Inspiration in the Everglades

by Susan Laszewski

Here at American Forests we love to celebrate birthdays, whether it’s celebrating a staff member with a generous helping of birthday cake or celebrating the “birth” of some of our nation’s most remarkable public lands. Today, another gorgeous national park celebrates its anniversary: Everglades National Park in Florida was signed into existence 66 years ago today.

Bob Showler with the national co-champion inkwood in Everglades National Park.

Bob Showler with the national co-champion inkwood in Everglades National Park.

It’s a park whose name pops up a lot around here, including in connection with our National Big Tree Program. Everglades is one two national parks in Florida to boast a national champion tree — not surprising given that Florida holds the record for the greatest number of national champs of any state.

The national co-champion inkwood in Everglades is 47 feet tall with a crown spread of 27 feet. Considering that a typical inkwood is around 30 feet tall, that’s quite a height! The tree was nominated in 2007 by naturalist Bob Showler, who has six other nominations listed in the National Register of Big Trees. Although the inkwood is this big-tree hunter’s only current Everglades champ, other projects have blossomed from his time spent hunting for such goliaths in the park.

While searching for champs, Showler began to notice the bark of different trees, and they captured his imagination. Teaming up with friend and photographer Tim Taylor, they created the exhibit “Barking up a Tree” to showcase the beauty of Florida’s native trees through close-ups. The photographs were exhibited at visitor centers in Everglades National Park and later at Florida’s Biscayne National Park, but can still be seen in the digital exhibit on the website of Everglades National Park.

So, in honor of Everglades NP, grab yourself a slice of birthday cake and curl up with a good online photography exhibit.


A Wild, Wild World

by Michelle Werts
Threatened Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus)

Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus) cubs. American Forests has conducted many black bear habitat restoration projects over the years. Credit: USDA

150 million acres of protected land & water

1,000 species of fish

700 species of birds

250 species of reptiles and amphibians

220 species of mammals

I’iwi

I’iwi is one of several critically endangered members of the Hawaiian honeycreeper family. It prefers native koa forests like those in Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Donald Metzner/USFWS

This is the National Wildlife Refuge System, administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), by the numbers. As you may be able to gather from its name and some of the numbers above, its mission is fairly straightforward: “The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.” In practice, though, there’s nothing simple about it.

There are more than 550 wildlife refuges in the system, and each requires its own comprehensive conservation plan, which outlines how the refuge will be managed for the benefit of the ecosystem, wildlife and visitors. To help put the enormity of this task in perspective, the National Park Service — the home of treasures like Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park — only oversees 450 properties across 88.5 million acres.

Over the years, American Forests Global ReLeaf has partnered with the FWS to help restore forestland in many of its wildlife refuges, including planting bottomland hardwood trees in Louisiana’s Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge to restore Louisiana black bear habitat, converting retired cropfield to forestland in Kansas’ Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge to provide habitat for wild turkeys and bald eagles and planting Acacia koa in Hawaii’s Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge to create habitat for Hawaiian birds. (For more on Hawaii’s struggle against invasive species, read “Islands in the Balance” from the Spring/Summer 2013 issue of American Forests.)

Gopher tortoise

American Forests has partnered with wildlife refuges in Florida and Georgia to restore habitat for the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). Credit: David Syzdek

However, the impact of the National Wildlife Refuge System extends beyond wildlife. The system is also responsible for providing and administering wildlife-dependent recreation, such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography and environmental education and interpretation. As such, the system is also an economic force, as 47 million visitors use it each year, generating $1.7 billion and creating 27,000 jobs in local communities. Like all government programs, though, the National Wildlife Refuge System’s funding isn’t secure.

According to estimates, the system needs $900 million to cover annual operations and maintenance budgets — a number it doesn’t usually get. The president recommended in his FY2014 budget that $499.2 million be allocated to the National Wildlife Refuge System, a number American Forests believes is justified.


Funding for Urban Forests

by Amanda Tai
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Downtown Denver. Credit: Navreet Vaidwan

A recent U.S. Forest Service study published in Environmental Pollution indicates that America’s urban forests store up to 700 million tons of carbon, which is estimated to provide a $50 billion benefit. American Forests Science Advisory Board member David Nowak led the study at the agency’s Northern Research Station by looking at field data from 28 cities.

In the 486 urbanized areas in the United States, there is an overall population density of 2,534 people per square mile. With such densely concentrated urban populations, it’s important to continue funding the federal programs and research that invest in urban forests. There are several federal agency programs that do this. American Forests has worked with the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition (SUFC) to advocate for funding these programs in FY 2014.

