The acorn experiment

by Loose Leaf Team

By Lea Sloan, Vice President of Communications

When was the last time you really looked at an acorn? For me, before last fall, it had been a very long time. And when I did, I noticed that acorns really are tiny time capsules for what could become the biggest trees in a yard or park — and outlive me by several hundred years.

Every day on the way to work I walk by dozens of oak trees in D.C., from a myriad of varieties that I try to identify accurately. My job at American Forests is to inspire people to protect and restore forests, and to appreciate why forests are essential to our planet. So, somehow lightning struck and it occurred to me, why not try to grow some acorns into trees?

How? I Googled it.

I started collecting them from the ground under particularly big, healthy trees, looking for a variety of species. I found red oak, willow oak, bur oak — and what was either a scarlet or northern pin oak, judging from its leaves. I stuffed the acorns into my pockets.

I took notes on trees from which I collected the acorns, although now I wish they were more detailed (note to self: be a better scientist). Reading up on guidance from multiple sources, and getting advice and encouragement from friends and strangers including at the Eastern Native Tree Society, I launched into phase two. I floated my candidates in a bowl of water. The sinkers are the keepers. The floaters are no-go’s.

I divided the sinker acorns into separate baggies with labels, and added a little dampened sphagnum moss and vermiculite, and put them down for a long winter’s nap in the vegetable drawer in my refrigerator at home.

Phase three

Thinking early February was the time shift gears into spring, it seemed to be the right time to plant them. Two of the red oak acorns had already sprouted little white roots. I put half of them in little four inch square pots in a potting soil mix. The others I planted in my raised-bed garden at home with a chicken wire screen over the top to thwart squirrel thievery.

My timing was off. In two weeks, the red oaks that had sprouted roots had broken out the top of the acorns too and were three inches tall. Within days, a third had sprouted and the first two were six inches tall. Oak trees have tap roots that grow monstrously fast.

VP of Communications Lea Sloan grew oak seedlings from acorns she found near her D.C. home.

VP of Communications Lea Sloan grew oak seedlings from acorns she found near her D.C. home.

I needed bigger pots

I should note that the whole potting operation was taking place in my office. My big window gets tons of indirect light in February. In March, the setting sun comes up over the rooftops and is more direct — and the trees were ready for it. Two of the willow oaks had sprouted, and two of the scarlet or northern pins, as well.

The first five had to go into even bigger pots or go outside, but the winter refused to end this year in Washington — and the whole northeast, you may have noticed. And it was still too cold to acclimate them outside. They had to chill in their pots for a couple of weeks, in which they didn’t grow very much, which may have done incalculable damage to the tap root. This pained me, but so did the prospect of a big bill for bigger pots and costlier shipping. So I made them wait, and felt very badly about it. These trees are my babies.

So this last weekend, I finally brought them home. It was still too cold to leave them out all week, but over this weekend they got daytimes out, night times in. And last night, when it wasn’t going to go below 50 degrees, the first five had their first night out in the big world (on my screened porch) since their life on their real mothers, or at her feet as fallen acorns.

Next weekend I will plant them in the garden until they get up to adoptable age, in the fall I think, when I plan to take applications from neighbors and friends who seriously promise to water them a couple times a week through the warm and hot months of their first two years. That will get them off to a good, strong start in life. And shade our neighborhood for decades — or centuries to come.


Forest Digest — Week of April 6, 2015

by Loose Leaf Team

Don’t let the rain get you down. Use the latest Forest Digest to perk right back up!

