GR25: Planting Trees in Response to Disaster in 1996

by Megan Higgs
Downtown Pripyat in 2012.

Downtown Pripyat in 2012. Photo by Elena Filatova via Wikimedia Commons.

Trees and forests emanate innumerable benefits for humans — they are nature’s simultaneous cleaning crew, carbon sinks and aesthetic enhancers. However, they can also be incredible healers, protectors and signs of both hope and remembrance when most needed.

For American Forests’ Global ReLeaf program, 1996 marked an extremely successful year, with hundreds of thousands of trees being planted across 20 states and four countries. However, 1996 was much more than that — halfway across the world, it also marked the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. While American Forests focuses much of its restoration work within the U.S. and the Americas, we are constantly addressing various critical needs throughout the world — and Chernobyl was certainly one of them. On April 26, 1986, a catastrophic nuclear accident occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, a now-abandoned city in Ukraine.  During the disaster, Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor No. 4 was destroyed through a series of explosions and fire, releasing large quantities of radioactive particles. The Chernobyl incident is recorded as being the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, causing at least 31 deaths among employees and with estimates of cancer deaths ranging anywhere from 4,000 to 200,000.

Unsurprisingly, the city of Pripyat was evacuated and thousands were relocated.  On the disaster’s 10th anniversary, American Forests hoped to provide assistance to these families by planting over 13,000 trees in the Ukraine, particularly near these refugee settlements. This project sought to alleviate the stresses of relocation on multiple fronts: the planted trees increased wooded areas, improved sanitary conditions near these settlements and directly involved the displaced through project planning and implementation. The planted trees also provided a symbolization of healing at a time desperately needed and worked to serve as a living commemoration of those whose lives were drastically affected.

Since that time, there have been a number of disasters — anthropogenic and natural, across the world and in our own backyards — that American Forests has worked tirelessly to address.  In 2002, we took you back to a journey of commemoration for the victims of 9/11. In 2007, we helped restore some hope to New Orleans through our Katrina ReLeaf projects. And, in 2014, we helped plant mangroves for improved coastal resilience in the Philippines, hoping to mitigate the effects of future storms after witnessing the destructive effects of Typhoon Haiyan.

The aftermath of disasters are a devastating component of this work — there is no way around this fact. However, American Forests will continue to offer assistance in response to these critical needs and areas.  While peaceful, serene forests often seem detached from these disasters, they possess an incredible capacity to clean, calm, heal and serve as a reminder, both for remembrance and for the continuation of life.

Forest Digest – Week of September 21, 2015

by American Forests

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

  • Why Partnerships for Forests are Critical to Achieving the SDGsHuffington Post
    As a result of last year’s New York Declaration on Forests and focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals ahead, to improve forest practices and management it has become evident that a partnership approach must be taken, including both public and private sector as well as civil society.
  • Laser mapping the California forestsAl Jazeera America
    An ecologist and scientist from Carnegie Airborne Observatory has spent several months laser mapping forest damage in California at a rate of 8 million trees per hour.
  • Wildfires: How to Save The ForestsNature World News
    A commentary recently published in the journal Science calls on more prescribed, or controlled, burns and mechanical thinning methods to help address increased wildfires.
  • Historic cottonwood tree gets new shot at life in BillingsThe Missoulian
    When a 105-foot cottonwood tree had to be cut down in Montana, Marty Flanagan, a local tree enthusiast came to the rescue, taking cuttings so that the tree can propagate and its superior genetics can live on.  Science and environmentalism at its finest!

After Equinox: The Delicacy of Nature as Works of Art

by Ashlan Bonnell

This fall in the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Area, explore the delicacy of nature beautifully represented in Jeri Eisenberg’s “After Equinox” art exhibition. The exhibition, presented by Diehl Gallery in Jackson, Wyo., runs through October 11, 2015, and features more than a dozen works by Eisenberg.

“After Equinox” combines layers of photographs and resin to create works that detail the delicate elements of nature in a way that, in a blurred effect, depicts the “fine line between memory and imagination.”

Sugar Maple (Red) by Jeri Eisenberg

Sugar Maple (Red) by Jeri Eisenberg

In addition, a portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit American Forests’ Endangered Western Forests (EWF) initiative.

This initiative focuses on the restoration of threatened, high-elevation forests across the West. These whitebark pine communities serve as essential ecosystems for both wildlife and humans, yet are facing a range of threats, including pest outbreaks, invasive diseases and climate change. American Forests and our on-the-ground partners are working to restore this damaged landscape as well as prevent future irreversible damage.

