Have You Hugged a Tree Lately?

by Loose Leaf Contributor
Northern Flicker

The northern flicker, a species of state conservation concern in Minnesota, often nests in or near urban areas. Credit: minicooper93402/Flickr

That’s the question our director of urban forests, Melinda Housholder, asks in a guest blog on the National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Promises blog.

To quote Melinda:

When I did field work with the National Park Service a few years ago along the National Mall, I hugged trees on a daily basis. Well, by that I mean, when checking for the DBH (diameter at breast height) of specific trees, I often had my arms wrapped around trees. Not in a uniform, I am sure it looked like I was just a visitor to D.C., taking some time out of my day to embrace the tree for a moment of gratitude. And, well, why shouldn’t I?

Why not indeed!

Go read about Melinda’s urban adventures — and about why urban forests are so important to people and wildlife — on our friends at the National Wildlife Federation’s blog.

Cooperation for Water

by Susan Laszewski

Happy World Water Day, everyone,

Green Mountain NF

Chittenden Brook in Green Mountain National Forest. Credit: Colin Rhinesmith

Yesterday, we celebrated the International Day of Forests, declared as such by the UN just last year. But today is another important day, which was first designated by the UN way back in 1993. It’s World Water Day, a day to reflect on the importance of freshwater and to advocate for its sustainable management. In addition, 2013 is the International Year of Water Cooperation, which is why cooperation is the theme of year’s World Water Day.

First, let’s look at the way that forests — to anthropomorphize — “cooperate” with precipitation to provide clean drinking water for communities. Trees catch, filter and cleanse rain on its way toward the underground aquifers from which we get our drinking water. Forests also play the important role of maintaining snowpack at higher elevations so that melting and runoff occur more slowly. Without the forests, much of this snow would melt more rapidly and flood areas downstream. In the U.S., more than 50 percent of our freshwater comes from forests.

Bridger-Teton NF

Island Lake in Bridger-Teton National Forest. Credit: Show Us Your Togwotee/Flickr

Of that percent, much comes from our national forests. That’s why over the years, American Forests has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service and others to maintain and restore these important resources. This kind of cooperation is vital to ensure our nation’s supply of freshwater. Over the years, we’ve conducted more than 200 Global ReLeaf projects in national forests. This year’s projects include plantings in 14 national forests, from Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont, where we’re reforesting a riparian corridor damaged by Hurricane Irene to improve stream health, to Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming, where planting of whitebark pine may help with snowpack.

You can also play an important role in this cooperation for conservation. Discover all the ways you can give and help.

As Secretary‐General Ban Ki‐moon said in his video message for the International Year of Water Cooperation 2013, “We must work together to protect and carefully manage this fragile, finite resource.”

Dedicate Today to Celebrating Our Forests

by Loose Leaf Team

By Tacy Lambiase

Here at American Forests, we celebrate the beauty and benefits of our Earth’s forests every day of the year. But thanks to the United Nations General Assembly, there is now an official holiday dedicated to trees around the globe.

A view of the forests around El Bolsón, Argentina

A view of the forests around El Bolsón, Argentina. Credit: Juan Manuel

On December 21, 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring March 21 as the International Day of Forests and the Tree. According to the UN, “The International Day of Forests and the Tree is held annually on 21 March to raise awareness of sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests for the benefit of current and future generations. … The resolution encourages all Member States to organize activities relating to all types of forests, and trees outside forests, such as tree-planting campaigns.”

The UN Forum on Forests, an intergovernmental policy forum tasked with implementing this day of observance, produced a short film about the impact that forests have on the well-being of our planet and the lives of humans and animals:

As you may already know, American Forests doesn’t just support tree planting initiatives in the United States — some of our Global Releaf projects are focused on restoring international forests.

