Happy New Year!

by Ashlan Bonnell

Wishing you happiness, prosperity and

joy this new year!

From everyone at American Forests

Winter landscape

Credit: Chuck Fazio

8 Creative Ways to Recycle, or Reuse, Your Christmas Tree

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Marketing and Communications Intern

There’s so much more that can be done with your Christmas tree besides throwing it away! From festive decorations to functional garden helpers, here are a few tips on how to make the most of your Christmas tree this year.

1Living Bird Feeder
A whole Christmas tree makes an excellent bird feeder for your backyard. Stick the tree in the ground or leave it in its stand. A wide variety of birds will be attracted by suet, cranberry and popcorn strings, stale bread and dried, chopped fruit in mesh bags. If you grow sunflower seeds, simply hang the whole sunflower head on the tree. Your family will discover that chickadees, song sparrows, cardinals and a host of other birds come for the food and stay for the shelter.

Christmas tree bird feeder

Credit: Urban Sea Star via Flickr

2Home and Garden Decor
Cut off all the branches and use the trunk to edge a garden. The trunk can also be strategically placed in your garden as a resting spot for birds, squirrels and other little critters. You can also use the cut-off branches as decorations throughout your home.

Christmas tree decor

Credit: Poppet with a camera via Flickr

3Mold-Free Mulch
Since pine needles dry quickly and decompose slowly, you can use them as moisture- and mold-free mulch in your garden. Many communities throughout the country have tree-recycling programs, in which trees are collected from residents and then chopped up to be used as mulch for plants in community parks and gardens. You can find out about your local tree-recycling program by calling city hall.

Christmas tree mulch

Credit: Philip Bump via Flickr

4Relax by the Fire
The trunk can be sawed into logs and burned in your fireplace. Just make sure to not burn the branches, since they can send off sparks!


Credit: Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr

5Smell Like Christmas Year-Round
You can make a DIY air freshener by crushing up the pine needles and putting it into a bowl of potpourri or into sachets.

Pine needles

Credit: Meg Hourihan via Flickr

6Sippin’ on Tea
Another use for your pine needles is to make them into tea. It’s as easy as steeping pine needles in boiling water, and then straining it into cups to drink.


Credit: snap713 via Flickr

7Wooden Coasters
Use the stump of your tree to make wooden coasters! Saw your tree stump into 1/3- or ½-inch-thick disks.


Credit: Craftybridge

8Feed Your Garden
If you still have your Christmas tree out in the yard when warm weather appears, there’s still a use for it. Burn the branches, which contain soil-enriching nutrients and minerals, and spread ashes in your garden.


Credit: RediRock International via Flickr

Happy Holidays!

by American Forests

Wishing you warmth & good tidings for

the holidays, and throughout the year.

From everyone at American Forests

Happy Holidays

Photo Credit: Chuck Fazio

GR25: Planting Our First Global ReLeaf Tree in 1990

by Megan Higgs
Kirtlands warbler

Kirtland’s warbler

Welcome to the simultaneous finish line and starting line, Global ReLeaf enthusiasts! Indeed, this week’s journey — the final of a 25-year endeavor — takes us all the way back to our very first Global ReLeaf project. Before Global ReLeaf blossomed into the successful restoration effort it is today (50 million trees and counting!), our restoration work started with 23,000 tiny, humble trees to protect one small bird: the Kirtland’s Warbler.

The 1990s quiet planting in AuSable State Forest provided thousands of jack pine seedlings to ensure survival of the then-endangered bird. While small, Kirtland’s warblers are very particular when it comes to space and their habitat of choice. Indeed, the birds have very rigid habitat requirements for nesting: a breeding pair typically requires a whopping 6 to10 acres of nesting territory and prefer to nest in areas with more than 80 acres of jack pine coverage. In addition, this land is limited typically within the confines of the lower peninsula of Michigan. They are a bit ageist with their tree preferences, as well — the birds will only begin to nest in the jack pine stands when the trees reach 5 feet tall — about 5 to 8 years of age — and will only inhabit the trees until the jack pine reaches about 16 to20 years of age, when the lower limbs that the warblers like to call home begin dying off.

