GR25: Planting for the Gopher Tortoise in 1994

by Megan Higgs
Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise. Credit: USFWS.

We’re nearing the finish line, Global ReLeaf enthusiasts! If there’s one story that conjures images of finish lines, it would be none other than the illustrious tale of the tortoise and the hare — a tale that reminds each of us of the virtues of patience. After all, slow and steady wins the race!

But, what about the race to save the tortoise itself?

American Forests has a longstanding history of protecting and restoring the longleaf pine and the gopher tortoise. This small terrestrial turtle is known as a keystone species throughout its native longleaf range, which extends across the southeast United States — from southern Virginia all the way to Louisiana. Within its longleaf habitat, gopher tortoises are known for their extraordinary digging capacity — they often dig burrows for protection from fire, weather and predators and can dig burrows up to 48 feet in length and nearly 10 feet deep. Furthermore, tortoises are great at sharing; other species often utilize these burrows for shelter, resulting in quite a few neighbors for the small tortoise! In fact, over 360 species utilize these tortoise-dug burrows for protection, including gopher frogs, burrowing owls and the eastern indigo snake.

Longleaf forests have faced threats of their own, and the subsequent loss of habitat has been devastating for the gopher tortoise. Before European settlement, longleaf pine forest dominated nearly 90 million acres across the south. However, clear cutting and other such practices have nearly decimated the longleaf pine ecosystem — currently longleaf pine has been relegated to less than 5 percent of its prior native range.

All hope is not lost, however. Beginning with one of our pioneer longleaf projects, American Forests planted more than 22,000 longleaf pine seedlings in Mississippi in 1994 to restore habitat for this vulnerable turtle and other species. Since this initial endeavor, more than 7 million longleaf pine trees have been planted in our 25-year Global ReLeaf history. We are proud to note that these restoration activities are continuing today — including more than 100,000 longleaf pine being planted in Florida in 2015.

Celebrating 140 Years of Urban & Wildland Forest Protection & Restoration: Chief Tom Tidwell Speech

by American Forests

On Monday, October 26, 2015, American Forests hosted a ceremonial tree planting at the East Capitol Urban Farm in honor of its 140th anniversary and to recognize the signing of a new MOU with the U.S. Forest Service. During the ceremony, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell gave the following remarks:

Chief Tom Tidwell

Chief Tom Tidwell giving his speech. Credit: American Forests.

“Good afternoon! It’s a pleasure to be here. My thanks to our partners in the East Capitol Urban Farm and to American Forests for hosting this event. The Forest Service is honored to be part of the East Capitol Urban Farm through our participation in the Urban Waters Federal Partnership.

In honor of the longstanding partnership between the Forest Service and American Forests, we are here this afternoon to plant a tree. We are also here to sign a memorandum of understanding to help us map out the future of our partnership.

Thank you, Scott, for your thoughtful remarks about how we have worked together over so many decades to protect and restore America’s forests for the benefit of present and future generations.

I was struck by the theme of your remarks: that it’s not either/or — it’s both. It’s not either progress or nature … not either jobs or the environment … not either gray infrastructure or green. These are false dichotomies.

In the remainder of my remarks, I will take up the same theme with respect to partnerships and collaboration. This is part of what we are here to celebrate today.

As you know, our nation was founded on the principles of individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those principles are enshrined in our constitution, our laws, and our culture. You will find them in the writings of great conservationist visionaries like Gifford Pinchot … like President Theodore Roosevelt.

Before conservation was born, however, industrial interests insisted that government had no place in protecting our nation’s natural heritage … in conserving the great forests of our nation. In 1907, a leader in Congress, Joe Cannon of Illinois, put it this way: “Not one damn cent for scenery!”

That set the stage for a false dichotomy that has dogged us to this day. The dichotomy is that it’s either government or the private sector … either a command model or the profit motive … either top-down or bottom-up management … when, in fact, we need multiple partners and perspectives to ensure the future of our forests.

