Wildfires Extend Beyond the Wild in Bastrop, Tex.

by American Forests

By Amelia Loeb, Communications Intern

Bastrop Complex Fire

Taken Sept. 5, 2011 in Bastrop, TX of the Bastrop Complex Fire. Credit: Michael Rose via Flickr.

Wildfires scorch more than just wild vegetation. They extend beyond the forest, where one might go hiking over the weekend, and impact the lives of thousands of people. Climate change and severe weather patterns create conditions favorable for wildfires of increased severity. These fires spread more easily and burn at a higher temperature, with a net result of increased damage to property and ecosystems. Often, they are so hot that they destroy the seed sources, squelching any chance at natural regeneration for the forest. Though wildfires can be beneficial to forests by clearing areas for regrowth and increasing sunlight, wildfires in conditions of high heat, high winds and high drought, are not.

For thousands of years, this cycle of forest fires has been happening naturally to help cleanse forests, with lightning serving as the natural catalyst for the cleanse, says Matt Mears, Reforestation Manager at TreeFolks, an urban forest conservation group based in Austin.

“It’s kind of a complicated issue because fire in this part of the world, is a natural thing, that happens on sort of a regular basis in these kind of systems,” says Mears. “It’s the same in the rest of the Eastern Loblolly pine forest.  They evolved with really frequent fires.”

However, since 1970, annual temperatures in the Western part of the U.S. have risen 1.9°F on average, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Though this may not seem like a large difference to Texas’ arid climate, high temperatures cause forests to become dry and easier to ignite by an errant spark.

This has been the case with the recent wildfires consuming Bastrop, Texas.

“While fire is a natural thing in ecology, when it happens on that scale, it’s just really devastating,” says Mears.

However, increased annual temperatures also cause snow to melt earlier, so that the hottest part of the year coincides with the driest. The dead organic matter accumulates and becomes a huge source of fuel for wildfires, and wildfires are able to spread quicker and burn longer. In comparing 1970 to today, the U.S. Forest Service reports that wildfire seasons are 78 days longer.

Climate change is turning wildfires from a natural cleanse to a dangerous natural disaster.

Bastrop, Texas has experienced two wildfires of this variety in the last five years. In September 2011, a downed power line sparked a wildfire that burned across 34,000 acres, taking the lives of two people and reducing more than 1,600 homes and businesses to ash. The fire burned for 24 days and came to be known as the Bastrop Complex Fire. This past October, a fire known as the Hidden Pines Fire burned 4,582 acres of land and destroyed 64 homes.

After the Bastrop Complex Fire in 2011, American Forests restored 350 acres of the private land that was damaged by planting 54,000 trees. Working with TreeFolks and Alcoa Foundation, loblolly pines were planted to help the Lost Pines ecosystem. A special coating on the needles of loblolly pines allows them to survive the dry climate of central Texas. Their presence creates a habitat for the endangered animals, like the Houston toad, the red-cockaded woodpecker and bachman’s warbler,while protecting the ecosystem.

A Texas National Guard Black Hawk helicopter heads back to battle the blaze after it refills its Bambi Bucket.

A Texas National Guard Black Hawk helicopter heads back to battle the blaze after it refills its Bambi Bucket. Bastrop, Texas, Sept. 6, 2011. Credit: DVIDSHUB via Flickr

One year after this 2011 fire, American Forests helped TreeFolks distribute 10,000 seedlings to landowners affected by the wildfires. Mears emphatically speaks to the importance of helping landowners.

“We try to accelerate the natural process of regeneration,” says Mears. “It’s important for land owners and helps with their healing process. Many of the people we work with lost everything. It’s really special to bring out a hundred volunteers to help land owners plant trees on their property.”

More than 11,360 acres in the burn scar were owned privately and most were moderately to severely burned, meaning that loblolly pine regeneration would not occur naturally. Without a root system, like that of loblolly pines, holding down soil, land is more vulnerable to future damage like erosion and soil loss.

A few months before the Hidden Pines Fire this year, American Forests and TreeFolks collaborated again to plant 2,000 loblolly pines to protect private lands. Alcoa Foundation funded five volunteer events and the planting of thousands of native trees by AmeriCorps members. Though it is unfortunate that much of the land that was replanted was burned again, American Forests and TreeFolks are still committed to reforesting high risk areas.

