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Planting Trees To Cool Down ABQ's South Valley

May Ortega | KUNM

Areas with less vegetation tend to be hotter than places with more greenery. That’s according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which also says folks can reduce high temperatures in their area by planting more trees.

Research by the Nature Conservancy found that the South Valley in Albuquerque is eight degrees warmer than the rest of the city.


The nonprofit’s local Urban Conservation team brought together 60 volunteers over the weekend to plant trees all over the South Valley.

Folks gathered at a plot of land used to grow produce in the South Valley on a crisp Saturday morning. Sarah Hurteau, director of the local Urban Conservation team, led the coordination for this project.


“Today we’re planting over 100 trees in the Mountain View neighborhood,” Hurteau said. “And we’re planting them here because this is one of Albuquerque’s hottest neighborhoods. And you think there’s lots of agriculture, we’re near the Bosque, it’s probably very treed. But actually, where the people live has very few trees."

"All we have to do is properly plant the tree and mulch it and then the homeowner will water and we’ll be good to go," said Hurteau. "We’ll break up into teams and they’ll go into the surrounding communities to plant all the trees.”


The team KUNM followed was heading to houses on Valley High Street nearby. The holes had already been dug and the trees had been delivered to their future homes.



Credit May Ortega | KUNM
U.S. Representative Deb Haaland speaks at the start of the day about the importance of helping the environment.

Once the team got to one yard, volunteer Eric Garretson noticed a little problem with the pre-dug hole.

“This is so muddy, the tree is just going to sink down in and it’s gonna end up being too deep. I think I’m going to put a little dry dirt on here,” Garretson told his team.

He scooped several shovel-fulls of dirt into the hole, eventually making it more stable.


“I actually am a landscaper so I do a lot of tree planting on a regular basis, but I haven’t done any of this kind of volunteer work,” he said. “To do it in a community that needs trees and to do it with people who want trees, it’s just a win-win situation.”

Now that the hole was ready, a couple of folks pulled the tree out of its plastic bucket and placed in into the ground. They got a good fit on the first try.


“Oh, it’s beautiful,” Marilyn Lohr said with a laugh. 


The crepe myrtle, I know, is beautiful and blooms in all kinds of colors, and the plum should be really nice. I don’t know if it’s flowering or not but it’s a nice tree to have,” Lohr said.

She said the Nature Conservancy’s tree planting project is a great idea that would help the community and put more trees where they’re needed. “I’m just happy to be here,” she said. 


After filling up the hole and creating a circular well around the tree so more water would flow to the roots, it was time for the mulch. A couple of volunteers tore open a large bag and spread it all around the tree’s base. 


In the middle of mulching, the homeowner, Ken Gentry, came over.


Credit May Ortega | KUNM
Volunteers plant a tree in Ken Gendry's front yard Saturday morning.

“Thank you for accepting some trees,” said volunteer Steve Glass. 

“Oh, anytime,” Gentry said with a smile. “I could have some more.”


Gentry said he was all for it when the local Urban Conservation team left a letter in his mailbox asking if he’d like a free tree. 

“And then I called them up and then the lady called me back, asks if I want free trees and I said, ‘Oh yeah. I’ll take them,’” he said. “It’s going to make our yard look nice. I wish I could get more trees."


Next came the last step: watering the tree. As water flowed out onto the mulch, Steve Glass with the Soil and Water Conservation District, explained what he likes about this project. 


“It’s really great to see some attention being paid to this part of the city,” Glass said. “I think they’re going to be pleasantly surprised. They did sign paperwork saying it was OK to do it, but still. When you see the outcome, the actual trees in your actual lawn, it’s just a positive thing. How could it not be? Everyone loves trees."

Then the team packed up their shovels and got ready to head to the next yard. 


Support for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, and from KUNM listeners like you.


May joined KUNM's Public Health New Mexico team in early 2018. That same year, she established the New Mexico chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and received a fellowship from the Association of Health Care Journalists. She join Colorado Public Radio in late 2019.
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