We here today can attest to that. The United States is a model of mixed forest ownership that is relatively rare around the world. We have vast areas of privately owned forests, mostly family-owned. But we also have tribal forests. And we have state forests … county parks and greenways … urban and community forests … and, of course, federal forests, including the national forests. And we all work together across these mixed landscapes through partnerships and collaboration.

The East Capitol Urban Farm is a good example. Some partners come from the private sector, like American Forests. Others come from research and academia, like the University of the District of Columbia. Still others come from community groups and from the public sector, like the Forest Service.

And, as Scott explained, the Forest Service and American Forests have a long history of working together. For more than 110 years, our two organizations have worked together replanting after fires, restoring wildlife habitat, and protecting threatened forest types such as whitebark pine and longleaf pine. In just the last 25 years, we have planted more than 20 million trees. We have restored more than 85,000 acres in our national forests. That’s 133 square miles!

Urban trees are the hardest working trees because they serve so many people and purposes. After all, more than 80 percent of Americans live, work, and play in our metropolitan areas, surrounded by their urban and community forests. When you put people in a forested environment, their blood pressure and heart rate go down. Surrounded by trees, people think better and feel better. Kids do better in school, adults do better at work, and people recover faster from sickness.

That is why the East Capitol Urban Farm is a special place. It is a community partnership that will benefit this city and its urban watershed.

So I am pleased to announce that we are adding another tree to the landscape. It’s a scarlet oak, the official tree of Washington, DC.

The scarlet oak is one of the most beautiful trees in any season, but its rich red fall foliage is a marvel to behold. Many different kinds of wildlife use this tree … for acorns and more. It will also add shade, reduce storm water runoff, and stabilize the soil.

So … in a nutshell … it’s never either/or — it’s about all of us working together across shared landscapes, both private and public, to ensure that Americans will continue to get all the benefits they want and need from their forests, for generations to come.”

Celebrating 140 Years of Urban & Wildland Forest Protection & Restoration: Scott Steen Speech

by American Forests

On Monday, October 26, 2015, American Forests hosted a ceremonial tree planting at the East Capitol Urban Farm in honor of its 140th anniversary and to recognize the signing of a new MOU with the U.S. Forest Service. During the ceremony, Scott Steen, President & CEO of American Forests, gave the following remarks:

Scott Steen

Scott Steen. President & CEO of American Forests, giving his speech. Credit: American Forests.

“Before the theory of relativity, the aspirin, the x-ray and the discovery of the electron; before the automobile, the telephone, motion pictures and electric light; before airplanes flew and radios gave us knowledge of the world beyond our own towns — before all those things, American Forests was at work.

American Forests was there as waves of immigrants began the journey westward. We were there at the very genesis of the conservation movement in America. We were there as a new view took hold that perhaps nature had a value in and of itself, beyond its immediate utility to humans; and we were there as a new dawn revealed a planet more fragile than we knew.

During this same time, timber barons were rapidly stripping the Midwest and West of their forests, while homesteaders were just as quickly converting forest to farmland. North American wildlife was being hunted to the point of extinction. People needed jobs and houses, farmland and food.

It seemed the choice was nature or progress. But, we at American Forests said — both.

It was one of our founders who convinced President Grant that managing forests was the responsibility of the federal government. And, it was at an American Forest Congress in 1905 that a consensus was forged to create a national agency to care for our forests. And, with that, our partnership with the U.S. Forest Service began.

American Forests was there in 1933, as our nation was in the grip of the Great Depression. With unemployment, hunger and homelessness spiking, caring for our forests seemed like a low priority.

People needed jobs. They needed places to live. They needed food.

Again, we argued that this was a false choice, that we can meet the needs of nature AND of men.

At our urging, less than a month after taking office, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill making the Civilian Conservation Corps a reality.

Decades later, in the 1960s and ‘70s, America’s cities were burning. Crime, poverty and struggle defined our urban life. Urban renewal was demolishing old neighborhoods and putting up endless concrete landscapes.

But, we believed that nature in cities — trees, parks and fields —was a vital connection to our own humanity and could be used to solve urban problems.

