From businessman to folk legend: Johnny Appleseed

by Susan Laszewski

Johnny Appleseed may have been a folk hero who wandered the frontier in his burlap sack and tin pot hat, scattering apple seeds to the wind, but John Chapman — the real life figure upon whom that legend is based — was actually an astute businessman who planted nurseries in strategic locations. He was born in Massachusetts on this day in 1774. Centuries later, his life’s work still has a hold on Americans’ imaginations.

As a young man, Chapman went west, probably armed with some apple seeds from the pulp of a cider mill. Staying one step ahead of the settlers who were journeying toward the frontier, he planted nurseries that would be ready when they arrived.

statue of Johnny Appleseed at Johnson's Orchard in Bedford County, Va.

This statue of Johnny Appleseed at Johnson’s Orchard in Bedford County, Va., shows how the folklore figure of “Johnny Appleseed” has come to be depicted, centuries after the real John Chapman lived. Credit: David Wilson

Chapman knew something that remains true today: Trees are good for communities. Although they may not have known it, those settlers were reaping many of the same benefits of trees that we enjoy today: cleaner air, cleaner water, cooler temperatures. But they were keenly aware of some other benefits that Chapman’s trees brought: alcohol and land rights.

Hard cider and applejack were important drinks for settlers on the frontier in those days. They could be used as currency or medicinally. What’s more, the presence of an orchard was often a way that settlers could uphold claim to land. As Chapman’s nurseries grew into orchards, he could sell them off to eager buyers. Just as today, trees added value to property. It’s said that Chapman died a rich man thanks to the many unsold orchards he owned, but his humble, bare-bones lifestyle belied his wealth.

Chapman was a successful businessman, but he was also a conservationist and a true outdoorsman. Most accounts say that “the appleseed man” was welcomed by all during his travels, but often preferred to sleep outside rather than in the beds or on the floors offered to him. He was known as an animal lover who not only wouldn’t harm a fly, but would actually rescue them from the campfire, according to one account. Throughout his life, he chose roaming from nursery to nursery and sleeping under the stars over settling down.

Like Chapman, we at American Forests know that trees have practical benefits, but are also good for the soul. His birthday is a good reminder to value both those sides of planting trees. Like him, we plant trees because they have measurable value to communities, but also because of something immeasurable — it just feels right. And, like him, we’ve even been known to plant a fruit tree or two.


Forest Digest — Week of September 22

by Loose Leaf Team

If you didn’t catch it, an op-ed in The New York Times questioned the role of forests in our climate change solution. See what we said in response.

Meanwhile, world leaders, global companies and concerned citizens gathered this week in New York at the U.N.’s Climate Summer. Read about what transpired and other forest stories in this week’s Forest Digest:

  • “UN Climate Change Summit Yields Major Announcements on Deforestation”VICE News
    At this week’s U.N. Climate Summit, 27 nations, including the U.S., endorsed a declaration to by 2030 and offer more that $1 billion in aid to countries where forest conservation is most crucial. Subnational governments in Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico and Peru — regions of the world that contain the planet’s largest intact tropical rainforests — also signed on.
  • “How one Brazilian state is reducing deforestation while growing its economy”Environmental Defense Fund
    The state of Acre in northwestern Brazil has developed incentives initiatives to help reduce deforestation. From supporting timber certification and sustainable livestock agriculture to giving money to indigenous peoples who restore degraded land using traditional practices, Acre reduced deforestation by 60 percent and increased its real GDP by 62 percent since 2002.
The whitebark pine faces an uphill battle for survival, but American Forests and our partners are working to keep this keystone species intact.

The whitebark pine faces an uphill battle for survival, but American Forests and our partners are working to keep this keystone species intact.

  • “For Trees Under Threat, Flight May Be Best Response”The New York Times
    Creating refuges — generally used to protect threatened or endangered species from human activity — might not work for the whitebark pine, as the species faces lethal threats such as the mountain pine beetle and white pine blister rust, not to mention a warming climate. So scientists are considering a pretty radical idea: moving the trees to areas where they will be more comfortable in the future.

Forests are a vital part of the climate solution

by Scott Steen, President & CEO

Last week, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Dr. Nadine Unger. Provocatively titled “To Save the Planet, Don’t Plant Trees,” the column draws on one area of preliminary research from the vast realm of climate change research and asserts broad conclusions about the contributions of forests to climate change, which are likely to confuse more than help.

Clearly forests alone cannot solve the climate change issue. However, Dr. Unger labels the wisdom behind efforts to reduce tropical deforestation as wrong while also pointing out that deforestation produces a whopping 20 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions — yet conceding that living forests “generously mop up about a quarter of the world’s fossil-fuel carbon emissions each year.”