Studies have shown that reforesting helps to revive land after a forest fire as well as to help the environment. According to the U.S. Forest Service, “prompt reforestation is desirable to prevent soil erosion and protect water quality in streams and lakes.” In comparing wildfires in other parts of the world to those in grassland regions in Africa and Australia, grassland wildfires don’t add a substantial amount of CO2 to the environment. NASA attributes this find to the quick regrowth of vegetation which negates the input of carbon into the atmosphere from the fire.

In Bastrop, the work that American Forests, Alcoa Foundation and Treefolks have done has “allowed reforestation in areas where it might not have been possible. The area may have become established by oaks and other species, or not at all,” says Mears.

Wildfires are becoming more severe due to climate change and the associated erratic weather patterns. The U.S. Forest Service already reported that they spend more than half of their total budget on quenching wildfires. This is 16 percent higher spending than 20 years ago. In addition, urbanized sprawl puts communities at risk due to the close proximity to fuel for the fire.

Forest fires pose a higher risk to the peace between humans and the environment, now more than ever before.  Luckily, there are many ways to mitigate the risks, such as managing land in high risk areas, reducing human-induced sparks and prompt reforestation after a severe wildfire. American Forests, Alcoa Foundation and TreeFolks are working to heal ecosystems after these devastating ecological events.

Forest Digest – Week of November 30, 2015

by American Forests

Tropical ForestFind out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest!

  • Forests in spotlight at Paris climate talks — Nature. com
    With the climate talks taking place in Paris this week and next, forests are a particularly hot topic, both in terms of their importance to fighting climate change as well as the growing difficulty of protecting and expanding forests.
  • Forests Can Only Fight Climate Change if We Become Better Stewards The Tyee
    Because of forests’ important role in combatting climate change, this article provides a Canadian perspective on the essential role humans play in helping to better protect the forests of the world.
  • Growing forests, growing minds Wisconsin Dells Events
    A program in Wisconsin, known as the LEAF program, provides “school forests” to help children learn about the environment and conservation.
  • Biodiversity enhances carbon storage of tropical forests — Phys.org
    Recent research reveals that the level of biodiversity in tropical forests, which harbor 96 percent of tree species, plays a critical role in tropical forests’ ability to store larger amounts of carbon — as they currently store 25 percent of global carbon.

5 Tips for the Perfect Christmas Tree

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Marketing and Communications Intern

Christmas Tree Tips

Here are some quick and easy tips to make sure you pick the best tree and keep it fresh all holiday season long!

  1. Trust your source
    When picking the perfect Christmas tree, make sure you go somewhere that you trust that provides top-quality trees. This year, American Forests is partnering with Whole Foods Market®, which sells only premium-quality trees, and, in addition, for each tree sold, they plant an evergreen tree with American Forests in a wildland forest in the U.S.
  2. Keep your eyes open
    Before choosing your tree, check the ground around the base of the trees to make sure there aren’t too many pine needles collected on the ground as this is the sign of a less-than-fresh Christmas tree.
  3. Feel it out
    Look for trees with sturdy branches for hanging your ornaments. Another way to check the freshness of a tree is to run your hand along the branches of a tree — if no needles fall off, then you’ve got a good one.
  4. Do you have a type?
    If you have kids (or rowdy pets!) and want to avoid trees with spiny needles, look for a flexible-needled white pine. If you have allergies, a Leyland cypress should do.
  5. Before you decorate
    Once you choose your perfect tree, keeping it watered is important! Just as you would keep the water in your flower vases fresh and filled, do the same for your Christmas tree. A freshly-cut tree can consume an entire gallon of water in just 24 hours!

Lastly, you should feel good about your Christmas tree purchase! Learn more about our partnership with Whole Foods Market, here.

You can also donate directly to American Forests to help plant even more trees! Trees also make the perfect gift for that someone special in your life who cares about protecting our environment. Give your loved ones the Gift of Trees this holiday season!

GR25: Restoring Tropical Forests in Hawaii in 1992

by Megan Higgs

ʻApapane is a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper, that is endemic to Hawaii. Credit: Caleb Slemmons via Flickr.

Lush tropical forests, brightly colored birds and pristine beaches: here in our D.C.-based office, these are all images that certainly evoke envy on a cold, misty December day. They also represent the next site of our 25-year Global ReLeaf journey: Hawaii, the incredibly biodiverse archipelago that comprises our 50th state.

But, with how naturally beautiful Hawaii is, why is there a need to plant more trees?

By essentially being formed as an incredibly isolated entity — an archipelago surrounded by ocean, and created by volcanic hot spots — Hawaii became one of the most uniquely biodiverse regions on the planet, with thousands of unique plant and animal species calling the islands home. In addition, the majority of these species — up to 90 percent — are only found in Hawaii.