Once again, the argument was set up as progress or nature. Once again, American Forests said both. And, the urban forest movement was given shape.

During the past 25 years, we have planted 50 million trees in more than 1,000 restoration projects. Nearly half of these have been in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.

This work has made our water and air cleaner and our cities greener.

Working together, we have helped cool the planet and slow the creep of climate change. And, we have protected and restored habitat for dozens of threatened and endangered species, from grizzly bears to gopher tortoises.

Our belief that nature can enable human progress is at work right here, on this three-acre urban farm set in a neighborhood that has often lacked access to fresh produce. Right here, on what was once a vacant lot in the middle of the city, a group of innovators chose to use nature to solve a human challenge.

Nature and progress. Both. Today, the need for this kind of thinking is even greater and the stakes are higher than ever before.

Once again, there are those who would tell us that protecting wildlife is too expensive; that addressing climate change costs jobs; that we can have forests or we can have houses; that nature will take care of itself, and we should let the market decide.

But, we have learned time and again that by caring for nature we are caring for humanity.

As we look forward to our continuing partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and to our next 140 years, our calling at American Forests remains this: to find new ways to say both — wildlife AND human life; forests AND prosperity; nature AND progress. It’s not going to be easy. But, the reality is, to have either, we must have both.”

Celebrating 140 Years of Urban & Wildland Forest Protection & Restoration: Dr. Dwane Jones Speech

by American Forests

On Monday, October 26, 2015, American Forests hosted a ceremonial tree planting at the East Capitol Urban Farm in honor of its 140th anniversary and to recognize the signing of a new MOU with the U.S. Forest Service. During the ceremony, Dr. Dwane Jones, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences University of the District of Columbia, gave the following remarks:

Dr. Dwane Jones

Dr. Dwane Jones delivering his speech. Credit: American Forests.

“First, I want to thank the many, many partners involved in this effort — our local partners are invaluable and include: the DCBIA, American Forests, Groundwork Anacostia, the DC Housing Authority, DC Commission on the Arts, the District Department of Energy and the Environment, the Mayor’s Office, Metropolitan National Church and numerous others.

Each of these partners contributed to the continued success of the project in multiple ways, including, but not limited to, financial and technical assistance, expertise, community engagement and land resources.

We are especially indebted to American Forests for providing education and demonstration on the importance of an urban tree canopy and for connecting us with the DC Building Industry Association, which helped expand our initial vision into the multi-faceted urban space that you see today. The University of the District of Columbia’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Sciences (aka “CAUSES”) fully supports systemic initiatives like those of American Forests, that promote sustainable development in urban areas by helping to mitigate climate change, provide clean air and improve quality of life in urban environments.

I also want to thank the Urban Waters Federal Partnership — an initiative launched by this Administration to restore urban rivers, and the communities that surround them, with an emphasis on those communities that need the most help.

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership convened many federal agencies around this effort — like USDA’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Service and the USDA Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry program which provided funding and materials, Department of Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service for helping convene the federal family and help fund, plan and implement the nature playspace and the U.S. EPA for committing funds early on which helped encourage other federal Partners to consider their contribution.

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership helped also bring national entities, like American Forests and Walmart, to the table.

While today we celebrate 140 years of American Forests and its long-standing relationship with the US Forest Service, we do so standing on the site of a project that took a community of people and partners to make it happen. Thank you, American Forest, USDA and all of the partners engaged in this effort. We look forward to continuing our work with your organizations and many more opportunities to improve economic opportunities and quality for communities in the District of Columbia and across the world.”

Forest Digest – Week of October 19, 2015

by American Forests
Water in Forests

Credit: Cristie Wrazen.

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

Why I’m Here: Making Life Greener for American City Dwellers

by American Forests

By Etienne Laffargue, Policy Intern

Eiffel Tower surrounded by trees.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris surrounded by trees. Credit: David Meenagh via Flickr.

