From businessman to folk legend: Johnny Appleseed

by Susan Laszewski

Johnny Appleseed may have been a folk hero who wandered the frontier in his burlap sack and tin pot hat, scattering apple seeds to the wind, but John Chapman — the real life figure upon whom that legend is based — was actually an astute businessman who planted nurseries in strategic locations. He was born in Massachusetts on this day in 1774. Centuries later, his life’s work still has a hold on Americans’ imaginations.

As a young man, Chapman went west, probably armed with some apple seeds from the pulp of a cider mill. Staying one step ahead of the settlers who were journeying toward the frontier, he planted nurseries that would be ready when they arrived.

statue of Johnny Appleseed at Johnson's Orchard in Bedford County, Va.

This statue of Johnny Appleseed at Johnson’s Orchard in Bedford County, Va., shows how the folklore figure of “Johnny Appleseed” has come to be depicted, centuries after the real John Chapman lived. Credit: David Wilson

Chapman knew something that remains true today: Trees are good for communities. Although they may not have known it, those settlers were reaping many of the same benefits of trees that we enjoy today: cleaner air, cleaner water, cooler temperatures. But they were keenly aware of some other benefits that Chapman’s trees brought: alcohol and land rights.

Hard cider and applejack were important drinks for settlers on the frontier in those days. They could be used as currency or medicinally. What’s more, the presence of an orchard was often a way that settlers could uphold claim to land. As Chapman’s nurseries grew into orchards, he could sell them off to eager buyers. Just as today, trees added value to property. It’s said that Chapman died a rich man thanks to the many unsold orchards he owned, but his humble, bare-bones lifestyle belied his wealth.

Chapman was a successful businessman, but he was also a conservationist and a true outdoorsman. Most accounts say that “the appleseed man” was welcomed by all during his travels, but often preferred to sleep outside rather than in the beds or on the floors offered to him. He was known as an animal lover who not only wouldn’t harm a fly, but would actually rescue them from the campfire, according to one account. Throughout his life, he chose roaming from nursery to nursery and sleeping under the stars over settling down.

Like Chapman, we at American Forests know that trees have practical benefits, but are also good for the soul. His birthday is a good reminder to value both those sides of planting trees. Like him, we plant trees because they have measurable value to communities, but also because of something immeasurable — it just feels right. And, like him, we’ve even been known to plant a fruit tree or two.


Forest Digest — Week of September 22

by Loose Leaf Team

If you didn’t catch it, an op-ed in The New York Times questioned the role of forests in our climate change solution. See what we said in response.

Meanwhile, world leaders, global companies and concerned citizens gathered this week in New York at the U.N.’s Climate Summer. Read about what transpired and other forest stories in this week’s Forest Digest:

  • “UN Climate Change Summit Yields Major Announcements on Deforestation”VICE News
    At this week’s U.N. Climate Summit, 27 nations, including the U.S., endorsed a declaration to by 2030 and offer more that $1 billion in aid to countries where forest conservation is most crucial. Subnational governments in Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico and Peru — regions of the world that contain the planet’s largest intact tropical rainforests — also signed on.
  • “How one Brazilian state is reducing deforestation while growing its economy”Environmental Defense Fund
    The state of Acre in northwestern Brazil has developed incentives initiatives to help reduce deforestation. From supporting timber certification and sustainable livestock agriculture to giving money to indigenous peoples who restore degraded land using traditional practices, Acre reduced deforestation by 60 percent and increased its real GDP by 62 percent since 2002.
The whitebark pine faces an uphill battle for survival, but American Forests and our partners are working to keep this keystone species intact.

The whitebark pine faces an uphill battle for survival, but American Forests and our partners are working to keep this keystone species intact.

  • “For Trees Under Threat, Flight May Be Best Response”The New York Times
    Creating refuges — generally used to protect threatened or endangered species from human activity — might not work for the whitebark pine, as the species faces lethal threats such as the mountain pine beetle and white pine blister rust, not to mention a warming climate. So scientists are considering a pretty radical idea: moving the trees to areas where they will be more comfortable in the future.