Urban and Community Forestry (UCF) Program

This cooperative program focuses on stewardship of natural resources in urban areas. UCF responds to the needs of urban areas and the people who live there by helping to maintain, restore and improve urban forests. In FY 2012, the UCF Program helped 7,499 communities in all 50 states by providing them with technical assistance, education, funding and research.

Forest Health Management Program

Invasive pests like the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) are detrimental to trees in urban areas like New York, Boston and St. Paul. The Forest Health Management Program aids efforts to combat pests like ALB that impact urban and rural forests. The program coordinates the national management of pests, which includes the U.S. Forest Service, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the National Association of State Foresters (NASF) and the National Plant Board (NPB).

Urban Natural Resources Research

There is still a lot of research to be done on urban forests to understand how they function and the many benefits they provide. Also, since urban areas are constantly changing, it’s important that urban foresters and managers are using the most updated research to inform their work. Work like the carbon storage study mentioned earlier is funded through Urban Natural Resources Research, part of the U.S. Forest Service’s Research and Development. Such research can provide useful information for local governments, businesses, decision makers and individuals that want to invest in and advocate for urban forests.

Urban Waters Federal Partnership

Urban forests help manage stormwater, water storage and pollution. This partnership brings together several federal agencies, in coordination with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), to revitalize urban waterways and the communities around them. This work includes leveraging local resources and engaging local communities in water conservation efforts, pollution control, building recreation opportunities and promoting ways to keep urban waters clean.

Green infrastructure, like urban forests, not only helps us deal with increasing amounts of carbon emissions, but also with increased flood and storm risks, heat island effects and other climate change-related challenges. Investing in the health of urban forests means investing in the health of people. With more than 80 percent of Americans living in urban areas, urban forests and the programs that support them are becoming more and more important to our health and well-being.


A Central Park Walkabout

by Matthew Boyer, VP of Individual Giving

Despite a steady rain, 16 American Forests’ supporters showed up for a beautiful stroll through the least visited part of New York’s Central Park called the North Woods over the weekend. This was the inaugural event for American Forests Walkabouts, a newly created program that provides opportunities for members and their friends to get out and enjoy forests in their own city or out in the wilderness.

American Forests supporters explore Central Park's North Woods

American Forests supporters explore Central Park’s North Woods. Credit: American Forests

Regina Alvarez, former director of horticulture and woodland management for the Central Park Conservancy, guided our walk and did a wonderful job of teaching us all about the history of the North Woods, as well as the invasive species the park is trying to get under control and the importance of this urban park for New York, which American Forests named one of the 10 Best Cities for Urban Forests earlier this year. During the walk, we took time to enjoy the North Woods’ bridges, tunnels, waterfalls and, most importantly, trees and the wildlife that lives amid them. Who knew there were such natural waterfalls in Central Park?!?

Because American Forests is proud to take its friends out into the forest and show them our work, I will be creating many more free experiences like this across the country, including in cities like Pasadena, Dallas, Portland, Seattle and Washington, D.C.! In addition, I will be looking into opportunities to take members to places where they can encounter the giant redwood or see the monarch butterflies in their Mexican winter home. To be informed instantly when events are occurring near you, become a member and supporter of American Forests today. And stay tuned here at Loose Leaf, as I’ll be back to share further Walkabout adventures.


The Survivor Tree

by Melinda Housholder, Urban Forests Program Director

Oklahoma City Survivor Tree

Oklahoma City Survivor Tree. Credit: American Forests

A week ago, I stood in front of “The Survivor Tree” at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing, humbled by the strength of this tree that so accurately reflects the courage and spirit of the Oklahoma City community.

Today, as I hear stories and see images of the destruction caused by the tornado just four days after I left, my heart is saddened, and my thoughts are with those who must soon start to face the journey of recovery. Tearing through 17 miles of central Oklahoma and leveling hundreds of homes on Monday, the F5 tornado spanned 1.3 miles and packed winds that topped 200 mph. As the search continues for those who are missing, I’ve found myself reflecting on the city, the loss and the challenges that are being endured. And, I am reminded of The Survivor Tree.

This 80-year-old American elm witnessed one of the worst terrorist attacks in our country. Prior to the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, this lone elm stood in the middle of a parking lot, surrounded by concrete and cars, outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. While some folks enjoyed parking under the limited shade of its limbs, others thought it was an eyesore. Not much went into caring for this tree — until it was the only thing left standing.

