Striving to decrease nature deficit for children in urban areas

by Ian Leahy

Without a doubt, the part of urban forestry that intrigues me the most is environmental psychology – the study of how natural features impact our behavior. In both obvious and subtle ways, a growing body of research over the past couple decades has emerged that hints at just how deep this connection goes, particularly on children, and just how much further it could go if we created truly green cities teeming with healthy vegetation.

Some impacts are obvious. A study from the Landscape and Human Health Lab in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that fewer symptoms of Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) occur in children who walked through a park versus those who walked through a neighborhood or a quiet downtown area. Other impacts, however, are less obvious and can be downright fascinating! The same research lab found that girls in a Chicago public housing development who lived in apartments with greener, more natural views scored better on self-discipline tests. Another massive study found that school performance improved in some children who engaged with nature on a regular basis.

The next frontier of urban forestry is making these types of impacts an everyday reality for all children. While trees are an important part of that, they can’t do the work alone. We at American Forests are embarking on a new effort to create not just green spaces, but dynamic green spaces designed to deeply engage visitors.

kid in High line Park

Places like Manhattan’s High Line Park, give kids in urban areas the perfect place to ineract with nature and make a strong connection to it.

In Washington, D.C., we have been working with forward-thinking landscape architecture firm Bradley Site Design to help design and install a three-acre portable urban farm and fruit orchard on local buildings in the eastern tip of the city. The mobility of this project will allow it to shift after a few years to other underutilized properties, serving the needs of communities in this rapidly changing city. The best part, in my opinion, is that local youth will engage in a state-of-the-art American Forests curriculum that helps them contribute to the site design while learning first-hand from professionals who work in urban development professions every day.

Also, in Detroit and Oakland, American Forests is in the early planning stages working with local partners to create much-needed, hands-on outdoor education spaces on underutilized land for children in low-income neighborhoods to engage with nature in a positive way.

For all these projects, we will also analyze the social, economic and environmental impact these site-specific restorations will have on the local community. As we embark on this exciting new initiative with diverse industries, our hope is that these projects, and others, begin to spread some of the many benefits urban forests provide to children.

If you would like to support our efforts, please consider making a donation or encourage your elected officials to support the No Child Left Inside Act. Also, to read more about American Forests’ efforts to connect children with nature, please read our blog.


Forest Digest — Week of March 16, 2015

by Loose Leaf Team

Happy first day of spring! Why not celebrate with the latest issue of Forest Digest!

  • The Quiet Plan to Sell Off America’s National ForestsThinkProgress
    This week, a proposal to seize and sell America’s national forests and public lands made its way into the U.S. House. This plan will suggest that public lands be transferred from the federal government to the states, which has many worried that states may raise taxes, open the land for drilling and mining, or sell the lands to private groups to cover the cost of management.
Shoshone National forest and others like it could be passed on to the states, which could lead to greater finical burdens and open them up for exploitation.

Shoshone National forest and others like it could be passed on to the states, which could lead to greater finical burdens and open them up for exploitation.

  • This ecologist wants to plant a “pop-up” forest in Times SquareGrist
    As part of a Kickstarter campaign, urban ecologist and botanist Marrielle Anzelone launched the idea to install a pop-up forest in Times Square that would include shipping containers full of trees, flowers and a wide variety of wildlife. This forest would stay in the city for three weeks before moving to a different city, giving people the opportunity to connect with nature in an urban setting.
  • Amazon’s carbon uptake declines as trees die fasterPhys.org
    After 30 years of research conducted in the South American rainforest, scientists have discovered that the amount of CO2 uptake by the Amazon has more than halved since its peak of 2 billion tons in the 1990s. This dramatic decrease has been caused by increased photosynthesis rates, which has caused the trees to grow quicker and die younger.
  • Forest managers hindered in efforts to use prescribed burns to control costly wildfiresPhys.org
    Prescribed burns are known to help restore unhealthy ecosystems, stop the spread of insects and diseases and reduce the severity of wildfires, but forest managers and private land holders have recently been stalled from performing this type of forest management. This could mean more risk to public safety and higher government spending on wildfire management, which is already around $2 billion.
  • Cascades study may rewrite the textbook on forest growth and deathOregon State University
    Two professors from Oregon State University conducted a 10-year study focusing on biomass growth in three Douglas-fir stands in the Willamette National Forest. They found that biomass had been accumulating steadily for the past 150 years, which is not sustainable and could lead to problems later on.
  • Let the kids play: Nature can take itTree Hugger
    Kids can be hard on the forest ecosystem, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. The kids that grow up making forts, picking flowers, entrapping animals and using nature in their games will feel more at ease in the wild and a stronger desire to protect it once they are older, leading to better conservation measures in the future.

