Power of A Gold: Community ReLeaf Program Earns Top ASAE Honor

by Ashlan Bonnell
2015 ASAE Power of A Gold Award

The 2015 ASAE The Power of A Gold Award presented to American Forests’ Community ReLeaf program for its innovative work in urban forestry.

We are proud to announce that American Forests’ Community ReLeaf program has earned a 2015 ASAE Power of A Gold award. The gold award, ASAE’s highest honor, showcases organizations that have made local, national, and/or global contributions toward enriching lives, driving innovation, and making the world a better place.

According to Ian Leahy, Director of Urban Forest Programs, receiving the award is not only an honor, but it also serves as encouragement for the program moving forward.

“A few years ago, we reimagined our urban forest programs so that we could immerse ourselves in communities,” says Leahy. “This award from ASAE is a great celebration of our successes to date and indication that we are on the right track as the program continues to grow.”

American Forests launched Community ReLeaf in 2013, with support from Bank of America Charitable Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service, to foster transformational impact via a 3-phase process of scientific tree canopy analysis, high-impact forest restoration, and public engagement. This process was designed to support the program’s goal of expanding and maintaining urban forests in cities throughout the United States. These urban forests can have a profound and long-lasting impact on communities, including providing ecosystem services such as filtering stormwater and clean the air that would cost significant funds to build infrastructure, reduced levels of crime and domestic violence, increased property values, improved resident health, and lowered stress levels.

Our current project cities include:

  • Asbury, N.J.
  • Atlanta, Ga.
  • Detroit, Mich.
  • Hartford, Conn.
  • Nashville, Tenn.
  • Pasadena, Calif.
  • Austin, Texas
  • Chicago, Ill.
  • Miami, Fla.
  • Oakland, Calif.
  • Washington, D.C.

We plan to add three more cities by the end of the year through a forthcoming request for proposals.

“As enthusiasm and support for this program grows, we are increasing the number of cities we reach, focusing our impact on select urban mega-regions throughout the country, and using the restoration projects as living laboratories of innovation,” says Leahy

Providing innovation to some of the 80 percent of Americans residing in metropolitan areas, we are proud of the work Community ReLeaf has accomplished and will continue to achieve in years to come.


Forest Digest – Week of June 22, 2015

by Loose Leaf Team

See Australia’s plans for Urban Forests and stay informed on California’s wildfires in this week’s Forest Digest!

Wildfire raging across a California forest

Cal Fire, California’s statewide fire agency, has reported a 50% increase in fires already compared to 2014.

  • California drought fueling wildfire flamesCBS Alerts
    Fighting wildfires, like the recent Sterling fire in the San Bernandino Mountains of California, is becoming harder and harder as the “extreme” drought has dried up most of the water sources used to extinguish the flames, officials state.

 


GR25: New Jersey in 2003

by Megan Higgs
An Atlantic White Cedar

Bass River State Forest has a storied past, with the Civilian Conservation Corps helping to shape a large portion of it from 1933-1942. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

2015 is indeed a year of many anniversaries — American Forests’ own 140th anniversary, and, as we all know by now, the 25th year of Global ReLeaf. In addition, the site of the next leg of our journey through the past is celebrating an anniversary of its own this year: the 110th birthday of New Jersey’s first state park.

Back in 1905, the New Jersey Legislature acquired the first parcel of land set aside to become a state forest, which was to be utilized for water conservation, wildlife and timber management, and a variety of public recreation activities — including canoeing, hiking, camping, and swimming. The Bass River State Forest also shelters a portion of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a heavily forested coastal plain ecosystem stretching across seven counties of New Jersey. The Pine Barrens, aptly named for the nutrient-poor soil they reside in, house a unique ecology of many plant and wildlife species, including orchids, carnivorous plants, and rare pygmy Pitch pines.

In 2003, American Forests partnered with The New Jersey Forest Service to plant 7,900 Atlantic white cedars on 24 acres of the Bass River State Forest, which had been ravaged by recent wildfire, gypsy moths and an unusual frost/drought sequence. Atlantic white cedar, a declining resource, was planted to restore the area to a hardwood swamp. Working with volunteers and forest service staff, American Forests also installed solar-powered deer fencing around the planted seedlings.

Why install deer fences, though?

American Forests often encourages, enacts and promotes such protective measures for restoration activities, as newly planted seedlings and the leaves from young trees can be seen as prime grazing sources for white-tailed deer — particularly in east-coast forests, which are often threatened by surging deer populations. As a result, American Forests has promoted the use of deer guards across dozens of projects as a protective measure for newly planted trees to thrive.