American Forests has two main goals for our EWF initiative:

  1. Create and implement a replicable protection and restoration strategy applicable to other threatened forest ecosystems.
  2. Educate and raise awareness — locally and nationally — of the loss of high-elevation forests and advocate for the importance of restoring these forests to health.

In order to accomplish these goals, American Forests and our partners are employing a variety of comprehensive strategies. Of course, our EWF work would not be possible without the help of our partners and support from groups and organizations, such as Diehl Gallery, our members and people like you! For more information on how you can help, visit

American Forests & Alcoa Foundation: Year One of a Globally-Driven Collaboration

by American Forests

By Andrew Bell, Policy Intern

Volunteers at the 2011 “Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum” project.

Volunteers at the 2011 “Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum” project.

This year marks the fifth year of a globally-successful partnership between American Forests and Alcoa Foundation, collectively known as the two organizations’ “Partnership for Trees.” Through this partnership, part of Alcoa’s “Ten Million Trees” by 2020 initiative, American Forests and Alcoa Foundation together have restored forests, cultivated green spaces and inspired volunteers all over the world. Together, we see a bright future for reforestation in communities, as well as wildlands, both in the United States and worldwide. In celebration of this collaboration, we’d like to share a slice of the accomplishments from each of these five years.

Beginning from the top, 2011 was far from a sluggish start to the partnership in terms of both domestic and international projects. The 22 projects culminated in more than 248,000 trees planted on roughly 970 acres of land. In particular, two projects capture the essence of the collaboration’s booming genesis: one in Atlanta, and one on the other side of the world, in Changwon, South Korea.

In the case of the former, American Forests and Alcoa Foundation helped Trees Atlanta kick off the remarkably ambitious “Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum” project. In what will eventually be a 22-mile living and breathing greenway, our partnership provided much-needed resources to assist in the planting of a Sassafras grove along the corridor’s Eastside Trail. The grove serves not only as a monument to a beautifully unique and native species, but also as a source of much needed erosion relief and habitat restoration for struggling wildlife.

Three volunteer projects, involving site preparation, tree planting and mulching, brought together 153 volunteers who put in a grand total of 613 service hours. Thanks to the help of Georgia Tech students, a Boy Scouts troop and many more, 200 sassafras trees of four varieties were planted — a number that actually exceeded the original project estimate. The Eastside Trail grove now represents one of just two sassafras groves in the entire I-285 perimeter of Atlanta and will turn a once-barren railroad bed into a beautiful and flourishing sanctuary for the region’s precious wildlife. The project also served as an exceptional learning opportunity for volunteers of all ages and walks of life, teaching proper planting care techniques and the importance of erosion control. This educational legacy will extend for years to come, as the grove will be one of many stops in the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum’s walking tour program.

Students and teachers helping plant trees at HaCheon Elementary School in Changwon, South Korea.

Students and teachers helping plant trees at HaCheon Elementary School in Changwon, South Korea.

This “Partnership for Trees” also took a trip well across the pond to the city of Changwon, South Korea, where American Forests and Alcoa Foundation helped to plant trees at an urban elementary school. The grant enabled ChangWon Making Movements Group to involve 95 students and teachers in transforming HaCheon Elementary School into a vibrant green place. The total of about 150 volunteers (including Alcoa Korea employees, city officials and NGO representatives) had a goal of planting about 500 trees and wound up planting over 2,000 in just two hours.

This new green space of elm and pine trees is obviously a clear representation of what American Forests and Alcoa Foundation has set out to accomplish, but it’s also emblematic of something that’s perhaps even greater in scope. Project Director Kang TaeHun saw more for Changwon than just a few patches of green in a bustling and thriving city. He also centered this project around an elementary school for a monumental reason. He wanted to instill the importance of tree planting and care in Changwon’s children, while also showing them the joys of planting and environmental stewardship. The case of HaCheon Elementary School is far from isolated, but rather a snapshot from Taehun’s dream for Changwon and its people of all ages. That dream is to cultivate a city of people dedicated to realizing their home’s beautifully natural potential. It’s a movement in the word’s truest sense.

Dreams, like those in Georgia and South Korea, are what drive American Forests and Alcoa Foundation to extend a green thumb to the world. This partnership is dedicated not solely to reforesting communities, but to engaging the communities as well. These projects work to inspire a new generation of tree-people of all ages, who are all dedicated to a healthy and vibrant home for themselves and their neighbors. In 2011, American Forests and Alcoa Foundation joined hands and outstretched them to all corners of the globe, and the result will be self-evident for years to come.

