The Good, Besides the Bad and the Ugly

by American Forests

David May, Communications Intern

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

Butterfly on a flower

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

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

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

Breaking It Down

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

Spreading the Love

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

Keeping in Check

Spider in a web

Spiders are extremely important in many food chains.

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

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

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

Works Cited

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


Forest Digest – Week of July 6, 2015

by American Forests

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

A tree lined street.

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

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

The Mountain Pine Beetle’s March across Canada

by American Forests

David May, Communications Intern

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

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

Another Ecosystem Unbalanced

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

A mountain pine beetle excavating a tunnel in a ponderosa pine

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

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

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

Halting the Spread

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

GR25: Remembering 9/11 with Trees in Memorial

by Jami Westerhold
World Trade Center Memorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Special Hello from Your New Loose Leaf Managing Editor

by Ashlan Bonnell

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Ashlan Bonnell
2015 ASAE Power of A Gold Award

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

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

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

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

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

Our current project cities include:

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

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

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

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

Forest Digest – Week of June 22, 2015

by American Forests

See Australia’s plans for Urban Forests and stay informed on California’s wildfires in this week’s Forest Digest!

Wildfire raging across a California forest

Cal Fire, California’s statewide fire agency, has reported a 50% increase in fires already compared to 2014.

  • California drought fueling wildfire flamesCBS Alerts
    Fighting wildfires, like the recent Sterling fire in the San Bernandino Mountains of California, is becoming harder and harder as the “extreme” drought has dried up most of the water sources used to extinguish the flames, officials state.


GR25: New Jersey in 2003

by Megan Higgs
An Atlantic White Cedar

Bass River State Forest has a storied past, with the Civilian Conservation Corps helping to shape a large portion of it from 1933-1942. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

2015 is indeed a year of many anniversaries — American Forests’ own 140th anniversary, and, as we all know by now, the 25th year of Global ReLeaf. In addition, the site of the next leg of our journey through the past is celebrating an anniversary of its own this year: the 110th birthday of New Jersey’s first state park.

Back in 1905, the New Jersey Legislature acquired the first parcel of land set aside to become a state forest, which was to be utilized for water conservation, wildlife and timber management, and a variety of public recreation activities — including canoeing, hiking, camping, and swimming. The Bass River State Forest also shelters a portion of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a heavily forested coastal plain ecosystem stretching across seven counties of New Jersey. The Pine Barrens, aptly named for the nutrient-poor soil they reside in, house a unique ecology of many plant and wildlife species, including orchids, carnivorous plants, and rare pygmy Pitch pines.

In 2003, American Forests partnered with The New Jersey Forest Service to plant 7,900 Atlantic white cedars on 24 acres of the Bass River State Forest, which had been ravaged by recent wildfire, gypsy moths and an unusual frost/drought sequence. Atlantic white cedar, a declining resource, was planted to restore the area to a hardwood swamp. Working with volunteers and forest service staff, American Forests also installed solar-powered deer fencing around the planted seedlings.

Why install deer fences, though?

American Forests often encourages, enacts and promotes such protective measures for restoration activities, as newly planted seedlings and the leaves from young trees can be seen as prime grazing sources for white-tailed deer — particularly in east-coast forests, which are often threatened by surging deer populations. As a result, American Forests has promoted the use of deer guards across dozens of projects as a protective measure for newly planted trees to thrive.

Over 12 years after this project’s completion, the site has been utilized as an educational tour site for a variety of visitors and ages. The project has also helped provide habitat and a cohesive ecosystem for the timber rattlesnake — the only rattlesnake located in the Northeast — and the threatened small whirled pogonia, a terrestrial orchid that relies on the detritus, or “leaf litter”, of larger trees for survival.

Environmental justice for the underserved

by American Forests

By Deanne Buckman, Policy Intern

This is part 2 of a two-part series. Catch up here!

Criminological theories help us to understand why urban forests may be able to reduce crime rates.

By attracting people to public outdoor areas, urban green spaces create more opportunities for community members to interact with one another, which leads to the development of neighborly bonds and social capital. This creates the appearance that the spaces are defended by residents and, in turn, has the effect of deterring criminals from targeting the area. Urban forests can also reduce crime by restoring mental health and reducing the strain that can be caused by life in cities.

Two kids planting a tree

Price Middle School students plant a tree as part of a Community Releaf project near downtown Atlanta.

What is less clear is how to plan for urban forests that produce the most positive community impact. The underprivileged communities that stand to gain the most from these green spaces typically have the smallest amount of them compared to the wealthier, more suburban areas in which they are more abundant. For example, American Forests’ Community ReLeaf assessment of Atlanta’s urban forest found that the total average combined income for the 10 zones in the city with the most tree canopy is almost twice the total average combined income of the 10 zones with the least amount of tree canopy.