Over 12 years after this project’s completion, the site has been utilized as an educational tour site for a variety of visitors and ages. The project has also helped provide habitat and a cohesive ecosystem for the timber rattlesnake — the only rattlesnake located in the Northeast — and the threatened small whirled pogonia, a terrestrial orchid that relies on the detritus, or “leaf litter”, of larger trees for survival.


Environmental justice for the underserved

by Loose Leaf Team

By Deanne Buckman, Policy Intern

This is part 2 of a two-part series. Catch up here!

Criminological theories help us to understand why urban forests may be able to reduce crime rates.

By attracting people to public outdoor areas, urban green spaces create more opportunities for community members to interact with one another, which leads to the development of neighborly bonds and social capital. This creates the appearance that the spaces are defended by residents and, in turn, has the effect of deterring criminals from targeting the area. Urban forests can also reduce crime by restoring mental health and reducing the strain that can be caused by life in cities.

Two kids planting a tree

Price Middle School students plant a tree as part of a Community Releaf project near downtown Atlanta.

What is less clear is how to plan for urban forests that produce the most positive community impact. The underprivileged communities that stand to gain the most from these green spaces typically have the smallest amount of them compared to the wealthier, more suburban areas in which they are more abundant. For example, American Forests’ Community ReLeaf assessment of Atlanta’s urban forest found that the total average combined income for the 10 zones in the city with the most tree canopy is almost twice the total average combined income of the 10 zones with the least amount of tree canopy.

Unfortunately, the problem can be more complicated than just unequal distribution of resources. Installing vegetation and green space in these communities can create what is being called an “urban green space paradox” (Wolch et al, 2014). As more green space is implemented, the attractiveness and public health of the neighborhood may improve, making it more desirable and increasing property value — the very residents who were supposed to benefit from the urban greening may be forced to relocate.

And, because parks in wealthy or middle-class neighborhoods receive care because of abundant resources, they are more likely to create a sense of stewardship and, thereby, reduce crime. Poorly maintained green spaces in underserved communities may actually increase crime (Wolfe and Mennis, 2012). Simply put, urban forests are a long-term investment requiring much more care than natural forests and will only reduce crime if they are continuously maintained.

The support for urban forestry as a method of crime reduction is positive. Yet, there is still much more research to be done to discover the best possible way to implement and maintain green spaces so that they accomplish what they are meant to. The right trees must be chosen so that they are not view obstructing; trees must be implemented in a way that creates a sense of ownership within the community; and there must be dedication and funding from governments and other community stakeholders to maintain the forests over the long term.

With these things in mind, urban forests show real promise for making a difference in some of our most vulnerable communities.


Sources Cited:

  • Wolch, Jennifer, et al. Urban Green Space, Public Health, and Environmental Justice: The Challenge of Making Cities “Just Green Enough”. Landscape and Urban Planning. Vol 125. May 2014. P. 234-244.
  • Wolfe, Mary K., and Jeremy Mennis. “Does Vegetation Encourage or Suppress Urban Crime? Evidence from Philadelphia, PA.” Landscape and Urban Planning. Vol. 108.2-4. 2012. P. 112-22.

Take in your closest forest in Great Outdoors Month

by Loose Leaf Team

By Conrad Kabbaz, Policy Intern

“Beauty is not an easy thing to measure. It does not show up in the gross national product, in a weekly paycheck, or in profit and loss statements. But these things are not ends in themselves. They are a road to satisfaction and pleasure and the good life. Beauty makes its own direct contribution to these final ends. Therefore it is one of the most important components of our true national income, not to be left out simply because statisticians cannot calculate its worth.”

It’s been 50 years since Lyndon Johnson’s iconic 1965 “Conservation and Preservation of Natural Beauty” speech, in which the president stressed the need to restore, protect, and preserve America’s picturesque natural spaces and outdoor recreation areas. This June is Great Outdoors Month, a time when Americans are encouraged to heed the president’s call and enjoy what the outdoors has to offer.

Hiking trail through field of flowers on a hillside

One-day hiking trips are an easy and fun way to enjoy nature without committing to a longer excursion.

The American Hiking Society (AHS) recently released a report, Hiking Trails in America: Pathways to Prosperity, on the current state of our nation’s trails, illustrating the need to foster greater diversity in the hiking community. In 2012, 60 percent of whites ages 25 to 44 participated in outdoor recreation activities, as opposed to less than half of all African-Americans. This seems puzzling at first because of the low cost and inherent inclusiveness of outdoor recreation. However, with a large proportion of minority populations in urban areas coupled with the bulk of trails being in remote locations far from cities, demographic disparities are likely due to inaccessibility rather than disinterest.