However, fire suppression, invasives and habitat loss wreaked havoc on this little bird. By 1951, the Kirtland’s warbler population was low enough that only 500 singing males were accounted for. These near-extinction numbers granted the bird a federal endangered listing in 1967, and left many perplexed on how to protect the warbler.

In fact, beyond habitat loss and fire suppression (as jack pines require fire to fully release their seeds), another force threatened the fragile warbler: the brown-headed cowbird. The cowbirds survived by following bison herds, evolving a strategy of nest parasitism in order to thrive along their wandering route. And, their target when the warbler was most vulnerable? Kirtland’s warbler chicks.  Cowbirds would lay their eggs in warbler nests, often removing the host’s eggs and causing the baby cowbirds’ new warbler foster parents to unknowingly use valuable resources and careful care to raise the bigger, more competitive cowbird chicks.

Luckily, the Kirtland’s warbler has become one of our favorite success stories, so this story does have a happy ending!

American Forests recognized the immense threats to the warblers and began teaming up with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service to plant our first young jack pine stand for future warbler habitat. This effort has now culminated into American Forests and our partners planting more than 1.7 million jack pine trees across 2,000 acres in a short 25 years. In addition, cowbird control measures have ensured the Kirtland’s warbler can continue to thrive in their new habitat. And, the numbers show that these efforts have worked: by 2011, the number of singing Kirtland’s warbler males had risen to 1,828 individuals, effectively helping the bird to avoid its near-extinction status.

The resurgence of the Kirtland’s warbler paints a picture of success after years of collaboration, careful problem-solving and action to restore a threatened bird — and ecosystem. The story of the Kirtland’s warbler is one that we often use as motivation at American Forests, as it showcases the incredible power that forests can have in reversing dangerous trends. There are more challenges to face in the coming 25 years: human population growth, habitat loss and climate change, to name a few. Global ReLeaf has tackled these challenges in the past, and American Forests will no doubt continue to address these issues in the next 25 years, as now — more than ever — forests will be crucial for all of us to protect and restore.

Forest Digest – Week of December 14, 2015

by American Forests

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

Forest and river

Credit: Chuck Fazio

New COP21 Climate Agreement Provides Progress, Values Role of Forests

by American Forests

By Etienne Laffargue, Policy Intern

Looking up at trees

Credit: Chuck Fazio

“This is truly a historic moment,” said ban-Ki-moon regarding last Saturday, when negotiators of 195 nations agreed to a deal aiming to keep average temperature increases “well below 2 degrees Celsius,” in an effort to avoid catastrophic consequences of climate change. The Secretary General of the United Nations applauded the deal for being the first of its kind concerning climate change, referring to it as “one of the most crucial problems on Earth.”

Agreement Provides Positive Progress

The results of 13 days of intense negotiations in the suburb of Paris are promising. The deal brokered seeks to dramatically reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, and, for the first time, both developing and developed nations are expected to cut emissions. The deal is a framework aimed at keeping average temperature rise “well below” the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, above which scientist predict strong and dangerous weather disturbances. It also expresses the ambition of restricting temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, past which we could witness the disappearance of low-lying islands.

The core of the deal is made of non-binding individual national pledges to reduce emissions. It was the United States that pushed for non-binding rather than binding targets. This approach may seem counter intuitive, but previous agreements largely failed due to their restrictive nature. As political scientist David Victor, from University of California – San Diego, points out, the newfound flexibility is exactly what is needed to build an increasing impactful agreement. This voluntary basis reflects a bottom-up approach where each nation can decide the rate of its cuts in emissions. What is legally binding is that countries must ratchet up their targets every five years and are subject to a transparency mechanism called “monitoring, reporting and verification.” That means, they must submit reports on emissions and emission cuts using a universal accounting system to be reviewed by expert panels. This is extremely positive because it provides a much needed framework for the civil society and the international community to pressure for stronger emission cuts regularly.

