Sequoia National Park Celebrates Its Birthday Today

by Loose Leaf Team

By Lizzie Wasilewska

Sequoia National Park, which celebrates its 123rd birthday today, is home to three national champion big trees. These trees occupy a remarkable forest that contains more than 8,000 sequoia trees, some of which can reach the height of a 26-story building, with base diameters wider than an average city street.

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park. Credit: Rene Rivers

Among the national champion big trees in Sequoia National Park are a piute cypress, a California fremontia and the renowned Giant Sequoia known as General Sherman, which is often considered the largest tree in the world. This tree is just one of record breakers in California’s Sequioia National Park: The park also contains the summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states, and the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park has the country’s deepest canyon — its namesake, Kings Canyon. These attractions are popular with visitors, who can explore a variety of trails throughout the wilderness.

Hikers are not the only visitors who have been attracted to the park’s forests. It is the second oldest national park in the U.S., and researchers continue to carefully study its artifacts and cultures with the number of recorded historical sites in its territory growing each year. Over the centuries, it has been home to several cultures, including the Western Mono, the Foothills Yokuts and the Tubatulabal. For many years, its resources also appealed to trappers, sheepherders, miners and loggers.

Luckily, its designation as a national park in 1890 prevented humans from depleting its resources. In the Giant Forest, which is one of the largest sequoia groves in the park, all commercial activity has been removed, and about 70 years ago, thanks to the efforts of then-park superintendent Colonel John Roberts White, 282 buildings were demolished, and the health of 231 acres was restored.

The sequoia trees in the Giant Forest, some of which can live for up to 2,000 years, are living documents of this park’s history. Combined with several other tree species, including three of the top 10 oldest tree species in the world, these sequoias make up a landscape that is renowned for its beauty and diversity.


H.R. 1526: Limiting Judicial Review of Forest Management

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

Logging truck in Rogue River National Forest.

Logging truck in the middle of Rogue River National Forest. Diamond Lake Highway, near Crater Lake, Ore. Credit: Terry MacVey

These days, much of the oxygen in Washington is being consumed by speculation about whether Congress will be able to pass a continuing resolution in time to avoid a federal government shut down on October 1. But contrary to what you may hear, read or see on the news, Congress is still working and passing other bills; last Friday, the House passed an important bill that addresses logging and wildfire management in national forests.

H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, passed 244-173 with 17 Democrats voting to support the measure and only one Republican voting in opposition. Proponents of the bill argue that over the next decade, it will create more than 200,000 jobs and save nearly $400 million. Opponents, which include both the White House and environmental groups, criticize the bill’s limited environmental reviews and its delegation of federal forest management to states.

Even though only small pieces of the H.R. 1526 pie will likely see the light of the Senate floor, one of the most attention-grabbing provisions concerns the current amount of timber sales. The bill places statutory requirements on the board feet of timber to be harvested annually, doubling the current amount. And although increased logging in national forests can create headlines, one concerning aspect of the bill, especially in terms of environmental policy, is the manner in which this increase is accomplished.

The bill explicitly designates sections of national forests as “forest reserve revenue areas,” designed for the purpose of logging and revenue generation for specific, mainly western, counties. Timber harvesting projects within these forest reserve revenue areas, however, are exempt from judicial review that is otherwise required under several key environmental statutes, including:

  1. Timber salvage projects within these revenue areas are exempt from judicial review.
  2. Decisions on logging and other projects by the secretary of agriculture are not subject to injunctions or restraining orders based on any procedural requirement violation.
  3. Project review otherwise required under the Endangered Species Act is limited.
  4. And, because it all really does come back to the National Environmental Policy Act, H.R. 1526 drastically curtails environmental review of a proposed project within these revenue areas.

In a recent statement, the White House expressed its opposition to H.R. 1526 as legislation that not only would harm the long-term management strategy of national forest lands, but also directly conflicts with existing statutory requirements. That said, many members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle and in both the Senate and the House, support the idea of increasing timber harvests on national forest land. As the recent wildfire in Yosemite tragically demonstrated, years of fire suppression policies have left forests too vulnerable to large and uncontrollable fires. Senator Wyden (D-OR) has expressed his support for legislation that will increase logging on national forest lands and is expected to introduce his own proposal concerning national forest land use.

