Forest Digest – Week of July 20, 2015

by American Forests
Portland street trees

Portland street trees. Credit: City of Portland, Oregon Bureau of Environmental Services

Keeping a pulse on forest news around the world, it’s your weekly Forest Digest.

  • Regional haze and questionable efforts to save the forestsThe Jakarta Post
    As Indonesia’s dry season continues, many are worried that it will continue past August, thanks to an impending El Niño weather pattern. Forest fires are a huge problem, and there is little desire to repeat the pollution crisis of two years ago that resulted from forest fires.
  • How Trees Calm Us DownNew Yorker
    More evidence from a study published in the Scientific Report shows the connection between trees and better health. An additional 10 trees in an area corresponded to a one-percent increase in how healthy participants felt!

American Forests Policy Interns Reflect on Hill Day Experience

by Loose Leaf Contributor

Policy Interns, Sarah Davidson and Conrad Kabbaz, participated in the Hill Day for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. Here are their views on the day.

American Forests Policy Interns Sarah Davidson and Conrad Kabbaz

American Forests Policy Interns Sarah Davidson and Conrad Kabbaz

It’s quite rare that National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club agree on an issue. Yet, both have joined American Forests, and over 250 other organizations representing a wide variety of interests, to urge Congress to stop fire borrowing and pass the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 167)!

This past June, we joined over 40 participants from the Partner Caucus on Fire Suppression Funding Solutions on Capitol Hill to advocate for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA). H.R. 167 will recognize the most extreme wildfires as natural disasters and fund them, like other natural disasters, through the Disaster Relief Fund.

Currently, wildfire suppression is funded at the 10-year average. When suppression costs exceed the budget, the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are forced to borrow from other accounts to pay for fire suppression. This prevents the implementation of critical programs, including programs that would reduce the risk of fires, such as hazardous waste removal.

Our day on the Hill began with a visit from Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), responsible for the bill’s introduction in January. He thanked the group for our advocacy efforts and reminded us of the importance of addressing this issue as soon as possible. We then split up to attend over 60 meetings in House offices to galvanize support for WDFA (H.R. 167). We aimed to secure more sponsorships from representatives and to encourage them to speak out in support of the bill on the House floor and with colleagues.


Danielle Watson, Assistant Policy Director at the Society of American Foresters, led my group of advocates, nicknamed the Forest Loyalists, to meetings with staff members for five Republican representatives from Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and New Mexico. Each office had different questions and concerns, but we made sure that the staff understood the importance of addressing this issue. Overall, we were pleased with how our meetings went. Though none of the representatives we met with have joined as cosponsors yet, we are hopeful that we will see their support in the future.

American Forests Policy Intern Conrad Kabbaz

American Forests Policy Intern Conrad Kabbaz (Right) with Peter Olsen, Vice President for Programs and Government Relations at the American Hiking Society (Left), and Jordan Giaconia, Legislative Advocate for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (Center).


My group, the Forest Patriots, was led by advocacy veterans Rebecca Turner of American Forests and Cecilia Clavet of The Nature Conservancy. Meeting with a mix of Democratic and Republican staff members, I had the opportunity to witness different approaches to advocacy. It was interesting to see how these policy stalwarts adapted their communication strategy based on a prospective representative’s state, party, and other factors. Of the seven meetings we attended, three resulted in cosponsorship. The representatives who signed on were Colorado Democrats Rep. Diane DeGette and Rep. Jared Polis, and New Hampshire Republican, Rep. Frank Guinta, acknowledging that the effects of wildfire borrowing impact eastern states as well.

Our day on the Hill gave us a unique glimpse into the world of Congress and policy advocacy. The work of a forest advocate is not always glamorous, with much time spent waiting in hallways and reception areas. On the other hand, these lulls allowed us to truly take in our surroundings, the ornate state seals and eclectic office decorations. We both had instances of mistaken identities which allowed us to meet the Congressmen with whom we were meeting their staff. Sarah’s Forest Loyalists were mistaken for a high school field trip, allowing them to meet Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM). Conrad’s Forest Patriots were mistaken for members of a gardening association, leading to a firm round of handshakes from Rep. Polis (D-CO). Besides the inherent awkwardness of these interactions, they illuminated the hectic life of a public representative, the perpetual deluge of competing interests vying for attention.