  • American Forests has worked with the La Cruz Habitat Protection Project in Mexico to restore the winter home of migrating monarch butterflies. In 2012 alone, 100,000 trees were planted to stabilize degraded soil, provide forest cover and create a buffer between the monarchs’ habitat and human development.
  • Black-and-white colobus monkey in Kenya

    Black-and-white colobus monkey in Kenya. Credit: Sum_of_Marc/Flickr

    Although the highlands in Kenya used to be covered in trees, deforestation has wiped out 99.9 percent of the region’s native forests. In 2012, American Forests teamed up with Plants for Life International (PLI), a non-governmental organization that works out of Brackenhurst Botanic Garden in Kenya, to reforest part of this area. This project involved planting 15,000 trees of almost 300 different species, which will hopefully have positive long-term effects on the region. Native tree species can stabilize the soil, improve the water flow in the region and allow for the reintroduction of native animals and bird species to the forest, including the colobus monkey.

  • In 2013, American Forests Global ReLeaf is conducting five international projects. Our projects in Honduras, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Panama are helping those countries restore lost forest cover, while improving the economies of local communities, improving habitat for endangered wildlife or stabilizing needed waterways.

From everyone at American Forests, Happy International Day of Forests and the Tree!

ReLeaf by the Numbers

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

1,888,012 trees
5,038 acres (or 5,038 football fields if that helps you picture the size)
25 forests
14 states
5 countries
1 healthier planet

Sumatran orangutan

The endangered Sumatran orangutan, a species whose habitat is being restored through a 2013 Global ReLeaf project. Credit: TomD./Flickr

This afternoon, American Forests announced our 2013 Global ReLeaf restoration projects. As you can glean from above, these 25 projects are planting 1.8 million trees to restore forest ecosystems across the U.S. and around the world.

From Montana’s mountains to Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley, from Vermont’s White River to California’s North Yuba River and from India to Mexico, Global ReLeaf in 2013 is helping forests overcome damage from intense wildfires, disease, insects, clearing for agriculture and more.

We’re restoring habitat for the endangered Sumatran orangutan in Indonesia. We’re planting whitebark pine in the Greater Yellowstone Area. We’re using trees to stabilize a river in North Carolina to improve habitat for trout and other fish. We’re planting jack pine in Michigan for the endangered Kirtland’s warbler. And so much more.

Check out our complete list of 2013 projects in our Global ReLeaf section, and remember that we can’t do this alone. Our cherished members, donors and friends help make our work possible. The Earth’s forests thank you.

Mad for Big Trees

by Susan Laszewski

Big Tree Madness bracket

Have you heard the word? March is a month of madness in more ways than one! Today marks the opening of American Forests’ “Big Tree Madness!” We’re asking you to help us choose the Ultimate Big Tree from our carefully selected Sweet Sixteen. Will it be the towering western redcedar, giant among giants in Olympic National Forest? Or could it be the 12-foot Texas redbud, a “tiny titan,” dwarfing others of its species?

Like us on Facebook to join in the fun. We’ll post each day’s matchup at 10:00 a.m. ET, and you’ll have until 10:00 the next morning to vote. It’s up to you to decide who will be crowed Ultimate Big Tree.

Check out our bracket and the full rules of Big Tree Madness over at our Big Tree page.

  1. What: Big Tree Madness. Vote for the Ultimate Big Tree!
  2. Where: American Forests on Facebook
  3. When: March 19th through April 8th. Winner announced on April 9th!
  4. Learn more
sweet sixteen trees

The sweet sixteen

Tree News

by Loose Leaf Team

By Tacy Lambiase

Over the past week, we’ve been tracking several interesting stories related to forests and trees around the world. From wildfire season predictions to victories over an invasive insect species, here are several stories from the world of trees.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery. Credit: Tara Siuk

Arlington Cemetery Proposes Plan That Would Cut Down Almost 900 Trees
An expansion plan sparked some controversy at Arlington Cemetery when it was revealed that almost 900 trees would be cut down to make room for more burial plots. In response, a new plan was recently released by the Army Corps of Engineers to address concerns about razing so many century-old trees, but many people who opposed the original plan are still not satisfied. Although cemetery officials have promised to replace most of the trees that will be but down, the revised plan would only save eight of the historic trees.

