GR25: Planting for Eagles in 1998

by Megan Higgs
Bald Eagle

Photo by Chuck Fazio

Stars, stripes and bald eagles: few symbols are as ubiquitous and enmeshed with American culture as these three. Indeed, the American flag and the bald eagle alike have been idolized as symbols of bravery, courage, resilience and many other qualities that the U.S.A. prides and cherishes. The eagle has a widespread hold across the U.S., as well – the bird’s native range covers much of the continental U.S., as well as Canada and northern Mexico.

However, as many Americans know, our national animal’s populations have not always been safe – in fact, the species was declared a federally listed endangered species in 1967. But, how is the eagle doing now, and what could have caused such a decline?

Throughout the mid-20th century following World War II, a supposed “wonder chemical” of a pesticide called DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was widely used for both insect-borne disease prevention and for insect control for crops, gardens and homes. Of course, DDT is now known for its notoriety in the famed 1962 environmental science book, Silent Spring. Throughout the controversial classic’s pages, author Rachel Carson penned the numerous detrimental effects of DDT on human and wildlife populations – in particular, the effects on birds. As Carson dramatically wrote:

“There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings … Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change … There was a strange stillness … The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of scores of bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.”

While not lethal to adult bald eagles, DDT is attributed to disastrous effects on the birds’ reproductive cycles.  DDT interfered particularly with the eagle’s calcium metabolism, causing many birds to be sterile. Female eagles that were still able to reproduce often laid eggs with extremely brittle shells, causing most offspring to die before they were able to hatch.  Additionally, rampant loss of habitat and hunting dwindled the bird’s numbers throughout much of the first half of the 20th century.

A nationwide ban of DDT took place in 1972, and over time, bald eagle populations have begun to rebound. By the 1950s, breeding pairs had dwindled to only 412 nationwide; it is now estimated that that number has risen to over 9,700 across the lower 48 contiguous states as of 2006.

In 1998, American Forests contributed to this monumental comeback by planting 12,650 trees in the breeding and wintering ranges of bald eagles through a large part of the Klamath winter roosting area. This project implemented part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Bald Eagle Management Recovery Plan, a plan that encompassed seven states (including California) and worked to restore a minimum of 800 breeding pairs throughout the plan’s range. The number of breeding pairs has now approached twice this minimum goal thanks to the halting of DDT usage, strict restrictions against hunting or trapping eagles and habitat restoration programs such as these.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the bald eagle from the list of endangered species in August 2007; however, the bird remains endangered in California. Regardless, the future is looking bright for a bird that has embodied a symbol of perseverance throughout the U.S. – bald eagles were found to be nesting in 28 of California’s counties by the close of the 1990s, up from a mere eight counties in 1977.

Forest Digest – Week of August 24, 2015

by American Forests
Boreal forest

Boreal forest at Indian Point on Taku River. Photo credit: Taku River Tlingit First Nation

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

  • Gabon: protecting vital forests, and communitiesThe Guardian
    Take a look at how efforts in Gabon are attempting to balance the demands for forests to meet the immediate needs of locals with forests role in preserving biodiversity and combating the changing climate.

Why I’m Here: The Impact of Increased Housing Development on Our Forests & Our Emotions

by American Forests

By Andrew Bell, Policy Intern

Forest in West Virginia

Forests provided a the perfect playground for policy intern Andrew Bell near his home in West Virginia. Photo by Andrew Bell

As the fall semester policy intern, I think a fitting introduction would express how I arrived at this destination and how protecting and restoring American forests has become our shared mission. I was born and raised in northeastern West Virginia. The state is affectionately referred to as “Wild, Wonderful” and for good reason, with the Blue Ridge Mountains and crisp whitewater rapids cascading with similar grandeur. I humbly thank my home state for its large contribution to the young man that I am today.

But, my experience with the great outdoors has not come without its fair share of heartbreaks, with the most recent of these being perhaps the single greatest reason that I’ve strived for this opportunity at American Forests.

I’m sure many of you had “your spot” growing up, and may still have one today. Whether it’s a secret swimming hole, a stump for reading on or even a garden-getaway in a big city, we have heard nature’s inexplicable call and found solace and respite there.

A small clearing atop a grand limestone cliff was my spot. Its unparalleled vista and brilliant sunsets made for the most awe-inspiring gallery for miles. While my pursuit of higher education took me to Arizona, where the desert wilderness is undeniably sublime, the majesty of the Appalachians and that cliff always welcomed me home as family.

