthKeeper Covenant and the head of 94 Upper Peninsula Lutheran congregations. "EarthKeepers has provided us the opportunity to again renew our relationship with people who are very different in some ways and yet very similar."

The EarthKeeper team includes 10 faith traditions -- Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Unitarian Universalist, Baha'i, Jewish, Zen Buddist, and Quakers -- plus the nonprofit Superior Watershed Partnership, the nonprofit Cedar Tree Institute, and the Northern Michigan University EarthKeeper Student Team.

*Peterson is a news reporter and volunteer media advisor for the EarthKeepers.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or  

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 U.P. EarthKeeper Team

Nonprofit Superior Watershed Partnership in Marquette, MI

Nonprofit Cedar Tree Institute in Marquette, MI

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