New Jersey Is Declared Free From the Notorious ALB
Earlier this month, we posted on our blog about the damaging effects that Asian longhorned beetles can have on maple trees. Now, some good news has emerged from officials in New Jersey: The state has now declared itself free from the Asian longhorned beetle, an invasive insect that had plagued trees in New Jersey for more than a decade. In 2008, Illinois declared itself free from these beetles, making New Jersey the second state to eradicate this species.

China’s Demand for Disposable Wooden Chopsticks Could Be Putting a Strain on Forests


Credit: i_yudai/Flickr

According to an article in Time, the demand for disposable chopsticks in China has increased dramatically, and more than 80 billion wooden sets of chopsticks are used and thrown away each year. The chairman of China’s Jilin Forestry Industry Group, Bo Guangxin, estimates that 20 million 20-year-old trees need to be cut down every year to satisfy this demand. Government officials are attempting to solve the problem by encouraging citizens to carry around reusable chopsticks.

U.S. Forest Service Develops Map to Illustrate Wildfire Risks
The Forest Service has developed a map that shows the wildfire risk to every state in the continental United States. The color-coded 2013 map shows the level of risk that a particular area is under for experiencing a wildfire this year, from a “very low” risk to a “very high” risk. Since the U.S. Forest Service ran out of money during last year’s fire season to combat dangerous wildfires, American Forests has signed a letter with other conservation groups to petition the U.S. Senate to allocate more funds for wildfire fighting programs.

Disappearance of the Monarch

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly. Credit: William Warby

What’s black and white and orange all over? Probably many things, but I’m thinking specifically of the monarch butterfly. Why? Because earlier this week, Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas announced that the wintering population of the monarch butterfly declined by 59 percent this winter. The monarch — which can’t be counted individually, but whose population is measured instead by the amount of canopy covered while they are huddled together in the winter for warmth — occupied more than seven acres last winter and less than three acres this year.

This year’s figure represents the lowest number of butterflies in Mexico in the last two decades, when record keeping began, and the third year of declines. Lincoln Brower, a leading entomologist at Virginia’s Sweet Briar College, tells the Associated Press (AP) that “the report of the dwindling monarch butterfly winter residence in Mexico is ominous. This is not just the lowest population recorded in the 20 years for which we have records. It is the continuation of a statistically significant decrease in the monarch population that began at least a decade ago.”

For years, the monarch’s winter home in Mexico has been threatened by deforestation. At a peak in 2005, logging consumed more than 1,100 acres of areas in Michoacán, Mexico, where the butterfly winters. A year later, American Forests began work to restore oyamel firs in Michoacán to benefit the monarch; we’ve helped plant a million trees for the monarchs since 2006. The AP reports, though, that aerial surveys in 2012 revealed little logging in the monarch’s home, which has left some researchers looking at another culprit for the monarch’s decline: U.S. herbicide use.


Milkweed. Credit: Jerry A. Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

During the migration from its summer homes in the northern U.S. and southern Canada to Mexico and back again, the monarch relies on milkweed growing throughout America’s agricultural fields for sustenance. However, herbicide-resistant crops have meant more herbicide use, which means very little milkweed peeking up between rows of corn and soybeans. Add in drought, and there are a lot of missing food sources for the monarch.

Chip Taylor, director the University of Kansas’ Monarch Watch, tells The New York Times that the butterfly migration is at a tipping point. If numbers continue to decline, the butterfly may not be able to readily recover from a natural disaster, such as an extremely harsh winter in Mexico.

The magnificent migration of the monarch butterfly is a wondrous, natural marvel, and its current precarious state is a prime example of how interconnected our natural systems are. Animals, insects, plants and trees flow from one ecosystem and habitat to another more rapidly than we sometimes realize. That’s why we’re focused not only on trees, but on the forests overall. If we protect them, we protect so much more.