Unfortunately, the problem can be more complicated than just unequal distribution of resources. Installing vegetation and green space in these communities can create what is being called an “urban green space paradox” (Wolch et al, 2014). As more green space is implemented, the attractiveness and public health of the neighborhood may improve, making it more desirable and increasing property value — the very residents who were supposed to benefit from the urban greening may be forced to relocate.

And, because parks in wealthy or middle-class neighborhoods receive care because of abundant resources, they are more likely to create a sense of stewardship and, thereby, reduce crime. Poorly maintained green spaces in underserved communities may actually increase crime (Wolfe and Mennis, 2012). Simply put, urban forests are a long-term investment requiring much more care than natural forests and will only reduce crime if they are continuously maintained.

The support for urban forestry as a method of crime reduction is positive. Yet, there is still much more research to be done to discover the best possible way to implement and maintain green spaces so that they accomplish what they are meant to. The right trees must be chosen so that they are not view obstructing; trees must be implemented in a way that creates a sense of ownership within the community; and there must be dedication and funding from governments and other community stakeholders to maintain the forests over the long term.

With these things in mind, urban forests show real promise for making a difference in some of our most vulnerable communities.

Sources Cited:

  • Wolch, Jennifer, et al. Urban Green Space, Public Health, and Environmental Justice: The Challenge of Making Cities “Just Green Enough”. Landscape and Urban Planning. Vol 125. May 2014. P. 234-244.
  • Wolfe, Mary K., and Jeremy Mennis. “Does Vegetation Encourage or Suppress Urban Crime? Evidence from Philadelphia, PA.” Landscape and Urban Planning. Vol. 108.2-4. 2012. P. 112-22.

Take in your closest forest in Great Outdoors Month

by American Forests

By Conrad Kabbaz, Policy Intern

“Beauty is not an easy thing to measure. It does not show up in the gross national product, in a weekly paycheck, or in profit and loss statements. But these things are not ends in themselves. They are a road to satisfaction and pleasure and the good life. Beauty makes its own direct contribution to these final ends. Therefore it is one of the most important components of our true national income, not to be left out simply because statisticians cannot calculate its worth.”

It’s been 50 years since Lyndon Johnson’s iconic 1965 “Conservation and Preservation of Natural Beauty” speech, in which the president stressed the need to restore, protect, and preserve America’s picturesque natural spaces and outdoor recreation areas. This June is Great Outdoors Month, a time when Americans are encouraged to heed the president’s call and enjoy what the outdoors has to offer.

Hiking trail through field of flowers on a hillside

One-day hiking trips are an easy and fun way to enjoy nature without committing to a longer excursion.

The American Hiking Society (AHS) recently released a report, Hiking Trails in America: Pathways to Prosperity, on the current state of our nation’s trails, illustrating the need to foster greater diversity in the hiking community. In 2012, 60 percent of whites ages 25 to 44 participated in outdoor recreation activities, as opposed to less than half of all African-Americans. This seems puzzling at first because of the low cost and inherent inclusiveness of outdoor recreation. However, with a large proportion of minority populations in urban areas coupled with the bulk of trails being in remote locations far from cities, demographic disparities are likely due to inaccessibility rather than disinterest.

Youth engagement is another key component of expanding diversity in outdoor recreation. Between modern technology and industrialized cities, many children are deprived of natural spaces to enjoy. Reverence for our forests and the many ways to enjoy them is best acquired through personal experience.

American Forests and many other groups are working to improve accessibility and engagement in these areas.

One of our latest projects, “Building Public Awareness of the Values of Sustainable Forests” is a USDA-backed initiative to expand public awareness of the benefits of urban forests. We support President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to promote youth involvement in forest conservation and are also a member of the Outdoor Alliance for Kids (OAK), which creates numerous opportunities for outdoor education, linking classroom curricula to hands-on activities. We are a proud member of the Sustainable Urban Forest Coalition as well, which advocates for urban forests in our cities.

As we continue through the Great Outdoors Month, remember to try and experience the outdoors yourself! You can always look to your nearest park for endless recreation opportunities, such as hiking, fishing, and mountain biking. Enjoying the great outdoors may be as simple as walking to work, taking in the natural beauty that surrounds you as you stroll.

In fact, American Forests is hosting a walkabout this Sunday in Atlanta, with similar outings planned for the future. To be a part of the effort to promote urban forests and diversity in outdoor recreation, show your support by helping sustain our programs.