Tropical rainforests (left) and northern boreal forests should play a major part in our planet's climate changes solution.

Tropical rainforests (left) and northern boreal forests should play a major part in our planet’s climate changes solution.
Photo credits: Miguel Vieira (left) and Timothy Boscarino (right).

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that tropical deforestation leads to warming and the resulting soil degradation increases carbon emissions while lowering the land’s productivity. Northern boreal forests (like those in the snow-covered regions of Canada) may, over the long term, contribute to atmospheric warming by absorbing the sun’s energy. However, substantial research shows that during the next century, boreal forest growth will result in net cooling. Timing is everything with this issue, as we urgently address the many tipping points of climate change likely to have major near-term impacts on human life.

Dr. Unger also exaggerates the scientific consensus around volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that trees emit, which vary greatly depending on tree species, and questions the benefits of a hypothetical large-scale expansion of forests. There is no possibility of such an expansion on a global scale, as most forested regions remain at best, stable, or more likely, in decline because of such factors as logging, insects, disease, development and wildfires.

Finally, she significantly underplays the co-benefits of healthy forests — cleaner air, cleaner water, wildlife habitat and biodiversity among them. While the research of Dr. Unger and her colleagues deserves further exploration and scrutiny, it is misleading and harmful to present broad generalizations based on relatively new research as conclusive science.

Scott Steen
President & CEO


Want to do more?

  • Sign our TakePart petition urging President Obama to make forests a priority in the White House’s Climate Change Action Plan. We have less than 4,000 more signatures to go, so please help us achieve our goal.
  • Share this post through your Facebook and Twitter networks and help spread the word that trees must play a major role in the climate change equation.

Shipping containers: Importing insect pests, too

by Loose Leaf Contributor
The Asian longhorned beetle (above) and the emerald ash borer are wreaking havoc on American forests.

The Asian longhorned beetle (above) and the emerald ash borer are wreaking havoc on American forests.

By Faith Campbell, Emeritus environmental advocate and tree-pest expert

Several of the most damaging tree-killing insects came to America as larvae riding in crates, pallets, or other forms of wood packaging material (WPM).

These include the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), emerald ash borer, and redbay ambrosia beetle. All entered the country since trade opened with China in the late 1980s. The ALB and EAB entered before our government had adopted effective measures to prevent pests from being transported in WPM.

Responding to discovery of the ALB, U.S. and Canadian officials worked with European and other counterparts to adopt an “international standard” that requires that WPM used in international trade be treated to reduce the likelihood that live insects will be inside. Since 2006, the U.S. and Canada have required that WPM from overseas comply with this standard.

How much has relying on the international standard reduced the risk of a new pest being introduced? Analysis of USDA data suggests that applying the standard has reduced the rates at which live insects are intercepted at U.S. borders by about half. This is important progress.

Each day, 35 shipping containers bring a pest to the U.S.

Each day, 35 shipping containers bring a pest to the U.S.
Photo credit: Greg Bishop.

Still, as of 2009, one shipment out of each thousand that contain wood packaging harbors a live insect that threatens plant resources in the U.S. This sounds like a very small risk. However, an estimated 13 million shipping containers carrying wood packaging entered the U.S. in 2013. At the suggested approach rate, this means 13,000 containers harboring pests would enter the country each year – 35 per day.1 Continuing what we are doing now could result in more than 100 additional wood-boring insects being introduced over the next 40 years.2

We can do more!

U.S. and Canadian governments work with their counterparts in Asia and around the world to improve compliance with the standard’s treatment and other requirements.

Meanwhile, businesses that import goods packaged in wood can also step forward to protect the urban and wildland forests from which all Americans benefit. These businesses can help stop the spread of pests by:

  • Negotiating contracts with their foreign suppliers that hold the supplier responsible for any costs arising from failures to comply with the international standard.
  • Emphasizing to employees and contractors who manage the company’s transportation and supply chain their personal responsibility for ensuring compliance.
  • Evaluating alternatives to wood packaging – avoiding hassles at the border might make up for the higher cost of alternative types of packaging.
  • Instituting active pest surveillance at warehouses and distribution centers; reporting evidence of pests to appropriate federal and state’s authorities.