  • How do you plant 1 billion trees a year? With drones, of coursetreehugger
    BioCarbon Engineering, a UK company, has come up with a tech-savvy way of combating deforestation. The company uses drones to first map potential restoration sites, and then to plant pregerminated seeds enclosed in a nutrient-rich gel in the designated areas for high establishment rates.
  • Head of London-listed company linked to illegal clearing of Peru rainforestthe guardian
    United Cacao, a company committed to providing ‘ethically-produced’ chocolate, is now under fire after the Environmental Investigation Agency released a report claiming they had illegally deforested more than 17,300 acres of the Peruvian rainforest. The company denies the claims, but satellite images provided by the Carnegie Institute for Science say otherwise.
: Red Oaks have invaded the Mark Twain National Forest and while the Forest Service wants to restore the forest back to the natural landscape, others wish to have the current forest preserved. Photo credit: Bhanu Tadinada/ Flickr

Red Oaks have invaded the Mark Twain National Forest and while the Forest Service wants to restore the forest back to the natural landscape, others wish to have the current forest preserved. Photo credit: Bhanu Tadinada/ Flickr

  • Residents Fight Mark Twain National Forest Restoration PlanNPR
    Butler Hollow in the Mark Twain National Forest has been altered in the past century by human activities, which has allowed many invasive species to take over. As a result, the Forest Service plans to use fire, herbicides and logging to restore one-third of the 1.5 million-acre forest, yet some nearby residents believe the plan is an excuse to log the forest for profit.
  • Losing the forest in Papua New GuineaThe Washington Post
    Like most developing nations, Papua New Guinea is relying on natural resource exploitation to enter the world market. As a result, thousands of Merbau trees have been logged — both legally and illegally — causing harm to the island’s biodiversity.
  • Forest Fires Threaten New Fallout From ChernobylThe New York Times
    The Chernobyl accident covered more than 77,000 square miles of Europe and Eurasia with radiation that leached into the soils and wildlife. Now as climate change causes an increasing risk of fire, this radiation is posed to be released yet again causing disastrous affects.

Five years later, new report outlines successes and
challenges of CFLR program

by Loose Leaf Team

Deanne Buckman, Policy Intern

I think it is safe to say that, to some degree, all Americans utilize the invaluable resource that is the forest. Forests impact many aspects of life including filtering the water we drink, absorbing carbon emissions that would otherwise contribute to global warming, and providing space for a variety of other recreational and economic activities. However, the more we take from the forest, the more we must give back.

CFLR Project Map

The Forest Service has released a five-year report detailing the successes and challenges from its CFLR program, which is operating projects at 23 sites across the country.

Luckily in 2009, Congress established the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) program to foster relationships between the different groups that utilize the forest’s resources so those stakeholders can come together to restore forest ecosystems. Specifically, the program aims to create jobs, produce reliable wood supply, ensure forest health and reduce risk of devastating wildfires. Since the program’s creation, 23 projects have been selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Now that half of the program’s life has passed, the Forest Service released a five-year report that outlines the program’s accomplishments and the challenges that it faces.

According the report, the program is on track to meet stated goals where it has not already done so. Since 2010 when the first 10 projects began, the program has restored more than 67,000 acres of forest vegetation, treated over 1.45 million acres to reduce the risk of invasive species, and improved more than 1.33 million acres of wildlife habitat.

In the report the Forest Service laid out five indicators of the individual projects’ success:

  • Economic Impacts
    • Collectively, the program has created or maintained approximately 4,360 jobs each year and produced more than $661 million in local income.
  • Fire Risk and Costs
    • In the past five years, the projects have treated more than 1.45 million acres of hazardous fuels. These treatments are intended to reduce the size, likelihood and severity of wildfires.
  • Ecological Condition
    • Forest conditions have been maintained through mechanical thinning and prescribed burning.
  • Collaboration
    • Partnerships have continued to grow and form between Federal and State agencies, nongovernmental organizations, forest-related companies, and private citizens who work together to manage wildlife habitat and forest health. For example, collaboratives have worked together to manage invasive species such as the emerald ash borer and have also come together to improve the areas surrounding watersheds, from which the water benefits a total of approximately 124 million people.
  • Leveraged Funds
    • Since 2010, CFLR projects have received more than $76.1 million in partner match and leveraged more than $145 million to help achieve project goals.

As a member of the CFLR Steering Committee, American Forests looks forward to seeing what the next five years has in store for the projects under the program.

For more information on the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program, read a past article in American Forests Magazine, or visit the Forest Service’s website.


