The city of Melbourne, Australia is maximizing the power of the Internet and the popular use of email to get residents involved with helping protect and maintain local trees.
In 2013, city officials assigned ID numbers and email addresses to trees in the city as part of an urban forest program designed to make it easier for citizens to report problems such as fallen branches or dying trees. The project is a success, with people reporting tree issues and concerns—as well as sending love letters, thank you notes and questions regarding politics to their favorite trees.
As the chair of Melbourne's Environment Portfolio, Councillor Arron Wood puts it, "The email interactions reveal the love Melburnians have for our trees."
Melbourne city officials shared with The Atlantic some of the letters people have written to the trees:
To: Algerian Oak, Tree ID 1032705
2 February 2015
Dear Algerian oak,
Thank you for giving us oxygen. Thank you for being so pretty. I don't know where I'd be without you to extract my carbon dioxide. (I would probably be in heaven) Stay strong, stand tall amongst the crowd.You are the gift that keeps on giving. We were going to speak about wildlife but don't have enough time and have other priorities unfortunately. Hopefully one day our environment will be our priority.
Sometimes the trees reply to the emails – by way of city staff – which fosters a unique rapport between people and plants. This is an inspiring profound change in how people interact with and care for the environment.
To: Green Leaf Elm, Tree ID 1022165
29 May 2015
Dear Green Leaf Elm,
I hope you like living at St. Mary's. Most of the time I like it too. I have exams coming up and I should be busy studying. You do not have exams because you are a tree. I don't think that there is much more to talk about as we don't have a lot in common, you being a tree and such. But I'm glad we're in this together.
29 May 2015
I do like living here. I hope you do well in your exams. Research has shown that nature can influence the way people learn in a positive way, so I hope I inspire your learning.
Green Leaf Elm, Tree ID 1022165
No topic is off limits, as the man who wrote a Western Red Cedar about Greece's debt problems found:
Western Red Cedar, Tree ID 1058295
1 July 2015
Are you worried about being affected by the Greek debt crisis? Should Greece be allowed to stay in the European Union?
2 July 2015
I seem to remember the Greeks razed you to the ground one time — are you still angry at them?
Greece is not out of the woods yet, but may be out of the EU... Some say that they should be allowed to devalue their currency in order to recover their economy, but the EU will not allow them to do that. Some say that it is partly the austerity program, which has made it this bad. They say austerity was a disaster for Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union and for the recovery of Asia from the GFC...
I don't know, but then I'm only a tree.
Western Red Cedar
The success of the human-tree letter exchange shows that the city of Melbourne is on the right track to preserving a greener world. Perhaps giving trees a digital identity will encourage other cities to find unique ways to preserve valuable natural resources for future generations.