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Newly founded Lorax Society speaks for the trees

The group is off to a fast start with tree planting efforts to promote environmental awareness

In the first months of its existence, the club has already carried out a tree planting event with over 20 volunteers.
In the first months of its existence, the club has already carried out a tree planting event with over 20 volunteers.

Students of recently founded The Lorax Society aim to promote conservation practices and raise awareness about the ongoing loss of tree cover in Charlottesville. In the first months of its existence, over 20 members of the club volunteered at a successful planting event and the club has more environmentally-friendly oriented plans for the future.

Students founded the group after the University demolished a large section of trees behind the International Residential College on Ivy Road. Stepheney Odom-Thomas, The Lorax Society president and third-year College student, and Architecture Prof. Phoebe Crisman saw this as a defining moment in Charlottesville’s deforestation.

“We felt that a lot of the removal was unnecessary because all they ended up putting on that bank was a set of staircases,” Odom-Thomas said.

The University is currently developing many nearby areas as well, including the School of Data Science, set to open spring 2024, and the Contemplative Commons building, which will open in 2024. Odom-Thomas says she realized that there was no group on Grounds currently advocating against the removal of trees.

The Lorax Society held its first gen-bod meeting on the Lawn Oct. 11, drawing a crowd of nearly 40 students. Odom-Thomas said group membership has since reached 150 students since that first meeting.

“People were super engaged — a lot of smiles,” Odom-Thomas said. “That really motivates us and feels like we’re doing something important and that people will continue to stay involved.”

Since 2004, tree cover in Charlottesville has fallen 15 percent, the result of both new construction and the emerald ash borer — a tree-killing invasive insect. Odom-Thomas said she hopes that through education and tree-planting initiatives, the decline can be reversed.

Many of the group's members attended the U.Va. Decarbonization Academy's tree planting project Oct. 27 that was co-hosted with Facilities Management. Olivia Vargo, U.Va. Decarbonization fellow and fourth-year College student, Madeleine Morphis, U.Va. Decarbonization fellow and third-year Architecture student, and Leah Germain, U.Va. Decarbonization fellow and third-year College student, all worked to organize the event. Volunteers attended the event to plant canopy trees and wildflowers next to the Scott Stadium parking garage.

Bri Velasco, The Lorax Society marketing and media manager and third-year Architecture student, said that the group does not currently have any support from any donors.

“Right now it’s mainly through resources from our gen body members, whoever has things like seeds or shovels,” Velasco said. 

Velasco said that while the group does not currently fundraise, they have applied for multiple grants as well as Contracted Independent Organization status. Active CIO status allows a group to reserve spaces on-Grounds and request Student Activities Fund money from Student Council, among other benefits.

“We hope to continue [projects] in the future and be more of a longer, more sustainable organization that's continuing tree planting around Grounds,” Odom-Thomas said.

Odom-Thomas said The Society has ideas for long-term projects as well, including creating an arboretum around Grounds where students could walk and view trees labeled by species.

The Society is currently in the process of connecting with the City of Charlottesville and the University on future projects, as well as other environmental groups like environmental fraternity Eta Epsilon, Growing for Change, the Daniel Hale Williams Pre-Medical Honor Society and the Outdoors Club at U.Va., according to Velasco. 

The Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department is also beginning an initiative this month to plant 160 trees in the city by planting seedlings in public spaces. While The Society will not participate in this month’s planting, Velasco said there are plans to help with later events.

The Lorax Society leaders are also meeting with Facilities Management Friday to discuss future partnerships. Odom-Thomas said Facilities Management was an important partner at the most recent tree planting event, providing tools and guidance.

Odom-Thomas said that she defines success for The Lorax Society as a combination of planting and advocacy. Part of that advocacy comes from the group’s social media campaign, where they plan to launch a series of infographics on their Instagram page. These infographics will be helpful for educating the community, but are also able to be re-shared by others who want to get involved.

“I think success would be defined by getting trees in the ground, getting people educated about the issue and having a support base that will endure past a lot of our current members,” Odom-Thomas said.

Students can become a member of the society by filling out the Google Form in the bio of The Lorax Society’s Instagram page. The Society holds general body meetings several times a semester, with the next meeting Nov. 15 at 6 p.m.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that The Lorax Society planned the tree planting event held Oct. 27. However, The Decarbonization Academy hosted the event. The article has since been updated to reflect this change. 

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