Direct seeding in the GYA

by Loose Leaf Contributor

By Amy Gannon, Entomologist, Montana DNRC Forestry Division

Whitebark pine seeds.

Whitebark pine seeds. Photo credit: Amy Gannon.

Whitebark pine in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) has been severely impacted by both white pine blister rust and mountain pine beetle in recent years. The Yellowstone Club is a private ski area situated in the GYA and the forested property has had substantial mortality in whitebark pine. Luke Stratford, the mountain manager, has been actively engaged in stewardship since the onset of the mountain pine beetle outbreak. Verbenone, a pheromone used to ward off beetles from healthy trees, was applied in consecutive years as both part of a management strategy and also as a component of research plots hosted by the club. With the extensive loss of whitebark, Stratford is interested in options for regenerating the stand (versus letting subalpine fir take over). The feasibility of caging and collecting cones was explored but ultimately, the DNRC acquired whitebark pine seed from the Gallatin National Forest.

Regeneration plots were established to determine appropriate planting sites and those with the highest restoration potential. Data were collected on 489 plots and casual surveys were done at two additional sites. Four sites were ultimately identified for planting based on average number of whitebark pine seedlings and saplings along with the ratio of subalpine fir to whitebark pine. The first site was in strips of vegetation between ski runs that had substantial mortality from bark beetles. The second was in a gladed area where machinery had exposed mineral soil (ideal planting sites). The third was in a lower draw that had dead whitebark in the overstory but no whitebark regeneration. The fourth site was on a high ridge with both subalpine fir and whitebark pine mortality and little regeneration of either species.

A vista from the Greater Yellowstone Area.

A vista from the Greater Yellowstone Area. Photo credit: Amy Gannon.

Operational direct-seeding is labor intensive and requires exact seed placement for successful germination and establishment. Commercial seed planting devices are available, but their practicality for planting whitebark seeds is not widely determined. American Forests purchased four different models for trial on this project:

  • Jab Planter
  • Hatfield Transplanter
  • Easy-Plant Jab-Type Planter
  • Stand ‘n Plant

Weight and packability is an important consideration in the remote and steep terrain associated with whitebark pine ecosystems. The first three models were too heavy or cumbersome to use in the field. The fourth model, the Stand ‘n Plant, was sufficiently lightweight and slim enough to carry, but did not penetrate the soil 1.5 inches or cover the planting hole with soil. With each model, methods for recovering the soil after planting were not immediately clear. In this specific scenario, sufficient crew numbers were available to simply use a six- to eight-inch spike to create a planting hole, directly insert the seed, and recover soil by hand. Thus, hand-planting was deemed the most efficient way to plant 8,200 seeds. Seeds were planted by a crew of nine people over 1.5 days.


Forests are a vital part of the climate solution

by Scott Steen, President & CEO

Last week, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Dr. Nadine Unger. Provocatively titled “To Save the Planet, Don’t Plant Trees,” the column draws on one area of preliminary research from the vast realm of climate change research and asserts broad conclusions about the contributions of forests to climate change, which are likely to confuse more than help.

Clearly forests alone cannot solve the climate change issue. However, Dr. Unger labels the wisdom behind efforts to reduce tropical deforestation as wrong while also pointing out that deforestation produces a whopping 20 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions — yet conceding that living forests “generously mop up about a quarter of the world’s fossil-fuel carbon emissions each year.”

Tropical rainforests (left) and northern boreal forests should play a major part in our planet's climate changes solution.

Tropical rainforests (left) and northern boreal forests should play a major part in our planet’s climate changes solution.
Photo credits: Miguel Vieira (left) and Timothy Boscarino (right).

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that tropical deforestation leads to warming and the resulting soil degradation increases carbon emissions while lowering the land’s productivity. Northern boreal forests (like those in the snow-covered regions of Canada) may, over the long term, contribute to atmospheric warming by absorbing the sun’s energy. However, substantial research shows that during the next century, boreal forest growth will result in net cooling. Timing is everything with this issue, as we urgently address the many tipping points of climate change likely to have major near-term impacts on human life.