But, one fall’s return home was marred by unfamiliar loss and a confrontation with a now-inescapable trend. The top of that cliff (and most of what led to it) had been cleared entirely, with its treasures being replaced by the foundation of what appeared to be something of a mansion.

I traversed what I thought to be the path I had hiked so many times before, but its bareness was blinding. I searched with pitiful fervor for something of a landmark, but that once-welcoming sanctuary was cold and silent.

One man built his mansion while unknowingly destroying another’s. Tragically so, I’m more than aware that I am not alone in having such a story. It is one of many truths embodying our troubled relationship with nature, and one that is virtually inescapable in our rapidly developing country. According to the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) Forests on the Edge reports from 2005 and 2009,  my slice of West Virginia  graduated from the “less than 50th percentile” to the upper end of the “90th percentile” in terms of private forests bound to experience increased housing development over a 30-year span. In just four short years, their estimate had skyrocketed in the ballpark of 25 percent.

And, West Virginia is not alone: Its Eastern counterparts, such as Florida, the Carolinas and Maryland, are all suffering from a comparable fate. And, in some cases, states along the West Coast, like California, are looking at numbers twice as large. Factoring in the 10 million acres of forest lost to development since 1982, alongside the projected 26 million more lost by 2030, the grand total will be comparable in size to the state of Georgia.

But, my opportunity here at American Forests has afforded me the chance to see it in black and white (Or, in this case, according to the USFS’ map detailing private forests susceptible to increased housing density, an alarming amount of red). And, equally so, it breaks my heart to see what were once pockets of heat on the map shoot up the coast like a wildfire.

They say all good things come to an end. This account is seemingly a reluctant endorsement of that sentiment. But, more so, I think it inspires the necessity of just the opposite in me, the necessity of being thankful for what we have left and taking the individual action to conserve all of our natural “mansions.”

My story brought me here, to our nation’s capital, and the wonderfully exciting organization of American Forests. Whatever your story may be, something brought you here as well. Whether this is your first or 100th time reading this blog, you want to do something, too. While that something will be different for everyone, I firmly believe we’ve found the right place.

To find out how you can get involved too, visit our Action Center.

The Mental Benefits Provided by Urban Forests

by American Forests

By Conrad Kabbaz, Policy Intern

Kids climbing treeWe all feel better after a walk in the park, but can trees really be key to our mental well-being? According to recent studies featured in the New York Times and The New Yorker, they might, improving our physical health as well.

Promising Results

This possibility piqued the interest of Gregory Bratman, a Stanford graduate student.  A study he conducted showed improved happiness and attentiveness after participants walked through a green portion of the university campus. Subjects were compared to another group who walked the same distance near heavy traffic, devoid of vegetation. The “traffic” group reported lower happiness and attentiveness than their “green” peers. While these results were telling, they did not establish a tangible cause for this disparity.

Determined to pinpoint physical mechanism by which nature affects our mood, Bratman organized another study with a similar premise. Two groups of volunteers completed walks of similar distances, one in a park-like area of the Stanford campus and another near a major highway; effects to their moods were measured. This time, however, Bratman used brain scans to examine blood flow to a specific region of the brain associated with negative thoughts. Higher flow means more negative thinking, while lower indicates calmness, positivity, or “happiness.” Again, the “green” group subjects were happier than their “traffic” counterparts, but this time Bratman was able to correlate these differences with actual changes in blood flow in their brains. These results are particularly promising for urban residents, as the volunteers in this latest study were all “city dwellers.”

Another study, led by University of Chicago professor Marc Berman, looked at the health effects of urban forests on Toronto residents. Researchers found that neighborhoods with higher concentrations of trees not only “felt” better, but had lower rates of death from cardiovascular conditions. Perhaps most interesting is that, unlike Bratman’s Stanford study, most subjects were not exposed to an immersive, park-like environment.  In contrast, roadside trees constituted the vast majority of urban forestry.  Therefore positive mood and health benefits are not limited to those with access to forested parks, but available to a large portion of urban residents.

Not Just How… But Why?

Again, there is the question of why nature has these effects on people. Bratman illuminated the physical cause of the mood changes, namely blood flow in the brain, but not why this reaction is triggered. According to Berman, the answer may lie in the concept of “directed” and “involuntary” attention.  I touched on this in my previous blog post about urban forests and children with ADHD, and the explanation remains the same. Directed attention is used for periods of specific focus, such as during a test or while driving. Involuntary attention is used when there is no specific target of attention, such as just sitting on a park bench. Birds chirping, trees blowing in the wind and passersby all momentarily capture your attention before it shifts to something else.  Directed attention is a finite capacity, requiring periods of rest so it may be replenished.  Involuntary attention provides this rest period, allowing your mind to recharge.