But while many have expressed support for increasing timber quotas, for both revenue generation and forest management, other observers say this should not be at the expense of environmental and judicial review and that limiting environmental and judicial review, while expedient in terms of approving projects, is short-sighted for the long-term care of our national forests. It’s a classic example of the difficult trade-offs that occur in formulating a national resources policy.


Celebrating Grey Towers

by Loose Leaf Team

By Marcelene Sutter

Gifford Pinchot, first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Gifford Pinchot, first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Credit: Materialscientist/Wikimedia Commons

Tomorrow, our friend and partner, the Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Founder Gifford Bryce Pinchot, a former vice president of American Forests and a contributing author to our magazine, is often called the father of American conservation for his innovations in the field and dedication to the protection and management of American forests.

President Kennedy with Dr. and Mrs. Pinchot at the Finger Bowl where historic conversations were held.

President Kennedy with Dr. and Mrs. Pinchot at the Finger Bowl where historic conversations were held. Credit: U.S. Forest Service/Grey Towers National Historic Site

President John F. Kennedy, who gave a speech to dedicate the Pinchot Institute upon its opening on September 24, 1963, described the principles that the institute exemplified as, “action for which those who come after us will be grateful, for which will convert killers and spoilers into allies … .” Since 1961, when Pinchot set the ball in motion with his proposal that the Pinchot estate serve as an environmental education center for the American public, the Pinchot Institute has been dedicated to in-depth research on key environmental concerns.

Currently, the institute is conducting nonpartisan research on energy and climate concerns with the goal of positively affecting the future of conservation with the development of practical solutions to these challenges. Because of its access to prominent scholars in this field of study, the Pinchot Institute has proved an effective mechanism for the conversion of these conservation findings into legislation and policy changes that determine the management of our nation’s forests.

Grey Towers National Historic Site, Milford, Penn., home of Gifford Pinchot.

Grey Towers National Historic Site, Milford, Penn., home of Gifford Pinchot. Credit: Kristine Paulus

As President Kennedy also said in his dedication of the Pinchot Institute, “the fact of the matter is, this institute is needed more today, than at any time in our history.” With mounting environmental concerns, his statement remains true today for this vital organization, as well as for all conservancy organizations such as ours. This is why we at American Forests have made a commitment to action on policies that will protect and expand the presence of trees in America.

One of the issues that we are currently supporting is the Community Parks Revitalization Act, which is under consideration by the members of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. This legislation, if moved to the floor and passed, would focus on rehabilitating and expanding greenspace in urban areas, something that certainly aligns with the ideals of Pinchot. These urban recreation areas and the trees are desperately needed and would benefit the more than 80 percent of Americans who live in cities. To encourage the House Subcommittee to send the Community Parks Revitalization Act to the full committee, email our pre-written letter to the members of the subcommittee.


Tulip, Magnolia or Something Else?

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

National champion tuliptree yellow-poplar during the winter

National champion tuliptree yellow-poplar during the winter. Credit: Sheri Shannon/American Forests

The national champion tuliptree yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) in Chesapeake, Va., stands at 115 feet in height, with a trunk that is almost 30 feet around. All of which makes it pretty impressive, but maybe even more impressive is that its lineage could possibly date back to the Early Cretaceous period, meaning its ancestors shaded the dinosaurs!

In a new study published in American Journal of Botany, co-authors Dr. David Dilcher and Dr. Mikhail S. Romanov posit that the modern-day tuliptree descends from a plant named Archaeanthus and not the magnolia, as commonly thought. Using advanced technologies of light, scanning electron and polarizing microscopy, Drs. Dilcher and Romanov studied Archaeanthus fossil flowers and fruits first uncovered by Dr. Dilcher in 1975.

Artist's reconstruction of Archaeanthus

Artist’s reconstruction of Archaeanthus. Credit: Dr. David Dilcher

“We discovered features of the fruits and seeds, not previously detailed, that were more similar to those of the tuliptree line of evolution than to the magnolias,” Dr. Dilcher says in Indiana University’s press release on the study. “Thus, the beautiful tuliptree has a lineage that extends back to the age of the dinosaurs. It has a long, independent history separate from the magnolias and should be recognized as its own flowering plant family.”