On April 19, 1995, a 4,000-pound bomb exploded at the federal building, killing 168 people, injuring hundreds and destroying multiple buildings. But this tree, in the midst of the explosion and fires, survived. Then, it was almost cut down to recover evidence embedded in its trunk and limbs, but the community, survivors and rescue workers all came together to protect the tree as a symbol of resilience. Today, the tree thrives, surrounded by special features that protect and highlight it.

As I watch the news and hear stories of the newest tragedy to strike Oklahoma City, I reflect on the courage and strength of this community. As we make strides to make some sense of the natural and man-made horrors that come our way, I find hope in the tenacity of our human spirit. As we seek to support the recovery of this town in its time of need, I wanted to share the story of The Survivor Tree as a symbol of the strength of Oklahomans. As the inscription around the tree reads, “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”

Survivor Tree inscription.

Survivor Tree inscription. Credit: Melinda Housholder/American Forests


The Spice of Life

by Michelle Werts

Have you ever been in one of those subdivisions where every house looks the same? Or how about have you ever had to eat the same leftovers for several days in a row? In my experience, the first experience leaves me feeling a little creeped out, while the second can become tiresome. As the old cliché goes, variety is the spice of life. The same exact thing is true in nature, which is why the United Nations has declared today the International Day for Biological Diversity. Connecting with the UN’s designation of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation, the theme of this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity is “Water and Biodiversity” — two things that go hand-in-hand, as plants and animals are all part of the water cycle.

Brule Lake, Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Brule Lake, Superior National Forest, Minnesota. Credit: Mr. Moment/Flickr

In ecosystems across the world, health is often predicated on biodiversity, as each plant and animal species has a specific role to play. For instance, a tree or plant’s transpiration (the evaporation of water from its leaves and stems) plays a major role in an area’s humidity and rainfall. As I’m sure you can imagine, forests often contain some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet. In fact, forests are more biologically diverse than any other land-based ecosystem according to the UN, and they protect more than two-thirds of all land-based animal and plant species. Forests, though, also protect aquatic species, which is just one of many fitting connections to this year’s theme of “Water and Biodiversity.”

Water and biodiversity are also two words that come up quite frequently in our 2013 Global ReLeaf projects:

  • In Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, we’re planting 43,000 white, red and jack pines and white spruce to increase biodiversity to an area that has lost a number of its pines to pests. At the same time, we’re planting these trees along riparian areas to help protect the forest’s streams for its diverse fish populations.
  • Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico was affected by a 2011 wildfire, which is why we’re helping plant 45,000 aspen, bog birch, coyote willow, American plum and other species to restore the area’s Rito des los Indios watershed — an important wildlife habitat.

  • Pisgah National Forest’s North Fork Mills River is eligible for designation by the U.S. government as a Wild and Scenic River, and the North Carolina river also provides drinking water to the surrounding communities. By planting 1,800 trees representing seven different species, we’re helping restore this riparian zone that is also home to a variety of animal species.
  • 2011’s Hurricane Irene tore up the East Coast, causing major flooding in many areas, including Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest. Vegetation along the forest’s White River was devastating, so we’re planting 7,000 trees to help stabilize the river and create a safe environment for its fish and other wildlife.

And the list could go on. Suffice it to say, our work protecting and restoring forests touches on a lot more than just the trees in the forest. But we couldn’t do it without our partners and supporters, so today, let’s celebrate the wonderfully diverse world that we’re all helping protect and create.


Logging Roads and the Clean Water Act

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

Credit: Juhan Sonin

Logging truck in Ohio

Logging truck in Ohio. Credit: Don O’Brien

It doesn’t really matter what your political party affiliation is: There are times when you hear about a Supreme Court ruling, and you are left scratching your head. Whether it’s because you believed an issue was so cut and dry it is hard to imagine anyone else coming out the other way or you thought the Court could have gone a lot further in its decision than it actually did, it is not an unusual moment to find yourself perplexed by a decision of the Court.

Unlike most of us, however, the U.S. Congress is actually in a position to right a wrong that it may see in a decision — for example, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, passed specifically to counteract the Supreme Court’s decision in Lily Ledbetter v. Goodyear. Likewise, even if the Court resolves an issue in a way that many find acceptable, Congress may pass legislation to shore up that decision or fill in any remaining holes.