GR25: A “Wild” Anniversary

by Megan Higgs

Though Global ReLeaf is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, there is another milestone that is certainly worth acknowledging — and it is assuredly a “wild” one! In 2015, American Forests is celebrating its fifth year of partnership with WildEarth Guardians in the “Land of Enchantment” (formally known as New Mexico). Where have we gone in five years, you ask?

Our partnership first began in 2010 — as you may have guessed, if you’re keeping track of our anniversary series! In that year, we began our first venture into stabilizing and reforesting several watersheds throughout New Mexico that were listed in critical condition. As water quantity and quality is always a concern of utmost importance — particularly in the American West, where droughts are not uncommon — American Forests targeted this project and partner for the incredible benefits that they could provide.

By reforesting areas around four major waterways — the Santa Fe River, Bluewater Creek, La Jencia Creek, and the Rio Puerco — we embarked on the first leg of a five-year journey of restoring various ecosystems that had been damaged by overgrazing, invasive plant establishment, and off-road vehicles. American Forests and WildEarth Guardians have also conjunctively addressed watershed needs in our subsequent years of partnership, including 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Of course, nature is an ever-changing force, and American Forests and WildEarth Guardians have already risen to address new challenges that have emerged since our initial partnership in 2010.  In 2011, the Los Conchas Fire, initially sparked by a power line, burned more than 150,000 acres, including 30,000 within the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The wildfire had been the largest in the state’s history, and threatened the native habitat of elk, golden eagles, coyotes, black bears, bobcats and more. In addition, the Rio de las Vacas — one of streams that we have subsequently targeted for riparian restoration — is home to one of the remaining 13 core populations of Rio Grande cutthroat trout, New Mexico’s state fish.

Indeed, our partnership with WildEarth Guardians has been a true testament to the astounding amount of impact and work that can be accomplished in five short years. In that time, we have planted 336,000 trees and shrubs and engaged hundreds of local volunteers. Of course, there’s still more to come — we’re planting an additional 50,000 trees this year. What do you think the next five years could bring to the watersheds of New Mexico?


Getting kids learning in and about the environment

by Loose Leaf Team

By Erin Sandlin, Policy Intern

Nothing makes teachers feel better than when their students apply what they’ve learned in class to their lives outside of it.

I experienced this during my time helping a teacher develop an environmentally focused curriculum. We were able to use our own backyard to show the complex environmental relationships that surrounded us, and to see how we were connected to the ecosystem as well. I read journal entries about students noticing the clouds changing during a summer storm or pleasant encounters with buzzing bees during a walk to school. The students were fully engaged — on Friday afternoons I might add!

Studies have shown that integrating environmental education into school curriculums improves students’ academic performance and their propensity for environmental stewardship. Exposing youth to the wonders of nature through hands-on experiences has advantages in the academic world, but it is important to recognize the priceless benefits of showing students their connection to the natural world around them.

The benefits of environmental education are now receiving recognition in Congress. The No Child Left Inside Act was recently introduced and pushes for support of environmental education in the country’s public schools.

Senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Congressmen John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) showed their commitment to environmental education by introducing the act, which would provide grants to school districts to enhance opportunities for students to learn about, and in, the great outdoors.

American Forests has engaged hundreds of youth in our urban and wildland forest restoration projects.

American Forests has engaged hundreds of youth in our urban and wildland forest restoration projects.

At American Forests, we recognize the importance of providing young people with access to and education about our forests. Our Community ReLeaf projects have engaged schools and youth across the nation. These programs, in cities such as Atlanta, have given educational opportunities to students about the importance of trees. With our help, schools are involved in beneficial tree-planting programs.

American Forests is also a member of the Outdoor Alliance for Kids (OAK), which brings together more than seventy businesses and organizations with the common interest of connecting children, youth and families with the outdoors. OAK fully supports the No Child Left Inside Act and continues to advocate for outdoor learning opportunities. Their efforts have had a positive impact on student achievement and have stimulated students’ curiosity about the world around them.

American Forests is well aware of the beauty of our forests, and we are hopeful that the No Child Left Inside Act will give kids an opportunity to establish a healthy relationship with the environment. Rachel Carson recognized this when she wrote, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”


Big Tree Madness returns for its third year

by Loose Leaf Team

By Sydney Mucha, Communications Intern

It’s that time of year again! Big Tree Madness is about to begin and in case you missed last year, are just tuning in or need a refresher, here is a rundown of all you need to know before the games begin.