1Haack RA, Britton KO, Brockerhoff EG, Cavey JF, Garrett LJ, et al. (2014) Effectiveness of the International Phytosanitary Standard ISPM No. 15 on Reducing Wood Borer Infestation Rates in Wood Packaging Material Entering the United States. PLoS ONE 9(5): e96611. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096611.
2Leung, B., M.R. Springborn, J.A. Turner, E.G. Brockerhoff. 2014. Pathway-level risk analysis: the net present value of an invasive species policy in the US. The Ecological Society of America. Frontiers of Ecology.org


Forest Digest — Week of September 15

by Loose Leaf Team

The impacts of climate change are being felt in forests across the world. Read about new climate-change-related studies and other forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest:

  • “Climate Change Is Making Trees Grow Rapidly”Discovery News
    Scientists from Germany’s Technische Universität München have found that the two dominant European tree species — European beech and Norway spruce — are growing at more rapid rates compared to the species’ rates in 1960. Researchers believe the faster rate of growth is caused by rising temperatures, longer growing seasons and increased amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrogren — all of which are related to climate change. Though faster growth could be viewed as a good thing, researchers noted that the faster-growing trees seem to age faster, as well.
  • “Climate change may add billions to wildfire costs, study says”Los Angeles Times
    Wildfires in the United States cost as much as $125 billion annually, and a new study released by a group of environmental organizations found that climate change and its effects could increase that total by $60 billion by 2050. Also by that year, the area in which fires burn is estimated to rise between 50 and 100 percent, a statistic that attributed to the wildfire cost projection increase.
  • “Letting the forest burn”Arizona Daily Sun
    Forests across the nation, like the Kaibab National Forest in this article, are in various states of revising their forest management plans. Across the West, many plan revisions are emphasizing the important of more frequent, lower intensity fires as a key tool to promote greater health of the ecosystem.
  • “The Meteor That Wiped Out the Dinosaurs Changed Earth’s Plant Life, Too”Newsweek
    According to a new study, the meteor that hit Earth millions of years ago and is believed to have caused the extinction of dinosaurs also had a profound impact — pun intended — on the planet’s flora, especially forests. Prior to the meteor, forests consisted of slow-growing evergreens, but these plants were overtaken by deciduous plants — fast-growing and flowering — which now reign over the vast majority of the world’s modern forests.

Tree-killing pests: Who? Where? How?

by Loose Leaf Contributor

By Faith Campbell, Emeritus environmental advocate and tree-pest expert

Nearly 500 non-native insects and disease-causing pathogens have been introduced to the United States in the 400 years since European settlement began. Here are some examples:

A map showing an area of the Northeast affected by hemlock woolly adelgid.

A map showing an area of the Northeast affected by hemlock woolly adelgid. Click to zoom in.

  • Chestnut blight has virtually eliminated mature American chestnuts across the species’ range, which is most of the eastern deciduous forest.
  • European gypsy moth periodically causes severe defoliation of several hardwood species, especially oaks. The gypsy moth now occupies forests from New England to a line reaching from Virginia to Wisconsin.
  • Hemlock woolly adelgid has killed 90 percent of hemlocks in groves spanning from Maine to Georgia. These hemlock groves form unique ecosystems that shelter specific bird, fish, salamander, and plant species.
  • Emerald ash borer (EAB) has spread over 25 years to more than 100,000 square miles across 23 states and two Canadian provinces. EAB is likely to kill most trees belonging to two dozen species of ash in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
  • White pine blister rust has reduced populations of several western white pines. The greatest threat is to high-elevation pines — whitebark, limber and bristlecone — which are the base of food webs and protect snow cover that is the foundation for water supplies in the West.
  • Sudden oak death has killed more than 1 million tanoak and oak trees in the coastal mountains of California and southern Oregon. Many tree and shrub species vulnerable to this disease grow in eastern forests, so scientists worry that the pathogen might become established there.

The U.S. Forest Service offers a database of tree pests and diseases that have been documented across the country. [Simply select your state and/or county from the drop-down menus to see which pests are damaging trees in your region or city.]

The Northeast and Pacific coasts contain the most number of tree pests and pathogens.

The Northeast and Pacific coasts contain the most number of tree pests and pathogens.

Northeastern states have traded with Europe and Asia for about 400 years, which explains why the region has the most established non-native tree-killing pests: 62 in New York; 58 in Pennsylvania; 57 in Connecticut; 55 in New Jersey. Pacific coast states have been trading for only about 150 years, but they are catching up: There are now 42 pests in California; 41 in Washington and 36 in Oregon. In California alone, non-native forest pests now make up one-third of the damaging pests in the state — up from only 10 percent just 50 years ago.