Forest Digest — Week of March 30, 2015

by Loose Leaf Team

Kick off the Holiday Weekend in style with the latest Forest Digest!

  • Deforestation is messing with our weather and our food- Phys.org
    Deforestation is often used to make way for agricultural fields, and while this is known to have an impact on global food production, researchers have found new evidence that this effect is not a positive one. Land use changes can alter the albedo — the reflection of the sun’s rays back into the atmosphere — and evapotranspiration — the movement of water through the soil, plant and back to the atmosphere — driving temperature changes that could cause crops to fail.
  • East Asian human activities affect air quality in remote tropical forestsPhys.org
    Atmospheric pollutants are often transported around the world by wind, and this is spoiling the air quality in the Borneo rainforest in Southeast Asia. Industrial pollutants are coming in with cold air masses from the north and depositing them in the forest and the stratosphere, which could cause harm to the ozone layer.
  • Global forest loss reversed, despite large-scale deforestation in the tropicstreehugger
    New satellite data from the University of New South Wales indicates that vegetation around the globe is increasing despite massive deforestation rates in tropical rainforests. Many countries are benefiting from increased rainfall while others are seeing forest regrowth on abandoned farmland or even implementing massive reforestation projects, such as China.
  • ADM Announces Plan to Fight DeforestationThe New York Times
    In September 2014, many companies such as Cargill, Kellogg and Nestlé signed agreements to end tropical deforestation due to their supply chains by 2030. Now another big company, ADM, announced a plan to work with the Forest Trust to help reduce the impact of their supply chains on deforestation. Many environmental organizations see this as a step in the right direction and hope that more companies will feel the pressure to also curb deforestation rates.
Aspen and pine trees in the western U.S. are in danger as the climate warms, wildfires burn and beetles infestations spring up.

Aspen and pine trees in the western U.S. are in danger as the climate warms, wildfires burn and beetles infestations spring up.

  • Climate Change Threatens to Kill Off More Aspen Forests by 2050s, Scientists SayThe New York Times
    Drought and heat in the western U.S. are responsible to the death of millions of aspens in recent years and according to scientists at Princeton University tree loss is going to become more frequent by 2050 thanks to climate change. Between climate change and mountain pine beetles, many are worried forests could become sparse in the West in the very near future.
  • 48 hours that changed the future of rainforestsgrist
    The palm oil industry has caused farmers to clear cut an area the size of Taiwan from the rainforest in recent years, but in 48 hours, two companies — Forest Heroes and The Forest Trust — convinced Wilmar, the biggest palm oil corporation, to stop all deforestation activity within their supply chain. It was more than anyone could have hoped for and put pressure on other palm oil companies to do the same!
  • Tree Cover Loss Spikes in Russia and Canada, Remains High Globally- Global Forest Watch
    New satellite images were released from the University of Maryland yesterday that show a combined 34 percent increase of forest loss in Russian and Canada during 2013, and a 5.2 percent increase globally. While this loss stems from natural and anthropogenic sources, many scientists are worried that this spike could become a trend.

GR25: Reforesting America’s Last Frontier

by connie

Welcome back, time travelers!

In honor of the ever-anticipated spring season before us, we’re heading on a journey to a place that reminds us that, in reality, it could always be colder — like Chiniak, Alaska, for example!

While the United States was reeling economically from The Great Recession in 2009, forestry work and environmental needs continued to assume the forefront of American Forests’ mind. We continued our reforestation work by venturing to Kodiak Island with our third installation of the Cape Chiniak Reforestation initiative. Located on more than 2,600 acres that had been deforested for timber during the 90s, this project worked to restore hundreds of previously harvested acres with native Sitka spruce seedlings. Named for the town Sitka, Alaska, the Sitka spruce is the largest spruce species in the world, and the fifth-largest conifer globally — a fact that would certainly be appealing for those of you who are wrapped up in American Forests’ Big Tree Madness bracket!.