Nature draws on involuntary attention so the connection between urban forests and better moods and attentiveness is clear. In fact, Berman conducted a study decades ago at the University of Michigan where participants took a walk through either a natural or urban environment. Afterwards, they completed a cognitive assessment and the “natural” group performed better than the “urban” one. This indicated a higher capacity for directed attention in the “natural” group resulting from their exposure to nature.  As Berman’s Toronto study demonstrated, these performance benefits are not contingent on full immersion in a park-like setting, but rather are triggered by any visual exposure to urban forests.

The Big Picture

Studies like these provide insight into more than self-reported happiness or reduced stress. Through objective measures like brain scans and cognitive assessments, researchers can determine the physical and mental reactions that trigger these effects. The potential implications are huge for areas like urban planning, education, and medical treatment. Studies have shown that patients with a nature view from their hospital windows often recover sooner, with several now incorporating “healing gardens” into their grounds. These natural settings in courtyards or on rooftops provide a serene escape from the stark visuals of a standard hospital setting. Similarly, the directed attention boost from viewing nature has been observed to be five times more for those with depression. Patterns like these are exciting areas of study because the need for new solutions to problems like mental illness and stress is rising.

Learn more about the benefits of urban forests!

Learn More about Urban Forests

Forest Digest – Week of August 17, 2015

by American Forests
Grand Circus Park

Grand Circus Park in Detroit, Mich. Credit: Mike Russell

Get some perspective on what’s happening with our forests with this week’s Forest Digest.

This Is It! The Quest for a New Champion Sugar Pine

by American Forests

Finding a champion tree is certainly an adventure! So, we wanted to share this vivid account of the quest to find a sugar pine that is pending nomination as a champion, as told by Carl Casey, nominator of the current sugar pine co-champion. 

Calaveras sugar pine

Carl Casey standing next to the base of the sugar pine found in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Photo by Rick Messier.

I was pushing my way slowly through a dense thicket of small trees – incense cedar, white fir and pacific dogwood — following the sound of voices we heard not far away in the forest. Accompanying me was my good friend and fellow big tree hunter, Rick Messier. We were off trail just upstream from the Agassiz Tree, the largest giant sequoia in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The Agassiz Tree is in the park’s South Grove, a gorgeous, old-growth mixed conifer forest of the Sierra Nevada that includes sugar pines. The ground was covered with broken branches and occasional logs 2 to 3 feet in diameter. It was a mild summer day in July, with blue skies and temperatures in the low 70s.

After a short distance someone heard us pushing through the forest and yelled out, “Are you looking for Bob Van Pelt?”

“Yes!” I replied.

“He’s on his way to meet you. He’ll be here in a few minutes.”

Someone came up through the trees and greeted us. It was James Freund, a bright young Ph.D. graduate, who was assisting Bob with measuring sequoias in the permanent plot that had been established in the South Grove five years earlier. He was wearing a hard hat and led us over to the group of researchers nearby that included Steve Sillett and his wife, Marie, well-known for their work with coast redwood trees. Some of the researchers had climbed a group of young sequoias with ropes and were suspended at different heights in the air, measuring trunk and branch sizes.

Bob soon arrived to greet us. Our purpose today was to obtain precise measurements of a large sugar pine I had found in the grove two months earlier. Since the demise of the Pickering Pine and the Whelan Pine, the two largest known sugar pines, the search was on to find another sugar pine close to their stature, if there were any left. The old-growth sugar pines of the Sierra Nevada have been hit hard in recent years by drought, bark beetles and blister rust, and many of the old giants are now gone. Michael Taylor and I had found sugar pines (separately) that are currently co-champions on the National Register of Champion Trees, but both are significantly smaller than the prior champs. Late last summer, Michael and I met and searched for large sugar pines in a nearby area of the Stanislaus National Forest…but came up short.

Bob and James followed me and Rick back to the Agassiz tree. At that point we were back on an established trail and made quick time hiking down to the sugar pine I was hoping would turn out to be in the class of the former giants. When we arrived at the tree, Bob glanced at it and became excited. High up on the trunk was the remnant of a former huge branch, large enough around to indicate that this was a very old tree.

“I bet this tree is at least 500 years old!” exclaimed Bob.

