ECO-Tours only purchases trees and dirt to plant them in...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What Are Ecotours?

I have been an ecotourist since before the term was coined. The clearest vision of what this term means to me is that the ECO part is first and the tour part is second. First off, ECO-Tours require an adaptability that can be found in nature. Not only do travelers adapt their own behaviors to become more integrated in the environment, but they take the time to realize the inevitable impacts that they may be bringing to the areas that they visit and actively work to offset them, thus preserving the integrity or enhancing the natural cohesion amongst the communities and niches that they find there. Eco-tours can be trans-formative, especially in this age. Not only for the planet and the ecology of an area, but for the individual who begins to see themselves as part of the larger whole than many of us could have imagined before the tour is taken.
A brief review of information on what is called Leave No Trace Camping allows us to understand more fully the possible mistakes that we could make when going intro the field. Leave No Trace gets serious about some of the principles that underlie the foundations of ECO-Tours. There are also several good resources regarding the Rap 101 (basic boring bullshit) that allows us to shift our perspective from seeking a Disneyland style, mediated experience and immersion in our natural surroundings. Environmentalists tend to focus on the physical world and the natural organisms and processes that take place in an area, but the ecotourist who stops there is also missing much of the experience. Human culture and responsible interaction with the native people is part of the process of transforming ourselves to not so much blend in, but to responsibly interact with the populations that will remain after the tourist departs.
Often, the ECO-Tour is the beginning of a heart to heart with a region, a specific river valley, a mountain or estuary. The Earth can literally speak to us in ways that exploitative tours can never approximate. Being engaged in the living processes of the landscape, we are able to see with new eyes. Years ago, I learned that in many places around the world, harvesting wood for fires is the number one cause of deforestation. bringing one's own fuel for cooking in these areas is essential if we are to not be part of the problem, or agents of negative change for native people. After we leave, the ripples continue to spread out across the living tapestry of life that we have interacted with. ECO-Tours reflect an awareness of this and seek to minimize the negative impacts while enhancing the sustainability of the natural systems that brought us to the area in the first place.
Folks who used to hike and camp with me thought it odd that I frequently opted for smooth soled shoes and would even walk barefoot across the land. After years of scientific inquiry, this method of hiking has been found to be healthier for the environment in several ways. Deep lugs on the soles of our shoes can not only scar the path, if there is one, but create mud and rip at tiny root hairs close to the surface. They can transport invasive species from one location to another, creating damage that could blossom into a major threat years after we have gone home.
Years ago, I was given several nicknames by my travel companions. Tony Appleseed, God's Exterior Decorator and Crazy Guy to name a few. I would often work to do trail building and maintaining, working to minimize the possibility of wash outs on the trails, or making sure that the path would create the least damage by strategically placing stepping stones or creating retaining walls and laying downed trees across the hills, terracing and helping to build soil, thinning over planted mono-cultures or planting native plants in appropriate areas that would create habitat or slow erosion. the Earth has been my guide in ways that are difficult to put into words, but those who pay attention to what they are seeing, not just taking a glance at the natural world, but truly integrating with it will know of what I speak.
I have a friend who is an old hunter who has not taken an animal in over twenty years, although he has had many opportunities to do so. The last creature he fired upon was a wounded fawn who was trailing intestines out of a gaping hole in it's side created by another hunter, perhaps days earlier. The mercy he showed to that tiny creature stayed with him. He still carries a gun with him in the woods,"just in case" and so that other hunters don't question why he is there, but he is there for the experience of being in the woods, not just seeing it like a passerby might, but as a living breathing part of the environment. He has been taking ecotours for longer than the word has existed as well. although we all must find our way toward a future that remains illusive, knowing where we are at any specific moment and understanding our reason for being there as well as our purpose can liberate even the most caged mind, body and spirit. Often people who embark on tours of this kind reflect on what they have learned, not only about the planet, or a specific place, but what they have learned about themselves.
Ecotours are far more than can be put into words. Ironically, they enhance rather than exploit places that are visited. Instead of leaving a path of destruction behind as we motor through the world, ecotours allow us to weave ourselves and the benefits of a conscientious organism into the tapestry of life that makes up the ecosphere. The very Earth that we inhabit deserves to be respected. Learning what to leave home before we travel and understanding ways that we can take only what we really need can change any trip into an ecotour. The soul searching and prioritizing that goes into planning for and taking an ecotour will always yield learning opportunities and insight that is not available to the traditional tourist. When we take time to integrate ourselves into nature, the rewards are truly infinite and when we return to our "normal lives" we can bring a bit of nature with us, reflecting itself as ways of living more lightly on the earth and with vision as to how we might reduce our negative impacts at home as well.

Monday, March 26, 2012

How To Put Your Tax Return To Good Use

Since I have been working for over half my life, I have had plenty of time to figure out what to do with the "funny money" that the government manages to borrow from me without paying interest. When I do manage to qualify for a return, in my mind, the money never really existed at all. I had it paid to me, but the cost for living in a society is to fund government programs, so I feel like my dues have been paid as it were. I also understand that many of the government programs that I am floating interest free loans to support are against my beliefs and values, so finding a more appropriate way to spend those dollars that make the world better for everyone rates pretty high on my list of things to do with it when it comes.

As far back as the early eighties, I have often spent virtually my whole tax return on wholesale trees. There have been a few years which didn't go that way for one reason or another, but most of the time, that is how we funded the trees that we plant on the ECO-Tours that we run in the Spring and Fall. When we started, the first trees came in at under a dollar each, the several hundred to $1,000 returns went really far. We would buy whole flats of trees growing in plugs so tightly together that they looked like grass! When I repeatedly filled the front and back seats of my car with these carpets of trees, it would perfume the cabin so wonderfully that I had a hard time driving, especially when the trees were cedars. I encourage everyone to get a tax ID number and turn your tax returns into trees, then plant them so that they can begin paying back with interest.

