A young state with an ancient history

by American Forests

By Caroline Brooks, Communications Intern

Many threatened Hawaiʻian plants can be found along the Kilauea Iki Crater Hike in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Photo: Lindsay Joyce/Flickr

Many threatened Hawaiʻian plants can be found along the Kilauea Iki Crater Hike in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.
Photo: Lindsay Joyce/Flickr

American Forests invites you to bid “aloha” to the mainland and come along on our Hawaiʻi Wild Forestscape this fall. For one week this October, our group will explore some of the Island’s most captivating sights, from volcanoes and beaches to wildlife to forest habitat. While we appreciate these Hawaiian wonders, we will also learn about the threats to their existence.

For millions of years, plants and animals across the Hawaiian Islands evolved in isolation, creating perhaps the most unique ecosystem in the world. The various species of wildlife and vegetation thrived in their natural habitat until the arrival of the first human settlers 1,000 years ago. These settlers — the Polynesians — brought with them new animal species and hunted the archipelago’s native creatures. Additionally, they cleared much of the forest lowland to plant their own non-native crops.

The most severe destruction occurred in the 1800s, when European and American colonists introduced cattle and livestock to Hawaiʻi. The animals were not supervised and roamed freely, damaging acres of forestland.

The Nene, the Hawaiʻian state bird, is one of the Island's critically endangered indigenous species.  Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Nene, the Hawaiʻian state bird, is one of the Island’s critically endangered indigenous species.
Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Government and industry officials grew concerned that the livestock would deplete sources of water throughout Hawaiʻi. In turn, this would cap the production of sugarcane, the territory’s main cash crop.

Hawaiʻi’s first preservation movement followed in 1903, when the Territorial Legislature established its Division of Forestry, which possessed the power to form forest reserve systems. They sought to block and remove livestock from indigenous forests and develop reforestation and fire-control programs.

The reserves planted some 2 million trees by the late 1930s. However, these species were foreign to Hawaiʻi and created sparse, simple forests. Today, less than one percent of Hawaiʻi’s budget goes towards forest management. Simultaneously, imperiled plants and animals experience survival threats from feral animals and invasive vegetation.

On the Hawaiʻi Wild Forestscape, our group will meet with several organizations and agencies dedicated to restoring and protecting the state’s forests. We will visit project sites, observe endangered native species, and engage in dialogue and action to appreciate how the wonders of the island can be preserved for future generations.

In the coming weeks, Loose Leaf will highlight some of the destinations included on Hawaiʻi Wild. We will illustrate the work of groups like Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and the San Diego Zoo.

We will also discuss two endangered flora and fauna, the koa and the Hawaiian Crow, to explain the circumstances that significantly depleted their populations and how they can be protected so that they might flourish again in the Hawaiʻi wild.

Read about some of the plants and animals that we will encounter on Hawaiʻi Wild:

  • Hawaiʻi Wild Part Two: Something to crow about in Hawaiʻi —  The Hawaiian crow is one of the state’s most critically endangered species; however, a San Diego Zoo program solemnly strives to reform this status.
  • Hawaiʻi Wild Part Three:  King koa — A dwindling koa tree population has compelled various reforestation groups to action.
  • Hawaiʻi Wild Part Four: National park loyal to native wonders — Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is intent in its duty to restore endangered plant and animal species so they can freely roam the land that they call home.

Forest Digest — Week of June 16

by American Forests

Happy Friday! We are pleased to share another edition of Forest Digest with you to ring in the weekend.

Here is this week’s news in trees:

“2 Billion New Trees To Be Planted In India, Official Says”HuffPost Green
A plan that fights unemployment and protects forests? Snaps for India! Last week, the country’s Rural Development Ministry introduced a proposal that would employ several hundred thousand young men and women to plant two billion trees along the country’s highways.

