Indiana brothers live to reclaim land, plant trees
Written by Anthony Moujaes June 11, 2013
Phil Leibering, right, hands out trees to be planted on St. Peter-Trinity UCC property in southern Indiana as part of the congregation's annual Easter Sunday tradition.
A family of four brothers, who make their living reforesting areas cleared out by mining companies, planted more than half a million new treesin their corner of the world during Mission 4/1 Earth. The Leiberings, members of St. Peter-Trinity UCC in Lamar, Ind. planted 650,000 trees during the United Church of Christ's 50-day environmental campaign, in the Southern Indiana and Northern Kentucky region, and assisted fellow members of from St. Peter-Trinity UCC, planting trees on Easter Sunday, March 31.
"We've been doing this for a long time and it's our livelihood. [Our pastor at St. Peter and Trinity UCC] asked us to keep track during the campaign," said Phil Liebering, one of the four brothers behind Leibering Woodland Improvement, a forest management company in Lamar, Ind. His brothers are Matt, Shawn and Steve Leibering.
One of Mission 4/1 Earth's goals was to plant 100,000 trees. The denomination and its partners accomplished that during the 50 days, surpassing that number as final tallies were tabulated once the campaign ended on May 19. When tree planting is your business, 650,000 trees can skew the curve, but the brothers also helped their fellow congregants do some planting of their own.
St. Peter and Trinity UCC members took home close to 1,000 individual trees on Easter Sunday to grow in their own yards and on church property. The congregation's pastor, the Rev. Paul "Chip" Jahn, has known the family since coming to St. Peter-Trinity in 1979.
"I've watched the Leiberings as they developed techniques of land reclamation and tree planting that have reestablished forests on lands that were strip mined for coal," Jahn said.
Their process for reforestation is more than tossing tree seeds onto the ground and hoping for the best. The Leiberings plant 24- to 36-inch tall tree seedlings that are mostly one or two years old. If the weather conditions are right, there is about a 90- to 95-percent success rate of trees that live.
Reforesting after mining companies makes up a large portion of their work, Phil said, and the regions they reclaim were never heavily wooded areas with strong, tall trees. When all is said and done and the trees have regrown, the area should be in better shape than before the land was stripped.
"That's the majority of our work. We do some private work, where the government reestablishes a wildlife reserve," Phil said. "A lot of the areas that are stripped are marginal ground. What we try to grow back is quality hardwood."
The brothers are all second-generation foresters, taking after their father. "Dad planted his first tree when he got out of the Army, about 1956 or ‘57, and he got into it in the early ‘60s," Phil said.
"We're just glad to help [the UCC] out. All told, we planted 763,000 trees for this year. We like to be done by the end of May," Phil said. "I think [the tree plantings] went well — our church had a lot of volunteers and a lot of people chipped in to the campaign."