It is 9 a.m. on a hot September morning in Gainesville.

David Hanan, 24, and Christopher Wolf, 25, keep wiping their eyes as sweat drips down into them. Both men crowd over a wide, foot-deep hole as they shake the roots of a young sand live oak tree.

As Wolf grips the neck of the shovel, his triceps pop.

The roots below the ground are thick, and breaking through them is tiresome.

Each month, Wolf, Hanan and other supporters of Neutral Gator voluntarily shovel dirt in the sweltering heat. The trees were planted Friday at Prairie Creek Reserve.

Neutral Gator, part of local http://www.alligator.org/search/?q=environment&t=article&l=10&d=&d1=&d2=&s=start_time&sd=desc&f=html" target="_blank">environmental organization Earth Givers, is a 2008 initiative designed to help Gainesville residents reduce their carbon footprints.

Earth Givers seeks to reduce local greenhouse emission through its tree planting and weatherization projects.

It is these gases (carbon dioxide in particular) that are the principle cause of global warming, according to the group.

The main goal of Neutral Gator is to help UF reach carbon neutrality by 2025. This means that for all of the carbon produced on campus, mostly during football games, there will be local, sustainable activities and practices to offset, or reduce, the amount of carbon released into the air.

Planting trees is one of the most effective and tangible ways to reduce carbon, said Jacob Cravey, 30, director of Neutral Gator and executive director of Earth Givers.

"The whole concept is that a carbon offset is most valuable where it is created," Cravey said.

Between all of the electricity used to power the stadium and the gas used by fans to travel, every game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium releases about 2,000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

Because only one tree offsets one ton of carbon, Neutral Gator isn't planting just a few trees.

Over the last year, under the initiative and in collaboration with the Alachua County Trust and other local environmental organizations, Neutral Gator has been responsible for the planting of more than 4,000 trees in local forests. By January, the group hopes to have planted 10,000 trees.

Because of these efforts, the University Athletic Association has joined the initiative and now has the first carbon neutral athletics program in the country.

"These trees are scrubbing the air of carbon dioxide," said Hanan, a recent UF graduate and director of outreach and education for Neutral Gator. "Even if it's not something we can notice right away, we are building the fort so that in the future, our air won't be as detrimentally affected by hundreds of thousands of people."

Most of the trees planted are longleaf pines, which are indigenous to Gainesville. It typically takes two to three years for the trees to grow and really start offsetting, according to Ivor Kincaide, the natural resource manager for Alachua Conservation Trust.

The trees are purchased with donations to Neutral Gator.

The donations are also used to purchase products for its weatherization projects on low-income housing. Under the program, trained volunteers go into homes and install energy-efficient light bulbs and shower heads, among other products, which can lessen household utility bills by $30, Cravey said.

Because only five volunteers showed up on Friday, around 100 trees were planted. Usually, with more volunteers, they will plant between 1,000 and 2,000 trees.

The next planting will be in October. Those interested should visit the Neutral Gator Facebook page.

"I know it is early, but it is so nice to take the time and contribute to the well-being of everyone here in Gainesville," Wolf said as he trekked through the forest in his Birkenstock sandals. "It's worth the ant bites."

(1) comment

bikechic

I'm not sure how planting trees in Paynes Prairie makes everyone else in the community aware of environmental issues/sustainability. Wouldn't it be a better idea to plant the trees where there aren't thousands of them (i.e. NOT Paynes Prairie)?

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