While current pledges will only keep temperature rise below 2.7-3.5 degrees Celsius, it is encouraging to see that so many countries have agreed to make pledges, to have their progress monitored and to make stronger pledges regularly. In striking this agreement, governments have made clear their intention to mitigate climate change and have taken the important first step of cooperation, which can only gather momentum as trust continues to be built between parties.

Forests’ Role in Combating Climate Change

The agreement indicates the role forests play in climate mitigation. It encourages parties to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, recognizes the role of conservation and sustainable management of forests and suggests using result-based payments for forest protection. Though the text on forests is succinct, American Forests will keep pushing for smart policy that protects forests and will continue implementing reforestation programs throughout the world so our trees remain valuable carbon sinks.

It is up to all of us to face the climate challenge with determination. This deal established a basis for the work to come, and now, our country must do its part to keep climate change to a minimum. We, at American Forests, are optimistic about the opportunities offered by this deal and hope that you will join us in our steady effort to raise awareness about the importance of forests in climate change mitigation.

GR25: Planting along the Anacostia in 1991

by Megan Higgs
Sunset over the Anacostia River

Sunset over the Anacostia River. Credit: Joseph Gruber via Flickr.

Welcome back, ReLeaf enthusiasts! While it’s been a long road and we’re entering the home stretch, this week’s journey certainly isn’t too far from home for us here at American Forests. In fact, we’re venturing just across D.C. borders to replant with our northern neighbor, Maryland, at the Anacostia River Park!

During this 1991 venture, we partnered with the Prince George’s Departments of Environmental Resources and Public Works, Maryland Forest Park and Wildlife Services, Maryland National Capital Parks and more to plant more than 760 trees within 1,000 feet of the tidal waters of the Anacostia River, which flows from Prince George’s County, through D.C. and into the Potomac River. If there was any river that needed the help, the Anacostia is a worthy contender. Undoubtedly, the Anacostia is both ecologically and historically valuable: John Smith once recorded in his journal that he sailed up the “Eastern Branch” of the river in 1608 while searching for the Potomac, lending it to be called the “Eastern Branch of the Potomac River” in primitive U.S. maps.

In addition to the historical significance of the river’s ties with John Smith and the native Anacostan tribe, the waterway provides crucial habitat source for dozens of species — including Great Egret, Eastern Red-backed Salamander, White perch, Blackburnian warbler, Greater yellowlegs and more.

Despite the waterway’s heritage and refuge for wildlife, rampant pollution and deforestation of areas flanking the river have given it an undesirable name in the last several hundred years — D.C.’s “Forgotten River.” Raw sewage from antiquated sewer systems has spewed billions of gallons of pollution into the river. Coupled with deforestation — approximately 70 percent of the original forest coverage around the river has been removed — and we have a massive problem on our hands.

However, efforts have been made to help clean the river in the last two decades or so — and American Forests is proud to have been part of that effort. By planting more than 760 trees directly by the river, we helped provide additional wildlife habitat and provided an area of buffer for the river, as trees are excellent pollution interceptors and natural filters. In addition, pump station rehabilitation, stormwater management and the Bandalong Litter Trap have all been implemented since our planting to further remove floatable litter, urban runoff, sewage and other contaminants from the river.

Undoubtedly, there’s still work to be done to help the Anacostia. That’s why now — 24 years and nearly 1,000 restoration projects later — we’re still replanting in our own backyard with Anacostia watershed tributaries. In fact, we partnered with the Anacostia Watershed Society and Alcoa Foundation just this year to plant 110 trees along Wells Run, a tributary of the Anacostia. Such efforts will further reduce stormwater volume and contaminant levels, helping to return the Anacostia to more habitable, swimmable and cleaner conditions.