Freshwater fish like the salmon rely on tree biomass that falls into the water for sustenance. Photo: PNNL/Flickr

Freshwater fish rely on tree biomass that falls into the water for sustenance.
Photo: PNNL/Flickr

“Researchers Peek into the Mysterious World of Roots”National Association of State Foresters
Scientists in the western United States plan to study tree roots in Northwestern forests to get down to— well— their roots! A great deal of understanding about this underground item remains buried. One question researchers hope to answer regards the role of fungal hyphae, a thin thread that connects the roots of different trees.

Crews make progress battling wildfire in Sequoia National Forest”Los Angeles Times
The Shirley fire, a wildfire that is spreading quickly through California’s Kern County,  made its way to Sequoia National Forest over the weekend. On Monday, officials announced that half of the wildfire in Sequoia National Forest has been contained. Shirley this is due to the valiant efforts of firefighters, who have been combating the blaze both on the ground and in the air.

“Deforestation = Starving fish”Treehugger
Here’s some food for thought: a new study from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences indicates that there is a direct link between forest protection and healthy fish populations. Freshwater fish consume leaves and other types of biomass that fall from trees into the water. What this means is that deforestation threatens the livelihoods of the fish who rely on trees for food.

Learn about American Forests’ efforts to save these aquatic populations in our National Rivers Month series.

“Breeding Trees Better Adapted for Warmer Climates”Nature World News
A recent discovery from the University of Oregon reveals that the EBB1 gene— AKA the bud-break gene— controls trees’ awakening from winter hibernation. This finding could have a tree-mendous impact on adapting to climate change.

“Tree hugging helps koalas keep their cool”Science Daily
Thermal imaging research shows that to beat the heat, koala bears cling to trees whose temperatures are cooler than that of the air. The availability of trees can protect these adorable tree-huggers; a 2009 heatwave killed one fourth of New South Wales’ koala population.

Global ReLeaf making a splash in New Mexico

by American Forests

By Caroline Brooks, Communications Intern

A mountain stream in Santa Fe National Park. Photo: Thomas Shahan/Flickr

A mountain stream in Santa Fe National Park.
Photo: Thomas Shahan/Flickr

National Rivers Month continues and so does our coverage of some riparian reforestation projects from the Global ReLeaf program.

In the previous post, we discussed one contribution American Forests has made to the conservation of waterways in order to sustain a species — the salmon — that relies on rivers for survival.

This year saw the start of an ongoing project in New Mexico: the Rio de las Vacas Riparian Revegetation and Watershed Improvement Project. American Forests is partnering with WildEarth Guardians to reforest 120 acres in the Santa Fe National Forest. The hope is that this vegetation will positively impact the utility of watersheds and improve the riparian ecosystem.

Plant life along the river has been depleted by animal grazing and off-roading activities, undermining stream banks and elevating water temperatures, which hurt wildlife populations in the national forest.

Planting trees around Rio de las Vacas would restore shade cover, cool the water and provide increased water filtration, benefiting both the river and the other life forms that depend on it. In turn, all of these factors would sustain life for the fish and other wildlife found in Santa Fe National Forest.

The Rio de las Vacas project is just one of many American Forests activities that protect rivers across the country. Stay tuned to Loose Leaf throughout the month to read about more of the organization’s efforts that support our waterways.

Forest Digest — Week of June 9

by American Forests

Loose Leaf is proud to introduce Forest Digest! Once a week, we will share recent forest-related news from around the world.

Check out this week’s news in trees:

“Tree rings give scientists information about weather conditions hundreds of years ago”The Washington Post
David W. Stahle, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arkansas, samples and analyzes the growth rings of the bald cypress trees of Virginia. The width of the rings helps Stahle to understand the weather experienced in the area long before it was inhabited by early settlers.

“USDA Releases State by State Impacts of Limited Wildfire Suppression in Recent Years”United States Department of Agriculture
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that limited federal firefighting funds, which are intended to be spent by states on wildfire preparedness and forest restoration among other outlets, have instead been utilized to fight fires, as other budgets could not provide adequate coverage. Every state is impacted differently by its spending. Across the board, however, the use of these funds has resulted in the weakened value of forest protection programs.

