September 10th, 2012 by

I am pleased to welcome Susan Laszewski to Loose Leaf. Susan became part of the American Forests family last month and is joining me as the co-editor of Loose Leaf. ~MW

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Credit: Jim Brekke/Flickr

American Forests celebrates our 137th birthday today.

When you’re young, birthdays are a time to throw parties and eat cake and ice cream, but as we get older, they become an opportunity for reflection. They’re a chance to look back through the years and take stock of what we’ve accomplished and what is still left to do. At 137, we have a lot to reflect on. For our birthday, join us on a walk down memory lane.

In 2012, it may be hard to imagine a time when there was no organized effort to protect and restore America’s forests, but that was the case until American Forests — then called the American Forestry Association — came on the scene in 1875. Today, we’re still the only conservation nonprofit dedicated to the protection of forest ecosystems.

It’s also hard to imagine a time when there were no designated national forests, but until as recently as 1911, the federal government wasn’t allowed to purchase land in the East to protect headwaters of rivers and watersheds. American Forests fought for the passage of the Weeks Act, which finally gave permission for just such action and led to the creation of many national forests in the East. Today, about 20 million of the nearly 200 million acres of national forests and grasslands are lands that were established under this act.

2010 National Christmas Tree

2010 National Christmas Tree. Credit: American Forests

It might feel strange to remember a time when the nation didn’t come together against the darkness of winter under the National Christmas Tree , but it was in 1923 that the first cut Christmas tree was lit by President Coolidge. One year later, American Forests provided the first living National Christmas Tree.

Equally difficult to imagine is a time when the largest living organisms on the planet — trees with 3,000 years’ worth of stories to tell — were seen as mere timber. That’s why, in 1940, we established the National Register of Big Trees to remind people of the majesty and value of big trees, old trees and other special trees.

Will our children one day have difficulty imagining a city street with no trees to shade us from heat and clean the air we breathe? Will they marvel at our stories of deforestation so widespread that it affected our climate on a global scale?  We hope so. That’s why we’re working hard to educate people about the benefits of urban forests and help cities improve and expand their forests. It’s why our Global ReLeaf program has planted more than 40 million trees since 1990.

There will always be new challenges that forests will need our help fighting. That’s why we’re looking forward to many birthdays to come. We’re not afraid of getting older because there’s still so much to do. Join us in our journey.