An electronic billboard covers several stories and three sides of a building in New York City’s Times Square, one of the busiest public spaces in the world. It commands the world’s attention, especially relevant as several global environmental conferences are being held in the city. It proclaims: “There’s a Facebook Group for Everyone” in reference to Big Tree Seekers, a group that speaks for trees, especially those in the world’s oldest forests.
One of the people featured on the billboard is connected with the Landis Arboretum, its executive director, Fred Breglia.
Fred began his connection with big trees at the age of five, when his mother took him to see an ancient oak tree overlooking the valleys of Richmondville, NY. She explained that this old tree was a relic, all that was left of a mighty forest that once was. On that day, Fred chose his path in life: he would speak for the trees, especially big, old majestic ones.
He never stopped looking for the next big tree, thinking that there just might be a bigger one waiting to be discovered. His tree hunting adventures were shared with his father during many back road and city drives. Together they identified nearly three-quarters of the champion trees on the New York State Big Champion Tree Register. Fred was recognized as one of the tree measurers for New York State, becoming an official measurer for the American Forests Cadre Team in Washington, DC.
He became ever more dedicated to these arboreal giants. He went on to co-found a group of experts known as New York Old Growth Forest Association. The team surveyed old growth and advocated the preservation of numerous forests and big trees. Perhaps the most important of their successes was preventing the logging of the Zoar Valley in Erie County. This forest is now recognized as one of New York State’s première old growth forests.
Fred and his colleague and mentor Bruce Kershner co-wrote the New York State old growth protection bill, the only one of its kind in the country. The bill was officially named the Bruce S. Kershner Heritage Tree Preservation and Protection Act, in honor of this conservationist. The bill became effective on September 4, 2008, and now serves as a protection for trees on public lands that are home to old growth.
Over the years, Fred has spoken out on behalf of trees on WAMC, a National Public Radio affiliate. He has also made many regional radio broadcasts and presentations to organizations in the Capital Region, thus earning him the moniker “Tree Man.”
Eventually, Fred experimented with a new type of platform on Facebook as a way to communicate with other big tree aficionados. The site “Big Tree Seekers” quickly grew, first nationally, then internationally. Today, the group has over 35,000 followers worldwide, making it the largest group of big tree advocates on the planet.
While it can’t boast a billboard in Times Square, Fred maintains another Facebook page dedicated to promoting ancient forests and champion trees, which currently has a quarter million followers worldwide.
This is a time of unprecedented destruction of our forests with devastating consequences for our planet. While we at Landis do some small part by conserving our local trees, big and small, the stakes are ever higher. Fred is famous for saying “think local and act global.”
The Lorax spoke: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.” Fred, too, speaks for the trees. For all of us. For the generations to come.