“In Effort To Improve Air Quality, Scientists Explore Plan To Use Trees To Clean Pollution”Associated Press/HuffPost Green

Dow Chemical and the Nature Conservancy are teaming up to reforest the city of Houston in order to cut back on air pollution. The project is inspired by research from the Environmental Protection Agency that indicates that plants─ particularly trees─ collect pollution in their leaves and prevent it from entering the atmosphere.

“Saving trees in tropics could cut emissions by one-fifth, study shows”Phys.Org
Research funded by the Natural Environment Research Council shows that tropical forests collect two billion tons of carbon annually. This number accounts for one-fifth of yearly global carbon emissions. As the climate grows warmer, the amount of carbon emissions from tropical forests grows too. However, researchers conclude that tropical forests could absorb even more carbon if all deforestation efforts were halted.

Dive in to National Rivers Month

by American Forests

By Caroline Brooks, Communications Intern

June offers us many occasions to celebrate: the end of school, the beginning of summer and, among all the season’s celebrations, National Rivers Month! All of these events encourage us to get outside and take advantage of this gift that Mother Nature has granted us.

Riparian forests help improve water quality, mitigate erosion and provide wildlife habitat.

Riparian forests help improve water quality, mitigate erosion and provide wildlife habitat.

Across the country, rivers serve people, animals and plants in a variety of ways. Humans rely on rivers for drinking water and recreational activities such as fishing, swimming and rafting. As for plants and animals, rivers serve as shelter where these living creatures can grow, reproduce and thrive. However, our rivers are falling victim to increasing pollution. National Rivers Month aims to get people learning about, celebrating, and cleaning up these waterways.

Humans are not the only group cleaning our rivers’ water. Forests contribute to the production of clean, healthy water by filtering and preserving water. The composition of their roots permit trees to absorb nutrients and impurities in groundwater. Two other components of trees— the leaves and branches— also play a role in this process by decreasing the speed of rainfall. Combined with the roots’ task to steady the soil, the slow journey from canopy to soil ensures that rainwater soaks gradually into the ground. This filtered water flows into lakes, streams and rivers, where it is able to satisfy the needs of humans and wildlife.

Through our Global ReLeaf program, American Forests partners with local communities to reforest riparian zones.

One project that sets out to accomplish these goals is the Whatcom County Riparian ReLeaf, which began in 2013. American Forests and Alcoa Foundation teamed up with the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) to restore the living conditions for local salmon in northwest Washington. The area experienced several events that threatened the salmon population: plant loss, reformed waterways, and destruction due to industry, agriculture and urban development. Together, American Forests, Alcoa Foundation and NSEA are planting 7,000 trees in 12 areas to reestablish the habitats that salmon need to dwell and feed.

The Whatcom County project is just one of many in which American Forests helps protect rivers. Stay tuned to Loose Leaf throughout the month to read about some of our other efforts that support America’s waterways.

Honoring Maya Angelou

by Loose Leaf Contributor

The world lost a great woman on Wednesday. Maya Angelou’s “When Great Trees Fall” is the final poem in her fifth collection, I Shall Not Be Moved.


When Great Trees Fall
Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

Photo credit: York College ISLGP

Mother Earth, Mother’s Day

by American Forests Board Member

I am not the first woman in the world to be surprised at how much having kids has transformed my life, my priorities, and certainly, my sleep patterns. Before becoming a mother, I was almost completely immersed in my career and certainly felt as if I were completely attuned to everything and everyone around me. But now that I look back, I see that my perception of the world was pretty much comprised of MY world and what was relevant to me, as the sun in the center of my own universe. Oh, how things change!

I find myself thinking about my children’s future with happy anticipation of who they will grow up to be. But like any parent, I have fears, one of which is the vulnerable state of our environment and how it will impact the lives of my boys. I have always been aware of how dependent our health is on that of the planet. But I feel as if I need to — we all need to — fully take on the charge of being good stewards of the earth, ensuring our planet remains a livable place for us and future generations.