Unfortunately, rampant land clearing, agriculture, urbanization and invasive threats have cleared up to 2/3 of the original dry and wet forests and have given Hawaii another nickname — the “extinction capital of the world.”  In fact, nearly 75 percent of all extinctions in the country have occurred in Hawaii, and the islands are still in trouble. While the islands comprise a mere 0.2 percent of the land mass within the entire U.S., they contain more than 30 percent of the nation’s federally listed endangered species due to habitat loss and competition from invasive insects, weeds, diseases, farm animals and more.  Colorful and exotic characters, including the Hawaiian crow, the Hawaiian monk seal, crested honeycreepers and O’ahu tree snails, all continue to suffer from habitat loss and degradation.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat this rampant loss. Biocontrol measures have successfully targeted invasive species removal. Ecotourism on the islands has brought attention and education to many about the importance of conserving this vital resource.  And, of course, forest restoration can be a crucial puzzle piece.

Way back in 1992, we ventured into completing our first landmark project in the islands by planting 32,300 native Acacia koa hardwood trees to provide habitat for several species of native Hawaiian birds, from the crimson ‘Apapane to the pudgy yellow ‘Akiapōlā‘au. This initiative, which marked the first of five years there, worked to restore habitat for these and other native species in Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge. Furthermore, they worked to combat another threat to Hawaii’s many native species: Koa helps create an overstory, which can allow native plants to recapture the site from non-native vegetative competition.

In addition, for those keeping up with American Forests trivia, we actually planted our 1 millionth tree within this project (have you heard about our 50 millionth?)!  As such, this project marked the beginning of a fantastic initiative showing that more work still did — and continues to — need to be done, and we will make sure to continue to do it!

Forest Digest – Week of November 23, 2015

by American Forests
pine cones

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Find out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest!

10 Reasons to Be Thankful for Forests

by Ashlan Bonnell

As we take time during the holiday season to focus on the things we are most thankful for, we think it’s important to take a moment to consider just a few of the many reasons we should be thankful for forests and the benefits they provide us.

1. Forests provide clean water.
Approximately 180 million people depend on forests for water.

More than 1/2 of U.S. drinking water originates in forests.

2. Forests clean our air.
Trees help reduce pollutants by taking them up from soils and water through their roots.

One mature tree absorbs CO2 at the rate of 48 pounds per year.

3. Forests help the wildlife we love thrive.
Forests are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. In the U.S. alone, forests house 9,195 vascular plants and 1,165 vertebrate species.

More than 5 million terrestrial species depend on forests for their survival.

4. Forests in our cities help keep us safe.
Urban forests have been linked to lower crime rates, a greater sense of public safety, and increased community involvement by residents.

Areas with trees experience lower crime rates.

5. Forests help keep us healthy.
Research shows that nature can improve both mental and physical health as well as reduce recovery time.

Trees save more than 850 human lives a year and prevent 670,000 incidences of acute respiratory symptoms.

6. Forests provide economic benefits.
Urban trees in the continental U.S. store 770 million tons of carbon, valued at $14.3 billion. Plus, trees can increase home property value by 10-20 percent.

Financial benefits of 100 properly placed trees over 40 years worth $225,000.

7. Forests help us combat climate change.
Currently, plants absorb and store about 15 percent of the United States’ total carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation and energy sectors.

Forests are the largest forms of carbon storage, or sinks, in the United States.

8. Forests allow us to use less energy.
100 million mature trees growing around residences in the U.S. can save about $2 billion annually in energy costs.

Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce AC costs by 30%

9. Forests provide fun AND jobs.
Today there are 155 national forests in 42 states, plus one in Puerto Rico, comprising almost 190 million acres — 8.5 percent of the nation’s total land area. These forests help sustain the $646 billion a year recreation industry.

Recreation provides 6.1 million jobs to Americans.

10. Forests help us relax.
Forests help us connect with nature. Plus, urban forests can help reduce noise pollution, allowing us to relax and focus better.

For every 30 meters of trees, noise is reduced by up to 50 percent.

For original sources, as well as more interesting facts, visit our Forest Facts page.

American Forests and Alcoa Foundation: Year Five of a Globally-Driven Collaboration

by American Forests

By Andrew Bell, Policy Intern

One of our projects in Brazil with partners Alcoa Foundation and Associação Empresarial de Tubarão.