Sitka spruce have a few other talents as well. They can grow to live more than 700 years, and their high strength-to-weight ratio and knot-free rings make them an excellent conductor of sound. As a result, the Sitka spruce was widely harvested for use in harp, piano, violin and guitar manufacturing.

Originally, it was anticipated that regeneration of Sitka spruce would occur through natural seeding, as occurs in most other Sitka spruce forests in Alaska. Unfortunately, several biological events occurred that resulted in nearly no (zero) natural regeneration from occurring.

As a result, American Forests planted more than 55,000 native seedlings to enhance regeneration in this critical area. But our work in this area was far from over — in fact, we continued reforesting Cape Chiniak in 2010 with the project’s fourth installment. In total, more than 200,000 native Sitka spruce seedlings were planted in this massive, multi-year undertaking, providing habitat for rare, native wildlife species such as the Kodiak brown bear, Sitka black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk.


Home sweet home: sugar pine restoration in Tahoe

by Loose Leaf Team

By Sydney Mucha, Communications Intern

Tahoe National Forest is home to one of California’s most complex and diverse ecosystems. The forest encompasses snow-capped mountains, winding rivers and densely packed tree stands, enough to make anyone stand in awe of the area’s beauty. The forest is especially known for its massive stands of sugar pine, which is the largest species of pine in the world. The species dots the picturesque landscape in the high elevations of the park and can grow more than 200 feet tall and six feet in diameter!

Yet, this serene landscape and the glorious sugar pine has been tarnished by two fires: the 2013 American Fire and the 2014 Hirschdale Fire, which destroyed 27,400 and 84 acres (respectively?) and much of the forest ecosystem. And to make matters worse, the sugar pine and white pine species have been decimated by blister rust since the early-2000s!

Local school children are given a chance to go outside and help plant trees that will help restore the ecosystem that has been plagued by disease and wildfires. Photo Credit: Sugar Pine Foundation

Local school children are given a chance to go outside and help plant trees that will help restore the ecosystem that has been plagued by disease and wildfires. Photo Credit: Sugar Pine Foundation

The Sugar Pine Foundation saw these fires as a chance to restore the forest and the beloved sugar pine. To carry out their restoration efforts, the Foundation’s staff climb blister rust-resistant trees and use the cones that they collect to germinate seedlings for their plantings so the new trees will also be immune to the non-native invasive fungus.

“The wind started to blow all of a sudden, and the next thing I know I am hugging the tree to stay upright,” said Maria Mircheva of the Sugar Pine Foundation about this fall’s cone collection “It was one of the most terrifying and exciting experiences I have had.”

For Maria and other members of the Foundation, these collections, while dangerous, are the most fun and do the most good for future trees.

And now, thanks to a partnership between American Forests and the Sugar Pine Foundation, the cones collected from the fall are being germinated at this moment for a spring planting. The two groups plan to plant 7,000 sugar pine over 152 acres — encompassing the 91 acres destroyed by the fires and 61 acres on California’s Northstar Resort for added conservation efforts. More than 400 volunteers from various school groups and community organizations from the greater Tahoe area will help plant the trees.

Most importantly, these new seedlings will help bring diversity back to the forest, which already has large stands of Jeffery pines and white firs. Biodiverse forest ecosystems can tolerate environmental stressors such as disease and drought. Additionally, these trees will help protect the region’s watershed, provide habitat to a variety of wildlife, decrease future fire risk and restore the beauty and recreational benefits of the forest.


Forest Digest — Week of March 23, 2015

by Loose Leaf Team

Nothing better than curling up with some reading on a rainy day. So why not read the latest Forest Digest today!

  • The Fate of Trees: How Climate Change May Alter Forests Rolling Stone
    According to Dr. Park Williams of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, southwest confers, such Douglas-fir, piñon pine and ponderosa pine, are in big trouble as the climate continues to warm. In his “forest-drought stress index,” the first of its kind, he predicts that the rise in temperatures will turn deadly for these species in 2050, which will have a dramatic effect on the amount of carbon sequestration.
The ponderosa pine could suffer great declines in the coming years as the climate warms at an extremely fast rate.