To make things more interesting this year, we have paired up selected champion trees with NCAA tournament-bound men’s basketball teams in the respective states, with the exception of last year’s finalists — defending champion Hawaii and runner-up Missouri — and Colorado, which had no in-state universities advancing to the field on Selection Sunday.

From the East, we have:

D.C. - chestnut oak Maryland - Kentucky coffeetree Pennsylvania - Dotted hawthorn West Virginia - Virginia pine
Georgetown Hoyas Maryland Terrapins Villanova Wildcats West Virginia Mountaineers

The four Champions from the South region:

Georgia - Post oak Kentucky - chinkapin oak Louisiana - live oak Virginia - American holly
Georgia Bulldogs Kentucky Wildcats LSU Tigers Virginia Cavaliers

Representing the Midwest:

Kansas - white mulberry Michigan - weeping willow Missouri - Ozark chinkapin Ohio - American sycamore
Kansas Jayhawks Michigan State Spartans Ohio State Buckeyes

And last, but not least, our Champions from the West:

California - Coast live oak Colorado - Scotch pine Hawaii - Wiliwili Washington - Western redcedar
San Diego State Aztecs Gonzaga Bulldogs

So there you have it, this year’s Big Tree Madness bracket! And now onto the fun part — how to vote. All voting will take place via American Forests’ Facebook page, so if you aren’t following us yet, do so now. You will have 24 hours to vote on each matchup every weekday with voting starting at 10:00 am and ending at 9:59 am the next day. We will have one match-up per day starting on March 17, ending with the championship on April 6 — the same day as the men’s NCAA basketball final. The Ultimate Champion Tree will be announced the next day.

We will announce the winner of every matchup on Facebook so you can keep track at home or with the bracket on our website. Ultimately, the winner of Big Tree Madness is in your hands so stand behind your favorite school, your home state, the coolest big tree or the best species. Mark your calendars and tune into the battle of big trees — and don’t forget to tell your friends!

Big Tree Madness is part of the American Forests National Big Tree Program. American Forests thanks the program’s premier sponsor, The Davey Tree Expert Company.


Forest Digest — Week of March 6, 2015

by Loose Leaf Team

Well the storm has passed and spring is just around the corner — 14 days, but who’s counting? Help pass the time with this latest issue of Forest Digest.

  • Genetic data can help predict how pine forests will cope with climate changePhys.org
    Genetics play an important factor when it comes to survival in the wild, but until now very few computer models took this into account. But thanks to researchers from the Forest Research Centre of Spain’s Institute for Agricultural Research (CIFOR-INIA), climate change models will now include data on tree genetics to determine how trees will respond to the warming temperatures.
  • Direct evidence that drought-weakened Amazonian forests ‘inhale less carbon’Phys.org
    Researchers from Oxford University have found that tropical trees stricken by drought take up less carbon dioxide than healthier ones. The three-year study covering 13 plots in Brazil, Peru and Bolivia measured the rate of growth and photosynthesis — the process through which trees convert CO2 to oxygen — only to find that photosynthesis decreased about 10 percent in a six-month period.
  • Satellites give scientists unprecedented views of insect outbreaks in forestsPhys.org
    For years forest managers have relied on airplanes to survey the damage mountain pine beetle and western spruce budworm inflict on Western forests, but that’s about to change! Satellite images that show more detail can now be used to understand the cyclic nature of outbreaks how the insects spread, and what the forest does to repair itself.
This big tree received 59,836 votes, showing just how much Estonians love their trees. Photo Credit: Kalmer Saar

This big tree received 59,836 votes, showing just how much Estonians love their trees. Photo Credit: Kalmer Saar

  • Estonia oak takes top prize in European Tree of the Year competitionMother Nature Network
    A large, 150-year-old oak tree in Orissaare, Estonia took home the title of Europe’s best tree, a contest run by the Environmental Partnership Association, a six country community-based conservation group. The contest focuses on a tree’s story rather than size, beauty or age, and this tree won the judges over by beating the two-time champion from Hungary.
  • Traditional beliefs promote sustainability in West AfricaPhys.org
    Farmers in Liberia are making a name for sustainable farming in West Africa. These farmers value sacred forests and ancestral land more than short-term economic growth and profits and have been practicing this way of life for decades.

GR 25: Fishlake National Forest, Utah, in 2011

by Megan Higgs
Pando aspen grove at Fishlake National Forest

Walking through Pando toward Fish Lake at Fishlake National Forest in Utah. Credit: Robert Young

As we journey further back in time through our Global ReLeaf history, our stop in 2011 involves a location that certainly has made a name for itself regarding longevity. In fact, it’s an area that contains arguably one of the oldest, largest single organisms on Earth and one of only 40 prestigious “Wonders of America” according to the U.S. Postal Service. If a hint is in order, this natural marvel was also honored with a commemorative stamp for its aforementioned title in 2006.