Thanks to the hard work of the Partner Caucus, our advocacy day led to over 20 representatives to cosponsor H.R. 167. American Forests is encouraged by this progress and will continue to advocate for a wildfire funding solution in both the House and the Senate. Join American Forests in our advocacy efforts and urge your Congressional members to support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act!

GR25: Reforesting for Turkeys in 2001

by Megan Higgs

As our journey continues, 2001 marks widespread reforestation utilized for an unlikely hero, a bird most associated with its ubiquitous fall staples (did we mention we’re done with the summer humidity?): the wild turkey.

Though mistakenly named for the country Turkey by domesticated imports to Britain, the wild turkey is as American as a bird can possibly get – its native range actually spans across much of North America, particularly among hardwood and mixed-conifer forests. Beyond its geographic distribution, the turkey also has a famed history with none other than Benjamin Franklin, who allegedly preferred the turkey to the bald eagle as the national bird of the United States. This allegation, while never publicly orated, originated in a letter to his daughter, Sarah Bache. An excerpt in this letter from 1784 states:

“…I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage…”

Wild turkey at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum.

Wild turkeys can fly quite well, unlike their domestic cousins. Photo credit: John Benson

Beyond its short-lived political history, the wild turkey also is a prominent figure among Native American tribes. It is a favored meal among many eastern tribes, and its feathers have been used for rituals and headdresses, particularly among several tribal chiefs.

Like many American icons, the wild turkey has its own tale of resilience. As an endemic species, the turkey was a prominent symbol across forests nationwide — until the 20th century. As hunting and habitat loss increased dramatically, the wild turkey dropped to numbers as low as 30,000. As protection and breeding promotion replaced rampant hunting, the wild turkey rapidly rebounded in numbers — to over 1 million by the early 1970’s, and an estimated 7 million individuals today.

American Forests teamed up with the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) to continue reforesting lost habitat and food sources for this bird with three distinct ventures: Operation Appleseed, Operation Oak and Operation Heartland. Operation Appleseed, aptly named for its planting of Sargent crabapple trees, restored 6,000 of these trees as fall and winter food sources across several states in the northeastern U.S., including Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Vermont, and more.

Operation Oak, on the other hand, worked on restoring the bird’s habitat front by restoring 12,000 sawtooth oaks with shelters, which replaced several oak groves lost through the conversion of southeastern forests to pine plantation. As such, we worked with NWTF to restore areas in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia.  Likewise, Operation Heartland restored bottomland hardwoods, riparian corridors and farm woodlots overtaken by agriculture with several species of oak, sycamore and eastern cottonwood across America’s heartland: Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Missouri.

However, our work with restoring food and habitat sources for the wild turkey has not stopped there. We have continued working with the NWTF to ensure wild turkey populations can remain thriving, including a habitat restoration initiative across Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Illinois in 2012.

Forest Digest – Week of July 13, 2015

by American Forests

Stay in the know on our changing world with this week’s Forest Digest:

Peter Defazio is one of the few Democrats who voted for HR 2647, saying that “you can choose between doing nothing and moving forward with something that has some good provisions and some that are not good.” Photo credit: Associated Press

  • Forestry Bill In Congress Fires Up Debate – Eugene Weekly
    The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, which recently passed in the House, is now being debated in the senate, especially on the topic of acquiring funds to combat wildfires.

The Good, Besides the Bad and the Ugly

by American Forests

David May, Communications Intern

Part 2 of the 3-part series Insects and Our Forests. Read part 1 here and part 3 here.

Butterfly on a flower

Pollination is a great example of coevolution, where pollinators and plants rely on each other for survival. Photo credit: T. Barnes, University of Kentucky

For many of us, it is rare to think positively of insects. They typically cross our minds as a nuisance when we reach for something to swat them with, or with terror when we discover them somewhere they shouldn’t be. Especially in the context of forests, we tend to think of insects as dangerous pests, and sometimes rightly so; infestations of various defoliating insects and bark beetles, such as the mountain pine beetle, have devastated America’s forests over the past few decades.

It is easy to forget how vital insects are to ecosystems of all kinds, especially our treasured forests. From pollination to decomposition, bugs play many roles that our forests could not do without. Everything in nature exists for a reason, and remembering those reasons can help us to make smarter decisions relating to our environment.