Like many old sugar pines, it had a large, cone-shaped skirt of debris at the base, made up of accumulated bark flakes, needles and small branches. Our first task was to determine where true ground level was on the high and low sides of the tree. Once that was accomplished, James starting wrapping the tape around the reddish-brown bark, while Rick and I assisted by helping to level the tape. After James circled the tree and came back to the starting point, we awaited the reading.

“919 centimeters!” James exclaimed. Bob was wearing a walkie talkie strapped to his chest to communicate with the other researchers. He pushed the button to talk and said, “Steve! It’s 919 centimeters at breast height!”

Not being a scientist, that meant nothing to me.

Calaveras sigar pine

Sugar pine in Calaveras Big Tree State Park nominated to the National Register of Champion Trees. Photo by Carl Casey.

“The circumference is 30 feet and 2 inches in English measures,” Bob said. “That’s 9.6 feet in diameter!” The slow tapering trunk of the tree showed some concave areas of bark that curved slightly as they went upward, another characteristic of large, old sugar pines.

Bob asked James to wrap the tape measure around the trunk as high up as he could reach, standing on top of the debris skirt on the high point of ground. Rick found a stick to push the tape up to keep it level going around the trunk. The tape kept falling and had to be adjusted numerous times. Finally, we got it right.

“What’s the reading?” Bob asked.

“762 centimeters,” James replied.

Bob clicked his walkie talkie and said, “Steve! It’s 762 centimeters (25 feet) at 10 feet off the ground!”  Bob surveyed the trunk with an expert eye honed by 30 years of measuring trees.

After a few moments Bob said with finality, “This is it! I believe this is the largest living pine tree on earth!!”

I was thrilled. My hope of finding one more sugar pine in league with the old giants was fulfilled.

Bob looked up and said, “The tree doesn’t look that tall to me, which could hurt as far as the tree’s overall points are concerned.”

But, I wasn’t too dismayed by this. Most of the really old sugar pines have had their tops broken off at some point and are generally in the 200- to 210-foot height range. Bob wound his way back through the forest, looking for a spot to measure the height with his laser rangefinder. James was standing by the trunk with a reflector, since the understory of pacific dogwood and small white firs obscured the view of the base of the tree.

After numerous attempts to catch the reflector, “Got it!” exclaimed Bob at last.

And then, silence. James tried to hold the reflector still. In a minute we hear Bob yell out, “I was wrong about the height. The tree is 241.3 feet tall!”  This meant the tree garnered more than 600 points in total, a feat accomplished by only three other sugar pines, all of which were now dead.

What caused Bob’s initial height estimate to be low is the fact that the entire forest of   trees in the South Grove is rather tall. The tallest known sequoia north of the Kings River is in this grove, measuring 283 feet high.

Bob came back to the base of the tree. We were all overjoyed that this magnificent old tree had survived centuries of storms, snow, wind, drought, bark beetles and blister rust to eventually, hopefully one day, claim the title of earth’s largest pine.

The sugar pine detailed in this story has been nominated to our National Register of Champion Trees, but has not yet been confirmed as an official champion. The register will be updated in 2016. To view our National Register of Champion Trees, click here.

GR25: Partying Like It’s 1999…And Saving Salmon

by Megan Higgs

Trees shade the water and with salmon, the cooler the water, the better. Lower water temperatures mean more dissolved oxygen in the water, and dissolved oxygen is essential to salmon survival.

For today’s blog post, we’re gonna party like it’s 1999 with an unlikely hero (after all, you can still party like it’s 1999 if you don’t have legs!). Indeed, the star of today’s show is none other than the threatened salmon, and it has been quite a journey for the past several years!

As with the rest of the world, 1999 marked the end of a millennium, as well as the end of crimped hair, snap bracelets and other fabulous fashion statements. But, for American Forests’ Global ReLeaf, 1999 also signaled new beginnings.  In fact, this was one of the first years of collaboration with Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) — a longstanding partnership that has witnessed work spanning 10 separate years!

Sure, anniversaries are great and all. But, how does planting trees affect salmon, exactly?

Unbeknownst to many at first glance, trees, forests and riparian corridors provide a myriad of benefits for aquatic species, including salmon. They shade and cool streams, which is necessary for viable habitats for local populations. They also increase dissolved oxygen levels, mitigate soil erosion into waterways and prevent sediment buildup from occurring. Furthermore, riparian habitat is critical for filtering pollutants from the air and water, and leaves and other organic matter provided by trees yield sources of food and habitat for many species.

