The Warmth of Snow

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

A week ago, many parts of the country experienced an uncharacteristic sight for May Day: snow. A lot of it. And while one’s first instinct might be to bemoan the cold, wet stuff at a time when spring should be in the air, with our changing climate, we may want to appreciate snow while we can, as we might be yearning for more of it in the future.

Washington forest

Credit: Jennifer C./Flickr

Snow and ice play a crucial role in healthy ecosystems — and our own health and prosperity. You see, the more snow in winter, the more water for our rivers and faucets in the spring and summer, as forests and other natural systems keep the snow from melting too quickly, which keeps water flowing throughout the warming seasons into some of our most important watersheds. However, with warming winters, winter snowpack is declining in many parts of the country, and a newly released study reveals that not just water is at stake, but plants and animals, too.

According to a report in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, snow cover creates a life-saving environment for many creatures, which burrow each winter between the frozen ground and the snow, an area known as the subnivium. This area acts as a warm incubator where plants can photosynthesize and wildlife can stay warm during cold, windy winter months, but the researchers reveal that since 1970, the Northern Hemisphere’s snow cover in March and April has decreased by as much as 790.7 million acres. The consequences of a declining subnivium are potentially far-reaching.

Fox

Credit: Temari/Flickr

Study co-author Dr. Benjamin Zuckerberg of the University of Wisconsin-Madison tells Phys.org that the “decay of the subnivium will affect species differently, but be especially consequential for those that lack the plasticity to cope with the loss of the subnivium or that possess insufficient dispersal power to track the retreating range boundary of the subnivium.” In layman’s terms, if wildlife cannot move and adapt with the lack of snow, they may no longer exist and a ripple effect could occur. For instance, if freeze intolerant insects loose the cocoon of warmth that the subnivium provides, they may no longer be around as food for migrating birds.

Cardinal

Credit: Chris Williamson

So what can we do? Well, for starters, we can protect the trees that protect the snow. Our Endangered Western Forests initiative is working on saving whitebark pine, which thrives upon mountaintops at high elevations, where the snow is. It helps provide the shade and protection needed to keep a snowy winter ecosystem intact, but whitebark pine is fighting a battle of its own against insects, disease and more. Hence, our commitment to helping it fight back.

And remember that while it did seem like there were a lot of intense snowstorms this year — there were — intense snowstorms do not necessarily provide all of the snowfall needed in all places. According to the April 30 U.S. Drought Monitor report, in the western U.S., “The largely disappointing water year neared an end, with many areas of the west ending the season with bleak spring runoff prospects and increasing drought concerns.” Oy!


Shifting Thinking, Shifting Forests

by Susan Laszewski

It’s been a discouraging few weeks for climate change in the news. First, we learned that atmospheric levels of CO2 have reached 400ppm for the first time in three million years. If that milestone wasn’t enough to put climate on your mind, new research out of the Lawrence Berkley National Lab has called into question a widely held prediction, replacing it with a more pessimistic vision of the future.

Boreal forest

Boreal forest. Credit: Taku River Tlingit First Nation

Current thinking based on climate models holds that the boreal forest — that vast expanse of coniferous landscape circling the globe around Canada, Russia and parts of the U.S. — would expand north during the coming century. But Dr. Charles D. Koven, author of a paper published on Monday in Nature Geoscience, argues that the forest will not expand, but rather just shift northward and release more CO2 than current models account for. As other ecosystems also shift north, the boreal would be replaced in some areas by grasslands, which are unable to sequester carbon as quickly as the forests would release it. Koven’s simulations predict that a forest in Alberta will move north 100 miles in the next 90 years.

In the meantime, changing climate would stress trees, leaving forests more vulnerable to natural threats like wildfire, insects and disease. Accounting for these stressors, Koven’s assessment predicts higher carbon loss than the usual models. He writes, “the majority of carbon-climate models — typically without explicit simulation of the disturbance and mortality processes behind such shifts — instead project vegetation carbon gains throughout the boreal region.”