On Thursday, October 15th, I began my internship at American Forests. In the building elevator, I could already feel the excitement and the butterflies in my stomach. After all, I had been anticipating this moment for more than two months and was very excited to arrive! As a Frenchman, I had to go through the process of obtaining a VISA to the United States, which tested my motivation to work with American Forests. As my new colleagues welcomed me to the team, I knew I had made the right choice. I felt at home and well taken care of from the beginning.

What I had come here to do was set in motion very quickly. After a short orientation, I was already on a conference call with our counterparts in national and local environmental and conservation organizations from across the country regarding the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The reason I chose American Forests out of all these organizations is that, here, I can specialize in trees and forests, both rural and urban. My goal as a Policy Intern is to help green and embellish cities across this continent. I believe, and scientists back this up, that the presence of trees in cities has positive effects on the health and wellbeing of its inhabitants. Don’t all city dwellers appreciate cool air as they commute on a hot summer afternoon? That is thanks to the trees. We all like our air pure and well oxygenated. And, this is also thanks to the trees. Do you like awakening to the songs of little birds? Well, thank the trees for hosting them. Do you enjoy sweet fragrances during the flowering season? Once again, thank you trees!

Whether it is in a rural or urban setting, I have noticed that trees contribute to an excellent quality of life for all of us. I feel harmonious when I look at them and sometimes play the game of imagining what they would tell me if I could converse with them. Trees are special, and I feel lucky to have them on our little planet.

By coming here I hope to contribute to American Forests’ mission and make life greener for city dwellers across America by taking care of nature and advocating for more trees in our cities. Enriching streets and parks with vegetation is an important step to harmonious urbanized areas, and, hoping that you share our enthusiasm for urban forests, I invite you to embark with us on this journey to preserve and restore the wonderful forests of America.

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

by American Forests

By Andrew Bell, Policy Intern

Hannover/Hildesheim region, Germany.

Hannover/Hildesheim region, Germany. Credit: Deutsche Umwelthilfe.

The Partnership for Trees’ torch was carried fervently into 2013, furthering a continual success characterized by community engagement and a thoughtful approach to outreach. With over 177,000 trees planted, 19 projects implemented and 1,200 acres of land restored, American Forests and Alcoa Foundation kept the foot on the gas in revitalizing the world’s green places. At the same time, the collaboration continued to make additional impacts that go well beyond the numbers.

“Environmental justice,” just hearing the phrase alone could easily conjure imagery of defending critically endangered wildlife, combatting illegal timber harvest and cracking down on reckless polluters. In reality, environmental justice is about far more than looking out for our treasured ecosystems. Rather, it’s about extending the bounds of stewardship to those who are most in need of a healthy and thriving environment. In New York, the Partnership for Trees is doing just that.

A severe ice storm in 1998 knocked the town of Massena’s urban forest coverage back a sizable amount. But, in collaboration with the Town of Massena Electric Department and their Green Efficient Massena program, a comprehensive effort is underway to ensure that the town continues to enjoy restored urban canopy. In 2013’s installment, 530 trees were planted over 40 acres of land in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. These urban trees go well beyond providing relief in the aesthetic sense; research shows that trees placed properly around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent, and that 100 million mature trees planted around residences can save 2 billion dollars annually in energy expenses.

For families that live from paycheck to paycheck — or even struggle to put food on the table — every dollar counts. And, in cases like Massena’s, communities can rely on their forests and trees to help stay the course in such taxing times. Such communities stand to benefit the most from what urban forests have to offer and, therefore, often deserve to be at the forefront of conservation efforts. Making room at the table for all is what environmental justice is truly about, and the Partnership for Trees is wholly dedicated to such a principle.

In Germany, American Forests and Alcoa Foundation found a different way to approach environmental justice. The country’s Hannover/Hildesheim region historically produced over 1,000 different kinds of apples, thanks to an abundance of rich biodiversity in their fruit tree orchards. Today, that plethora has been reduced to just several, while both wildlife and citizens alike suffer from the restrictive monoculture farming. To answer the call, the Partnership for Trees teamed up with German nonprofit Deutsche Umwelthilfe to implement their Meadow Orchards in Public Green Spaces initiative, planting 500 trees to help restore the region’s historically distinct biodiversity. These trees were planted across a variety of public lands, including schools and neighborhood gardens, so that they are easily accessible for all. This includes providing food for low-income families and opportunities for young students to be exposed to tree-care and environmental stewardship. Many of the tree species planted provide homes for wildlife, such as owls and dormice. As a whole, the Hannover/Hildesheim region’s fruit tree orchards can now serve both their community and their wildlife, while taking a resounding step forward in recapturing their rich, biologically diverse heritage.

Forest Digest – Week of October 12, 2015

by American Forests

Mangroves. Credit: Senorhorst Jahnsen (rabanito)/Flickr.

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

GR25: Getting Down and Dirty with Tree Planting in 1995

by Megan Higgs
Forested land in Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Forested land in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Credit: David Hepworth via Flickr.

When one thinks of Oklahoma, one thinks of plains, great comfort food, and friendly down-to-earth residents. But, with vast expanses of grasslands, what does Oklahoma offer in terms of forests?

Oklahoma is actually considered a crossroads for a variety of forest types: western grassland meets eastern woodlands, while there are Ozark hardwoods, nearby Ponderosa pines from the Rockies and swampy cypresses near Louisiana all intermingling. In fact, despite ubiquitous images of grassland, approximately 28 percent of Oklahoma’s land is forested.

In 1995, American Forests helped contribute to this forested area in a relatively unconventional way. While we’re used to getting our hands dirty with tree planting, we decided to take it one step further — by replanting former landfills!

The story began one year earlier, as in 1994, Environmental Protection Agency Subtitle ‘D’ required cities in Oklahoma to either comply with new regulations on landfill operations or to close their landfills and utilize approved sites. Several communities closed their landfills as a response to this mandate, and many covered former landfills with topsoil and planted them with grass.

However, four communities in particular wished to do more. The communities of Clinton, Cordell, Thomas and Weatherford all agreed to instead transform these former landfills into viable forested spaces. After the sites were prepped appropriately, more than 61,000 trees across 290 acres were planted across these four former landfills. At all sites, the planted trees have worked to help prevent soil erosion, increase wildlife habitat, capture rainfall that would otherwise leak through the landfill to cause potential water problems and establish tree cover in Western Oklahoma where few wooded areas exist.

With an ever-increasing population within the United States, ensuring that environmental protective measures are in place is often a concern for many environmental organizations, including American Forests. We have continued this work of planting along former landfill space, including returning to Oklahoma for 1996’s Lindsay landfill planting and planting in Virginia for 2000’s West Ox Road Landfill Restoration. In addition to restoring aesthetic value, enhancing carbon storage and filtering runoff, these projects’ significance lies in demonstrating the feasibility of reforesting closed landfills and the benefits and values of ecologically intelligent end-use management.

Forest Digest – Week of October 5, 2015

by American Forests
E. O. Wilson

Edward O. Wilson. Credit: Jim Harrison.

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

  • In the fight to stop climate change, forests are a vital weaponThe Guardian
    Leading up to the climate change summit in Paris next month, many countries are announcing their commitments to reducing greenhouse gasses, and forests are playing a vital role. If deforestation ended, our damaged forests were restored and we protected our remaining forests, our forests could remove enough carbon to equal one-third of all current global emissions.
  • What is a forest? NASA/USGS mission helps answer the
    A team from NASA, as well as other institutions, analyzed eight satellite-derived maps of the earth’s forest cover and discovered differing depictions by as much as 6 percent, or a land area the size of China. This prompted a new study that was published earlier this week in Nature Climate Change.
  • The absence of trees could increase your risk of cardiovascular disease —
    Another report has been released discussing the benefits of living near trees, including reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, making you feel several years younger as well as providing the same health benefits resulting from a substantial salary increase.
  • E. O. Wilson explains why parks and nature are really good for your brainWashington Post
    In this interview E. O. Wilson, renowned Harvard biologist and conservationist, discusses human’s desire to be in natural environments and science’s solid basis for proving nature’s benefits for mankind.