Youth engagement is another key component of expanding diversity in outdoor recreation. Between modern technology and industrialized cities, many children are deprived of natural spaces to enjoy. Reverence for our forests and the many ways to enjoy them is best acquired through personal experience.

American Forests and many other groups are working to improve accessibility and engagement in these areas.

One of our latest projects, “Building Public Awareness of the Values of Sustainable Forests” is a USDA-backed initiative to expand public awareness of the benefits of urban forests. We support President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to promote youth involvement in forest conservation and are also a member of the Outdoor Alliance for Kids (OAK), which creates numerous opportunities for outdoor education, linking classroom curricula to hands-on activities. We are a proud member of the Sustainable Urban Forest Coalition as well, which advocates for urban forests in our cities.

As we continue through the Great Outdoors Month, remember to try and experience the outdoors yourself! You can always look to your nearest park for endless recreation opportunities, such as hiking, fishing, and mountain biking. Enjoying the great outdoors may be as simple as walking to work, taking in the natural beauty that surrounds you as you stroll.

In fact, American Forests is hosting a walkabout this Sunday in Atlanta, with similar outings planned for the future. To be a part of the effort to promote urban forests and diversity in outdoor recreation, show your support by helping sustain our programs.


Forest Digest — Week of June 15, 2015

by Loose Leaf Team

Your latest Forest Digest, with everything from wildfires to woodpeckers!

US Forestry sign for San Bernardino National Park

The San Bernardino National Forest has not had a significant fire in over a century and a half, which leaves it quite vulnerable to wildfire this season when combined with the ongoing drought. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

  • West Coast Flies to the Rescue of East Coast Hemlock Forests — Entomology Today
    A team of scientists hopes to combat the insect blight of the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid plaguing the hemlock forests of Appalachia by introducing a fly native to Washington state, with initial results looking positive.
  • French minister says Nutella spread ‘damages environment’BBC
    This past Wednesday, France’s Ecology minster Segolene Royal called for Ferrero, the parent company of the beloved spread Nutella, to change their ingredients to exclude palm oil after warning that global consumption of the oil has led to massive deforestation in Malaysia, Brazil and other critical ecosystems around the world.
  • In Recently Burned Forests, a Woodpecker’s Work is Never DoneUSDA Blog
    A recent study published in the Journal of Zoology found that the black-backed woodpecker plays a significant role in habitat recovery following wildfires, as the nests that they create are inhabited by other creatures soon after their departure.

Can trees help stop crime?

by Loose Leaf Team

By Deanne Buckman, Policy Intern

Certain things come to mind when we think about crime prevention: police squads, guard dogs, community watch groups. However, according to multiple studies, we should possibly also think of trees.

As a criminology student and an intern at American Forests, I was intrigued when I discovered this connection between my two areas of interest. After a little research on the topic, I found that certain theories of community crime proved helpful in understanding the relationship.

Two rows of trees and grass in between streets in a residential area

The broken windows theory states that keeping an attractive and well-maintained community fosters a strong sense of stewardship and order and subsequently helps to lower crime rates.

Routine activity theory — [defined in layman’s terms] — suggests that if characteristics of a neighborhood decrease the chance of a crime being observed, then they increase the chance of the crime occurring, and vice versa. Therefore, if trees reduce the probability that a criminal would be observed, they would increase the probability of crime; in fact, urban vegetation removal has been used in the past as a crime reduction strategy.

However, evidence now suggests that strategically planted vegetation in under-privileged communities may actually reduce crime by drawing people to public places and increasing the probability of a criminal being observed. Researchers Geoffrey Donovan and Jeffrey Prestemon (2012) found that larger trees are generally less view-obstructing than smaller trees because views are mainly obstructed by the canopy of the tree, and larger trees have higher canopies.

Certain characteristics make some communities more crime prone than others. These include: low economic status, high inequality, dense or overcrowded populations, and high population mobility (Agnew, 1999). These factors can cause strain and mental fatigue, while nature has been found to be able to calm people, decrease irritability and enhance mental functioning (Sullivan et al., 2004).

According to the defensible space and broken windows theories, criminals use the appearance of a community to determine if it is defended by its members and judge the probability of being caught in the criminal act. The physical design of an area can influence people’s use of the space, which influences both the control the residents have over the area and the effort they dedicate to its maintenance (Gau and Pratt, 2008).