Dr. Unger also exaggerates the scientific consensus around volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that trees emit, which vary greatly depending on tree species, and questions the benefits of a hypothetical large-scale expansion of forests. There is no possibility of such an expansion on a global scale, as most forested regions remain at best, stable, or more likely, in decline because of such factors as logging, insects, disease, development and wildfires.

Finally, she significantly underplays the co-benefits of healthy forests — cleaner air, cleaner water, wildlife habitat and biodiversity among them. While the research of Dr. Unger and her colleagues deserves further exploration and scrutiny, it is misleading and harmful to present broad generalizations based on relatively new research as conclusive science.

Scott Steen
President & CEO


Want to do more?

  • Sign our TakePart petition urging President Obama to make forests a priority in the White House’s Climate Change Action Plan. We have less than 4,000 more signatures to go, so please help us achieve our goal.
  • Share this post through your Facebook and Twitter networks and help spread the word that trees must play a major role in the climate change equation.

Shipping containers: Importing insect pests, too

by Loose Leaf Contributor
The Asian longhorned beetle (above) and the emerald ash borer are wreaking havoc on American forests.

The Asian longhorned beetle (above) and the emerald ash borer are wreaking havoc on American forests.

By Faith Campbell, Emeritus environmental advocate and tree-pest expert

Several of the most damaging tree-killing insects came to America as larvae riding in crates, pallets, or other forms of wood packaging material (WPM).

These include the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), emerald ash borer, and redbay ambrosia beetle. All entered the country since trade opened with China in the late 1980s. The ALB and EAB entered before our government had adopted effective measures to prevent pests from being transported in WPM.

Responding to discovery of the ALB, U.S. and Canadian officials worked with European and other counterparts to adopt an “international standard” that requires that WPM used in international trade be treated to reduce the likelihood that live insects will be inside. Since 2006, the U.S. and Canada have required that WPM from overseas comply with this standard.

How much has relying on the international standard reduced the risk of a new pest being introduced? Analysis of USDA data suggests that applying the standard has reduced the rates at which live insects are intercepted at U.S. borders by about half. This is important progress.

Each day, 35 shipping containers bring a pest to the U.S.

Each day, 35 shipping containers bring a pest to the U.S.
Photo credit: Greg Bishop.

Still, as of 2009, one shipment out of each thousand that contain wood packaging harbors a live insect that threatens plant resources in the U.S. This sounds like a very small risk. However, an estimated 13 million shipping containers carrying wood packaging entered the U.S. in 2013. At the suggested approach rate, this means 13,000 containers harboring pests would enter the country each year – 35 per day.1 Continuing what we are doing now could result in more than 100 additional wood-boring insects being introduced over the next 40 years.2

We can do more!

U.S. and Canadian governments work with their counterparts in Asia and around the world to improve compliance with the standard’s treatment and other requirements.

Meanwhile, businesses that import goods packaged in wood can also step forward to protect the urban and wildland forests from which all Americans benefit. These businesses can help stop the spread of pests by:

  • Negotiating contracts with their foreign suppliers that hold the supplier responsible for any costs arising from failures to comply with the international standard.
  • Emphasizing to employees and contractors who manage the company’s transportation and supply chain their personal responsibility for ensuring compliance.
  • Evaluating alternatives to wood packaging – avoiding hassles at the border might make up for the higher cost of alternative types of packaging.
  • Instituting active pest surveillance at warehouses and distribution centers; reporting evidence of pests to appropriate federal and state’s authorities.