Indeed, the next leg of our expedition takes place in Fishlake National Forest, Utah — home of the clonal quaking aspen stand known as “Pando,” which aptly means “I spread” in Latin. Pando, also known as The Trembling Giant, is a remarkable single stand of over 40,000 “individual” quaking aspen trees that are tied together by a single gargantuan root system. Each trunk and the roots are found to have an identical genetic identity to the others, making Pando classifiable as a singular organism. Pando has developed a complex and astonishing system for longevity — when an individual clone of a trunk dies, it is replaced with genetically identical shoots. Altogether, Pando weighs nearly 13 million pounds and spreads across more than 106 acres. As far as Pando’s age goes, the root system is said to have accumulated a well-seasoned 80,000 years.

However, Pando and other local species of trees within Fishlake National Forest have had their continuity and vitality placed in jeopardy by the longstanding effects of climate change, including longer breeding seasons for pests, warming climates, altered weather patterns and more. Fishlake National Forest, in particular, has had to address several increased infestations of insects resulting from climate change.

To help address this issue, American Forests worked with the U.S. Forest Service to plant over 44,000 Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine and Engelmann spruce in areas surrounding Fishlake. These areas had lost large numbers of trees due to increasing numbers of ravaging spruce beetles, which had been witnessing inflated population numbers due to climate change and changes in their breeding cycles. This project helped restore habitat for a number of local wildlife species, including elk, black bear, cougar, moose and mountain goats. In addition, the planting rejuvenated and beautified a highly utilized recreational area for local fishers and bird watchers. What’s more, it ensured the cultivation of aesthetic quality in an area that truly holds one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders.


Forest Digest — Week of February 23, 2015

by Loose Leaf Team

Cheers to surviving another week! Here is your reward: the latest Forest Digest.

  • Report: Wildfire Reconstruction of West’s Riskiest Homes is $237BInsurance Journal
    Wildfires are known to damage property and can be extremely dangerous during periods of drought, which much of the West has been experiencing over the past few years. A new report shows that 192,242 homes are at a high risk for wildfire damage this year!
It is important to know how much your home is at risk for wildfire damage in order to protect your property. Photo Credit: Dan Tentler/Flickr

It is important to know how much your home is at risk for wildfire damage in order to protect your property. Photo Credit: Dan Tentler/Flickr

  • Felling of tropical trees has soared, satellite shows, not slowed as UN study foundPhys.org
    According to a new study by University of Maryland researchers, the rate of deforestation has actually increased instead of decreased in recent years. Their research was aided by satellite images, which were previously unavailable for past studies and show that the rate of deforestation has increased to 62 percent — or the size of West Virginia — each year.
  • Why the Sahara is intricately tied to the Amazonmmn
    Researchers have recently found that more than 22,000 tons of phosphorous get blown across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara Desert to the Amazon. Though this is a relatively small amount — only .08 percent of the total dust brought into the Amazon — it is still enough to help enrich the soil and enable trees to grow tall and healthy.
  • Olivia Newton-John launches ‘One Tree Per Child’ campaignmmn
    Later this year in Bristol, U.K., the “One Tree Per Child” program will help kids under the age of 10 get their hands dirty by planting trees in the city. This will double the amount of trees in Bristol and will hopefully be launched worldwide in the coming years.
  • With wishing tree, SOL couple brings the community togetherThe Tribune
    In San Luis Obispo, Calif., a couple is making a big difference in the community by letting people from all walks of life and from around the world hang their wishes in a large, old oak tree. The owners, Kathy and Jim apRoberts, love the way the tree has bridged a connection to their neighbors and are currently looking for more wishes to add.
  • The tree that…charges your phone?CNBC
    Sologic, an Isreali solar company, recently invented a solar tree that produces seven kilowatts of daily power. This is more than enough energy to charge your phone and other devices and, maybe even better, the eTree is capable of providing WiFi.

  • Hey all D.C. readers! We wanted to inform you of a special event in our area happening this weekend. The Embassy of Finland’s “Trees are Poems” exhibition, which highlights trees as essential to human existence and symbols of life, closes this weekend. The exhibit is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday form 11am-4pm.

Urban forestry’s next frontier

by Ian Leahy

Urban forestry.

The term itself seems contradictory. I used to gird myself when telling people what I do for a living. The inevitable bafflement would usually be followed by a pleasantly patronizing, “It’s nice you’re doing something you enjoy.”