At the Sign of the Flying Goose

by Susan Laszewski

Pelican Island

Centennial Trail at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
Credit: Keenan Adams/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Normally, geese fly south for the winter in flocks, returning in the spring and recognizable in their famous “v-formation.” But, there’s a singular goose that you can see flying solo year round in both Maine and Florida. You’ll see the same goose as far out into the Atlantic as the U.S. Virgin Islands and in the Pacific as far as Guam. This goose is in all 50 states and several U.S. territories.

It’s the flying goose emblem that signifies a national wildlife refuge.

The first refuge in today’s National Wildlife Refuge System was signed into being by President Theodore Roosevelt on this day 110 years ago. But while Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida represented the first time land had been set aside as a refuge for a non-marketable species — the brown pelican — there was not yet a larger system for it to be a part of. Though more refuges would be set aside in the coming years, it would be decades until they were brought together under one system.

In 1921, a bill was introduced to establish a refuge system and create a one dollar hunting stamp to help fund it. The bill would be rejected four times until it finally passed in 1929 with the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. By then, however, reference to the hunting stamp had been lost. What’s known today as the duck stamp would have to wait until the 1934 passing of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act. The Duck Stamp Act, as it’s better known, established the system of funding new wildlife refuges through revenue from hunting licenses.

In 1962, another act was passed that changed the National Wildlife Refuge System forever. The Refuge Recreation Act authorized recreational use of refuge lands so long as that recreation wouldn’t interfere with the refuge’s primary purpose of protecting species. The act was enacted largely due to public demand, but it has had positive conservation effects as well, giving more people the opportunity for wildlife- and wilderness-based educational activities, increasing public concern for conservation by bringing more people face to face with nature.

Today, the system includes 520 units and 93 million acres, nearly two thirds of which were added with a single act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980.

At American Forests, we collaborate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through our Global ReLeaf program to help keep our nation’s national wildlife refuges in good health. From our multi-year project in Hawai’i’s Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge during Global ReLeaf’s early years to our recent work reforesting 50 acres of wetlands in Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, we’re doing our part to keep that goose flying.

Remember the Longleaf

by Loose Leaf Team

By Josh DeLacey

When Alabama became a state in 1819, up to 90 million acres (140,000 square miles) of longleaf pine forests stretched across the southeastern United States. That’s an area almost the size of Montana — an area larger than all the national parks combined — all covered in towering pine trees. Early settlers described the forests as “limitless.”

Longleaf pine. Credit: Randy Browning/USFWS

Longleaf pine. Credit: Randy Browning/USFWS

Now, just two million acres of longleaf forests remain — less than three percent of the historic range — and less than half a percent of that is old growth. If you don’t want to do the math, there are just 12,000 scattered acres of old-growth longleaf left, down from 90 million. Because longleaf pines are slow growing, they produce strong wood, and because they consistently grow straight, they make ideal material for masts, telephone poles and beams. From the 1880s to 1920s, longleaf was heavily harvested, and by the 1930s, the forests were a fraction of their former size. This led harvesters and foresters to take action to try to help the longleaf, recognizing the importance of the species and its forest ecosystem.

Unfortunately, the two policies that were implemented actually harmed longleaf pines even further. First, harvesters began to rely on slash and loblolly pines. Although those species produced inferior wood, they did it cheaper, easier and quicker than the persnickety longleaf pine, which meant that while the longleaf was no longer being harvested, it also wasn’t being replanted through emerging sustainability practices.

I call longleaf pines persnickety because they require periodic groundfires in order to compete with other wildlife. And that leads to the second harmful policy: fire suppression. In the early and mid-20th century, the U.S. Forest Service prevented wildfires far too successfully for longleaf pines to thrive. So of the longleaf forests that once could have covered Montana, they now could only fill half of the state’s largest city, Billings.