The complex relationship between forests and climate — and the link between deforestation and global climate change — is one of the reasons American Forests is working to protect and restore forests. Climate change may not be stoppable, but its rate can be slowed. We work in all 50 states and 39 countries. Help us in our quest to save the planet’s forests.


Caring for Our Public Lands

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Black River Recreation Area, New Mexico

Black River Recreation Area, New Mexico, is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Credit: BLM New Mexico

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is under the purview of the Bureau of Land Management. Credit: Brian & Jaclyn Drum

I think it’s safe to assume that most people — at least the ones reading this blog — know about the U.S. Forest Service within the U.S Department of Agriculture and how it is entrusted with the care of 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. However, what is less known is the fact that the U.S. Forest Service isn’t the only government agency responsible for our nation’s forests. Forests are actually managed across a variety of government agencies, including many in the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

So, last month, when our CEO, Scott Steen, submitted his written testimony to the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies (try saying that three times fast), he also focused on showing support for a variety of programs across agencies. Throughout the next month, I (with the help of some friends) am going to explore these programs, revealing what they do, why they are important and how American Forests works with them to achieve our mission of protecting and restoring forests. First up is the DOI’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

San Juan Islands of Washington

San Juan Islands of Washington state are part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Spokane District. Credit: BLM Oregon

If you had asked me two years ago to name the agency responsible for administering the most public land in the U.S., I would have said something like the National Park Service or U.S. Forest Service — and I would have been wrong. That distinction goes to the BLM, which oversees 245 million surface acres across 12 western states, plus 700 million acres of sub-surface mining estate. As the BLM puts it on its in website, it “may best be described as a small agency with a big mission: to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Within this tiny agency with a big heart are two programs that are especially dear to American Forests: Public Domain Forest Management and National Landscape Conservation System.

BLM’s Public Domain Forest Management program focuses on the health, recovery and management of 58 million acres of forests and woodlands, while its National Landscape Conservation System aims to conserve, protect and restore 27 million acres of public land for their outstanding cultural, ecological and scientific values, including many national monuments, wild and scenic rivers and more. Over the years, American Forests Global ReLeaf has been proud to partner with BLM on dozens of projects to help restore the forests under its protection. For instance, this year, we’re working with the agency to plant 25,000 Jeffrey pine seedlings in Alpine County, California, to reforest a wildfire-damaged ecosystem adjacent to a popular recreation area.

In order for these two programs to continue to protect the public lands entrusted to them, though, BLM needs funding. This is where appropriations come into play. The agency employs about 10,000 full-time employees and is actually a revenue generator, bringing in nearly $5 billion in 2012 compared to its $1 billion budget, so we think it’s only fair that the Public Domain Forest Management program receives a budget in FY2014 on par with its FY2012 budget. In addition, American Forests supports the increased level of funding for the National Landscape Conservation System outlined in the president’s FY2014 budget. If we want to preserve and protect the more than 2,700 recreation sites used by 14 million visitors annually within the National Landscape Conservation System’s purview, then Congress needs to make sure the BLM has the resources it needs.

And I think the value of outdoor recreation is something we can all agree on.


Looking Back: My Family’s Connection with American Forests

by Loose Leaf Team

By Tacy Lambiase

I first discovered American Forests last fall, purely by chance. As an undergraduate student, I am always looking for amazing internship opportunities. Last fall, I was hunting for a particular kind of experience: I wanted a communications internship with an environmental nonprofit organization where I could connect my passion for the environment with my communications skills. But when I began my internship with American Forests this past January, I had no idea that I already had a family connection to the organization.

Earlier this spring, I had lunch with Richard C. McArdle, my first cousin twice removed (my grandmother’s cousin) who lives in Washington, D.C. A retired employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Richard and his family members have a history of being involved with forestry and land-use policy. When I told him about my internship, Richard surprised me by saying that his father, Richard E. McArdle (hereafter referenced as McArdle), had been the eighth chief of the U.S. Forest Service from 1952-1962. Even more surprising, and coincidental, was the fact that McArdle had also been a long-time board member of American Forests, when the organization was still known as the American Forestry Association.