The ponderosa pine could suffer great declines in the coming years as the climate warms at an extremely fast rate.

  • Western forests decimated by pine beetles not more likely to burnPhys.org
    Mountain pine beetles left nearly 25,000 square miles of forest in the American west devastated, but a recent study conducted by the University of Colorado-Boulder has found that these infested forests are not at a higher risk for forest fires, something that was originally thought.
  • Given new powers, Pakistanis take on illegal loggersReuters
    Villagers in 52 northern Pakistan cities have now been given the power to confront, detain and fine illegal loggers in their areas. While this new government initiative is aimed to curb the country’s deforestation rate — currently 27,000 hectares per year — but many believe that the fines are still too small.
  • Amazon Forest Becoming Less of a Climate Change Safety NetThe New York Times
    The Amazon is struggling to soak up carbon from the atmosphere, which could mean that our main agent in the fight against climate change is no longer as dependable as we have hoped. The question now: Will other forests follow the Amazon’s lead or will they be able to pick up the slack?

For all our D.C. readers, don’t forget that this weekend is the closing of the Environmental Film Festival. Get out there and see some great films about forests, coral reefs and environmental activism!


Striving to decrease nature deficit for children in urban areas

by Ian Leahy

Without a doubt, the part of urban forestry that intrigues me the most is environmental psychology – the study of how natural features impact our behavior. In both obvious and subtle ways, a growing body of research over the past couple decades has emerged that hints at just how deep this connection goes, particularly on children, and just how much further it could go if we created truly green cities teeming with healthy vegetation.

Some impacts are obvious. A study from the Landscape and Human Health Lab in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that fewer symptoms of Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) occur in children who walked through a park versus those who walked through a neighborhood or a quiet downtown area. Other impacts, however, are less obvious and can be downright fascinating! The same research lab found that girls in a Chicago public housing development who lived in apartments with greener, more natural views scored better on self-discipline tests. Another massive study found that school performance improved in some children who engaged with nature on a regular basis.

The next frontier of urban forestry is making these types of impacts an everyday reality for all children. While trees are an important part of that, they can’t do the work alone. We at American Forests are embarking on a new effort to create not just green spaces, but dynamic green spaces designed to deeply engage visitors.

kid in High line Park

Places like Manhattan’s High Line Park, give kids in urban areas the perfect place to ineract with nature and make a strong connection to it.

In Washington, D.C., we have been working with forward-thinking landscape architecture firm Bradley Site Design to help design and install a three-acre portable urban farm and fruit orchard on local buildings in the eastern tip of the city. The mobility of this project will allow it to shift after a few years to other underutilized properties, serving the needs of communities in this rapidly changing city. The best part, in my opinion, is that local youth will engage in a state-of-the-art American Forests curriculum that helps them contribute to the site design while learning first-hand from professionals who work in urban development professions every day.

Also, in Detroit and Oakland, American Forests is in the early planning stages working with local partners to create much-needed, hands-on outdoor education spaces on underutilized land for children in low-income neighborhoods to engage with nature in a positive way.

For all these projects, we will also analyze the social, economic and environmental impact these site-specific restorations will have on the local community. As we embark on this exciting new initiative with diverse industries, our hope is that these projects, and others, begin to spread some of the many benefits urban forests provide to children.

If you would like to support our efforts, please consider making a donation or encourage your elected officials to support the No Child Left Inside Act. Also, to read more about American Forests’ efforts to connect children with nature, please read our blog.


Forest Digest — Week of March 16, 2015

by Loose Leaf Team

Happy first day of spring! Why not celebrate with the latest issue of Forest Digest!

  • The Quiet Plan to Sell Off America’s National ForestsThinkProgress
    This week, a proposal to seize and sell America’s national forests and public lands made its way into the U.S. House. This plan will suggest that public lands be transferred from the federal government to the states, which has many worried that states may raise taxes, open the land for drilling and mining, or sell the lands to private groups to cover the cost of management.
Shoshone National forest and others like it could be passed on to the states, which could lead to greater finical burdens and open them up for exploitation.