Forest Digest – Week of September 14, 2015

by American Forests
Forest Canopy

Photo credit: Chuck Fazio

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

  • Forest-mapping instrument for space station passes major milestone —
    The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation’s (GEDI) laser-based instrument for mapping Earth’s forest will now be entering a new phase of development, leading to the first high-resolution measurements of Earth’s forests’ vertical canopy.
  • How Long Until There Are No More Trees? —
    A new study by Yale University predicts that, by 2319, we could lose all of our trees if the current level of deforestation remains.

Every Kid in a Park & Community ReLeaf: Serving America’s Children and Urban Forests

by American Forests

By Andrew Bell, Policy Intern

Every Kid in a ParkThis week, the Outdoor Alliance for Kids hosted a suite of activities centered on their “Every Kid in a Park” event held at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. To pay homage to the Alliance’s devotion to youth and to celebrate their success, let’s take a look at the groundbreaking initiative that made all of this possible.

On September 1st, the Obama Administration announced the “Every Kid in a Park” program, setting the stage for a shift in how today’s children view and interact with the great outdoors. Since that day, fourth graders across the nation can now access free family passes to every federally-managed land and waterway in the entire country for the 2015-2016 school year, just by signing up on the program’s website.

The National Parks Foundation is generously pitching in by providing transportation for underserved communities, therefore, seeing that no barrier stands between a child and this beautiful country’s natural treasures. The program will ideally be an ongoing one, renewing for each year’s fourth graders so that all school-age children will have had the opportunity to make the outdoor connection.

In the organizational world of conservation, sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in what we’re doing to the point where we forget why we’re doing it. Just as much as we depend on our natural areas for sustaining life, we turn to it when seeking respite and revitalization. And, in a world that is becoming more urbanized and sedentary with each passing day, it’s increasingly important that the splendors of outdoor exploration, discovery and admiration are not lost on those who stand to gain the most from it — those who embody the bright future of humanity.

It’s also no secret that children are identifying more and more with technological advancement and at a younger age, too. But, through our own experiences, we know that children can form an inexplicable bond with the world around them. The backdrops for videogames may have replicated some of Earth’s most awe-inspiring habitats, but it’s the effort through programs like “Every Kid in a Park” that sees to it that they are never replaced.

The well-being of children should always be a priority, and American Forests takes that to heart. We realize that children are not just our future in a general sense, but they are the very future of forest conservation and will carry on the unfinished work we leave behind. That’s one of the reasons why American Forests is so dedicated to conserving forests even in our nation’s most urban areas through our Community ReLeaf program. Since 2013, the program has already amassed ongoing restoration projects and partnerships in almost a dozen cities across the country, with a goal of 20 by the year 2020. Whether you’re in Oakland, California, Hartford, Connecticut or somewhere in between, American Forests is mission-driven to see your city’s children at play in a vibrant and thriving habitat.

It’s organizations like American Forests, the Outdoor Alliance for Kids and others that quietly keep our cities lush and green. That kind of initiative literally sets the stage for lawmakers and administrations to work magic through programs like “Every Kid in a Park.” It’s a concerted effort by all to see to it that our children get to make that inexplicable connection with nature and the great outdoors, even when the odds are increasingly stacked against their favor. It’s a monumental task to undertake, but undoubtedly one worth taking.

American Forests relies on your support to make projects like the Community ReLeaf program a reality. Click here to get involved!

GR25: Loyal Partners for Restoration in 1997

by Jami Westerhold
Planting in LRGV

Volunteers lending a hand at a planting in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in 2014

If you follow American Forests pretty regularly, our project highlight for 1997 will not be a huge surprise. In 1997, we began our long-standing relationship working in Texas in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV). Though this project is not our oldest, it is American Forests’ longest running project that has been consistent since it began 18 years ago. American Forests has helped plant more than two million trees, restoring more than 4,000 acres. This project has sustained due to a close partnership with the Friends of the Wildlife Refuge and the National Fish and Wildlife Service’s staff at both the LRGV National Wildlife Refuge and the Santa Anna National Wildlife Refuge.

We have been working on restoring the talmulipan brushland throughout the southern border of Texas. Once a flourishing ecosystem that served as a corridor for many wildlife species, these forests were severely fragmented. Approximately 95 percent of the native forested and wetland habitats were removed for agricultural use. As you may know, forest fragmentation takes a huge toll on the wildlife that depend on these forested ecosystems, and the LRGV is no different. Actually, the diversity of wildlife within the LRGV is quite staggering. Though we often focus on the endangered ocelot, there are more than 300 species of butterflies and 700 species of vertebrates — including at least 500 bird species — in these refuges. This is not even taking into account the 1,200 species of native plants that can be found in these ecosystem. I was lucky enough to visit the LRGV last March, and I saw more bird species in my two days there than I have in the last decade. It was incredible, and I hope to go back soon. To learn a little bit more about this project — and to see some of these animals — watch this video.