In a study by William Sullivan et al. (2004), a sample of 59 outdoor spaces with varying degrees of vegetation were selected from a single residential area. After observing use of the spaces, researchers concluded there were always more people in the greener spaces, as well as larger groups of people interacting with one another. By drawing residents into the spaces immediately outside their homes, vegetation could promote neighborly interactions, creating stronger community ties and a greater sense of stewardship. Trees may also help to deter crime if they help a neighborhood appear well maintained, since poorly maintained neighborhoods appear to be poorly defended.

Despite how promising all of this sounds in theory, further research has shown that urban forests may actually produce the opposite of the desired effect without careful planning and maintenance. There is still much that needs to be understood about the effects of trees in urban settings and the best ways to implement them.

Stay tuned for the second part of our urban forests and crime posts, coming on Monday, June 22!


Sources cited:

  1. Agnew, Robert. A General Strain Theory of Community Differences in Crime Rates. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. Vol. 36, 2. May 1999. P. 123-155.
  2. Donovan, Geoffrey and Jeffrey Prestemon. The Effect of Trees on Crime in Portland Oregon. Environment and Behavior. Vol 44, 1. P. 3-30.
  3. Gau, Jacinta, and Travis Pratt. “Broken Windows or Window Dressing? Citizens’ (In)Ability To Tell The Difference Between Disorder And Crime.” Criminology & Public Policy Vol 7.2. 2008. P. 163-94.
  4. Sullivan, William, et al. The Fruit of Urban Nature. Environment and Behavior. Vol 36, 5. September 2004. P. 678-700.

Forest Digest — Week of June 8, 2015

by Loose Leaf Team

It’s been a big week for forests both at home and abroad. Stay up-to-date with the latest Forest Digest!

  • Forests Win Big In Bonn Climate BreakthroughThe Huffington Post
    In an unexpected display of international cooperation, representatives at the UN climates talks in Bonn agreed on a drafted proposal of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), which will help to protect the world’s forests in an effort to combat climate change.
A spotted owl perched on a tree

The spotted owl has been the symbol for the decline of the forests of the northwest for decades. Despite concerted efforts to aid the species, the overall population has continued its decline according to the latest report. Photo credit: US Forest Service.

  • Bill would streamline review of thinning projects in national forestsRapid City Journal
    This year has seen a push from House Republicans for legislation that would make it easier to harvest timber and clear brush in projects called for by the U.S. Forest Service. Advocates state that these projects help to protect National Forests from disease and wildfire, although opponents worry about inadequate consideration for environmental effects.

Meet our new VP of conservation programs

by Christopher Horn

Jeff Lerner recently came to American Forests as our new vice president of conservation programs. We’re excited for the diverse experience he’s bringing to the position and the organization — and we think you should be excited too! From his favorite in-the-field story to why he works in conservation, read more about Jeff.

Jeff Lerner

  • Q: Why did you choose to go into conservation?

I was always interested in zoos growing up and I studied biology in college. But it was my experience working in the Greater Yellowstone Area shortly after college that pointed me toward a conservation path. I was there just a few years after the famous fires of 1988 and got to see so many burned trees, but also the regeneration that was starting to take place. Exploring the Greater Yellowstone area helped me see the importance of large landscape conservation and the need to protect or restore functional ecosystems. It brought me into contact with agencies and natural resources policy and how we plan our communities. I try to return to Yellowstone periodically as a reminder of why I do what I do and how ecosystems change over time.

  • Q: What aspects of American Forests’ work are you most excited to be a part of?

I’m very excited to be working on all of our programs because they align with my previous work. I’ve been involved with wildlife and wildland conservation for many years and look forward to digging deeper into the conservation of at-risk forest ecosystems. I’ve also worked on integrating conservation with land-use planning in urbanizing areas. Given our demographic shift in the U.S. toward urban areas, it is important for us to be working on urban forest conservation across metropolitan landscapes. Policy is why I came to Washington, D.C. many years ago and I have been fortunate to work on many different policy issues and funding programs over the years that benefit wildlands. I’m looking forward to the integration of policy with our other programs. I think I’m going to enjoy the mix of the big-picture thinking at landscape scales as well as getting specific forest restoration projects done on the ground. Few organizations would give me the opportunity to be involved in all of these program areas.

  • Q: What do you think are the most significant challenges facing forests today?