By partnering with NSEA, we have planted over 136,000 trees total in the Nooksack river basin as of our 10th anniversary to restore freshwater salmon habitat — particularly for species such as the Chinook and Coho salmon. Salmon are incredibly sensitive to changes in water quality and quantity, and the beginnings of our partnership came at a crucial time for these species: salmon populations had been declining for approximately 50 years, with their overall population health worsening in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  In fact, critical habitat had just been designated for the Coho salmon in 1999, and the Chinook salmon had just been listed as threatened nine years prior, in 1990. These fish are certainly worth preserving — known as the “king salmon,” the Chinook was well-known among the Lewis and Clark expedition, and Lewis himself once wrote that, when fresh, they tasted “better than any fish” he had ever eaten.

American Forests and NSEA are continuing to work closely together to preserve these and other salmon species, as well as dozens of other species that rely on salmon and salmon eggs.  We are planting 10,000 trees in riparian areas this year and have also assisted in educational outreach among youth and other groups — a feat that will ensure that there will not only be salmon for the years to come, but also (we hope!) our next generation of environmental stewards.

Forest Digest – Week of August 10, 2015

by American Forests

This week’s forest digest has the trends for wildfires and China’s environmental future.

Air pollution has become a crisis in China’s major cities, and now the government is attacking the problem head on.

  • How Megafires are Remaking American ForestsNational Geographic
    As climate change worsens, fires of a scale never seen before are running rampant across the west, and forests are responding differently than before.
  • Breckenridge Trees Have the Blues9 News
    Downtown Breckenridge, Colo. is seeing some different colored trees as part of a local campaign to get people to appreciate the natural scenery they have.

How Wildfires Are Burning through the U.S. Forest Service Budget

by American Forests

By David May, Communications Intern

A report released by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) earlier this month has revealed a stunning increase in wildfire suppression costs. This past year, more than half of the organization’s budget went to fire suppression, a first in USFS history and a stark comparison to the 16 percent of the budget allocated to wildfire suppression in 1995. This exponential growth shows no sign of stopping anytime soon, with 67 percent of the budget estimated to go to wildfire suppression by 2025 if left unchecked.

What’s Causing the Dramatic Increase?

Suppressing wildland fires is a costly process that requires a lot of expensive equipment. How in the world are we spending so much money on combating wildfires?

First and foremost, more development is taking place than ever before in fire-prone areas, which means that the USFS must prioritize their limited resources to protect lives and property.

Due to the changing climate, the average wildfire season is now 78 days longer than in 1970, increasing it to almost 300 days in some areas. These days, the U.S. is burning twice as many acres as it did three decades ago.

So, is the USFS just doing a bad job at putting out fires?

No! In fact, even as the wildfires have continued to grow, the USFS, and related firefighting agencies, manage to suppress 98% of all wildfires. However, it’s this 1 to 2 percent of the most extreme wildfires that end up devouring at least 30% of the firefighting budget.

Drought, variations in temperature and a buildup of fire-prone vegetation have combined to create some truly immense fires that are burning hotter and longer than ever before.

What Is This Doing to the U.S. Forest Service?

Congress determines the USFS’ wildland fire suppression budget based off of a rolling average of the costs of fire suppression for the past 10 years. This worked well when the averages were relatively stable, but, as we’ve already seen, the averages are rising more and more each year.

US Forest Service Chart showing the rising percentage of the budget that fire suppression operations are taking up.

The costs will of fighting wildland fires will continue to increase until we invest more in preventative measures. Photo credit: USFS, “The Rising Cost of Wildfire Operations.”

This exponential rise in costs has led to less than accurate budgeting, and non-fire related USFS programs are paying the price. In a practice known as fire transfers, the difference in the appropriated budget and actual cost for the fire suppression budget comes from other programs’ budgets. Over the past fiscal year, the fire suppression costs ate up $115 million from other programs’ appropriated budgets, including those that help prevent extreme wildfires like hazardous fuel reduction.

This is a big deal.

Vegetation and Watershed Management programs are crucial for post-fire restoration; these programs are our best preventative measure against the growing threat of wildfires, yet their budget has been cut by 24 percent over the last 15 years. Not only do they help to prevent wildfires, but they ensure that the ecosystems we rely on for water and a variety of products are healthy, a service that is all too easy to take for granted.

Infrastructure is taking a back seat, too. The budget for the road system was cut by 46 percent, facilities lost 68 percent and deferred maintenance projects were reduced by a whopping 95 percent. The effects of these reductions cannot be understated. These are the means with which all forest service operations are conducted; the bridges and roads that are falling into disrepair are the same ones that fire suppression teams rely on to respond to wildfires. Not only that, but outdoor recreation is feeling the cuts as well. The $646 billion industry cannot exist without the services provided by the USFS.

