BATESVILLE, Miss. — When Tire Business awards its annual Tire Dealer Humanitarian Award, it usually recognizes the recipient's generosity of time and money to help people in need.
This year's recipient, Robert H. Dunlap, CEO and chairman of Dunlap & Kyle Co. Inc., is well known in northern Mississippi for his generosity in helping others.
Yet he is equally famous for his efforts that have a more widespread and enduring impact on the community — and the world in general: planting trees.
Dunlap is a successful tire dealer, but he said one of his greatest accomplishments is the planting of trees.
Dunlap, 93, began planting trees as a youth in Boy Scouts and he has been planting ever since — tens of thousands of trees every year.
"I've been planting trees all my life," Dunlap said.
He is known around the state as a conservationist. He owns an island in the Mississippi Delta that had been clear-cut by a paper mill, and he has spent years and money to reforest the island, as well as other areas of the state.
Danny McKittrick, a long-time Dunlap friend, estimates Dunlap has overseen the planting of millions of trees over the years.
"When I say millions of trees that he has planted, I mean millions of trees," he said.
"I don't think people think about that as a humanitarian effort sometimes, when it really and truly is. … It's a gift that keeps on giving because these trees are now in a conservation easement that can never be cut," McKittrick said.
Dunlap has made it his mission to reforest his 12,000-acre Caulk Island, as well as other areas around the state.
Dunlap received the honor of Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservationist of the Year in 1987 for his numerous forest and wildlife preservation efforts.
Forget the current craze around eco-friendly electric vehicles, Dunlap said.
"If anything is helping the environment, it's planting trees. I plant 52,000 trees every year. That's the answer to pollution. … They need to encourage people to plant trees."
He obtained a conservation easement on Caulk Island that bars anyone from cutting the trees down in the future.
"I told my grandkids, if they're going to cut a tree, they better start planting them, because they're not going to cut one of mine," Dunlap said, adding, "Nobody's going to cut those trees down. I'm doing my part for the environment."
McKittrick estimated the trees planted on the island would be worth millions of dollars for the timber.
"But that's of no consequence to him," he said, noting that Dunlap had told him he wants the land to look like it did when Spanish explorer Hernando Desoto came through the region in the early 1500s.
Batesville Mayor Hal Ferrell claims Dunlap invented conservationism. "He respects our world in which we live and wants to improve it in every way."
Dunlap has supported the Nature Conservancy, the American Chestnut Foundation and the Mississippi Wildlife Federation.
In 2017, Dunlap was the subject of an hour-long documentary film, which aired on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television. The film, "Business Conservationist: The Life and Work of Bob Dunlap," documents his company's history and his conservation efforts.