Because American Forests’ partnerships are essential to our success, we wanted to highlight another amazing partnership with the Applegate Partnership & Watershed Council (APWC) that began in 1997 and that existed on-and-off for at least 15 years, planting hundreds of thousands of trees in riparian areas of the Applegate River in Oregon. As we are now in the shadow of planting our 50 millionth tree, it is amazing to think that American Forests’ five millionth tree was planted in this project’s inaugural planting in 1997.

These lands, owned by the Bureau of Land Management and Applegate River Watershed Council, had been degraded over time due to grazing, logging and residential development, but suffered from substantial flooding in January 1997. The project aimed to involve community volunteers to restore the riparian buffers to provide shade, reduced erosion and sedimentation and improve the water quality and fish habitat. These watersheds are home to a variety of aquatic species, including the threatened coho salmon. Though we and APWC had been working on restoring the riparian areas of the watershed for more than a decade, a 2012 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey exposed that portions were an unsuitable habitat for summer and winter rearing and spawning. Always more work to do! In addition, 55 percent of the Thompson Creek watershed has been identified as habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl. This species — and its listing on the Endangered Species Act in 1990 — led to a great amount on controversy and restoration work in the Northwest forests for years, but that’s a whole other story.

Forest Digest – Week of September 7, 2015

by American Forests

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

American Forests Celebrates 140th Birthday!

by American Forests

Today, September 10, 2015, American Forests is celebrating 140 years of protecting and restoring forest ecosystems! While we are excited to commemorate this milestone as an organization, we know that the work we have done and will continue to do would not be possible without the support of so many of you. So, thank you!

As we celebrate our 140th anniversary, we have had the opportunity to reflect on the many events and accomplishments that have defined the history of our organization while also looking forward to the work to be done in the future. This timeline represents some of those important memories and future goals. Plus, you can read even more about many of these events by flipping through your Spring/Summer 2016 issue of American Forests magazine or reading the articles here.

  • Eden Park, site of the first American Forestry Congress

    Eden Park, site of the first American Forestry Congress

    Led by Dr. John Aston Warder, concerned citizens found the American Forestry Association (AFA), now known as American Forests, to “protect the existing forests of the country from unnecessary waste.”

  • 1882
    AFA holds the first American Forestry Congress with a tree planting in Eden Park attended by 50,000 people.
  • 1888
    Mrs. Ellen Call Long presents “Notes on Some of the Forest Features of Florida,” the paper that would lead to prescribed burning, to AFA.
  • 1891
    After four years of work, AFA’s promotion of a bill that grants the president power to set aside forest reserves – a precursor to national forests – is successful. The same year, President Harrison proclaims nearly 13 million acres of forest reserves.
  • 1894
    American Forests magazine debuts.
  • 1911
    AFA succeeds in passing the Weeks Act, allowing for acquisition of forest reserves to protect watersheds and marking the first time in history that the federal government had purchased land specifically in recognition of its ecological services.
  • First Lady Harding plants a memorial tree

    First Lady Harding plants a memorial tree

    AFA launches memorial tree planting campaigns. First Lady Mrs. Warren G. Harding plants first memorial tree in Washington, D.C.

  • 1923
    American Forests publishes the first of many articles by Aldo Leopold.
  • 1924
    AFA gifts President and Mrs. Coolidge a living 35-foot Norway spruce planted near the White House on Sherman Plaza. It is the first living National Christmas Tree.
  • 1928
    AFA creates the Dixie Crusaders to educate people about wildfire.
  • 1930
    AFA conducts Congressional information campaigns that lead to the creation and protection of national parks in the Florida Everglades, Grand Tetons and Olympic mountains.
  • 1933
    AFA works with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create the Civilian Conservation Corps. We also launch Trail Riders of the Wilderness.
  • 1940
    The national register of American Forests Champion Trees, then called American Big Trees Report, is established.
  • President Eisenhower presents Smokey Bear statuette to AFA President Don Johnston

    President Eisenhower presents Smokey Bear statuette to AFA President Don Johnston (center)

    AFA is presented a Smokey Bear statuette in recognition of its years of forest fire advocacy and education work.

