Payson resident Elaine Drorbaugh, who has handed out free pine tree seedlings for the past 13 years for the U.S. Forest Service, has been bombarded with phone calls from people awaiting this year's batch.
Trouble is, the U.S. Forest Service doesn't have any to give this year.
"For whatever reason, the Forest Service decided to discontinue the program for a while," Drorbaugh said.
The reason, said Dale Ashby, forest technician with the Payson Ranger District, is that the Forest Service isn't planting seedlings this summer in any major burn areas on the Tonto National Forest.
"For the past decade, we've been planting quite a few of the seedlings in the Dude fire area," Ashby said. "When we do that, we usually have seedlings left over, which we turn over to the Town of Payson."
On behalf of the town, Drorbaugh a longtime Payson resident and former councilmember cares for the trees and distributes them to the public.
"I've been doing this since 1988, and not a year has gone by that I've given out less than 6,000 trees," Drorbaugh said. "In all that time, I don't think I ever had to throw a tree away."
This year, however, the Forest Service doesn't have any surplus seedlings.
"There's no way to guarantee supplies," Ashby said. "The planting in the Dude burn area has tapered off, and we do have some other projects lined up, but I don't know when we'll get to those."
In the meantime, Ashby said, folks who want to obtain seedlings can contact the Southwest Tree Seedling Program.
"They have applications available in August, and offer a variety of seedlings from ponderosa pines, Arizona cypress, Arizona sycamore, pipine, aspen, blue spruce and an assortment of shrubs," he said.
The hitch: Trees from the Southwest program are not free. The program is run by the State Land Department, which charges a nominal fee for each tree.
For information about the Southwest Tree Seedling Program, call forest health specialist Bob Celaya at (602) 542-2517.