Breaking It Down

In forests, all things rely on the soil. This means, having a constant influx of nutrients in an easily broken down form is crucial to maintaining a healthy forest. Insects are integral to the decomposition process that makes this possible. The excrement from needle- and leaf-eating bugs is quickly colonized by microorganisms, which makes the nutrients from the organic material much more readily available. A much larger process is the decomposition of wood. Trees are very hardy organisms and are much harder to break down than other plants and organic material. When a tree dies, it is firstly colonized by insects that feed on the bark and sap. This makes the body of the tree accessible to the various fungi and bacteria that would otherwise be stopped by the bark. From there, the decomposition process continues as the tree matter is continuously broken down. Without wood-eating insects, trees would take twice as long to decompose!1

Spreading the Love

Tree reproduction couldn’t happen without pollination, and many trees rely on insects to spread their pollen. In fact, roughly 80% of all trees and bushes are pollinated by insects.1 Flies, butterflies, beetles, and other winged insects spread pollen amongst flowers in their search for nectar. Amongst well-known pollinators, bees especially have been in the spotlight over the past decade with the spread of colony collapse disorder, and rightly so. This astounding problem shows the economic disaster that such a disruption can cause within our environment, and the necessity of our natural pollinators for agriculture, as well as nature as a whole.

Keeping in Check

Spider in a web

Spiders are extremely important in many food chains.

Just like all other organisms, insects have a crucial role in the food chain as well. They are the major food source for birds, lizards, mice, and a myriad of other forest dwellers, including other insects. Spiders help to control populations of flies and other bugs that we dislike, and are very helpful to have in your garden.

Even the bark beetles that are now causing us so much trouble are important. Wood-boring insects, such as the mountain pine beetle, have helped our forests for a very long time by killing the oldest and sickest of trees, creating less competition for young growth. This is very important for maintaining a thriving forest.

So, although they may seem gross, scary, or just plain annoying, remember that we couldn’t have our natural world without bugs. And, although battles with exploding populations of species in certain areas may prompt us to use extreme measures, resorting to mass use of pesticides can have many unintended consequences. So, next time, think before you squish that little guy!

Works Cited

  1. Wermilinger, Beat, and Peter Duelli. “Insects in the Forest Ecosystem.” net. Wald Wissen, 2002. Web. 13 July 2015.


Forest Digest – Week of July 6, 2015

by American Forests

Another week full of research and legislation, it’s your forest digest!

A tree lined street.

American Forests has been fostering good health with our urban forests for decades.

  • House Passes Bill to Hasten Timber Projects in ForestsABC news
    A bill aimed at increasing the health of America’s national forests through expediting logging projects was passed in the House on Thursday, though it is expected to meet some resistance from the White House for not going far enough.
  • Japan to help VN care for forestsVietnam News
    An agreement on sustainable resource management was signed on Thursday by various government offices of Japan and Viet Nam, in which Japan will help Viet Nam to increase their capacity for natural resource management in accordance with the REDD+ action plan.
  • Wild food means good food: CIFOR study Forest News
    A recent study shows that wild-grown food is very important for meeting nutritional requirements for residents of low income countries.

The Mountain Pine Beetle’s March across Canada

by American Forests

David May, Communications Intern

Part 1 of the 3-part series Insects and Our Forests. Read part 2 here and part 3 here.

Since the ‘90s, the scenic views of North America’s lushest western forests have become more and more splattered with a palette of rust and dark grey. Once only patches amongst the vast swathes of evergreen, entire mountainsides now stand barren. This widespread problem has many culprits, but perhaps the most infamous among them is the mountain pine beetle.

Another Ecosystem Unbalanced

Unlike many other insect blights, the mountain pine beetle is a non-invasive species, having coexisted with the forests they’ve now been destroying for many years. They inhabit many species of pine in ecosystems ranging from Mexico to British Columbia, and their reach is steadily growing. The trees they target have long since adapted to fight them, and, until relatively recently, the beetle was constrained to only minor outbreaks by the trees’ adaptive defenses and the killing frost of winter.

A mountain pine beetle excavating a tunnel in a ponderosa pine

A mature mountain pine beetle is not much bigger than a grain of rice. Photo credit: Whitney Cranshaw,

However, this complex relationship has been upset by climate change, just like countless others around the globe. The rise in temperatures has opened up mountain-tops and other areas to the mountain pine beetle’s reach. This abundance of new resources, combined with less harsh winters and the increased amount of stress that drought and rising temperatures have put on trees, has led to a vicious cycle of infestation that has left enormous tracts of dead forest in its wake. Dead trees are some of the best fuel for a raging wildfire, making for a very dangerous combination with the ongoing drought.

