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The City Journals

Utah's Johnny Appleseed

Feb 01, 2018 11:07AM ● By High Point

After the interview, Jason Barto stands next to his truck that bares the ReLeaf Utah logo. (Joshua Tesch/City Journals)

By Josh Tesch | [email protected]    

Jason Barto wears his brown ReLeaf Utah Carhartt overalls as he sits down over coffee for an interview, to share his love and knowledge of trees.

An old Greek proverb reads, “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Barto personifies that verse. 

“Trees have saved my life many times,” Barto said. “The first time I was 3-years-old and I decided to take my brother and sister out for a drive in the station wagon. Fortunately, I hit an oak tree and didn’t go into the pond that was right next to that oak tree. Now I am still here to talk about it with my brother and sister.”

In more recent years, Barto—after leaving the Salt Lake City Fire Department in 2006 due to “PTSD involving an event related to a 3-year-old who lost her life in a fire”—found peace in planting trees, through grants he sought out, with the Kamas Valley Lions Club. By 2009 the Lions Club planted over 200 trees in the Kamas Valley.

“When I started planting trees I felt calmer. My stress was reduced. I was able to reduce some of my meds. As I did it more I would drive past these trees and feel this boost of positive energy,” he said.

This service led to trees becoming a passion of Barto’s. 

“In 2012, I felt limited by the geographical scope of the Kamas Valley Lions Club,” he said, “so I formed a nonprofit called Wasatch Back Trees and started doing plantings along the Wasatch Back...” in parks across Park City, Morgan, and Heber City. Today, Wasatch Back Trees is considered a program within the nonprofit ReLeaf Utah, also formed by Barto. Both ReLeaf Utah and Wasatch Back Trees have been responsible for three Citizen Foresters of the Year, a Distinguished Service Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award and an Arborist of the Year since 2014. Barto has received both the Forestry Stewardship award from Forestry Fire and State Lands (2012) and the Arborist of the Year award (2015) from Utah Community Forestry Council.

In November 2017 Barto conducted a Veterans’ Day Tree Planting in South Salt Lake. This event was coordinated under ReLeaf Utah’s Hope For Heroes and the Healthy Trees, Healthy People programs. 

“We encourage people to get out from behind their desks, out of their houses, and off their iPhones,” Barto explained, “and go out and do something that is truly impactful for our environment in a relatively short amount of time.”

Barto explained that the urban and community forestry program showed for every dollar invested, they get $6 back in benefits.

“(Trees) increase property value, they clean air, they become deposition surfaces for PM1, 2.5s and 10s that have been linked to certain cancers, they produce oxygen, they clean up our water…” Barto said. “Two studies out—one from Spain, one from the Pacific Northwest—shows that a pregnant woman living within 150 feet of tree canopy has a baby with a higher birth weight.”

ReLeaf Utah bares the motto “Trees Are The Answer.” When asked about this motto Barto answered, “What gives us clean water? What gives us clean air? What reduces our mental stress? What gives us food? That’s where Trees Are The Answer.”

As the interview ended, Barto went back into Publik Coffee to talk to the manager about donating used coffee grounds to mix into the soil of more trees to be planted. A tree saved his life, now he always looks to save theirs. 

To find out what you can do to bring more trees to our community check out ReLeaf Utah’s website: