Bats: Out of the Witches’ Cauldron and Into the Fire

by Susan Laszewski

Double, double, toil and trouble!

The witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth threw several of our forest creatures into their witch’s brew:

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog

But this Halloween, some of these creatures have threats other than being mixed into a potion to worry about: disease. For the bat population, white nose syndrome (WNS) represents a fate scarier than any vampire attack or witch’s brew.

The big brown bat is one of the species of bat at risk of white nose syndrome.

The big brown bat is one of the species of bat at risk of white nose syndrome. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The fungal disease, named for the white fungus that appears on the bat’s nose, ears, wings or tail, causes strange behavior in bats. They may leave their cozy hibernation spot and fly outside during the day in the cold winter months. Often, affected bats may cluster near the entrance of the cave.

WNS has already cost the lives of around 6 million bats in eastern North America. If we lose these creatures, we’re losing much more than beloved symbols of Halloween. Bats play several very important ecological roles, including insect control.  A single, pregnant bat can eat as much as its own weight in insects in a single night. By consuming insects that are harmful to agriculture and forests, bats are estimated to be worth billions of dollars to the agricultural industry. Bats are also important pollinators and seed dispersers. When viewed in the context of declining bee populations, the combined threat to some of our major pollinators is concerning, indeed.

So, while there’s no need to fear bats this Halloween, there may be cause to fear their dwindling numbers as WNS continues. Scientists are still learning about the causes of WNS and how it is spread, but there is evidence that humans may play a role in spreading the disease — which has so far been shown to have no effect on people — when we enter the places where bats are hibernating. Even absent the disease, disturbing bats during hibernation is a big problem, as they will then waste some of the precious stored energy they need to survive the winter. Bats disturbed during hibernation may not make it to the spring.

Learn more about white nose syndrome and how you can help at whitenosesyndrome.org.

And have a Happy Halloween!

Bats.

Bats. Credit: Stuart Anthony


Timber Takes a Hit

by Loose Leaf Team

By Marcelene Sutter

A forest road in Siberia

A forest road in Siberia, where trees are under siege by illegal loggers fueled by the Russian network of organized crime. Credit: Mikhail Koninin

In the dense forests that cover about half of Russia, the global leader in log exportation, trouble is brewing. Here, these trees are threatened by a dangerous manifestation of greed — organized crime. The timber of Russian trees is in such high demand that thieves have no problem selling illegally logged wood, resulting in what Russian President Vladimir Putin has called a nearly 70 percent increase in illegal logging over the past five years.

Beyond rampant corruption and organized crime, illegal logging carries with it another serious threat: The oak and walnut trees targeted by illegal loggers for their value in flooring and furniture are the same species that make up the forest habitats of the endangered Siberian tiger. The deer and wild boar that make up much of the tiger’s diet feed on walnuts from these trees. Only about 450 of these beautiful tigers are still living in the wild, and this small number is severely threatened by loss of habitat. Some of this timber is stolen from these forests without permits, but much is taken when those with proper permits cut more than they are allowed to, or cut down species not specified on their permits.

The Siberian tiger, whose habitat is threatened by rampant illegal logging in Russia

The Siberian tiger, whose habitat is threatened by rampant illegal logging in Russia. Credit: Jöshua Barnett

Looking into this problem, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), based in the United States, recently published a report that traces illegally cut wood to its source. The findings of this report indicate that much of the wood is funneled through China and then spread throughout the world. One alleged culprit of illegal logging distribution is Chinese-based company Xingja, a major supplier to Lumber Liquidators in the United States. The allegations brought forth by the EIA in this report could have serious repercussions for Lumber Liquidators because of the Lacey Act, which prevents American companies from purchasing illegally logged timber. Both Xingja and Lumber Liquidators deny the claims in the EIA report, with Tom Sullivan, CEO of Lumber Liquidators stating that, “If we had any knowledge of any mill of ours buying from an illegal source or a non-sustainable source, we immediately would not buy from them. We are extremely pro-active in making sure that all our materials are from legal and sustainable sources.” Lumber Liquidators says that it is fully cooperating with the investigation.

At American Forests, we realize how illegal logging and deforestation can negatively impact endangered species, which is why we participated in habitat restoration for the Siberian tiger in Russia in conjunction with the Far Eastern Branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography, the Russian Academy of the Sciences, and the Russian Federal Forest Service. To learn about this and any of our other Global ReLeaf campaigns, visit the Global ReLeaf main page on our website.


A Legacy of Conservation

by Loose Leaf Team

By Lizzie Wasilewska

Theodore Roosevelt as Colonel in the 1st Cavalry, U.S.Volunteers, ca. 1898

Theodore Roosevelt as Colonel in the 1st Cavalry, U.S.Volunteers, ca. 1898

This weekend marked the birthday of Theodore Roosevelt, who once wrote of our nations natural beauty that “we have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.” In his years as president, he lived up to those words, establishing five national parks and helping to found the Forest Service. By doing so, he not only ensured the health and survival of several areas of wilderness, but set a valuable example for future conservation efforts.

In addition to founding several national parks, Roosevelt set aside more than 100 million acres of land for national forests. He did so after recognizing the tragic impact that humans had already made on these forests. Hunters, miners and loggers were threatening the survival of entire ecosystems. Roosevelt’s vision was practical: He believed that, in a conserved wilderness, humans should have the right to harvest timber and use water to irrigate farmland — but in moderation, and with care.

Lower Falls, Yellowstone River.

Lower Falls, Yellowstone River. Credit: v1ctory_1s_m1ne/Flickr

Therefore, in 1905, Roosevelt founded the Bureau of Forestry. Within this bureau, supervisors ensured that timberlands were managed strategically in order to avoid problems like soil erosion and over-harvesting.

This was among the first of many provisions that Roosevelt made in order to ensure the continuing health of wilderness areas. In Alaska, he founded the Tongass and Chugach reserves; in Hawai’i, he founded the Hawai’ian Islands Bird Reservation; in Arizona, he founded the Grand Canyon National Monument. Over time, more and more territories achieved the potential for brighter futures due to his conservationism.

American Forests continues to protect many of the ecosystems that Roosevelt saved over half a century ago. For example, as part of our Endangered Western Forests initiative, we work to restore damaged forest areas in the Greater Yellowstone Area, which Roosevelt once advocated for.


Thanks for Making a Difference

by Susan Laszewski

Tomorrow is Make a Difference Day and reading the many stories of people volunteering their time and effort to help improve their corner of the world has got me thinking about the many American Forests supporters who have pitched in to help us in our mission of protecting and restoring forests. So, today a note of thanks: Here are just a few of the ways you have made a difference for our forests over the past 12 months:

In mid-December last year, volunteers joined American Forests, the Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation and the Arlington Tree Stewards to plant trees along Arlington, Va.’s Bluemont Junction Trail. Just look at those smiling faces!

Photo: Megan Higgs/American Forests

Photo: Megan Higgs/American Forests

This summer, some of you joined us In Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming to attach patches of beetle repellent to whitebark pine trees that are resistant to disease as part of our Endangered Western Forests initiative. By protecting trees that are resistant to one threat from another, volunteers helped to protect this keystone species that serves as an important food for grizzly bears, Clark’s nutcrackers and many other animals. Plus, everyone had a fun time out in the fresh air of the American West!

Volunteers hike to one of the sites where they applied phermone pouches to adult whitebark pine.

Volunteers hike to one of the sites to apply pheromone patches to adult whitebark pine. Credit: Jami Westerhold/American Forests

And, throughout October, volunteers from our partner Bank of America have joined us in cities across the country to plant trees as part of our Community ReLeaf program. We’ve planted in Asbury Park, Detroit and Atlanta, and we’ll be in Nashville and Pasadena before the year is through.

New Jersey Tree Foundation Director Lisa Simms demonstrates tree planting for Bank of America volunteers in Asbury Park, N.J.

New Jersey Tree Foundation Director Lisa Simms demonstrates tree planting for the volunteers. Credit: Melinda Housholder/American Forests

So, thanks to everyone who makes a difference for forests and communities!


Striking Gold

by Loose Leaf Team

By Marcelene Sutter

Eucalyptus trees like this one produce gold-flecked leaves when they grow over a gold deposit.

Eucalyptus tree. Credit: Justin Ennis

Money does not grow on trees, but researchers from Australia contend that gold just might. In a recent study published in Nature Communications, these scientists wrote that traces of gold have been found in the leaves of Eucalyptus trees. These traces of gold are miniscule — so small, in fact, that it would take more than 500 trees to provide enough gold for a single ring. So, what can these deposits be used for, if not for jewelry? Scientists say that these gold-infused leaves can indicate the presence of a gold deposit, which offers a new method for determining the location of the precious metal in hard-to-access areas. Many of the easier-to-reach deposits of gold in Australia and around the world have already been located, but these trees may provide clues to more secluded deposit locations.

Dr. Mel Lintern, a geochemist, explained that the current hypothesis is that “the trees are acting like a hydraulic pump. They are bringing life-giving water from their roots, and in so doing, they are taking smaller dissolved gold particles up through the vascular system into the foliage.” Identifying gold deposits in this way presents two huge potential benefits, both economic and environmental. The use of this technique could limit exploratory drilling, relieving some expense while also minimizing damage to the environment, as only small samples are taken to determine the location of gold deposits. The researchers hope that this method could also be used to find other minerals, drastically reducing the amount of exploratory drilling to the great benefit of the environment.


National Parks in a World of Change

by Loose Leaf Team

By Lizzie Wasilewska

Alpine flowers on the slopes of Mount Rainier.

Alpine flowers on the slopes of Mount Rainier. Credit: Alan Vernon

On its website, the National Park Service writes that “our national parks are a testament to the reality of climate change.” The National Parks Conservation Association reinforces that message: according to their website, “the gradual, accelerated warming of our planet will have disastrous consequences for America’s national parks.” One national park that demonstrates the transformative and potentially devastating effects of climate change is Mount Rainier.

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington was established in 1899, making it the fifth-oldest national park. The mountain itself contains an active volcano and currently has the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S. In addition to its glaciers, the region includes vast fields of wildflowers, 1,000-year-old trees and a variety of wildlife. The mountain’s lower slopes are filled with ancient forests, which comprise the Mount Rainier Forest Reserve.

As Mount Rainier’s glaciers retreat, these ancient forests are gaining ground in some areas: At lower elevations, trees are invading regions that were traditionally occupied by meadows. In other regions, the forests have become more fragile. Rain in the region falls earlier in the year than it did throughout the 20th century and this premature rain has caused several forest-damaging floods. The region has also become more vulnerable to avulsions — sudden changes in course of rivers or creeks. This has caused erosion and structural damage.

The floods and erosion in Mount Rainier National Park are exacerbated by the lack of supportive vegetation in key areas. Sometimes, humans can help to resolve this issue. American Forests has worked to plant trees throughout the world; for example, we are currently reforesting parts of the Michoacán preserve in Mexico, in order to build up its resilience and improve its biodiversity. Erosion caused by avulsions, one of many potential consequences of climate change, can and does undermine ecosystems like Mount Rainier, but we can help prevent it.


Congress Increases Funding to Fight Wildfires in Legislation to Reopen the Federal Government

by Alison Share, Environmental Public Policy Associate, Crowell & Moring LLP

The Rim Fire at Yosemite National Park

The Rim Fire at Yosemite National Park, as viewed from Highway 108. Credit: Bodey Marcoccia

Last week, at both the figurative and literal eleventh hour, Congress passed H.R. 2775 – the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014. In addition to reopening the federal government and temporarily suspending the debt ceiling, the bill also provides additional funding to several federal agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, to assist with their ongoing operations.

We discussed the U.S. Forest Service’s severe shortfall in its emergency firefighting funding back in August, as the Yosemite National Park fire raged. At the time, the U.S. Forest Service was down to $50 million in its budget line item for wildfire suppression for the year. When sequestration kicked in earlier this year, $115 million was removed from the budget for fighting wildfire. But over $1 billion had been spent by August to fight fires all over the west, including Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and California. The Yosemite fire alone cost $89 million to get under control, with tens of millions more required to repair the resulting environmental damage. The U.S. Forest Service was forced to undertake “fire borrowing” to try and cover the shortfall for this year, meaning the agency had to shift its finite resources from other programs such as capital improvement and rangeland research to fight ongoing wildfires. Last week’s legislation, however, gave the agency a little bit of breathing room in next year’s budget. Six hundred million of breathing room.

Rim Fire at Oak Flat Information Center in Yosemite.

Rim Fire at Oak Flat Information Center in Yosemite. Credit: Steve Rhodes

The Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014 provides that the U.S. Forest Service will have access to an additional $600 million to fight wildfire next year on top of the over $2 billion already requested for fiscal year 2014. The U.S. Forest Service also has flexibility to allocate the additional funding to programs that were bled under this year’s “fire borrowing.” American Forests, along with a broad coalition of over 90 conservation, timber, recreation, sportsmen and employer groups pushed Congress to take this step for the fiscal year 2014 budget in response to the drastic shortfall that occurred this summer due to the size and strength of this year’s fires. Well, Congress acted.

Along with the additional funds for the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of the Interior also found itself the recipient of an additional $36 million. These funds do come with a string attached, however, requiring that $15 million of the funding be used exclusively to restore and rehabilitate already burned areas. Like the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of the Interior can shift these funds to replenish programs that were raided to cover the additional amounts needed for this past wildfire season.

The additional funds in H.R. 2775 will hopefully ensure that next year the cost of fighting fires will not spread to other critical programs within the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior. With its 30 percent funding increase, next summer, the U.S. Forest Service can focus on fighting the inevitable wildfires instead of worrying about how to equip and pay those who put their lives on the line to do so.


Tiny Beetles, Huge Consequences

by Susan Laszewski

Whitebark pine cone.

Whitebark pine cone. Credit: Bryant Olsen

A group of researchers from 12 universities has recently published a paper that takes a look at the influence animals have on carbon storage and exchange — an influence they say is often overlooked despite the prevalence of discussion on how plants impact carbon storage. Among the examples discussed in “Animating the Carbon Cycle,” published in Ecosystems, is an issue that American Forests has been working to combat.

We’ve written before (here and here, for example) about the effect that mountain pine beetles have had on carbon storage — and, consequently, on climate change — in the western United States. As winters become warmer, these beetles are able to thrive later into the year and at higher elevations. Populations have exploded and that’s been bad news for pine trees, including the whitebark pine, an important foundation species upon which many other species in the ecosystem depend. As the trees die, their carbon storage potential is also lost and carbon released into the atmosphere, contributing to greenhouse effects, in a continuing feedback loop.

Mountain pine beetle.

Mountain pine beetle. Credit: WBUR

The new paper touches upon the effect the beetles have had on the carbon cycle, and puts it in some new perspective: The authors say that the loss of trees triggered by the beetle outbreak in the West has “decreased net carbon balance on a scale comparable to British Columbia’s current fossil fuel emissions.”

“We’re not saying that managing animals will offset these carbon emissions,” lead author Oswald Schmitz says in a Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies press release. “What we’re trying to say is the numbers are of a scale where it is worthwhile to start thinking about how animals could be managed to accomplish that.”