Richard E. McArdle, the eighth chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Richard E. McArdle, the eighth chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

McArdle started working for the Forest Service in 1924 as a junior forester after receiving his bachelor’s degree in forestry from the University of Michigan. During the 1920s, McArdle also worked on his master’s and doctoral degrees, earning his doctorate from Michigan in 1930. After serving as the dean of the forestry program at the University of Idaho from 1934 to 1935, McArdle would go on to become the chief of the Forest Service, a position he would hold for 10 years.

As chief, McArdle was responsible for the management of national forests and national grasslands. He also played an instrumental role in the passage of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960. This act ensured that renewable resources in national forests, such as timber and water, would be used responsibly and sustainably.

McArdle continued his work to protect and care for forests long after his term as chief was over. He served as a director for the American Forestry Association from 1958 to 1981 and was made a board member in 1963. An article announcing his appointment to the board of directors stated that “Dr. McArdle has probably won more awards for outstanding service than any other conservationist in America.” These included the President’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, the Rockefeller Public Service Award and the American Forestry Association Distinguished Service Award.

During his 39-year career with the Forest Service, McArdle was well-liked and respected. He was known by his friends and coworkers as “Chief” or “Mac” and had a knack for remembering people’s names, making those he knew feel appreciated and valued. In October 1983, McArdle passed away after collapsing at an American Forestry Association reception he was attending with friends and colleagues. In the November 1983 edition of American Forests, several people wrote tributes to McArdle including Edward P. Cliff, McArdle’s successor as chief of the Forest Service:

“Dick McArdle served with distinction as chief of the Forest Service during a period of great change and emerging new problems. The environmental movement exploded on the scene with astounding vigor. Wilderness preservation and environmental protection became national issues. … During this dynamic period, all Forest Service programs were strengthened in terms of available manpower, funding and competence. … Although McArdle gained a worldwide reputation, he will be best remembered by those of us who knew him well as a warm, compassionate, friendly human being and staunch friend. … With his passing, this country has lost a distinguished conservation leader; the world has lost a great human being.”

Richard E. McArdle meets with President Dwight Eisenhower and Montana Governor J. Hugo Aronson in Missoula, Montana in September 1954.

Richard E. McArdle meets with President Dwight Eisenhower and Montana Governor J. Hugo Aronson in Missoula, Montana in September 1954.

Learning about Richard E. McArdle’s dedication to the Forest Service and to this organization was a delightful experience — and a humbling reminder about how much just one person can do for forests and our nation’s conservation efforts. My time with American Forests has been meaningful and valuable, and I would like to thank all of the dedicated people at this organization who have made my experience great. I hope to continue on a career path where I can help protect and restore our environment, just like some of my family members and you all have done.

 

 


Old-growth Threats Around the World

by Susan Laszewski

At American Forests, we spend a lot of time talking about, thinking about and working to protect whitebark pine, a keystone species in the high-elevation West, as it struggles with disease and infestation, compounded by rising average temperatures.

Maybe that’s why the story of another species of white pine facing its own set of struggles really jumped out at me when it appeared in The New York Times last week.

The Yakushima white pine is found only on two small islands in Japan: Tanegashima and Yaukushima. The pines have been suffering for some time from undetermined causes, but according to The New York Times, one theory is now gaining traction. Environmental engineer Osamu Nagafuchi has long believed that air pollution from China is affecting the trees on Yakushima, and his theory is beginning to gain supporters. While a decline in the rate of death in recent years despite China’s increasing emissions could indicate a flaw in Nagafuchi’s theory, he believes that the pollution quickly killed off weaker trees, and this newer wave of dieback is a sign that levels have increased enough to affect healthier trees as well.