Time will tell if the tuliptree remains in the magnolia family, as it is at present, or if this new research leads to a redefinition, but one thing is very clear: Tuliptree can grow to enormous heights, as evidenced by our national champion. But will the Virginia tree remain the national champion? All will be revealed with the release of the Fall 2013 National Register of Big Trees on October 4.


Charred Forests, Melting Snow

by Susan Laszewski

Credit: fortherock/Flickr

Credit: fortherock/Flickr

You know how when it’s really hot out, you’re better off leaving the black shirt in the closet and going for something lighter? Well, according to new research, forests are having a similar issue.

A study, conducted by Oregon State University researchers, funded by the National Science Foundation and published in Geophysical Research Letters, found that snowpack melts faster in forests which have been charred by wildfire. The researchers explain that as the charred particles are shed from the tree throughout the winter, they darken the snow, reducing its reflectivity.

How much of a difference could a few burned bits make? The researchers found a 40 percent decrease in the surface’s reflectivity, or “albedo,” and a 60 percent increase in solar radiation reaching the snow’s surface. At a test site 5,000 feet in elevation in Oregon’s Cascade Range, snowpack was found to disappear 23 days earlier due to the phenomenon. The shedding of charred particles after a burn will last at least two years and can last as long as 10, so these effects could be seen for multiple winters.

While fires are a natural part of these forest ecosystems, the situation today is compounded by an increase in the intensity of wildfires, as well as the expected increase in wildfire numbers due to climate change. In high elevations of the Rocky Mountains, such as those in the Greater Yellowstone Area, climate change has led to earlier snowmelt in other ways as well. As warming temperatures have allowed for a population boom of mountain pine beetles, the whitebark pine trees that provide the shade and soil stability that aid in retaining snowpack are dying, leading to earlier melting.

Earlier snowmelts have the potential to wreak a lot of havoc on communities. In addition to increased flooding, a faster snowmelt can also alter an area’s water supply. As spring runoff begins earlier, it may not last as late into the year. The study’s findings could help resource managers plan for fluctuations in water availability.

At American Forests, we advocate for sound policies to manage wildfire and the complications that are arising as the climate changes. We also launched our Endangered Western Forests initiative to address the challenges of the whitebark pine.

As study co-author Anne Nolin asks Phys.org, “What does it mean for your water supply when headwater catchments burn, the snow melts faster and the spring runoff begins even earlier? It is a provocative question for resource managers.”


Helping Forests Face Climate Change

by Loose Leaf Team

By Lizzie Wasilewska

Forest

Credit: Jaakko Paarvala

In its new guide, Climate Change Guidelines for Forest Managers, the Food and Agriculture Organization on the United Nations (FAO) discusses many ways of combating and thinking about the effects of climate change on forests. As Michelle emphasized in her recent blog entry about the SAFE Act, early efforts to prevent, rather than simply react to, the effects of climate change are crucial for the long-term health of forests. In its guide, FAO also highlights the importance of preemptively building up forests’ resistance to climate change.

The authors of the guide frame forest management strategies as globally significant, noting that forests are a key part of many ecosystems, economies and cultures. Forests act as a worldwide “carbon sink” that moderates the effects of fossil fuels, which means that forests’ deterioration can worsen the health of other ecosystems. And, with forest damage, there often comes damage to forest-dependent people as well. For example, up to five million women in West Africa earn most of their income by collecting and marketing nuts that they harvest from shea trees. The FAO guide highlights the importance of identifying and supporting communities like these, whose livelihoods would disappear if their forests disappeared.

deforestation

Deforestation. Credit: Andrew Ashton

Forest managers and the public can also look in this guide for potential solutions to these issues. In order to help forest-dependent communities, the FAO suggests that forest managers encourage residents to invest in environmentally safe technologies like fuel-efficient stoves, which can lead to greater profits as well as healthier forests. They also recommend that forest managers grow more fire-resistant plants in forest ecosystems since the rate and strength of wildfires is projected to increase.