At American Forests, we’re doing what we can to keep the beetle epidemic from completely decimating whitebark pine. That includes the patches we’re putting on healthy trees to mimic the beetles’ own natural signal to other beetles that a tree is full. By saving as many healthy whitebark pines as we can — with your help — we are working to restore this important ecosystem.


Keeping Water Clean

by Loose Leaf Team

By Lizzie Wasilewska

Bald River Falls, Cherohala Skyway, Tennessee

Bald River Falls, Cherohala Skyway, Tennessee. Credit: Maciej Ciupa

Today is the anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA), an act that set a new tone for environmentalism when it was proposed in the 1950s. At first, it was controversial: It cost $24 billion, and Nixon, who was president at the time, vetoed it. However, due to overwhelming support from the public, Senate and House, the act passed. Since then, it has significantly contributed to the health of groundwater and ecosystems in general.

The CWA includes a guideline for regulating the effects of pollutants in bodies of water in the U.S. Among other things, it made it illegal to discharge pollutants from “point sources” — which include pipes and ditches — into navigable waters, in order to increase the safety of human populations. The act also required states to set clean water standards for uses including swimming, fishing and drinking. The effects of these and other requirements were dramatic: Billions of pounds of pollution have been kept out of American rivers and the number of bodies of water that meet clean water standards has doubled since the act was passed.

Brazos River Sunrise in Texas

Brazos River Sunrise in Texas. MelRick/Flickr

The CWA positively affects entire ecosystems, beginning with the bodies of water it protects and continuing to the animals and plants that rely on the water. Healthy forests cannot exist without healthy water, and healthy water cannot exist without healthy forests: The CWA established a basis with which forest ecosystems can become more self-sufficient, as clean water nourishes trees and the nourished trees purify water.

American Forests has worked to solidify the standards of water health that the CWA established. For example, as part of the Jemez Mountain Riparian Forest Re-Vegetation project, we helped forests battle the effects of a drought that destabilized waterways and caused water to accumulate pollutants. We reforested areas along rivers and streams in order to improve water quality, which will in turn lead to a healthier ecosystem overall.


Forest Emergence Feeds Climate Concerns

by Loose Leaf Team

By Marcelene Sutter

Hidden for centuries underneath a 5-foot-high layer of gravel and the 37-square-mile glacier that sits on top of it, a preserved forest is beginning to see the light of day again in Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier region.

Hidden for centuries underneath a 5-foot-high layer of gravel and the 37-square-mile glacier that sits on top of it, a preserved forest is beginning to see the light of day again in Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier region. Credit: pdx2535/Flickr

The melting of the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska is allowing a 1,000-year-old forest to see the light of day again — and raising concerns for residents. For the last 50 years, hints of the ancient forest have poked through the receding ice, however, scientists from the University of Alaska Southeast have noted more and more visible stumps in recent months. The gravel layer found covering these trees was vital to the forest’s preservation because of the protection it afforded the stumps from the surrounding layers of ice.

Mendenhall Glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier. Credit: Andrei Taranchenko

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the reemergence of this forest is that upright trees were found at the site. Dr. Cathy Connor, a professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, told LiveScience’s OurAmazingPlanet that the discovery of these trees “in a growth position is exciting because we can see the outermost part of the tree and count back to see how old the tree was.” Dr. Connor adds that finding these upright trees is rare; most are dislodged from their roots, making the type and age of the tree harder to definitively discern. Analysis of contemporary vegetation in the region, together with data on the size and shape of the tree trunks, suggests that the recently uncovered trees are either spruce or hemlock.

Despite the excitement that this discovery creates, the rapidly receding glacier cover that made it possible raises serious concerns, especially among local residents who worry about dwindling sources of fresh drinking water and the negative impacts of rising sea levels. At American Forests, we recognize the varied challenges presented by climate change, and work to combat them by ensuring the protection of our forests. Protecting and restoring forests to increase carbon storage potential will help mitigate the effects of global climate change.

Help us protect and restore forests.