Jad Daley only recently joined the American Forests team, but he has already made a big splash. Considered a thought leader in the field, we are very excited for the future of our conservation programs with him at the helm. Read on to find out why we are so excited to have Jad with us — and why he cares so much about trees.
Why did you choose to go into conservation?
My passion for conservation was sparked by spending my childhood summers on an island in Maine. It was a perfect place to endlessly explore piney woods and rocky coastlines, as a largely undeveloped island with only boat access. As a young adult just out of college my lifelong interest in hiking became a passion, and I spent many hours on the Appalachian Trail. As I traveled the trail, I came to realize that the amazing experiences we all have in the forest are made possible by the hard work of people and organizations that have conserved, restored and carefully managed our forests over many decades. I decided at that point to pursue a career working on behalf of forests, and in fact worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club for much of my early career.
What aspects of American Forests’ work are you most excited to be a part of?
I have worked for most of my career on land protection—such as helping to purchase private forestland for addition to our national forests and national parks, and working with forest landowners to protect their land from development with a conservation easement. During that time I became fascinated with the work of forest restoration, actions like planting trees in damaged areas so that our national forests are healthy and can provide habitat, water, recreation, forest jobs, carbon sequestration, and much more. I find the work of American Forests incredibly hopeful, because we bring forests back to life in places like abandoned mine lands and areas burned over by fire that might otherwise provide little benefit for people or wildlife. There is something magical in that act of healing our native forest landscapes, and I love the fact that we do this work in partnership with local organizations that create much needed jobs in rural areas. But I am also equally excited about the work of American Forests in cities, where planting trees can literally save lives by shading our homes from heat waves. When you visit treeless neighborhoods in our cities, which are most often low-income areas, it really hits you how important it is for every person in America to have the calming, healing power of trees in our lives. I am extremely proud of our commitment to partner with community groups to plant trees in the most paved-over neighborhoods of cities like Detroit and Miami. We are very directly impacting many people’s lives in these places.
What do you think are the most significant challenges facing forests today?
I am concerned that the pace and constant electronic buzz of modern life are making it harder for people to remember that trees and forests really, really matter for our well-being, whether in our cities or our majestic landscapes. I confess in my own life I have at times caught myself getting sucked into the modern swirl of intriguing data and content, when what I really need is to go walk quietly in the woods and simply allow my senses to absorb a very different kind of information. Years ago Bill McKibben predicted our modern life with his book The Age of Missing Information. In the book he compared what he learned through a day in the forest and 24 hours of watching cable television (still somewhat new when the book was written). His observations from that experiment ring even truer today. If we all spent more time “forest bathing,” as the Japanese call it, we might rediscover some of the calm that seems elusive today. While this might seem a bit ethereal as our “most significant challenge,” personal and societal disconnection from our forests has major implications for tangible things like our political commitment to invest in forests. We will protect and invest in those things we value most, and right now we need a lot more investment in our forests — from urban tree planting to millions of acres of damaged forests waiting to be restored. If our nation is going to come together behind an unprecedented ReLeaf movement for trees and forests, that has to start with a strong personal connection.
Do you have a favorite story from your years in the field?
Years ago I helped to launch something called the Vermont Town Forest Project. Over half the towns in Vermont own a town forest that is managed by the community, a public forest that often serves as a vital hub for community activities and togetherness. We had the idea to bring together people across the state who were each working very hard to care for their own town forest, things like meeting up on a Saturday morning to remove invasive species and running programs for children to educate them about forests. After a few years of building the effort region by region across Vermont, we brought all of the partners together for a statewide Summit at a beautiful church that had used wood from the local town forest to restore the church. As the excitement grew through the day, with all of the passionate town forest leaders sharing ideas and stories, one of the other founders of the effort leaned over to me and said, “We have built a movement.” I am happy to report that the movement continues to this day, and has helped elevate the visibility and support for town forests all across the state.
What is your favorite tree and why?
That is like asking someone to name their favorite child. I love them all equally. But if I had to name one I would have to show my Vermont roots (no pun intended) and go with the sugar maple. From the sugar maple’s incredible fall colors to the timeless spring ritual of sugar making, I can’t imagine life without that tree!