If you prefer to donate to ECO-Tours, we continue to plant trees, using the donations that we raise throughout the year. Often the trees we plant grow one to two feet per year and we have very high survival rates because we work diligently to make sure that each tree is planted in the most appropriate area for it. Our Paypal account can be found at: Those who prefer to send checks, use snail mail to: ECO-Tours 1445 Porlier street Green Bay, WI 54301-3334

Finding ways to make positive change in the world has been a pet project of mine since I was young. friends used to call me Tony Appleseed, god's exterior decorator and a few just called me strange. when we would go to the woods, I would construct barriers that were designed to reduce erosion and runoff, enhance the local ecosystem and build soils and reduce compaction. One of the greatest experiences ever was when my daughter was very young. She repeatedly asked me what I was doing whenever I would put vegetable clippings in the compost. I would always reply, "Making dirt."
After a couple years, when she was about four, she must have heard the term "older than dirt", because one day, she ran out by the compost as I emptied the bucket into the pile and said to me, "You are older than dirt!", then she pointed at the bottom of the pile, where composted material was finding a way out of the pile and said, "You're older than that dirt, because you made it!"

Another great day was when I was planting a tree and a passerby, a young fellow who was developmentally disabled asked what I was doing. I said, "Planting a tree."
His response was to say, "Great!"
I asked him why he thought it was so great. His reply? "That's easy! Trees make oxygen and we need that to breathe!"

Sometimes I wonder why more of us are not as smart as the children and cognitively challenged among us. There have always been great ideas circulating in the minds of those we consider to be immature or "retarded". Perhaps if we allowed ourselves to experience life more like they do, many more things about our lives would become clearer to our adult eyes and the transformations that we seek would unfold like a blossoming flower. we will be planting trees again tomorrow and before long we will be putting in our spring tree order. If we make our order before the end of the month, we get half off and that effectively doubles the impact of your donation!

Thank-you in advance for your support. It allows us to leave forests behind and to help protect water quality, reduce the harmful effects of flooding and to help fix carbon and stabilize the environment. If you need ideas for how to do the same thing wherever you live, you can always contact us through the address above. If you are coming to Northeast Wisconsin, let us know in advance and we will plan a tour for you that includes planting some trees, touring our permaculture beds and a visit to some of the forests that we planted with tax returns dating back to the eighties!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Help Us Plant More Trees!
ECO-Tours thanks all those who have helped us through their labor, their donations and their time. As far as not-for-profit groups are concerned, we are still in our infancy. We first started planting trees as a group of friends who shared a deep love for the environment. We enjoyed the work parties that allowed us to plant thousands of trees over the course of our first dozen years or so. Back then, we were guerrilla landscapers but the term had not yet been coined. We planted several hundred trees in national forest lands that had been deforested by loggers. We adopted a city park that was slated to become a "conservancy area", we planted in County Parks, City Parks and on private land as long as the property owners agreed to let us.
Just over six years ago, we began the process of formalizing our efforts. We dipped deep into our own pockets to come up with the five hundred dollars or so that a lawyer wanted  to draw up our papers of incorporation. Registration with the state gave us some respect when dealing with land managers and official types. It still took about five years to get a measure of respect from City officials and we now have a verbal agreement that allows us to plant on nearly 100 acres of city-owned property, if we also help them with invasive species removal.
To save money we have been planting a lot more tree seeds and fewer seedlings and potted trees, but those are coming back with the economy and donations. In the time since we have incorporated we have been able to plant many times more trees than when we were operating on virtually no budget. Instead of planting 1,000 trees or less each year, we have increased to tens of thousands. If you include the tree seeds, we have planted over two million! I know that it will make a difference as people learn how to go about doing this in their own parts of the world, but even now, we are planning to add a second hub of activity along the shores of Lake Superior! All of our activity to date has been focused on the Lake Michigan Watershed, mostly in Northeast Wisconsin.
Back in college, our founder learned from Dr. Nair of UWGB (University of Wisconsin Green Bay) and the United Nations Forestry Department that whenever environmental protection programs are implemented, they have the best chance of protecting water quality when they take place at the highest points within the watershed. Conversely, the worst damage to the environment occurs in these areas as well. What we teach our guests, ecotourists and landowners is that the watershed that we spend most of our time in is our house. Look up, wherever you are and if there are no trees to intercept the rain that falls, or if your home is capped or surrounded with impermeable surfaces, these make up the most important watershed in your environment. Anything that can be done to intercept the water, slow it's progress to the nearest stream, allow it to cool before it runs away, or create places for it to percolate into the Earth. That is the most profound ecological improvement that you can achieve.
For too long humans have been at war with nature, trying to manage the massive discharges of runoff wherever they have compacted the soils. what is needed at this point in time is less impermeable surface and better management of green space that will allow water to infiltrate and stabilize the climate. The trees that we have planted here in Northeast Wisconsin improve the environment over more than 250 acres (100hectares). It has taken many years, but all of our time, talent and labor has been provided by volunteers or guests. We too often dig into our own pockets for the money to make this miracle happen and that is why I ask for donations to help us continue this important work.
If you would like to find out more about how to start these efforts where you live, contact me through facebook, write ECO-tours at or use snail mail to our office at 1445 Porlier street Green Bay, Wisconsin.
If you are planning a trip to our area, let us know if we can plan a trip for you. We love to share what we have learned about Permaculture, ecology and sustainability. Hopefully in the not too distant future we will have a second outpost near Lake Superior!
For the Earth and speaking for the trees, Tony C. Saladino