Rebecca Turner, American Forests’ senior director of programs and policy, says the funding issue’s impact on multiple agencies increases its need to be addressed.

“As federal budgets are staying level and even decreasing, the fire suppression funding issue doesn’t just affect the U.S. Forest Service,” Turner says. “Department of Interior agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, are impacted as well. It is time Congress fixes this problem.”

What Needs to Be Done

Personnel reductions are one of the largest problems for non fire suppression programs in the Forest Service. Photo credit: USFS, “The Rising Cost of Wildfire Operations.”

We need Congress to act, and we need them to act fast. The current funding structure for the USFS is insufficient, and every year the lasting effects of this problem become harder to undo.

Right now, our best hope is the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA) (S.235 and H.R. 167.) Introduced into the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, the WDFA would make it so that 70 percent of the 10-year rolling average mentioned before would be allocated to the fire suppression budget, and the remaining cost would come from federal disaster funding. This would treat the most extreme wildfires as natural disasters and fund the response to them the same way hurricanes, tornadoes and floors are funded.

With WDFA, the USFS can get back to providing the services that we need and ensure that the growing wildfire problem can be dealt with adequately.

So far, there is growing bipartisan support along with the president’s approval. But, we can always use your help! Go to our action center and tell your representative that you care about our forests. Because when the USFS suffers, we all suffer.

How Urban Forests Can Help Mitigate ADHD Symptoms

by American Forests

By Conrad Kabbaz, Policy Intern

Children in parkIt is widely known that urban forests improve air quality, but could green spaces be the solution to one of the most common childhood disorders? Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, affects 10 percent of American children. Symptoms include difficulty focusing, high impulsivity, and restlessness, all of which can negatively impact academic performance and social interaction. It’s not surprising that children with ADHD often have lower grades and report more self-esteem issues than their unaffected peers. Causes of the disorder remain unclear, with genetics and environmental factors likely playing roles. What is clear is that rate of diagnoses is on the rise, increasing an average five percent per year from 2003 to 2011.

No Clear Fix

There is no cure for ADHD, and existing treatment options are lackluster, with medication and/or psychotherapy being standard approaches to manage symptoms.  Stimulants, like Adderall or Concerta, can be quite effective at reducing their severity but come with a host of side effects such as decreased appetite and sleep problems.  Essentially exchanging one set of symptoms for another, many find these side effects to be more bothersome than the original ADHD ones. Additionally, these drugs have high addictive potential, evidenced by their classification as “Schedule II Controlled Substances” (Schedule I drugs have no medical purpose, such as cocaine or heroin).  Psychotherapy does not carry these side effects, but is more time intensive and slower to show symptom improvement.  Both avenues can be costly, typically amounting to hundreds of dollars per month.  Without health insurance to cover a portion of the expense, these options are simply out of reach for many families.

A Natural (and Free) Alternative

Luckily, there may be an inexpensive, side-effect free solution for managing ADHD symptoms. Frances Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor, who both specialize in psychology and environmental science at the University of Illinois, conducted a study examining children with the disorder and the impact of green spaces, including parks, yards, and urban forests. The results were promising, with children who had access to green spaces for play showing milder ADHD symptoms than those without. A potential explanation for these findings lies in the theory of attention restoration. This school of thought outlines two types of attention, directed and involuntary. Directed attention describes periods of deliberate focus, such as reading, writing, or driving. Involuntary attention refers to automatic focus, such as walking on a busy sidewalk or getting dressed in the morning. Directed attention is a limited resource, with breaks necessary to maintain productivity. In children with ADHD, this capacity is further reduced. By playing outdoors, children have an opportunity to “replenish” their directed attention because spontaneous play only draws on involuntary attention. So, while medication is effective in extending a child’s length of directed attention, outdoor play can achieve the same effect naturally.

Kuo and Taylor’s findings illuminate yet another benefit of urban forests. In fact, many of the children residing in areas lacking urban forests come from less affluent backgrounds. These families are largely unable to afford mainstream ADHD treatment options and stand to benefit most from the availability of green space. Education is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty, and children held back by this disorder are unable to achieve their full potential in the classroom. Granted, this research is preliminary, and more studies need to be conducted before anything is certain. Perhaps most importantly, they give a degree of hope to families that otherwise would have no options for managing their child’s disorder.

Learn more about the benefits of urban forests!

Learn more about urban forests