We Are Explorers is passionate about protecting and preserving the natural environment. That’s why we’re teaming up with the crew at Keep It Cool to crowdfund enough cash to plant 6,000 trees and Rewild the Snowies.
Keep It Cool is Lucas Wilkinson’s baby. He’s been grinding away on the project for the last 18 months and has finally set it free into the world.
We chatted to Lucas to find out why it’s important to Rewild The Snowies and exactly where all your generous donations will end up.
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Amy Fairall: Tell us a bit about yourself; Why are you passionate about this cause and how did you come up with the initiative?
Lucas Wilkinson: I’m a mountain kid, born and bred in Jindabyne, NSW. I could ski before I could walk, and that really dictated a lot of my life. I travelled once I left school, to ski destinations around the world, and formed a bit of a career around it by mixing in another passion of mine, filmmaking, creating content, and taking photos. I found myself travelling around with some of my very talented professional winter athlete friends and filming our adventures.
‘So I’ve been in the industry for a long time – the outdoor industry and the winter industry – and I was looking for an avenue that’d allow me to give back to nature, because nature has given me so much. ‘
I was looking for something that was both direct action, and based around activating the outdoor community, more specifically, the winter outdoor community. And while there are some really great organisations doing environmental work, they aren’t necessarily based on outdoor sports. There are some great initiatives in the winter space, but they aren’t really focussed on direct action.
So I thought, alright, how do I meld these two? And if it doesn’t exist, do I need to create it? And that’s when Keep It Cool was born.
So what is Keep It Cool? What do you guys do and what are you trying to achieve?
In a nutshell, Keep It Cool is planting trees to help contribute to our natural environment. And that happens in numerous ways.
The main benefit we’re focussing on is drawing down carbon from the atmosphere to help contribute positively to reversing the effects of climate change.
But further to that, the co-benefits of planting trees include the creation of habitat for native wildlife and beautification of the natural environment.
‘Another big pillar of what we work towards is the creation of community. With our community planting days, we bring people together to get behind the cause and really build that community spirit. So they’re not only making the environment better physically, but socially as well.’
What have the tree planting days been like so far?
We had our first tree planting on the 10th of October on a property called Home Valley just outside of Cooma. We had about 20 people show up, just inside the COVID restriction, and we planted 1000 trees in the ground that day – all of local provenance grown in the Monaro native tree nursery, which is just down the road in Bombala. We had a really good mix of people, some young, some older, and even some really young kids.
Everyone was really stoked! It was really good to get some information out to everyone and show them how to plant a tree. We even had an expert ecologist there and she was dishing out some much needed information. We finished it off with a nice lunch back at the farmhouse and it was a big success.
We’ve got three more planting days coming up. We just got funding from Greening Australia so we’re gonna partner up with them for a planting day. Then two Keep It Cool specific planting days sometime in the next few weeks. So we’re on the right track to potentially have 3000 or more trees in the ground this spring.
Why the Snowy Mountains? What makes this environment so crucial to protect?
I live in the Snowy Mountains, so it’s really easy for me to do this stuff here. That proximity, and being a local, means I have a lot of contacts. And once I started this initiative, all these people started coming out of the woodwork.
On top of that, being a local and growing up here, I’m just really passionate about the Snowy Mountains. I’ve hiked Kosci hundreds of times, a lot of the time for work. But I still never ever get sick of being up there on a beautiful day; even if it’s not a beautiful day it’s still good. I don’t want to see the area falling into disrepair.
Seeing the devastation of this summer’s bushfires and knowing there’s potentially something we can do to prevent that from happening is a major driver for me and what I’m doing.
‘We don’t have mountains like they have in Canada or Europe – they might not be the tallest, they might not be the steepest, and we might not have the most snow – but what we do have is really unique and really special. So it’s important to protect these alpine areas, because we do only have a small amount.’
What types of trees are being planted?