The severity of this issue puts the mountain pine beetle at the top of the forestry service’s list. America and Canada have both been pouring funds into various programs in an effort to tamp down on the economic havoc that this bug has caused for the forestry and recreational industries of the west. In fact, the mountain pine beetle was the second beetle to ever have its genome sequenced, in an attempt to gain insight on how to best deal with this scourge.

Halting the Spread

Canada especially is going on the defensive. Having ravaged most of British Columbia (B.C.), the beetle has spread east into Alberta, and Canada’s boreal forests have a lot to lose. The lodgepole pine has been the predominant victim of choice for the beetle throughout the west, but as it has almost exhausted the available lodgepole population, it has begun to colonize other species. Now, it is reproducing in the jack pine, the major pine species of the boreal forest. This is a new environment for the mountain pine beetle, so it is difficult to predict exactly how it will spread. B.C. is projected to have lost 58% of all usable pine because of the beetle by 2017, and Canada is anxious to keep the threat from similarly spreading to other provinces.1

A damaged, multi-colored forest due to the mountain pine beetle

Trees can appear green and outwardly healthy for up to a year after initial infestation. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

Alberta’s highest priority for the mountain pine beetle is, above all else, containment. Any time a new infestation is detected, the area is immediately targeted to eradicate the beetle before the group can mature enough to fly again. This can be done by selective or area logging through various Forest Management Agreements that the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development office has with various companies and stakeholders. Much of this timber can still be used for various commercial purposes if harvested promptly enough. However, responding to these threats in a timely manner is tricky when trying to negotiate holding agreements with various parties and still attempting to meet long-term forestry goals.

Despite the destruction that the advance of the mountain pine beetle has caused, hope is found in new research being conducted. At the University of Alberta, pheromone “bait” is being studied to monitor and eventually trap beetles in certain areas. There is also promise in manipulating the various fungi that the beetles rely on to provide the nutrition they require. We at American Forests are doing our best to help as well, through our Endangered Western Forests program. With so much at stake, organizations of all kinds have come together to form a robust network of knowledge and resources. However, one thing is certain: the mountain pine beetle must be stopped.

More information on the mountain pine beetle outbreak can be found here!

Works Cited

  1. “Mountain pine beetle (factsheet).” Natural Resources Canada.  Government of Canada, n.d. Web. 07 July 2015

GR25: Remembering 9/11 with Trees in Memorial

by Jami Westerhold
World Trade Center Memorial

Memorials of all kinds have been created to honor those who lost their lives or loved ones in the attacks on 9/11.

Presenting the 25 Years of Global ReLeaf series has offered American Forests’ staff an opportunity to look back through our more than 1,000 projects. This reflection has helped us understand what our predecessors worked on throughout our history and learn about our myriad of partners and the ecosystems of the globe we prioritized. For our 2002 projects, our dip into history exposed several that are about so much more than restoration; they are about people.

I know I am not alone in that I can recall distinctly where I was in 2001 on the morning of Sept. 11. I was fast asleep in the top bunk of my college dorm room when a friend from down the hall barged in unannounced and turned on the TV. She gave me a quick one-liner on what had occurred — a plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. It was all she knew. And, then, the second plane crashed into the South Tower. My room quickly became the main viewing center, and women from my floor came in and out throughout the day. We all sat mostly in silence trying to make sense of the tragedy occurring 250 miles away. I recall being grateful that I was surrounded by friends. Discovering that American Forests had supported projects to honor those who perished warmed my heart and led me into a rabbit-hole, sifting through news articles, photos, and memories of that unforgettable day.

During the year following the attacks, American Forests worked with partners to plant a tree to remember and recognize the thousands of innocent men, women, and children who perished that day. In Somerset County Pennsylvania, American Forests planted 40 trees in honor of individuals aboard Flight 93 who tried to regain control of the flight. Though the plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa. claiming the lives of all aboard, hundreds —maybe thousands — of lives were saved by preventing the plane from hitting its intended target.

In Arlington, Va. at the Pentagon, American Forests planted 368 trees — 184 on private land and 184 on public land — in remembrance of the 59 innocent victims of Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon and the 125 people who perished within the building. For the nearly 3,000 total fatalities of the series of Sept. 11 attacks, American Forests also planted 3,000 trees throughout the woodland and parks in New York City and 3,000 trees in memorial groves throughout Washington D.C.