Of course, some of these things are easier said than done. As the authors of the guide say, “climate change impacts are cross-sectoral, which means that to prepare for them, coordination is needed among government agencies, NGOs and stakeholders in multiple sectors.” Luckily, if organizations like the FAO continue to publish strategies for dealing with climate change and legal measures like the SAFE Act move into action, the future of forests holds promise.


Creating SAFE Noise

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Today, American Forests is on the Hill — Capitol Hill that is — co-hosting a briefing and panel discussion titled “Protecting the Economy and Communities: Shared Risks, Shared Responsibility in Planning for the Effects of Climate Change.” Being held in one of the Senate office buildings, this briefing aims to build support for and understanding about a newly introduced piece of legislation: S. 1202, the Safeguarding America’s Future and Environment Act (SAFE Act).

U.S. Capitol Building. Credit: geetarchurchy/Flickr

U.S. Capitol Building. Credit: geetarchurchy/Flickr

Introduced by Senators Baucus and Whitehouse in June, the SAFE Act is “a bill to establish an integrated federal program to respond to ongoing and expected impacts of extreme weather and climate change by protecting, restoring and conserving the natural resources of the United States and to maximize government efficiency and reduce costs, in cooperation with state, local and tribal governments and other entities.” A lofty and worthy aim, in my opinion.

Two of the key ways the act would accomplish its main goal are 1) through the establishment of a Natural Resources Climate Adaptation Panel comprised of federal agency heads and other natural resources experts and 2) through the newly established panel’s adoption of a National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy. This strategy would be a plan designed “to protect, restore and conserve natural resources so that natural resources become more resilient, adapt to and withstand the ongoing and expected impacts of climate variability and change.” Again, all good things, but as we all know, what sounds good and beneficial for society doesn’t always become law.

The SAFE Act was first introduced in 2011 as S. 1881 and never made it out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. We don’t want this bill to get stuck in committee again, which is why we’re joining with other partners to bring attention to this bill and the issues it represents through today’s briefing on the Hill. It’s often a long road to get a bill through Congress, but when it comes to protecting our natural resources, we’re in it for the duration.


Tree Frogs’ Descent

by Susan Laszewski

Tree frog at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in Singapore. Credit: Nir Sinay

Tree frog at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in Singapore. Credit: Nir Sinay

When I was little, one of my favorite books was a picture book about rainforests that took the reader through all the layers of the tropical rainforest — from the ground on up to the canopy — and the plants and animals that live there. The idea that entire worlds existed one on top of the other like this was fascinating to me.

A study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B has provided new insight into these strata and what the future may hold for them as the climate changes. Led by Brett Scheffers of James Cook University in Australia, the researchers climbed hundreds of trees in the rainforests of Singapore and the Philippines — some more than 160 feet tall — to collect data on a variety of tree frogs and other canopy species. They found that just as biodiversity exists in gradients of latitude and elevation, the vertical strata of the rainforest are also a type of climatic gradient. And, just as we’re seeing more adaptable species shift their range by moving north or by moving uphill as the climate changes, these arboreal species can adjust to the climate by moving up or down the canopy layers.

In fact, the study’s authors find that this allows these frogs and other tree-dwelling species to take advantage of a wider habitat range because as the habitat changes in elevation they can move up or down the trees accordingly. The same species of frog that lives in the canopy at one elevation might call the understory home a little further downhill.

Philippine tree frog Rhacophorus pardalis

Rhacophorus pardalis, a tree frog of the Philippines. Credit: Thomas H Brown

But, as temperatures continue to rise and the climate becomes drier, we can expect to see more of these species descending from the trees at higher and higher elevations — a process the study’s authors have dubbed “flattening” — all that vertical biodiversity getting pushed to the ground. According to the research, these species’ descent from the trees could lead to an 80 percent increase in density on the ground. That’s a lot of increased competition for resources.

“We discovered a whole new dimension to biodiversity on Earth, but in doing so, we uncovered new consequences of climate change,” says Scheffers in a James Cook University statement. “The Earth’s rainforests are certainly not flat, but if citizens and governments do not take the necessary actions to prevent strong changes in climate … they could be.”