American Forests Board member, Erin Fuller, and her two sons.

But how does one do that as a parent with a full-time job and two young kids? Well, fortunately for me, when I became a Board member of American Forests, one pathway opened right in front of me.

As I see it, the work that American Forests does benefits every living thing on the planet. They have planted more than 45 million trees since 1990, in all 50 states and in 44 countries. Habitats have been restored for countless wildlife, some of which were or are endangered. Forests scorched by wildfire have been replanted. Streams and rivers clogged by runoff and pollutants have been cleaned by planting forests along them. Millions of tons of carbon dioxide have been removed from our atmosphere by those millions of trees. And we’re all breathing easier because of it. But the work must continue and grow.

This year, when my boys asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day, I said trees. Not trees for our backyard, but trees for our Mother Earth.

Let’s leave a legacy for all and help restore our forests. Give the Gift of Trees this Mother’s Day.

Erin Fuller
Board Member
American Forests

Unnavigable Congress awaits many conservation bills

by American Forests

By Alexandra Bower

Seeing legislation stifled in a Congress that is so gridlocked by partisanship is not cause for surprise. What about 10 conservations bills introduced and languished 52 times in the last 30 years? Surprised yet?

Since 1984, 10 high-profile land conservation bills have been introduced and stifled on 52 separate occasions in the U.S. House of Representatives and/or the U.S. Senate, despite mass support and meeting widely-held criteria for conservation. This criteria for designating conservation land has been guided by a set of principles: the area has unique cultural and recreational assets; there is expansive local backing for safeguarding the land; and there are officials advocating for conservation measures.

Since 1906, more than 1,000 bills meeting these standards have become law. However, in recent years, it’s almost impossible to get land conservation issues through Congress because of overwhelming “Congressional dysfunction and partisanship.”

Because of authority granted by the Antiquities Act of 1906, the President can establish national monuments without Congressional declaration. These monuments range from burial grounds and the Statue of Liberty to parts of the Grand Canyon and giant sequoia groves, and are pivotal symbols of the United States’ history and heritage.

President Obama has wielded the powers of the Antiquities Act, and shown great support for protecting public lands by establishing 1,660 acres as the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands on California’s Mendocino Coast, 243,000 acres as the Rio Grande del Norte monument in New Mexico, and, most recently, 32,500 acres as the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan. He is also expected to designate a monument in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico and lands near the Canyonlands National Park in Idaho.

Devil's Tower is one of many National Monuments surrounded by forest ecosystems.

Devil’s Tower in Wyoming is one of many national monuments surrounded by forest ecosystems. Under the Antiquities Act, President Obama aims to protect these ecosystems.
Wikimedia/Walter Siegmund

National monuments and parks are known to provide a safe home for plants and wildlife, promote biodiversity, safeguard clean air and water, and stimulate recreational activities. Our forests thrive because of our preservation of national parks and monuments across the country, so it is vital that the president has the ability to designate public lands for this use, especially if Congress cannot or will not do so.

However, this authority is being threatened by the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of Monuments and Parks Act, deemed the “No New Parks” bill by the media. The bill would revise the Antiquities Act, forcing the President to delay designation by forcing a National Environmental Policy Act review, a process never before used for such actions. Additionally, the “No New Parks” bill would set up various other limits, including the inability of any more than one national monument designation per state during any presidential four-year term. This would deny President Obama’s ability to set up the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks monument in New Mexico because of the recently established Rio Grande del Norte monument in 2013.

Congressional acts like this, and the fact that the President has not been sent a single conservation bill to protect new acres of public land since 2009, speak volumes about Congressional stalemate when faced with conservation bills. Energy development is a major concern in recent years and is a chief motivation behind Congressional inaction and backlash against land conservation. While 2.9 million acres of public lands have been protected, 7.4 million acres of public lands have been leased for oil and gas drilling.

The imbalance is clear, and maybe one day we will see Congressional action on land conservation. Until then, the responsibility to protect our cultural and ecological heritage must rest on the shoulders of President Obama and administrations to come.