American Forests could never do enough to remember the victims of Sept. 11. We hope that the trees we planted have created a living memorial that provides comfort to people who survived, or lost a loved one, and honors those who had the courage to risk their lives to save others.

A Special Hello from Your New Loose Leaf Managing Editor

by Ashlan Bonnell

Hello! Here at Loose Leaf, we like to take a moment to introduce all of our readers to new staff members who join the American Forests team. Well, it looks like it is my turn! I’m Ashlan Bonnell, and as the new Managing Editor for Loose Leaf, you’re going to be hearing from me on a regular basis. So, in lieu of a formal introduction, I decided to write you a special note myself so you can get to know me.

I joined American Forests at the end of June, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to be combining my greatest passions: writing, editing, and conservation! I have always loved the outdoors and cared about our planet, but it wasn’t until several years ago that I realized I wanted to devote my life to conservation. A lot of things contributed to this realization, but if I had to pinpoint a particular moment that hugely impacted my decision, I would have to say it was the first time I watched “Chasing Ice.”  The documentary follows James Balog, a renowned photographer, and his team as they conducted the Extreme Ice Survey, depicting in a profound and visual manner the rapid melting of our glaciers.

Conservation went from something I felt compelled to do to something I knew I couldn’t afford not to do. I began educating myself more and more on the conservation of our planet, and from then on, I was hooked. And, once I moved to Washington, DC, I knew I wanted to devote my career to making a difference in our environment.

American Forests offered the perfect opportunity for me to do just that. I am excited to be a part of many aspects of American Forests’ work, but I think I am most excited to share our work with the world. Forests play a hugely important role in so many areas of our daily lives, from helping combat climate change to providing us with clean air and water to reducing crime in our cities, besides just being staggeringly beautiful. American Forests has many great programs that help to restore these critical ecosystems, and I hope to share a lot about those with you. But mostly, I want to help educate and inspire others to value and protect the forests that offer us so much.

Anyways, enough about me! I am looking forward to engaging with you as we continue on the journey toward a healthier, happier environment!

Power of A Gold: Community ReLeaf Program Earns Top ASAE Honor

by Ashlan Bonnell
2015 ASAE Power of A Gold Award

The 2015 ASAE The Power of A Gold Award presented to American Forests’ Community ReLeaf program for its innovative work in urban forestry.

We are proud to announce that American Forests’ Community ReLeaf program has earned a 2015 ASAE Power of A Gold award. The gold award, ASAE’s highest honor, showcases organizations that have made local, national, and/or global contributions toward enriching lives, driving innovation, and making the world a better place.

According to Ian Leahy, Director of Urban Forest Programs, receiving the award is not only an honor, but it also serves as encouragement for the program moving forward.

“A few years ago, we reimagined our urban forest programs so that we could immerse ourselves in communities,” says Leahy. “This award from ASAE is a great celebration of our successes to date and indication that we are on the right track as the program continues to grow.”

American Forests launched Community ReLeaf in 2013, with support from Bank of America Charitable Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service, to foster transformational impact via a 3-phase process of scientific tree canopy analysis, high-impact forest restoration, and public engagement. This process was designed to support the program’s goal of expanding and maintaining urban forests in cities throughout the United States. These urban forests can have a profound and long-lasting impact on communities, including providing ecosystem services such as filtering stormwater and clean the air that would cost significant funds to build infrastructure, reduced levels of crime and domestic violence, increased property values, improved resident health, and lowered stress levels.

Our current project cities include:

  • Asbury, N.J.
  • Atlanta, Ga.
  • Detroit, Mich.
  • Hartford, Conn.
  • Nashville, Tenn.
  • Pasadena, Calif.
  • Austin, Texas
  • Chicago, Ill.
  • Miami, Fla.
  • Oakland, Calif.
  • Washington, D.C.

We plan to add three more cities by the end of the year through a forthcoming request for proposals.

“As enthusiasm and support for this program grows, we are increasing the number of cities we reach, focusing our impact on select urban mega-regions throughout the country, and using the restoration projects as living laboratories of innovation,” says Leahy

Providing innovation to some of the 80 percent of Americans residing in metropolitan areas, we are proud of the work Community ReLeaf has accomplished and will continue to achieve in years to come.