One of our projects in Brazil with partners Alcoa Foundation and Associação Empresarial de Tubarão.

In the final installment of this five-part glance at the Partnership for Trees, we’ll briefly look at a handful of 2015’s ongoing projects sponsored by this storied collaboration. But, perhaps most importantly, there is a distinction to be made; this may be the last piece of our celebratory storytelling, but it’s far from the last story that will be told. The plantings and restoration programs going on at this very moment don’t signify the very end of the partnership, but rather the promise of a companionship in conservation that has more to achieve.

In the states, the Partnership for Trees is teaming up with Anacostia Watershed Society this year to implement a portion of their Wells Run Stream Buffer Enhancement Project. By replacing invasive species in the area with 110 trees, the project is increasing storm water retention and curbing water pollution in Wells Run. All the while, 210 volunteers from nearby University Park Elementary School will be provided with a relevant and close-to-home outdoor education experience.

Meanwhile, Brazil is providing one of the greatest examples that American Forests and Alcoa Foundation aren’t the only ones having a monumental year. Nearly 30,000 trees are to be planted across 54 acres of land thanks to four separate projects across the country. Themes of promoting agroforestry, restoring ecological corridors, re-establishing nearly extinct species and improving watershed health span these four projects, all while engaging communities who are dependent on thriving forests for sustaining their quality of life.

After five years, we can throw around some breathtaking numbers: more than a million new trees planted, 4,100 acres of land revitalized and nearly 100 projects supported. But, for American Forests and Alcoa Foundation, there is still work to be done, both in alliance as well as individually, both in the U.S. and around the world. There are wildlands to be restored, urban forest canopies to see flourish and a global community to engage in caring for both. It’s an endeavor that can never truly be “finished,” and that fact is understandably daunting to some. But, like the forests we fight to conserve, there’s beauty to be found in our calling’s cyclical nature.

For all of the trees we plant, we aim to inspire as many burgeoning and curious minds. For every acre cured, we equip the communities who live on them with the knowledge and guidance to ensure their care. Forest by forest, state by state, country by country, we provide the flint for the burning passion of tomorrow’s stewards. So, when the day comes to lay down our shovels, the passing of the proverbial torch will not be with one flame from one hand to another. Rather, it will be the raising of many — spanning oceans and borders alike — all ready to carry on the ultimate deed for our planet.

Forest Digest – Week of November 16, 2015

by American Forests
Bosco Verticale building in Milan

Bosco Verticale building in Milan. Credit: Alessandro Bonvini via Flickr.

Find out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest!

Holiday Gifts That Give Back

by Ashlan Bonnell
Wrapped Gift

Credit: Pete via Flickr

Around this time of the year, we start frequently hearing the phrase “it’s better to give than to receive.” It’s certainly true, but what if this holiday season, you could give in two ways with just one gift? One great way to do this is to give the gift of trees to your loved ones. The trees you plant in your friends’, or loved ones’, names will provide so many benefits to not only our environment, but all of us that enjoy it as well!

But, maybe you prefer the thrill of watching someone tear open a more tangible wrapped gift? At American Forests, we are privileged to work with a number of corporate partners whose generous donations help make much of the work we do possible. So, we’ve created a list of gift ideas that can help you spread twice the cheer this holiday season by giving to your friends and family and to a good cause!

Preparing for the Holiday Season

As you prepare for the holiday season, here are a couple environmentally conscious options!

eCO2 GreetingsPlanning on sending a holiday card from your business this year? Consider opting for a more eco-friendly route and send an ecard! Not only are you using less paper, but for every ecard ordered from eCO2 Greetings, they will plant 10 trees with us! So far, they have offset more than 76,000 tons of carbon through trees planted. You could add even more to that!

Tiny PrintsFor personal holiday cards to friends and family, we’ve got you covered, too! Tiny Prints offers all kinds of creative holiday card options, from photo cards all the way to ornament cards! But, on top of providing custom cards, Tiny Prints has partnered with us to plant trees to offset their paper usage!

Whole Foods Market®If you’re opting for a live Christmas tree to decorate your home with holiday cheer, head over to your local Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods Market has a great selection of Christmas trees in a range of sizes, but they have also partnered with us to plant a tree for each one they sell!

Green Gift Ideas

Here are some great gift ideas for those you care about the most!

S’well BottleWhether for the avid hiker, the fitness fanatic or anyone who drinks liquids (so, pretty much everyone you know!), a S’well bottle is a perfect gift option. Not only are these double-walled stainless steel bottles handy and efficient, their Wood collection is gorgeous in its elegant mimicking of natural wood grain! Plus, S’well partners with us to plant trees in threatened forest ecosystems across the country.

