The Legacy Forest

By Gillian Hart-O’Brien

Earth is in a constant threat of global temperature rising caused by greenhouse gasses. Among one of the most important gasses is carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide comes from a multitude of sources; of these sources, human production is the most substantial. We often hear about our “carbon footprint,” but what does that really mean? One’s carbon footprint refers to the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted by a particular person, group, etc. Every year tons of carbon dioxide are being emitted into the atmosphere due to human production. We emit carbon every day through travel, manufacturing, and the largest producer of carbon emissions: fossil fuels. 

But really, how dangerous can this be? Do humans really produce enough carbon to alter global temperatures? The sad answer to this question is: yes. We have already begun to see the effects of global temperature rising. In recent years we can see an increase in intensity and frequency of natural disasters such as hurricanes, forest fires, and droughts. We have reached a point of no return. We must not ask what have we done to the planet, but instead what can we do for it? How can we make change before it is too late?

In an effort to sequester carbon dioxide emissions and reduce the community’s carbon footprint, Youngstown State University created the YSU Legacy Forest with the goal to plant one tree for every incoming freshman starting with the freshman class of 2020. As each year of new incoming freshmen attend the university, another micro forest is planted. These micro forests will aid in offsetting carbon emissions in the Mahoning Valley. The idea for the Legacy Forest came about by a committee of students and faculty members within the environmental science program. The committee drafted the proposal with the intent to plant 600 trees as soon as possible.

But why “Legacy Forest?” Yes, we are planting trees which will be around for decades and have their own legacy, but it is much more than that. So much of what we study as environmentalists is the result of past human behavior. We know what the mistakes are, we know that we can do better. We want to give back a better planet than what was given to us. The name was created to be the most meaningful way to convey the intent of the initiative; these micro forests represent the legacy we want to leave behind for future generations. 

I first learned of the Legacy Forest from my professor who was on the committee, when she shared with us this new, exciting upcoming project. She explained that our class would not only be the ones to plant the first micro forest, but we would also be the first to test the soil for its organic carbon content to see if the trees would be able to flourish and mature at this site. 

I am an environmentalist which means I am someone who advocates for the protection of the environment. Projects like the YSU Legacy Forest are so important to me because they give me voice. Oftentimes, as an environmentalist, you feel like you’re yelling into the void, that no one cares or is even listening. What the Legacy Forest means to me is being able to have a platform to share important information and benefit the planet on a larger scale. It is one thing to plant a tree in your backyard, but to plant an entire micro forest is a completely different feeling of accomplishment. This project also allowed me to express myself by doing what I am most passionate about. Additionally, it is very honoring and humbling to be one of the first to have planted. To know that mine, and my classmates’ work will be seen decades into the future, that this is a part of my legacy, is truly gratifying. 

The day we planted was full of excitement and togetherness. Our class was joined by faculty within the environmental science program, YSU alumni, retired faculty, volunteers from the community, local politicians, and a swarm of media who came to promote our project. The response we got from the community was astonishing, a pleasant reminder that people DO in fact care. To see so many students and educators, some who weren’t even in the environmental science program grab a shovel and to see the curiosity and enthusiasm on their face will be a memory I will never forget. 

So where does this leave us? Well, it sadly leaves us at melting glaciers, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, more frequent and intense natural disasters, thousands of extinct species, and still increasing global temperatures. Although we did our small part in our small community, our work is far from over. We must make change on a global scale. If we do not act soon, our lives on Earth will completely change.

What will life look like on our planet in 10 years if we do not take action now? What will our children, our grandchildren’s lives look like if we do not take climate change seriously? This is why projects like the YSU Legacy Forest are so essential. The Legacy Forest demonstrates the importance of academic leadership and provides an opportunity for educators and students to come together, to get involved, promote positive change, and make a difference. It may seem like “just a few trees” but this is merely the beginning. The goal of the Legacy Forest is not just to help sequester carbon in our community; it is to inspire others across the country, around the world, to encourage other universities, students, educators, and communities to join the fight against climate change. Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean. If you would like to learn more, volunteer, or donate to the YSU legacy forest, please visit our website here: YSU Legacy Forests


Hello! My name is Gillian Hart-O’Brien. I am a sophomore at Youngstown State University studying Environmental Science. I also own a small handmade bath, body, beauty business called Maison de Savon.