Are palms truly trees?

by American Forests

By Sheri Shannon

There certainly is a lot of healthy debate out there about whether palms are “true trees.” What constitutes a “true tree?” Does it have to be of a certain height and girth? Does the crown spread have to be the equivalent of a wide-spreading southern live oak?

Trees vary in shape and size and grow in very different environments. There may be national champion trees that are more than 300 feet tall, while the largest trees of other species are only 30 feet tall.

2014's Ultimate Big Tree, a coconut palm aptly named Coco.This year’s Ultimate Big Tree, Hawaii’s national champion coconut palm aptly nicknamed Coco, is no exception to the ecological services trees provide. The Hāwea Heiau Complex and Keawawa Wetland that Coco calls home contains nine of the remaining 300 endangered Hawaiian common moorhen, as well as other wildlife, including the black-crowned night heron, Hawaiian hoary bat and giant Hawaiian dragonfly.

Coco is a great example of the environmental and cultural significance of big trees and the efforts communities take to protect special trees. Coco’s wetland was recently saved from development by a community nonprofit that understands the role trees play in sustaining a healthy environment. The National Big Tree program helps educate the public about the key role all trees and forests play in our lives.

From a technical standpoint, palms fit American Forests’ current definition of trees, as they are woody plants with an erect perennial stem, or trunk, at least 9.5 inches in circumference at 4.5 feet above the ground. They also have a definitively formed crown of foliage and a height of at least 13 feet. American Forests has made an effort to make sure that native trees from all 50 states and the District of Columbia are included on the National Register of Big Trees. For many years, Hawaii’s native species were excluded as eligible species because American Forests used an outdated publication as its primary source for species eligibility.

The current list of eligible species is based on the USDA Plants Database and the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) which qualifies the current listing of Hawaii’s endemic species, including the coconut palm. In addition, our Eligible Species Working Group is a panel of experts that helps us continuously revisit and revise the list as needed.

A Rainbow of Global ReLeaf Projects for 2014

by Susan Laszewski
Golden lion tamarins.

Golden lion tamarins. Credit: stevehdc/wikimedia

In its 24th year, American Forests Global ReLeaf is adding 33 new and continuing projects to the list of ways we’re helping forests around the world. And let me tell you, these projects are as diverse as the rainbow!

Whether you call them red, orange or yellow, golden lion tamarins are facing a plight that has American Forests Global ReLeaf heading back to Brazil for the first time in 11 years. Brazil’s Atlantic forest is the only place where the golden lion tamarin can be found in the wild, but their habitat today is a mere two percent of its historical area. We’re partnering with the Associacao Mico-Leao-Dourado to reconnect remaining forest fragments to create a continuous habitat for these golden creatures.

Double rainbow behind longleaf pines.

Double rainbow behind longleaf pines, a native species Global ReLeaf is planting in Georgia and Florida. Credit: John S. Quarterman

Green is the color all of our Global ReLeaf projects aspire to. Overall, this year’s projects are planting nearly 2 million trees across more than 5,500 acres from Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington to the Batang Toru Forest Region in Indonesia. We’re planting green pines in forests turned gray by mountain pine beetle infestation, planting mangroves to help protect coastal communities in the Philippines and restoring winter habitat for monarch butterflies in Michoacán, Mexico.

Indigo-colored wood may look beautiful — indeed, it’s being put to use in all kinds of crafts — but too much of it means just one thing: too many beetles. The blue color is caused by a fungus that is carried by the mountain pine beetle. Though native, these beetles are having effects on the ecosystem akin to invasives due to a population boom enabled by warmer winters. Millions of trees have died, including old-growth ponderosa pine and the keystone species whitebark pine. Our 2014 projects include five projects dedicated to restoring forests damaged by this tiny menace.

Explore the whole rainbow of our 2014 Global ReLeaf projects. And, if you’d like to see this kind of work restoring forests continue, please help us to get to the pot at the end of the rainbow. Your help can make a difference.