Shoshone National forest and others like it could be passed on to the states, which could lead to greater finical burdens and open them up for exploitation.

  • This ecologist wants to plant a “pop-up” forest in Times SquareGrist
    As part of a Kickstarter campaign, urban ecologist and botanist Marrielle Anzelone launched the idea to install a pop-up forest in Times Square that would include shipping containers full of trees, flowers and a wide variety of wildlife. This forest would stay in the city for three weeks before moving to a different city, giving people the opportunity to connect with nature in an urban setting.
  • Amazon’s carbon uptake declines as trees die fasterPhys.org
    After 30 years of research conducted in the South American rainforest, scientists have discovered that the amount of CO2 uptake by the Amazon has more than halved since its peak of 2 billion tons in the 1990s. This dramatic decrease has been caused by increased photosynthesis rates, which has caused the trees to grow quicker and die younger.
  • Forest managers hindered in efforts to use prescribed burns to control costly wildfiresPhys.org
    Prescribed burns are known to help restore unhealthy ecosystems, stop the spread of insects and diseases and reduce the severity of wildfires, but forest managers and private land holders have recently been stalled from performing this type of forest management. This could mean more risk to public safety and higher government spending on wildfire management, which is already around $2 billion.
  • Cascades study may rewrite the textbook on forest growth and deathOregon State University
    Two professors from Oregon State University conducted a 10-year study focusing on biomass growth in three Douglas-fir stands in the Willamette National Forest. They found that biomass had been accumulating steadily for the past 150 years, which is not sustainable and could lead to problems later on.
  • Let the kids play: Nature can take itTree Hugger
    Kids can be hard on the forest ecosystem, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. The kids that grow up making forts, picking flowers, entrapping animals and using nature in their games will feel more at ease in the wild and a stronger desire to protect it once they are older, leading to better conservation measures in the future.

GR25: A “Wild” Anniversary

by connie

Though Global ReLeaf is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, there is another milestone that is certainly worth acknowledging — and it is assuredly a “wild” one! In 2015, American Forests is celebrating its fifth year of partnership with WildEarth Guardians in the “Land of Enchantment” (formally known as New Mexico). Where have we gone in five years, you ask?

Our partnership first began in 2010 — as you may have guessed, if you’re keeping track of our anniversary series! In that year, we began our first venture into stabilizing and reforesting several watersheds throughout New Mexico that were listed in critical condition. As water quantity and quality is always a concern of utmost importance — particularly in the American West, where droughts are not uncommon — American Forests targeted this project and partner for the incredible benefits that they could provide.

By reforesting areas around four major waterways — the Santa Fe River, Bluewater Creek, La Jencia Creek, and the Rio Puerco — we embarked on the first leg of a five-year journey of restoring various ecosystems that had been damaged by overgrazing, invasive plant establishment, and off-road vehicles. American Forests and WildEarth Guardians have also conjunctively addressed watershed needs in our subsequent years of partnership, including 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Of course, nature is an ever-changing force, and American Forests and WildEarth Guardians have already risen to address new challenges that have emerged since our initial partnership in 2010.  In 2011, the Los Conchas Fire, initially sparked by a power line, burned more than 150,000 acres, including 30,000 within the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The wildfire had been the largest in the state’s history, and threatened the native habitat of elk, golden eagles, coyotes, black bears, bobcats and more. In addition, the Rio de las Vacas — one of streams that we have subsequently targeted for riparian restoration — is home to one of the remaining 13 core populations of Rio Grande cutthroat trout, New Mexico’s state fish.

Indeed, our partnership with WildEarth Guardians has been a true testament to the astounding amount of impact and work that can be accomplished in five short years. In that time, we have planted 336,000 trees and shrubs and engaged hundreds of local volunteers. Of course, there’s still more to come — we’re planting an additional 50,000 trees this year. What do you think the next five years could bring to the watersheds of New Mexico?