1Haack RA, Britton KO, Brockerhoff EG, Cavey JF, Garrett LJ, et al. (2014) Effectiveness of the International Phytosanitary Standard ISPM No. 15 on Reducing Wood Borer Infestation Rates in Wood Packaging Material Entering the United States. PLoS ONE 9(5): e96611. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096611.
2Leung, B., M.R. Springborn, J.A. Turner, E.G. Brockerhoff. 2014. Pathway-level risk analysis: the net present value of an invasive species policy in the US. The Ecological Society of America. Frontiers of Ecology.org


Forest Digest — Week of September 15

by Loose Leaf Team

The impacts of climate change are being felt in forests across the world. Read about new climate-change-related studies and other forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest:

  • “Climate Change Is Making Trees Grow Rapidly”Discovery News
    Scientists from Germany’s Technische Universität München have found that the two dominant European tree species — European beech and Norway spruce — are growing at more rapid rates compared to the species’ rates in 1960. Researchers believe the faster rate of growth is caused by rising temperatures, longer growing seasons and increased amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrogren — all of which are related to climate change. Though faster growth could be viewed as a good thing, researchers noted that the faster-growing trees seem to age faster, as well.
  • “Climate change may add billions to wildfire costs, study says”Los Angeles Times
    Wildfires in the United States cost as much as $125 billion annually, and a new study released by a group of environmental organizations found that climate change and its effects could increase that total by $60 billion by 2050. Also by that year, the area in which fires burn is estimated to rise between 50 and 100 percent, a statistic that attributed to the wildfire cost projection increase.
  • “Letting the forest burn”Arizona Daily Sun
    Forests across the nation, like the Kaibab National Forest in this article, are in various states of revising their forest management plans. Across the West, many plan revisions are emphasizing the important of more frequent, lower intensity fires as a key tool to promote greater health of the ecosystem.
  • “The Meteor That Wiped Out the Dinosaurs Changed Earth’s Plant Life, Too”Newsweek
    According to a new study, the meteor that hit Earth millions of years ago and is believed to have caused the extinction of dinosaurs also had a profound impact — pun intended — on the planet’s flora, especially forests. Prior to the meteor, forests consisted of slow-growing evergreens, but these plants were overtaken by deciduous plants — fast-growing and flowering — which now reign over the vast majority of the world’s modern forests.

Up-close with Yellowstone’s whitebark pine

by Christopher Horn

Brad Bauer knows a thing or two about his backyard.

Bauer lives in Montana and works at Montana State University’s Gallatin County Extension, where he directs the Natural Resource Program and assists the communities and individuals in Gallatin, Meagher, and Park Counties in Montana in understanding natural resources. Bauer is helping American Forests and National Park Service staff to raise awareness in the parks by coordinating a myriad of outreach and communications activities. With the help of Bauer and our partners, American Forests will:

  • Create information trailhead signs for hikers and visitors.
  • Collect and distribute information provided by trail users.
  • Send informational materials to private landowners.
  • Install packets of Verbenone, the chemical that repels the mountain pine beetle that poses a great threat to whitebark pine forests.

We spoke with him to learn more about efforts to educate locals on the whitebark park and its future in the region:

Q: What was the goal for the educational trailhead signs? How many hikers would you estimate use the trails annually?
A: The goal of the signs was to catch visitors attention as they begin their trail use and provide a bit of ecological perspective to their forest visit. The sign targets whitebark pine’s ecological importance, challenges, and solutions to these challenges. Several signs will be place on the Gallatin National Forest, which receives nearly 2 million visits per year. Additionally, trailhead signs placed in the Yellowstone Club and Big Sky Resort will reach an additional population using high elevation habitat.

Q: Have any of the outreach activities (trailhead signs, informational mailings, etc.) that you coordinated been widely successful?
A: We have already received several inquiries regarding the postcards, which has led to several property visits allowing the opportunity to further discuss with the landowner the importance of whitebark pine.

Q: What do you hope citizens of the GYE learn from the outreach?
A: I hope the signs and postcards will provide an improved understanding of the landscape. Additionally, the postcards provide an opportunity for landowners to be engaged in the management and ecology of their forest through Extension.