  • 1968
    With the help of AFA, a new Task Force on a National Program for Wildfire Control is formed.
  • 1970
    Along with five other organizations, AFA is invited to submit its position and policy on clear-cutting by the Council on Environmental Quality.
  • 1982
    AFA launches its Urban Forests program and convenes the National Urban Forest Conference.
  • 1986
    After years of advocacy by AFA, President Ronald Reagan signs the 1985 Farm Bill, including the new Conservation Reserve program, into law.
  • 1988
    AFA announces Global ReLeaf, a program of tree planting for ecosystem restoration that addresses global challenges through local action.
  • 1989
    After decades of advocacy and policy work, AFA wins the battle to convince Congress to pass a national urban forestry policy.
  • Atlanta tree cover satellite images

    Atlanta tree cover satellite images

    The first Global ReLeaf forest established in Au Sable, Mich. Christopher Reeve stars in Global ReLeaf PSAs for the Discovery Channel.

  • 1991
    Global ReLeaf is awarded a President’s Citation for Innovation. First international Global ReLeaf project is established in Hungary.
  • 1992
    AFA is renamed American Forests as a reflection of its conservation focus.
  • 1996
    American Forests introduces CITYgreen software to analyze ecosystem and economic benefits of urban tree canopies and green spaces. Atlanta is the first satellite tree cover analysis.
  • 1998
    Forest Policy Center gives national policy voice to community-based ecosystem management. American Forests premieres Silent Witnesses, narrated by actor James Whitmore, on public television.
  • 1999
    Global ReLeaf plants its 10 millionth tree. American Forests partners with the White House to plant Millennium Groves in every state and territory.
  • Oprah's Angel Network joins with AF to plant trees

    Oprah’s Angel Network joins with AF to plant trees

    The Global ReLeaf program undertakes Trees for Tigers to help save Siberian tigers from extinction.

  • 2002
    American Forests conducts Freedom Trees, Patriot Trees and Memorial Trees to honor victims and heroes of 9/11.
  • 2009
    After a year of advocacy by American Forests, the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act to establish a federal emergency fund for the suppression of sever wildfires is signed into law. American Forests joins Oprah’s Angel Network to plant trees around Habitat for Humanity for those displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
  • 2010
    American Forests joins the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition (SUFC) advocating for legislation relating to urban forestry and green infrastructure. American Forests throws its support behind President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative.
  • 2011
    American Forests throws its support behind Representative Matsui’s TREES Act that would support programs run by electric utilities to work with tree-planting nonprofits to use strategically planted shade trees in order to reduce residential energy demand.
  • 2012
    American Forests launches the Endangered Western Forests initiative – focusing, in its first stage, on the dangers facing the high-elevation whitebark pine of the Greater Yellowstone Area.
  • The first Community ReLeaf planting event took place is Asbury Park, N.J. with sponsor Bank of America Foundation

    The first Community ReLeaf planting event took place is Asbury Park, N.J. with sponsor Bank of America Foundation

    American Forests launches Community ReLeaf, a program dedicated to the assessment, restoration and monitoring of urban forests based on research and conversations with urban forest managers.

  • 2014
    American Forests creates the Big Tree Working Groups, convening a diverse array of experts to assist the program by addressing some of the tough questions inherent in crowning champion trees.
  • 2015
    American Forests plants 50 millionth Global ReLeaf tree and undertakes 1,000th Global ReLeaf project.
  • 2016
    American Forests launches the Urban Innovation Lab, an online community for urban forest practitioners.
  • 2020
    American Forests expands Community ReLeaf to 20 cities.
  • 2075
    American Forests celebrates its 200th Anniversary.

2015 American Forests Photo Contest Winners!

by American Forests

This summer, we held our first ever Trees Please photo contest, and it was a major success. Whether a simple, yet stunning landscape, a representation of the sheer size and scale of trees or a close look at trees’ powerful details, the photos each conveyed a different story. With so many gorgeous shots to choose from, it was a difficult decision. But, we are thrilled to highlight our 2015 American Forests Photo Contest winning photographs!

Grand Prize Winner: “Checking out the Redwood Forest”

Checking Out the Redwood Forest

Photographer: Yinghai Lu (CA); Location: Bull Creek Flat in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Calif.

Honorable Mention: “Independence I”

Independence I

Photographer: Jason Liske (CA); Location: Sierra Nevada, Calif.

Honorable Mention: “Prairie Creek”

Prairie Creek

Photographer: Mario Vaden (OR); Location: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, near Orick, Calif.

Honorable Mention: “Horse Chesnut at Dawn”

Horse Chesnut at Dawn

Photographer: Diana Fraser (MD); Location: Family farm in Maryland

People’s Choice Winner: “Tree Love in Vermont”

Tree Love in Vermont

Photographer: Madeline Ligenza (VT); Location: Mt. Philo, Vt.