Such was the case last week. On Thursday, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced a bill to reinforce and expand the recent Supreme Court decision in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center. In its decision, the Court held (lawyer parlance for determined) that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted lawfully in not requiring foresters to have permits for stormwater runoff from logging roads and other logging activities, which might otherwise require a permit under the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act itself is a behemoth of a statute, stating that many types of stormwater runoff from specific, identified sources, such as construction runoff into streams or wetlands, require a permit if the runoff flows into other bodies of water.

When the Supreme Court issued its Decker decision in March, it agreed with the EPA’s position that logging is not an “industrial activity” and, thus, did not require a stormwater permit for logging roads. Some in the logging industry and legislators from timber-heavy states, such as Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), felt that the Court’s decision still left too many questions about the extent of the logging road and activities exemption from Clean Water Act permitting. These concerns arose because while the Court addressed whether logging roads and activities needed discharge permits, it did not decide whether those same roads or activities qualified as “point sources” under the Clean Water Act. Concerned legislators, therefore, took the matter into their own hands and introduced S.971, the Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act, to clear up any remaining questions.

The act, introduced by Senator Wyden and co-sponsored by Senators Crapo (R-ID), Baucus (D-MT) and Risch (R-ID), specifically identifies forestry activities, which includes timber harvesting, as nonpoint sources under the Clean Water Act and thus exempt from the stormwater permit requirement. While logging organizations and forestry groups praise the recent legislation, when Senator Wyden introduced a similar bill two years ago, Oregon environmental groups expressed their displeasure with the proposed legislation.

Last week, S.971 was read into the Congressional Record (another interesting resource that provides access to our federal government) and then was referred to the Environmental and Public Works Committee, the same committee that has been enmeshed in a political struggle over the nomination of Gina McCarthy to be the next EPA Administrator. I will continue to track this legislation, as it is an interesting example of the power of the Congress to alter or support decisions of the Supreme Court.


Greener Green Energy

by Susan Laszewski

Credit: Jimmy Cardosi

Credit: Jimmy Cardosi

Now, here’s a scientific study Popeye would really go for: Researchers at the University of Georgia have captured energy from spinach, according to a new study published in Energy & Environmental Science.

The team, led by Assistant Professor Ramaraja Ramasamy, has developed a method of syphoning off the electrons that plants create during photosynthesis, and electrons translate into energy. Using spinach in their experiments, they manipulated proteins in the plant’s thylakoids — the structures that capture and store energy from sunlight — to redirect to carbon nanotubes that act as conductors, rather than being converted into sugar by the plant.

Photosynthesis is a natural process that’s just screaming to be mimicked. Many plants have a quantum efficiency of nearly 100 percent — meaning nearly every photon from the sun that they take in is converted into an electron. In contrast, the quantum efficiency of a solar panel is between 12 and 17 percent. You simply can’t process energy from the sun any better than plants can. So, just as forests may hold the key to countless undiscovered medical cures, they also have a lot to teach us about sustainable energy.

This is not the first time scientists have used plants to create energy, but the University of Georgia research marks a big step forward in the efficiency of such technologies, having produced electrical current levels two orders of magnitude larger than similar systems have. If you’re like me, there may be one thing nagging as you read about this research: Don’t the plants need those electrons to produce sugars? It’s true that the system is currently not stable for very long, as it effectively robs the plant of its energy. However, plants can replace lost thylakoids, and with more work, it may be possible to make this technology sustainable in a way that could rival solar panel technology. In the foreseeable future, though, the technology could be used as a power source in remote areas. Someday, could we be monitoring forests using their own power?

“It is green energy, 100 percent clean; it has the potential to operate at really high efficiency, if we can continue to improve on this,” Ramasamy tells NBC News. “Besides, I think it is a really cool concept.”


Endangered, But Protected

by Michelle Werts
The endangered woodland caribou

The endangered woodland caribou. Credit: Canopic/Flickr

Today is the eighth annual Endangered Species Day! In December 1973, President Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act, which charged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with protecting not only the listed species, but “the ecosystems upon which they depend.” And for the last 40 years, the agencies have been developing and implementing wildlife protection and recovery plans for hundreds of plant and animal species.

To celebrate Endangered Species Day, I thought we’d take a quick look at a few of the endangered and threatened species that American Forests is actively protecting by restoring wildlife habitat.

Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou)
Last year, American Forests Global ReLeaf visited Washington’s Colville National Forest to work with the U.S. Forest Service to improve habitat for the forest’s wildlife, which includes the endangered woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou). Woodland caribou was added to the Endangered Species Act in 1983.