I would never argue, though, because I really do enjoy this work. I enjoy its depth of impact that we are only beginning to understand, from improving air and water quality to influencing crime, obesity, psychology and energy, urban forestry encompasses a wide range of disciplines. Before becoming American Forests’ director of urban forest programs, I worked in the District of Columbia’s unique city-state structure. Any given day could have me collaborating on a multi-state analysis before being awoken at three in the morning to move a tree out of a major thoroughfare before rush hour.

Helping bridge the gap between cities and nature, American Forests has helped plant trees in urban environments for decades, just like this project in Detroit, Ian's hometown.

Helping bridge the gap between cities and nature, American Forests has helped plant trees in urban environments for decades, just like this project in Detroit, Ian’s hometown.

Pro tip: Learn how to hide your saw before getting on the subway.

But that’s urban forestry in a nutshell, isn’t it? It’s knowing to look down rather than up to see whether a tree is sick long before its leaves show it or it tragically crashes into a home. It’s finding those opportunities to remove excess concrete and plant a tree — or ten. It is any vegetation that grows where large quantities of people live; the possibilities are endless.

Working in this field is like being in a fantasy world hidden in plain view. The first thing I notice when visiting any metro area is nature surging against all odds through the concrete and steel we have thrown upon it. Connecting people to nature where most don’t think nature exists — and making it all function like a wildland forest — is what keeps me motivated every day.

After emerging as a voice of reason amid the surging industrialism of the 19th century, American Forests followed people into cities, where we helped define the standards of arboriculture in the early 20th century. As early as the 1970s, we were organizing urban forestry conferences for this fledgling field. By the 1990s, we spearheaded a federal urban forestry program and pioneered GIS analyses of cities’ tree canopies that has helped attract many millions of dollars to help manage them. Today, amid our continuing work in cities nationwide, we are again pioneering new territory by finding or developing the next generation of innovations and best practices.

Written jointly with my colleague Bryant, our urban forestry posts will highlight such breakthroughs. We may look at a successful tree protection law one time and a nighttime tree planting dance party the next. We may explore how artists turn green spaces into meaningful and inspiring places. If you have ideas you think should be highlighted, feel free to let me know.


Forest Digest — Week of February 16, 2015

by Loose Leaf Team

Hope everyone is surviving the brutal cold today! Why not read the hot-off-the-presses Forest Digest while you warm up? (Or at least try to!)

  • Colombia seeks ‘environmental corridor’ across Andes, AmazonPhys.org
    The president of Colombia recently proposed an “environmental corridor” linking the Andes Mountains, Amazon rainforest and Atlantic Ocean. In an attempt to protect the region’s biodiversity, President Juan Manuel Santos is calling on leaders in Brazil and Venezuela to create the corridor, which encompasses 333.5 million acres.
  • Highland Park tallies thousands of trees lost to emerald ash borerChicago Tribune
    Chicago, along with many other areas in the U.S., has been infested with emerald ash borer since 2002, and not much progress has been made in its eradication. The only sure way to stop the outbreak is to cut down the trees that have been infected, and Chicago is planning on implementing this strategy with more than 1,000 trees. While this will greatly affect the forest cover in the city, officials intend to replant with a variety of species to incorporate biodiversity.
This new creation may be rainforests saving grace, if it can fully replace palm oil. Photo Credit: K. Marinko

This new creation may be rainforests saving grace, if it can fully replace palm oil. Photo Credit: K. Marinko

  • Palm oil may have met its match, which would be a boon for the planetTreehugger
    Palm oil may become a thing of the past thanks to scientists at the University of Bath in the U.K., who have created an oily yeast that matches the composition of palm oil. This could mean big strides in fighting deforestation in areas such as Malaysia and Indonesia, which house 87 percent of the palm oil industry.
  • Brazil Amazon: Drone to scan for ancient AmazoniaBBC News
    Past forest use may now be used to help shape future sustainable forestry techniques thanks to specially equipped drones that will be used to measure geoglyphs in Brazil to see how past inhabitants of the Amazon used the forest.
  • Privatization of UK woodlands is happening by the back doorThe Guardian
    The Forestry Commission in the U.K. is being harshly criticized after it released plans to lease many publicly owned woodlands to Forest Holidays, a company that aims to put up luxury cabins in the wooded areas. These new cabins are slated to be built on prime wildlife habitat and could threaten many endangered species as well as damage the whole forest ecosystem.
  • Obama Launches ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative-The Washington PostThe Washington Post
    National Parks could see an influx of fourth graders and their families thanks to Obama’s “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, which will allow these families free park admission for a full year. This could have great implications when it comes to getting kids more excited about nature and the benefits that it offers.