As frustrating as that decimation is, it doesn’t stop with longleaf pines themselves. Longleafs provide huge benefits for their ecosystems, and without them, the nation is missing a very valuable resource.

A prescribed burn helps keep a longleaf ecosystem healthy.

A prescribed burn helps keep a longleaf ecosystem healthy. Credit: John Maxwell/USFWS

Because here’s the thing about longleaf pines:

  • They support biodiversity. Nearly 600 species are associated with longleaf pine ecosystems. Half of those are considered rare, more than 100 are at-risk and 30 are threatened or endangered. Some of the best known of these species are indigo snakes, red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises and flatwoods salamanders.
  • They provide erosion control. Longleaf pines can grow where other pines can’t, including sandy, dry and infertile soil or steep, mountainous slopes.
  • They’re durable. Longleaf pines are more resistant to diseases, insects, fires and storms than other southeastern pines. This makes them well-suited for climate change, ready to withstand extreme weather and climates.

American Forests is working on several programs to restore longleaf forests through Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration projects and our Global ReLeaf work. For the last two years, we’ve partnered with Alcoa Foundation to plant longleaf pines near Charleston, S.C. For these projects, local Alcoa employees join other volunteers to help restore longleaf to their native habitat. And these are just a few of our longleaf projects.

So remember the longleaf pines and help us bring them back.

Where No Tree Has Gone Before

by Loose Leaf Team

By Tacy Lambiase

More intense wildfires, drought and drier soil — these are just some of the negative consequences of climate change that can seriously affect the health of trees. But what happens when warmer temperatures actually make certain ecosystems more hospitable for trees? According to a new study, the arctic tundra is one environment that won’t be treeless for much longer.

The tundra in Kobuk Valley National Park in Alaska

The tundra in Kobuk Valley National Park in Alaska. Credit: Western Arctic National Parklands

The arctic tundra, an ecosystem traditionally known for its lack of trees and shrubs, is undergoing a transformation. Over the past few decades, pine trees and large shrubs have begun to cover this once sparsely vegetated region. Using advanced climate models and satellite data, the authors of the new study in Nature Climate Change have concluded that Earth’s northernmost treeline is infringing on the arctic tundra.

“As a result of the enhanced warming … the total amount of heat available for plant growth in these northern latitudes is increasing,” Compton Tucker, an author on the study and a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, tells Discovery News. “This created, during the past 30 years, large patches of vigorously productive vegetation, totaling more than a third of the northern landscape — over nine million square kilometers, which is roughly about the area of the USA — resembling the vegetation that occurs further to the south.”

Although many species of trees do not seem to be able to migrate fast enough to keep up with a changing climate, clearly some plants are successfully moving northward and thriving. But will this migration be ultimately beneficial for these trees? What about the landscape they’re changing?

Canada’s Sirmilik National Park, which is situated within the Arctic Cordillera

Canada’s Sirmilik National Park, which is situated within the Arctic Cordillera. Credit: Mike Beauregard

As Discovery News points out, warmer temperatures do not necessarily mean more rainfall, especially in North America. If the arctic tundra becomes simultaneously warmer and drier, then some trees might not be able to survive there after all. The native vegetation and wildlife of the arctic tundra can also be negatively impacted by climate change. Since its small plants and mosses need cool temperatures and a wetter climate to survive, the arctic tundra may not be able to continue to support these species. Although it may seem like more trees in any part of the world is a positive development, broader effects of climate change could ultimately spell disaster for the natural ecosystems of our northern climates.

In addition, the arctic tundra might even contribute to exacerbating climate change. Much of the arctic tundra is covered in permafrost, or frozen soil, which releases carbon and methane into the air when it melts. If temperatures become too high for the permafrost to remain frozen, the amount of carbon released by melting permafrost will have a significant effect on the atmosphere, climate change and the ecological make-up of the tundra.

The arctic tundra is a beautiful, but complex ecosystem. As scientists continue to study the effects of climate change, it will be important to keep this particular habitat on our radars.