In 2010 each state put together a State Forest Action Plan which assessed the status of forests and developed strategies to address threats. The synthesis of the information from those plans identified key issues for forests in America. Three that I would highlight are invasive pests & diseases, climate change and fragmentation. Invasive species can change the composition of our forests, affecting their ecological and economic value. As the climate changes, we see changes in temperature and precipitation that can affect how forests function. In some cases, these changes lead to drier conditions and therefore larger and more intense wildfires, particularly in the western U.S. where fire is an important part of how forests work. Forests in the U.S. are also being fragmented, not only physically, but also in terms of ownership, which makes it harder to conserve larger blocks of functional forest. Together these challenges may sound depressing or insurmountable, but the good news is that to address many of them we have tools and strategies that are demonstrating how we can protect, restore and sustainably manage forests for the long term. What we really need to do is increase the pace and magnitude of this work to do more in more places. I believe American Forests can play an important role, working collaboratively with the many agencies and other partners that have emerged since American Forests began its work in 1875.

  • Q: Do you have a favorite story from your years in the field?
A black bear.

Jeff’s fondest memory from the field involved a close encounter with a startled black bear in Gallatin National Forest. Photo credit: Jitze Couperus/Flickr.

My first field experience out west was studying bald eagles in the Gallatin National Forest. I was perched above a lake at an observation site from which I could see two eagle nests. One day a black bear was seen along the shoreline of the lake trying to make off with a fisherman’s catch. There was a commotion and the fishermen chased the bear off. Unfortunately the bear went running up the hillside right toward me. In a flash the fast-moving bear ran right past me. A foot or so to the left and I might have been bowled over because I was sitting in some tall grass, dressed in black and hard to see. So maybe I can say that I was charged by a bear, but I think he/she was more scared than me.

  • What is your favorite tree and why?

It’s a fair question, but I don’t have a favorite tree. Growing up, sugar maples were abundant where I lived in New England. Then I got to live in lodgepole pine forests in the Rockies, which will always be special for me. I worked in an area in California where we had a lot of magnificent Jeffrey pines and today I spend more time in Appalachian and Mid-Atlantic forests. I won’t say I love all tree species equally well, but I’ve spent so much time trying to work on conservation across the U.S. that I have come to appreciate the many different habitats and types of forest ecosystems we have in each state. To me the forest is more important than the tree by itself and I’m curious about how compositions of trees and other vegetation support a diversity of wildlife species. Even aesthetically I find myself more drawn to landscape paintings than pictures of individual trees. We are fortunate to have so many kinds of forests that we value for their ecological function or their beauty. I’m also a birdwatcher and some of my favorite sightings of birds have been in trees, like the time we glimpsed a rarely seen elf owl emerge from a hole in a tree along the Rio Grande, but that’s as far as I go.


GR25: Replanting after the Hayman Fire

by Megan Higgs

As many in the western U.S. begin to brace themselves for the upcoming fire season, we are reminded of a gargantuan wildfire that recently had its 13-year anniversary.

The Hayman wildfire burns in the distance.

American Forests’ 10-year reforestation effort in the area damaged by the 2002 Hayman Fire has included planting 24,000 ponderosa pines in 2004, helping to restore some of Colorado’s most crucial habitat. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service.

On June 8, 2002, the human-caused Hayman Fire broke out 95 miles southwest of Denver. Allegedly ignited from a small, burning letter, and aided by a longstanding drought, the fire grew to unprecedented proportions, eventually engulfing four counties. In the wake of the devastation, approximately 133 homes were destroyed, more than 5,000 people were evacuated, and six lives. Incinerating more than 138,000 acres, the fire became the largest in Colorado history, inspiring the quote from then-governor Bill Owens, “it looks like all of Colorado is burning today.” The fire was contained on July 2, 2002, nearly a month after it began; it was finally controlled on July 18 of that year.

Beyond the devastating loss of life and the $42 million economic toll, the fire burned vast stands of aspen, spruce, Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine. This resulted in the destruction of an enormous amount of wildlife habitat, including the loss of winter roosting sites for approximately 20 to 40 local bald eagles. The fire consumed all but a few hundred of the 8,000 acres surrounding the Cheesman Reservoir, a primary watershed in the Denver area. In fact, nearly all of the trees burned in that area were killed as a direct result of the fire, and many stands were damaged beyond possible regeneration. As those who read this blog know, the loss of canopy cover directly affects many elements of water — including water quality, quantity, and storage capacity for the reservoir.

To begin addressing these negative impacts, American Forests partnered with several local organizations in 2004 to begin reforesting the area around the Cheesman Reservoir. In total, 24,000 ponderosa pines were planted around the reservoir, spearheading an initiative to maintain the integrity of Denver’s water supply. Noting that Rome wasn’t built in a day, we have continued reforesting after this catastrophic disaster for many years, including our projects in 2006, 2007 and 2009-2011.