Tree-killing pests: Who? Where? How?

by Loose Leaf Contributor

By Faith Campbell, Emeritus environmental advocate and tree-pest expert

Nearly 500 non-native insects and disease-causing pathogens have been introduced to the United States in the 400 years since European settlement began. Here are some examples:

A map showing an area of the Northeast affected by hemlock woolly adelgid.

A map showing an area of the Northeast affected by hemlock woolly adelgid. Click to zoom in.

  • Chestnut blight has virtually eliminated mature American chestnuts across the species’ range, which is most of the eastern deciduous forest.
  • European gypsy moth periodically causes severe defoliation of several hardwood species, especially oaks. The gypsy moth now occupies forests from New England to a line reaching from Virginia to Wisconsin.
  • Hemlock woolly adelgid has killed 90 percent of hemlocks in groves spanning from Maine to Georgia. These hemlock groves form unique ecosystems that shelter specific bird, fish, salamander, and plant species.
  • Emerald ash borer (EAB) has spread over 25 years to more than 100,000 square miles across 23 states and two Canadian provinces. EAB is likely to kill most trees belonging to two dozen species of ash in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
  • White pine blister rust has reduced populations of several western white pines. The greatest threat is to high-elevation pines — whitebark, limber and bristlecone — which are the base of food webs and protect snow cover that is the foundation for water supplies in the West.
  • Sudden oak death has killed more than 1 million tanoak and oak trees in the coastal mountains of California and southern Oregon. Many tree and shrub species vulnerable to this disease grow in eastern forests, so scientists worry that the pathogen might become established there.

The U.S. Forest Service offers a database of tree pests and diseases that have been documented across the country. [Simply select your state and/or county from the drop-down menus to see which pests are damaging trees in your region or city.]

The Northeast and Pacific coasts contain the most number of tree pests and pathogens.

The Northeast and Pacific coasts contain the most number of tree pests and pathogens.

Northeastern states have traded with Europe and Asia for about 400 years, which explains why the region has the most established non-native tree-killing pests: 62 in New York; 58 in Pennsylvania; 57 in Connecticut; 55 in New Jersey. Pacific coast states have been trading for only about 150 years, but they are catching up: There are now 42 pests in California; 41 in Washington and 36 in Oregon. In California alone, non-native forest pests now make up one-third of the damaging pests in the state — up from only 10 percent just 50 years ago.

How did these insects and disease-causing pathogens invade the U.S.? Most arrived on imports of plants or in the crates, pallets, and other types of packaging made from wood. In my follow-up posts, I’ll go into more detail about these pest-ridden pathways and what governments, importers and private citizens can do to help prevent additional introductions and spread of established pests to other vulnerable areas.


Forest Digest — Week of September 8

by Loose Leaf Team

Another week and another Forest Digest. See what’s happening in the world of trees:

  • “Climate change accelerating death of Western forests”USA Today
    A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization shows that drought, insect pests and wildfire — forest threats exacerbated by climate change — are killing off millions of acres of the Rocky Mountain range’s pine and aspen forests.
American Forests is working to protect high-elevation forests in the Rocky Mountain range through our Endangered Western Forests initiative.

American Forests is working to protect high-elevation forests in the Rocky Mountain range through our Endangered Western Forests initiative.

  • “Consumer Goods and Deforestation”Forest Trends
    A recent study by Forest Trends found that 49 percent of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of illegal clearing for commercial agriculture.

Whitebark pine: Strategy in the Greater Yellowstone Area

by Christopher Horn

Whitebark pine ecosystems face pest, disease and climatic threats that have — and could further — wreak havoc on stands of this keystone species. Fortunately for the trees, and the plants and wildlife that rely on them to survive, American Forests and our partners in the Greater Yellowstone Area are working towards solutions that can save the species.

One of those partners is Nancy Bockino, who is leading an effort with the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee Whitebark Pine Subcommittee to update the GYCC’s Whitebark Pine Strategy, an all-encompassing outline of priority projects, including defining new management tools and revising high-priority restoration sites.