How did these insects and disease-causing pathogens invade the U.S.? Most arrived on imports of plants or in the crates, pallets, and other types of packaging made from wood. In my follow-up posts, I’ll go into more detail about these pest-ridden pathways and what governments, importers and private citizens can do to help prevent additional introductions and spread of established pests to other vulnerable areas.


Forest Digest — Week of September 8

by Loose Leaf Team

Another week and another Forest Digest. See what’s happening in the world of trees:

  • “Climate change accelerating death of Western forests”USA Today
    A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization shows that drought, insect pests and wildfire — forest threats exacerbated by climate change — are killing off millions of acres of the Rocky Mountain range’s pine and aspen forests.
American Forests is working to protect high-elevation forests in the Rocky Mountain range through our Endangered Western Forests initiative.

American Forests is working to protect high-elevation forests in the Rocky Mountain range through our Endangered Western Forests initiative.

  • “Consumer Goods and Deforestation”Forest Trends
    A recent study by Forest Trends found that 49 percent of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of illegal clearing for commercial agriculture.

Forest Digest — Week of September 1

by Loose Leaf Team

Another week and another Forest Digest. See what’s happening in the world of trees:

  • “Fires and drought have transformed New Mexico forests”Las Cruces Sun-News
    New Mexico is also dealing with forestry setbacks because of drought, as well as extensive wildfire damage. Up to 18 percent of the Southwest’s forests were lost to wildfire and bark beetle outbreaks — both issues related to a warming climate — between 1984 and 2006.
  • “Native forests need proper preservation from urban sprawl”The Miami Hurricane
    Dozens of acres of pine forest on the campus of the University of Miami in Florida could potentially be lost to urban sprawl. Students and members of the surrounding community are working to ensure the preservation of these trees.

How large does the blue spruce grow?

by Loose Leaf Contributor

By Robert T. Leverett, Native Tree Society

Blue spruce

The 324-point blue spruce spotted by Will Blozan. Credit: Will Blozan

How tall do blue spruces grow? Ornamental yard trees often reach 60 to 80 feet and 1.5 to three feet in diameter. Ostensibly reliable internet sources vary greatly on listed maximum heights. Some say more than 100 feet. Others cap the species off at 80, while one source lists 50 meters, or 164 feet. There’s little agreement, but the species pays no attention to such nonsense. Blue spruces know what they’re genetically programmed to do, and in southwestern Colorado, the blues achieve their best growth. The Western Native Tree Society (WNTS), supporting the American Forests National Big Tree program, discovered a blue to break all records in the La Plata Mountains this August.

Near Hermosa Creek, the team of Will Blozan, Matt Markworth, Larry Tucei, Chris Morris and Mark Rowe measured a huge blue at 165.5 feet tall, 12.5 feet in girth and 32.5 feet average crown spread. It was eagle-eye Will’s discovery and totals 324 points via the American Forests champion tree formula. The current national champion in Utah totals 331 points, making the Colorado tree a contender for co-champion under the large-tree rule — that a tree that measures within five percent of the champion’s points is eligible to become co-champion. The intrepid team also measured another blue at 164 feet tall and 10.1 feet around. But that was hardly the end of the discoveries.

blue spruce

The team at the base of the 324-point blue spruce. Credit: Will Blozan

Later, going solo, Matt confirmed a 155-foot blue with a 12.9-foot girth and 33.5-foot crown spread, earning the specimen 319 points and making it eligible for co-champion. Then it happened: Matt measured a pencil-straight giant at an astounding 178.8 feet, the tallest we know of — anywhere. The tree measures 10.9 feet in circumference. Its narrow crown averages only 23.5 feet for a total of 309 points. It may not be eligible for co-champion this year, but it’s height has blown records out of the water. It seems to be part of a trend; Matt measured other blues between 162 and 158 feet high. The number of blues measuring more than 150 feet is growing.

Champion trees show us the full potential of their species and these Colorado blue spruces are a prime example of that. In October, the world will find out whether any of the trees had their co-champion status confirmed and made it onto the National Register of Big Trees. But, whether they end up wearing that crown, they have shown us not to underestimate the blue spruce.

An engineer by education, Robert T. Leverett is the co-founder and executive director of the Native Tree Society. He writes from Florence, Mass.

Note that these trees were all measured with LTI TruPulses (200s and 360s) using the sine method, accurate to +/- 0.5 feet. (See the American Forests webinar on measuring tree height.)


Introducing tree-pest expert Faith Campbell

by Christopher Horn

Homepage photo credit: Kyle Ramirez

Faith Campbell knows a thing or two about trees and the insects that threaten them. She brings years of experience, including her most recent post at The Nature Conservancy, to Loose Leaf as one of our new guest bloggers.