Jōmon Sugi

The Jōmon Sugi on Yaukushima. Credit: Matthew Bednarik

The forests of Yakushima carry immense importance both ecologically and culturally. From the ecological perspective, the forests are old growth and, therefore, home to older trees that provide unique and important ecosystem functions. As American Forests Science Advisory Board member Dr. Jerry Franklin, writing with David B. Lindenmayer and William F. Laurance, stated in their recently published paper Global Decline in Large Old Trees, “Younger and smaller trees cannot provide most of the distinctive ecological roles played by large old trees.”

From a cultural perspective, the forests of Yakushima are home not just to the endemic pine, but also to the “Yauksugi,” cedars that live more than 1,000 years longer than the 500-year lifespan of a typical Japanese cedar and earned the island a place of the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. The oldest among them is the famous Jōmon Sugi, commonly estimated to be 2,600 years old — though some estimates place it as much, much older. Filmmaker Miyazaki Hayao, best known in the U.S. for Spirited Away and Ponyo, was inspired by Yakushima when he created the film Princess Mononoke, in which he brought to life the forest spirits and magical atmosphere that many feel old-growth forests. Given the area’s importance, it would be concerning indeed if the loss of healthy pines was but the canary in a coal mine.

Whether Nagafuchi’s theory turns out to be correct or not, it’s clear that old-growth forests around the world are suffering for a number of reasons. Dr. Franklin writes that “The loss of large old trees is a recognized concern in many ecosystems worldwide. For example, populations of large old trees are plummeting in intensively grazed landscapes in California, Costa Rica and Spain, where such trees are predicted to disappear within 90 to 180 years.” That’s why American Forests works to protect old growth. Joined by many supporters like you, we told U.S. senators to oppose legislation threatening old growth in Tongass National Forest. Show your support for old-growth forests by signing on or giving today.


The Energy Savings of Trees

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Last week, Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced a new act to Congress: The Residential Energy and Economic Savings (TREES) Act. The legislation, co-sponsored by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), focuses on a very specific ecological service provided by urban forests: energy savings. The TREES Act would set up a grant program to help electric utilities establish tree planting programs designed to reduce residential energy demands.

Illustration of how to properly place trees to save energy

Illustration of how to properly place trees to save energy. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

The science behind this idea is pretty clear. According to research, just three large trees planted at a proper distance around your home — two on the west side and one on the east — can provide enough shade to reduce your air-conditioning costs by 30 percent in the summer. And, when placed properly to reduce wind exposure, they can reduce heating bills in the winter by two to eight percent. However, the reality is that not enough people put these ideas into practice, which is where the TREES Act comes in.

Being from Sacramento, Congresswoman Matsui has seen firsthand a successful model for the types of programs the TREES Act would fund, as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has been conducting a tree planting energy savings program for two decades. As we detail in our Urban Forests Case Studies chapter on Sacramento, SMUD has invested $35 million in the program over its lifetime, planting 500,000 trees that resulted in direct energy savings to consumers and the utility. According to SMUD’s Misha Sarkovich, “The beauty of this [program] is that we recognize that one individual tree provides a small benefit, but if you plant a large number of trees and multiply it by a small benefit, you have a huge benefit.”

SMUD headquarters

SMUD practices what it preaches, as its headquarters are surrounded with vegetation. Credit: Donald Childs

With her newly introduced act, Congresswoman Matsui is hoping to bring this benefit to communities around the country. “As we continue to tackle the combined challenges of high energy costs and the effects of climate change, it is essential that we put in place innovative policies and forward-thinking programs that will help prepare us for generations to come,” she relates in a statement about the TREES Act. “The Residential Energy and Economic Savings Act, or TREES Act, would help reduce energy costs for consumers and improve air quality for all Americans. My home district of Sacramento, Calif., has implemented a successful shade tree program, and I believe replicating this program on a national level will help ensure that we are working towards a cleaner, healthier future.”

Here at American Forests, we’re hoping that the TREES Act gains the support of the House and eventually finds its way to the Senate, as it represents a worthwhile program designed to save the environment through tree planting (yay!) and to save homeowners money (double yay!). To show your support for Congresswoman Matsui’s TREES Act, head to our Action Center and send a pre-written letter that asks your local congressional member to support the TREES Act.


