High on a bench overlooking Salt Lake Valley, Salt Lake City Cemetery has spanned the years from pioneers to satellites. Joggers and walkers negotiating its northern boundary enjoy a vista framed by decades-old pine and spruce. When visitors come to pay respects, an urban forest whispers of solitude and peace far above the noise of the city below. Within the rock walls of the cemetery, one of the last bastions of urban wildlife finds shelter from cement and freeways.

But latter-day environmental woes intrude even here. The cemetery's canopy of green has been decimated by age, drought, bark beetles and encroaching asphalt. More than 300 trees have been lost and 700 to 1,000 more are in jeopardy.During a recent visit to the cemetery Bill Rutherford, Salt Lake urban forester, warned, "If we continue to lose trees at the rate we've seen, in another 10 years there will be no mature Norway spruce here." He walked along a newer asphalt road showing where six trees had to be removed. "When a tree has over one-third of its root system under pavement, it just can't make it," he said.

Avenues residents were alarmed at the loss of 190 trees during 1990 alone.

Members of the Greater Avenues Community Council formed an alliance with the Salt Lake Urban Forestry Board, TreeUtah and the Salt Lake Parks and Recreation Department to rescue this faltering forest.

A program called "Living Christmas Trees for the Cemetery" will help reforest this grove of beauty. When considering purchase of a Christmas tree for home or business, Utah residents are being encourage to buy a live tree that can be donated after Christmas to the city for spring planting.

The donation is tax deductible but must meet the following guidelines:

- The tree must be pinyon pine, Austrian pine, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, mountain redwood, Scotch pine or blue spruce and can be bought at local nurseries.

- The tree must be a minimum of 5 feet tall, excluding the root-ball.

- To protect the tree for later planting, keep the roots moist, preferably by placing ice over the roots so water runs slowly into the root ball.

- Locate the tree away from heat sources.

- Decorate with miniature lights, don't weigh the branches down with heavy ornaments.

- Keep indoors until pick-up and transportation can be arranged.

- When moving the tree, do not lift using the trunk or branches but only by the root-ball or container.

- For pick-up call the Salt Lake Urban Forestry Office at 972-7818.

Ernie Dickson, project chairman for the Greater Avenues Council, is hoping that scout groups, family organizations and businesses will join this reforestry project.

"National statistics tell us that for every tree that is planted, four are removed. We can't accept that," he said. Dickson estimates it will cost $75,000 to replace the 300 trees lost in the Salt Lake City Cemetery and to stabilize the 700-1,000 that need maintenance. Citizens or organizations may either raise funds and plant their own trees or donate money or time to the project.

"We do caution however, that trees are being planted in designated areas. Citizens may not plant in burial areas," Dickson said.

Mayor Palmer DePaulis held a recent press conference regarding the Christmas tree project. The problem is not limited to Salt Lake City Cemetery. Thirty trees were lost at Liberty Park and 20 at Fairmont Park, and the trees southeast of the University of Utah's Rice Stadium are in jeopardy.