We’re planting 100% native species and all are plants of local provenance that already exist in the area. We’re trying to plant a mix of species that will add to the local ecology and not just create a new ecology.
‘In that process, we plant a mix of hardwood trees, mostly eucalypts, and then a middle understory of various species, like wattles and grevilleas. So when the forest grows up and graduates, it will resemble a natural forest that’s grown that way for years, as closely as we can.’
How do you ensure that the trees will survive and thrive?
We don’t necessarily guarantee that each tree will survive, because that would be impossible unless you had someone there 24 hours a day nursing the tree.
But what we do guarantee is meticulous follow up to our plantings. Being a small, community-based and locally based organisation, we have the ability to check on our plantings and make sure we’re doing everything we can to ensure they survive. That includes guarding our trees with tree guards and putting fertiliser tablets in when we plant them.
These things cost a little bit more per tree, so that’s why you see a $5 per tree cost, as opposed to other organisations touting those small prices.
A big part of what we do is follow up maintenance, and a lot of that comes down to the landholders we work with. We work with some really awesome landholders who are passionate about our cause and their land. They’re out there checking on the plants for us and going that extra mile to make sure our plantings have the best chance of survival.
How do you find the land to plant on?
I’ve been actively looking, but it’s mostly coming through word of mouth. Someone will have access to land, they might’ve heard about what I’m doing, they’ll reach out and we’ll get chatting.
We’ll chat about what they want on their land. Do they want a windbreak for their stock? Or do they have a lifestyle block that has no trees and they want the whole thing to be a forest?
Once we’ve got the land, we try to raise some money, either through grants, community donations, or partnerships with companies and businesses. Then we have community planting days, get some trees in the ground, everyone has a good time, and hopefully we can enhance and regenerate their land and get it looking how they’d like.
As you mentioned, a $5 donation guarantees the planting of one tree. How is that $5 donation broken up?
Roughly, $2 will get you the plant, the actual tube stock. $2 will go towards ground preparation such as ripping, hiring machinery, protection, things like guards and fertilisers. And then $1 goes towards the admin of actually making the project happen. So there’s various costs that are involved in getting it together.
It’s enough to do it and do it right. Plus it guarantees that the tree’s actually being planted in Australia, which isn’t always the case.
Besides carbon drawdown, what are the other environmental benefits of tree planting?
A lot of the planting we’re doing is on land that was cleared last century for farming. That devastated a lot of habitat for a lot of native species – there are some species that are endangered because of it.
‘A lot of native corridors have been interrupted, and if you take away a part of a wildlife corridor, some species won’t be able to move between those two habitats. We’re trying to restore native habitats to the Snowy Mountains so we can see a return to some of those species, especially the native birdlife.’
Further to that, the physical visual appeal of a native forest is quite nice. Monaro is naturally a wooded plain area, but there’s a lot of clearing that’s happened. So to see those areas come back to look like they once did, will be really nice to see.
Has the reaction from the Snowy Mountains community been pretty positive so far?
Absolutely, I think naturally the community down here is quite environmentally minded. We haven’t really had any negative reactions so far, which is a good sign.
I’ve had some really positive talks with local government. We’re in talks with the Snowy Monaro Regional Council, with NSW National Parks and the Kosciuszko National Park, even crew on the Snowy Valleys side.
I think everyone in the Snowy Mountains is looking for something positive to get behind. We’ve had a bit of a rough run lately with the bushfires last summer and everyone being affected by COVID. I think everyone’s looking for something positive to support.
When you’re not planting trees, what would we find you doing?
When I’m not working on Keep It Cool or buried deep inside a laptop, I’ll be outside skiing, ski-touring, snowboarding, rock climbing, mountain biking, trail running – anything that’s outdoors and super physical. Definitely a big part of my life is being outdoors and really soaking it all up.
Keen to Get Involved?
Every $5 donation means a native, locally-sourced tree will be planted in the Snowy Mountains region and meticulously cared for to be given the best chance of survival.