Announcing Community ReLeaf

by Melinda Housholder, Urban Forests Program Director

I am excited to announce that American Forests is launching a new urban forest program called Community ReLeaf. American Forests Community ReLeaf will directly work with urban communities to first assess and then restore their forests. This work will help develop new information and research about the relevance and importance of urban forests locally and nationally. Reaching geographically distributed communities across the country, American Forests aims to bring national attention to the value of our urban forests and the importance of strategic urban forest restoration to community well-being and ecological health.

Atlanta, Ga.

Atlanta, Ga. Credit: Carissa Rogers

Thanks to a generous grant from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, American Forests Community ReLeaf will be working in five U.S. cities this year, and the project in each city will have a slightly different focus, based on the needs of the local urban forests.

  • In Asbury Park, N.J., the American Forests Community ReLeaf project will assess the changes in urban tree cover of the city in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, including the ecosystem benefits that were lost with the loss of the trees. This project will also model scenarios for the future to inform strategic urban forests restoration work to best benefit the local community.
  • In Atlanta, Ga., the American Forests Community ReLeaf project will assess the urban forest around schools to calculate the health benefits for children. With changing climates, it is especially important to better understand the role our urban forests play in areas where our children spend such a large percentage of their time.
  • In Detroit, Mich., the American Forests Community ReLeaf project will evaluate the ecosystem services provided by the urban forest in Rouge Park, the largest community park and the last sustainable riparian forest in Detroit. In a city that is currently facing many park closures and budget cuts, this park is one of the key remaining areas for environmental education for the surrounding communities. The resulting information can be used to help ensure the protection of this important urban forest into the future for the benefit of city residents.
  • Nashville, Tenn.

    Nashville, Tenn. Credit: Kyle Simourd

    In Nashville, Tenn., the American Forests Community ReLeaf project will assess public city trees in key areas of Nashville to quantify the economic and health benefits they provide. In a city that is rapidly expanding, this analysis will be critical to help highlight the benefits of the current city trees and inform planning for urban forests and development in order to maintain a sustainable and livable city into the future.

  • In Pasadena, Calif., the American Forests Community ReLeaf project will measure the benefits of the city’s public street trees to quantify the economic and health benefits they provide. This analysis will especially focus on air quality benefits of the urban forests in helping to address major challenges for the city: air pollution and smog. Such an assessment will help to inform Pasadena’s future Urban Forest Management Plan.

In each of these cities, American Forests will complete these assessments this spring and summer and will then leverage the information to conduct strategic tree planting projects this fall in areas of need.

Please stay tuned to our Urban Forests website, as we will be posting more information on each project in the following months. And for more details on Community ReLeaf, check out our press release on the program.


A Very Wild Homecoming

by Susan Laszewski

Orphaned bobcat Chips

Chips is fed formula by a fire information officer after her rescue. Her proximity to humans during her recovery had rescuers worried. (US Forest Service photo)

Last September, Michelle shared a story that pulled our heartstrings: the tale of Chips, an orphaned bobcat kitten who was rescued by workers after losing her mother and suffering second-degree burns and an eye infection in the Chips Fire in California’s Plumas National Forest.

As you may recall, the young Chips was recovering at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care last fall, where rescuers planned to heal and then socialize her in preparation for her return to the wild.

Well, Chips’ journey in the world of humans has, at last, reached its happy ending, as she was recently released into the wild. But it wasn’t a straight and easy road.

Orphaned bobcat Chips

Chips, now wary of humans, growls at the camera shortly before her release. (Photo courtesy Robert Campbell, volunteer and rehabilitation worker, Sierra Wildlife Rescue)

After being nursed back to health, Chips was a little too comfortable around humans, and rescuers worried that she might not be able to survive out there on her own. So, they transferred her to Sierra Wildlife Rescue in Placerville, Calif., where she was placed in a den with other rescued bobcats. Among her own kind, Chips learned to chase down her own food — live mice released into the den by staff — and eventually became wary of humans, hiding when staff approached the den. Finally, at eight months old, Chips was judged ready for the wild and was released on April 19th.