The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker

The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Credit: USFWS Southeast

Red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis)
From 2008 to 2012, American Forests partnered with Florida’s Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park to plant longleaf pine throughout hundreds of acres of the park to restore habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The woodpecker, endangered since 1970, requires many acres of mature longleaf pine habitat to thrive, but longleaf ecosystems have been dramatically reduced from almost 90 million acres two hundred years ago to less than three million today.

The threatened Coho salmon

The threatened Coho salmon. Credit: Dan Bennett

Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch)
Each year, American Forests conducts multiple riparian restoration projects to improve watershed health and aquatic habitat. Many of our riparian projects in the Pacific Northwest are aimed specifically at helping endangered and threatened fish species. This year, we’re planting 8,800 trees along Oregon’s Thompson Creek to help the threatened Coho salmon, which has been listed under the Endangered Species Act since 1997.

Wood stork (Mycteria americana)
Found in the Southeast, the wood stork was listed as endangered in 1984. Last year, American Forests partnered with The Nature Conservancy to plant pond cypress trees in South Carolina’s Washo Reserve to create nesting habitat for the stork.

Over the years, we’ve been able to help so many species thanks to the support of our members, but, today, amidst our recognition and extra focus on endangered species, I want to also take a moment to talk about what if. What if we didn’t have an Endangered Species Act working to save animal species on the brink? To date, less than one percent of species listed under the act have been removed because of extinction — that’s a 99 percent success rate! While my question might seem theoretical, due to the state of the U.S. budget, this question is more real than you think.

The endangered wood stork

The endangered wood stork. Credit: Matthew Paulson

In 1982, the designation “warranted but precluded” was added via amendment to the Endangered Species Act. This fancy phrase means that a species should be given protected status under the act, but other species take priority in that year. Basically, it can’t be added because of a lack of funds to support recovery plans and activities. Ruh-roh!

This happened to the whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) in 2011. This keystone and foundation species in our Mountain West is facing daily battles with mountain pine beetles and white pine blister rust. We’re so concerned about this species that we created a whole initiative, Endangered Western Forests, to help save this tree and its ecosystem. Yet, additional protection under the Endangered Species Act is “warranted but precluded”? It’s frustrating to say the least, which is why American Forests supports the president’s request of $185.4 million in FY2014 appropriations for the Endangered Species Program. The Endangered Species Act is working, and we need to make sure Congress continues to give it the support it needs to save our beloved wild creatures.


Rain, Rain, Don’t Go Away

by Susan Laszewski

amazon river

The Amazon River. Credit: NASA

The ways in which forests safeguard our planet are endless. And yet, we read and hear so much about some of them — like forests’ role as carbon sinks in combating climate change — that others can sometimes be overlooked. A study published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences serves as a good reminder of how complex the forest and its roles in Earth’s climate really are.

The deforestation of rainforests is a problem normally framed in terms of the loss of carbon sinks or the loss of biodiversity. But what about the loss of rain? Brazil is home to 60 percent of the world’s biggest rainforest, the Amazon, and gets 80 percent of its energy from hydropower. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science’s new study reveals that deforestation’s effects on hydropower may be more complex than they first appear.

Sunset on the Xingu River in Brazil's Amazon. Credit: Aviva Imhof/International Rivers

Sunset on the Xingu River in Brazil’s Amazon. Credit: Aviva Imhof/International Rivers

When trees are removed from alongside stream and river beds, the water flow initially increases, as the trees are no longer taking water through their roots, allowing it to flow directly into streams. But, without those trees, rainfall will eventually slow as well. Study co-author Daniel C. Nepstad of the Amazon Institute for Environmental Research tells The New York Times that rainforests “are in the equatorial sun, evaporating a huge amount of water that goes up through the stems and into the leaves and out into the atmosphere,” creating rainclouds. So, fewer trees mean less rain, which means less hydropower. That’s a problem for countries like Brazil.

The ways in which our lives depend on rainforests are too many to list. That’s why American Forests takes pride in our rainforest projects. This year, we’re returning to Indonesia to plant 35,460 trees across 140 acres of orangutan habitat in the Batang Toru forest in partnership with the Sumatran Rainforest Institute. We’re also embarking on our first project in Panama — home to the Western Hemisphere’s second largest rainforest — with longtime partner Sustainable Harvest International; we’re planting 20,000 trees across 79 acres in Coclé Province. Help us protect and restore forests like the rainforest. For the climate, for the water and for the people.