Forest Digest – Week of December 7, 2015

by American Forests

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

COP21: Where Forests Fit in at the Paris Climate Talks

by American Forests

By Andrew Bell, Policy Intern

Eiffel TowerBefore the sun even had its chance to rise on Monday morning, November 30, 2015, speculative chatter of what was to come at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the U.N. climate convention (COP 21) had escalated to a roar. Reports of the Bill Gates-spearheaded billionaire climate club surfaced and breathed new life into negotiations on the gathering’s eve. For some, this was still overshadowed by Congress’ explicit refusal to provide federal funding for whatever the White House pledged in Paris. All the while, resolutions are working their way through the congressional chambers to block landmark achievements of President Obama’s climate agenda, including the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule.

Countries all over the world are facing challenges of their own, both at home and directly at the negotiating table. But, amidst all of the hype and controversy surrounding these monumental talks, forests have largely managed to fly under-the-radar. Given their crucial capacity to store greenhouse gas emissions (currently storing 25 percent of the world’s annual emissions), it may come as a surprise that forest conservation isn’t front and center in this global push for reform. So far, however, this has proved to be fruitful. While lens and pen are concerned with tepid handshakes, tangible progress is being made on the sidelines.

This year happens to mark the 10th anniversary of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), a program designed to help curb GHG emissions through proper forest management introduced at the conference’s 11th meeting in 2005. Unfortunately, its mechanics have been debated significantly since then, and substantial funding has been elusive. In this sense, it’s fitting that the 21st conference kicked off on November 30th with a boost to the program. Norway announced the renewal of its funding partnership with Brazil through 2020 — a country boasting the second largest acreage of forest in the world and a 70 percent reduction in deforestation over the last decade. Joining Norway, the United Kingdom and Germany pledged a collective 5 billion dollars to tropical forests over the next five years. Seventeen countries joined the same day to announce their forest conservation pledges and to discuss just how imperative the world’s forests are to the future of carbon sequestration.

Island Nations

President Obama took the opportunity to proclaim himself an “island boy,” referencing his home state of Hawaii, and voice strong support for building climate resiliency in island nations. When considering rising sea levels and amplified impacts from worsening natural disasters, climate change stands to threaten islands’ already vulnerable forested ecosystems. With their rich biodiversity, economy and livelihood at stake, island nations are looking for leadership in protecting these critical ecosystems for the long haul. In this regard, President Obama got the ball rolling in the right direction with a confident push.

Developing Countries

Given the fevered frenzy of the summit’s opening, these developments made for an admirable step forward. But, in these two weeks of unparalleled momentum, there’s still much to be done to secure the place of forests in a globally sustainable future. Some of the world’s largest and most valuable expanses of forest exist within countries with the highest rates of deforestation. These developing countries often lack the resources to combat illegal timber trade or fund restoration projects, and their forests have suffered in consequence. Through REDD+, and similar mechanisms, the world’s leaders in climate change mitigation can make this tragedy a priority.

What next?

With President Obama’s return, American Forests and the Forest Climate Working Group (FCWG) are ready to present a state toolkit for fully taking advantage of the climate change mitigating benefits that the United States’ domestic forests have to offer. The FCWG’s proposal encourages conservation partnership between public and private entities, working together to ensure American forests’ carbon sequestering capabilities are fully realized. With our forests offsetting 13% of U.S. carbon emissions, more needs to be done in protecting and restoring this valuable resource. In this manner, the United States can lead by action in ensuring our forests are functioning at their fullest potential.

Parcelization, net deforestation and negligence have put forests’ future around the world in jeopardy. But, this weakness can become an overwhelming strength and serve as one of the most effective tools that the earth has to offer in combatting catastrophic climate change. For this reason and innumerable more reasons, we can expect to see forests playing a larger role in climate policy negotiations in COP 21 and beyond.


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.