That’s why we’re telling President Obama that forests need to be a priority in his Climate Action Plan since they help mitigate climate change and need our help to stay healthy. You can tell him, too, by signing our letter.


A Sand-filled Anniversary

by Loose Leaf Team

By Lizzie Wasilewska

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Credit: sfgamchick/Flickr

Today is the anniversary of one of the most biologically and geologically unique parks in the U.S.: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. In addition to its famous desert dunes, Great Sand Dunes includes grasslands and wetlands; lakes, rivers and streams; tundra; and forests that spread from the desert’s edges to the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The range of tree species found in its forests — cottonwood, aspen, pinion, spruce and more — is just one example of this landscape’s fascinating diversity.

The ecosystems and landscapes in Great Sand Dunes are constantly changing. Winds rapidly and dramatically reshape its dunes, which often rise to about 750 feet. On a slower scale, streams reshape the dunes: They redistribute sand, expanding and diminishing the dunefield’s territory in different areas. As the dunes gradually stray from their origins, they can influence other regions of the park. For example, when dunes wash over forests, they suffocate the trees, leaving “ghost forests” composed of the trees’ skeletal remains.

Great Sand Dunes’ forests are also susceptible to wildfires: before the addition of the preserve, they experienced an average of 1.3 wildfires per year. Researchers have developed fire management strategies for Great Sand Dunes, evaluating its natural rate of fires and seeking to prevent human-caused fires. These strategies balance the natural needs of the environment with the preservation of its cultural landscape by often permitting the controlled spread of wildfires, while also trying to conserve the numerous cultural sites and artifacts that lie in the path of fires.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Credit: sfgamchick/Flickr

Wildfire management strategies and ethics tie into a larger environmental question: When should humans help threatened ecosystems? In 2011, across the state border from Great Sand Dunes, a wildfire in New Mexico burned across more than 150,000 acres of the Jemez Mountains and 27,000 acres of Valles Caldera National Preserve. The wildfire — which was the second largest in New Mexico’s history — undermined the environment’s soil and prevented vegetation from regenerating. American Forests Global ReLeaf stepped in by planting hundreds of acres of trees across the Valles Caldera, with the goal of stabilizing the soil and encouraging natural regrowth.

Other times, it might be best to let forests fend for themselves. In 2010, lightning sparked a fire in Great Sand Dunes that burned thousands of acres. Managers decided it was best not to extinguish the flames entirely, as that would risk obstructing the forests’ natural immunity to and reliance on wildfires. Today, the Great Sand Dunes ecosystem is healthy, and we hope to see many more happy birthdays in its future!


Saving a Little, Getting a Lot

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

How’s this for a bargain: By protecting 17 percent of the world’s land, we can preserve 67 percent of the world’s plant species. Not such a bad return on investment, eh?

Sarayaku, Ecuador

Sarayaku, Ecuador. Credit: skifatenum/Flickr

A new study published last week in Science revealed that two goals set by the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010 (protecting 17 percent of the world’s land and protecting 60 percent of the world’s flora) could actually be accomplished simultaneously. The scientists pinpointed Central America, Ecuador, the Caribbean and Taiwan as key locales for biological diversity, with China, the Middle East and South Africa also being areas of importance. And areas that are good for plant diversity are also likely good for other types of biodiversity, such as insects, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and more.

As reported by E&E News, the paper cautions that simply creating new national parks or other types of protected spaces isn’t necessarily the solution for preserving biodiversity, as sometimes that action forgets one very crucial element: people. Many of our protected wilderness spaces are often removed from human populations, but are biological hotspots also removed? “Present conservation efforts bias towards lands that are high, cold, dry or otherwise far from people — often a mismatch with where conservation needs are pressing,” states the published study, begging the question of what to do next.

At American Forests, we recognize the diversity of ecosystems that need protecting and that many of those ecosystems contain lots and lots of people — hence our urban forest work that evaluates the needs of the natural resources in urban areas in concert with the needs of the city’s population. Sometimes, it’s an interesting balancing act, but the data doesn’t lie: If we help Mother Nature, she helps us with cleaner air and water, which makes us happy, healthier and stronger.