The kitten’s trials show how important it is for wildlife to have a suitably sized habitat free of human influence. Some animals, such as certain species of songbirds or rodents, are important parts of the urban ecosystem and backyard biodiversity. But others, like Chips and her kind, need many acres of wilderness to thrive. Help us restore wildlife habitat so future rehabilitated wildlife orphans like Chips will continue to have a home to go back to.

Good luck out there, Chips!


New Trees on the Block

by Loose Leaf Team

By Tacy Lambiase

Look out, big trees: Today, there are some new champions in town.

More than 40 new trees were declared the biggest of their species today with the release of American Forests’ National Register of Big Trees, which contains a total of almost 780 national champion and co-champion trees. The register, which is updated twice per year, records the largest trees of each species in the United States based on height, circumference and average crown spread.

The spring 2013 National Register includes champion trees like the Seven Sisters Oak in Louisiana. Credit: American Forests

The spring 2013 National Register includes champion trees like the Seven Sisters Oak in Louisiana. Credit: American Forests

While some new trees have been added to this spring’s register, others have been “dethroned” of their reign as champion trees. Here are some of the champions making headlines:

  • Oregon has 26 national champion trees, with newcomers including a ponderosa pine and blue-myrtle blueblossom.
  • Two co-champion palm coconut trees in Hawaii have been dethroned by a bigger palm, also located in Hawaii.
  • Texas moves into second place, overtaking Arizona, with 90 national champions, including co-champion anacua trees, nutmeg hickory, delta post oak and mescalbean sophora, and Florida remains the state with the most national champions.
  • Kentucky has a new co-champion American basswood. The tree is located next to Henry Clay’s tomb in historic Lexington Cemetery.
  • Unfortunately, six of South Carolina’s national champion trees have been dethroned due to the “10-year rule.” Trees that have not been re-measured in the last 10 years are removed from the register, as the trees need to be checked to confirm their health and condition.

While it’s always a little sad to see some our favorite big trees dethroned, it doesn’t mean that these magnificent trees can’t be recognized and appreciated in other ways. In fact, American Forests has developed an all-new Tree Protection Toolkit to provide advice and guidance about how you can preserve historic trees in your own backyard.

Credit: American Forests

Credit: American Forests

Sometimes, prized trees in yards, neighborhoods, communities or even national forests find themselves in danger from diseases, pests, storms and — too often — the consequences of living alongside humans. Unlike most things, which depreciate with age, trees appreciate in value over time and provide more benefits as they get older, which is why it’s important to protect treasured trees from destruction. The information compiled in the toolkit can help you determine why a particular tree is threatened, find out which departments within your municipality are responsible for handling tree and land-use issues, calculate the value of your tree, and so much more.

 

Already know of a tree worth preserving? Learn more about American Forests’ Big Tree program, view the National Register of Big Trees or consult the Tree Protection Toolkit!


Enjoy Nature Today

by Loose Leaf Team

By Tacy Lambiase

Happy Arbor Day! Enjoy the great outdoors this weekend by taking a walk, working in a garden, visiting a park, basking in the sun or planting a tree. Below are some of our favorite nature quotes to inspire you on this special day.

“If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” Vincent Van Gogh

Credit: NeilsPhotography/Flickr

Credit: NeilsPhotography/Flickr

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”  Rachel Carson

Credit: Frank Kovalchek/Flickr

Credit: Frank Kovalchek/Flickr

“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks.  Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough to pay attention to the story.” Linda Hogan

Credit: Domenico Salvagnin/Flickr

Credit: Domenico Salvagnin/Flickr

 

“He who plants a tree
Plants a hope.”
Lucy Larcom

Credit: zingyyellow/Flickr

Credit: zingyyellow/Flickr

Will you join us in protecting our precious forests this Arbor Day?