UncommonGoodsFor a one-of-a-kind, unique gift, take a look at the range of gift ideas from UncommonGoods. From home décor and kitchen items, to beautiful jewelry and accessories, to handmade items, UncommonGoods has the perfect gift for anyone (or everyone) on your list this year. And, with their Better to Give campaign, you can select American Forests as your charity of choice and plant a tree for your purchase!

OriginsFor the lover of natural (and amazing!) beauty products, look no further than Origins’ 2015 ornament, stuffed with samples of some of Origins’ most popular skincare products! For every ornament sold this holiday season, Origins has partnered with us to plant a tree!

Woodchuck, USAAmazing wood journals, stylish (yet, rugged…in the best kind of way!) tablet and phone covers or a range of accessories, Woodchuck, USA’s gifts will help put nature back into everyday life! Through their Buy One, Plant One campaign, they will plant a tree with us for every product sold. Plus, you’ll get a certificate with the location of the tree your purchase planted.

RevealThese days, so many people get a new tech item during the holidays. Why not compliment it with a new case! Reveal offers all kinds of phone and tablet cases made from eco-friendly materials. And, with their Project Replant campaign, Reveal will plant a tree with us for each Nature Tech Collection product sold!

WeWoodTake a new twist on a tradition holiday gift. Watches have been a go-to gift for years. So, why not spice up an old favorite with a WeWood wooden watch. WeWood offers both men’s and women’s watches, and, as part of their You Buy a Watch, We Plant a Tree campaign, they’ll plant a tree for each watch sold!

Eddie BauerFor the adventure-seeker in your life, Eddie Bauer has some of the finest, and most stylish, outdoor apparel and gear! Plus, when you make a purchase at Eddie Bauer, you have the option to donate to American Forests to plant trees in threatened forest ecosystems.

GR25: Reforesting Former Strip Mines in 1993

by Megan Higgs
Stark comparison between strip-mined land and untouched land in background.

Stark comparison between strip-mined land and untouched land in background. Credit: Boyd Norton via wikimedia commons.

As our journey continues in 1993, we venture into reforesting the aftermath of a practice that had been going on for much longer than 22 years — and a venture that is still equally important today, as evidenced by both past and present Global ReLeaf work.

This undertaking involves none other than the reclamation and reforestation of land affected by strip mining. Strip mining, which involves the removal of a long strip of overlying rock and soil, is most commonly used to mine coal in the United States, as it is less labor-intensive and generally reaps more coal than underground mining. Having first gained traction in the mid-sixteenth century, strip mining — which includes open-pit and mountaintop removal mining — is the most predominant form of mining coal in Appalachia and the Midwest.

However, the consequences of such mining practices can be devastating without proper environmental remediation. Strip mining can leave a permanent scar on landscapes, destroying forests and wildlife habitats at the site of the mines. Soil erosion and loss of soil fertility can result. In addition, increased risks of chemical contamination through the seepage of upturned minerals, polluted waterways, flooding and dust and noise pollution are all common risks.

This disturbance occurs on a fairly vast scale throughout the U.S. as well — between 1930 and 2000, coal mining altered approximately 5.9 million acres of natural landscape, much of it formerly forest. After mining, it can often be difficult for the land to support a landscape as complex and biodiverse as a forest, as the remaining soil is often extremely damaged and fragile.

With all that said, if there is one thing American Forests strives to do, it’s to restore and protect our nation’s forests. So, in 1993, we completed our first mining reclamation and reforestation project in Coshocton County, Ohio by planting 50,000 mixed hardwoods in an area that had been strip mined from 1963-1987. While some grasslands had developed in the six years prior to our planting, the land would have taken many years to begin to sprout any forested areas. As such, we jumpstarted this recovery with the help of local Boy Scouts, among others, to return this area to its former glory.

Our work has not stopped there, however. Just last year, in 2014, we undertook a similar endeavor in West Virginia, where we planted 55,000 trees in an area formerly used for mining to the benefit of dozens of wildlife, including the West Virginia northern flying squirrel, the ruffled grouse and the Cheat Mountain salamander. However, we, as humans, are never far behind with these benefits — this area serves as the headwaters for clean drinking water to millions in the Ohio River Valley and Washington, D.C. area, and these 55,000 trees are serving to prevent erosion and control sediment in our drinking water for years to come.