Before diving into the interesting and sometimes volatile relationship between trees, insects and humans, we wanted to learn more about Faith herself:

What led you to the forestry field, and tree pests in particular?
I have always loved trees and natural areas. In the 1950s, when I was growing up in northern Virginia, the streets and parks of Washington, D.C., still looked like cathedrals because of the interlocking branches of elm trees. I learned about Dutch elm disease, and then that additional non-native pests were killing chestnuts, hemlocks. I wanted to do something to reduce this threat.

Faith Campbell, Loose Leaf's new guest blogger, has years of expertise in trees and insect pests.

Faith Campbell, Loose Leaf’s new guest blogger, has years of expertise in trees and insect pests. Photo credit: Faith Campbell.

What are some tree-versus-pests successes you’ve observed in your career?
The biggest success has been with the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) — although that story is not yet over. Determined efforts by federal, state and local agencies, private citizens working individually, and organizations and funding associations, have succeeded in eradicating several outbreaks and they are making progress on other outbreaks. Also, the detection of several ALB outbreaks persuaded U.S. and Canadian policymakers that wood packaging (crates, pallets, etc.) is a high-risk pathway, so they led global efforts to require treatment of wood packaging. As I said earlier, this story has not reached its end — additional outbreaks of ALB continue to be found, and the treatments required for wood packaging have not yet eliminated the risk from that pathway. More remains to be done. But this situation points the way we should go and the level of effort needed.

Have there been any infestations that have threatened a particular tree species to the brink of endangerment or extinction? If not, are there any suggestions that this could happen in our lifetimes?
While none has yet driven a species quite to the brink of biological extinction, many of the non-native pests have caused the host species to decline to the point that it can no longer perform its role in the ecosystem. American chestnut has been reduced almost everywhere to short-lived root sprouts that cannot provide the huge crops of nuts that formerly sustained wildlife ranging from black bears to squirrels. Port-Orford cedar, several of the western white pines, and eastern hemlocks have been severely reduced over large portions of their ranges. The greatest threats currently are to the high-elevation, five-needle pines of the mountain west and to redbay in coastal regions of the southeast. The U.S. Forest Service Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team projects that redbay will lose 90 percent of its basal area throughout its range by 2027 — just 25 years after the insect-fungus combination was detected.

Is there a pest in particular whose effects on forests worry you?
Dozens! I will name two that pose severe threats, but to which state and federal plant health agencies have failed to respond: the goldspotted oak borer (GSOB) and polyphagous shot hole borer (PSHB). The GSOB has killed more than 80,000 trees in San Diego and Riverside counties in California over perhaps just 20 years. It threatens coast live oak, black oak and canyon live oak throughout the state, and north into southern Oregon. The PSHB is already established across most of the Los Angeles basin, with a separate outbreak in San Diego County. PSHB is known to attack close to 300 different tree species, including nearly all the trees that grow in riparian areas in southern California. The fungus that it transports is known to live in more than 100 species. Trees considered reproductive hosts for the beetle include five types of maple trees, five oak species, two sycamore or plane trees, and several species common in the nursery trade such as camellia. Some of the hosts, such as box elder, are widespread in the eastern U.S. as well as in California. Yet the California Department of Food and Agriculture and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have not developed programs aimed at preventing the spread of these insects.

Where do you see the relationship between trees and invasive insects in the next decade? What can we — NGOs, government agencies, corporations and U.S. citizens — do to help ensure the healthy and vitality of our country’s forests?
Over the next decade, non-native insects and pathogens will continue to enter the United States; and the nearly 500 species already here will continue to spread. Additional tree species will face threats from new invaders, and trees formerly protected by distance from pest outbreaks will be put at risk by the established organisms’ spread. To reduce the devastation to the greatest extent practicable, government agencies, corporations, citizens and organizations can adopt practices that minimize the presence of pests in items that they move from one place to another. High-risk articles include wood in many forms: firewood, logs or burls used in woodworking, decorative items or rustic furniture; crates, pallets, spools for cable; as well as plants for our gardens. In future blog posts, I will discuss the specifics of what government agencies, corporations and citizens can do.


Read all of the posts in Faith’s tree-pest series:

  • Tree-killing pests: Who? Where? How? — Nearly 500 non-native insects and disease-causing pathogens have been introduced to the United States in the 400 years since European settlement began. Learn more about some of the most notorious perps.
  • Shipping containers: Importing insect pests, too — Each day, 35 shipping containers bring an invasive pest to the U.S., threatening the country’s native tree species and wreaking havoc on our urban and wildland forests.