A Long-Term Investment: Restoring the Longleaf Pine Forests of the Southeastern U.S.

by American Forests

By Eric Sprague, Director of Forest Conservation

Longleaf pines

Longleaf pines. Credit: Eric Sprague.

As we stepped out of Lamar Colomander’s truck, we were met with one of North America’s finest birdsongs — Bachman’s sparrow — and the fragrant ‘piney woods’ smell of the surrounding longleaf pine forest. The mature longleaf pine canopy was patchy and allowed plenty of light to hit the forest floor supporting saw palmetto, wiregrass and other plants on the forest floor. To the right of the forest road, a black fox squirrel with a white patch on its nose and feet raced up a nearby tree. These squirrels are so large that some visitors to Norfolk Southern’s Brosnan Forest think they are raccoons.

Longleaf forests like this are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world outside of the tropics: 900 plant species are found nowhere else and 26 species are threatened or endangered. When asked about longleaf pine restoration, Larry, who manages these forests at Milliken Forestry, told us that this diversity depends on one thing: fire. Periodic, low-intensity fires prevent less fire resistant species from establishing and help create soils that support unique species. Without fires, populations of gopher tortoise, red-cockaded woodpecker, eastern indigo snake and many other species will continue to struggle.

This fire-adapted ecosystem used to cover 90 million acres across the Southeastern United States. Today, longleaf pine forests cover just 3 percent of the former range — a staggering reduction in range that more than rivals well-known losses in southeastern wetland and world rainforest habitats. The Longleaf Alliance, and other private and public partners, have created a plan to expand the area of longleaf forests to 8 million acres by 2024.

black fox squirrel

Black fox squirrel. Credit: Eric Sprague.

American Forests is looking for ways to expand its role in longleaf pine restoration. Over the last 25 years, we have planted 7.4 million longleaf pines in the southeast, but we know much more work is needed. Brosnan Forest was an ideal place to generate ideas as they have been a leader in longleaf pine restoration. Brosnan Forest manages more than 6,000 acres of longleaf pine forest and is actively converting loblolly pine and loblolly/longleaf mixed stands into longleaf pine forest. The Brosnan Forest also converts marginal farmland into longleaf pine forests which can be a difficult process. The key to all of their restoration is, of course, fire. Every couple of years, prescribed fires are introduced into various stands across the forest. Norfolk Southern and Milliken Forestry are also harvesting loblolly pine from stands to create space for longleaf pine regeneration.

Due to the continual need for fire and control of new threats, like the Japanese climbing fern, longleaf pine forest restoration is a long-term investment. Enhancing restoration funding for both public and private lands is a key challenge. Brosnan Forest is an important model in this regards as it represents one of the largest remaining blocks of privately held longleaf pine forest. They are combining traditional forest management with new strategies, like carbon credits, to support restoration. Economic strategies that support habitat restoration and benefit the landowner are paramount, as around 55 percent of existing longleaf forests occur on private lands.

Longleaf pine forests are an important part of the United States cultural and natural heritage. American Forests will continue to work with partners to improve and restore longleaf pine ecosystems across the southeast.

Forest Digest – Week of May 30, 2016

by American Forests

Find out the latest in forest news in this week’s Forest Digest!waterfall in forest

Why I’m here: My Ongoing Green Journey

by American Forests

By Salsabil Chebli, Policy Intern


Salsabil just outside Marrakesh, Morocco.

The day that had been anticipated for an entire year — May 31, 2016 — I finally began my long overdue internship at American Forests. American Forests was brought to my attention by a dear friend, Sofia Maia Goldstein, who interned here and had the most admirable experience. She told me almost every day how delightful the internship is, how amazing Rebecca Turner is and I knew I had to gain the experience myself (both of us environmental policy majors).

On my first day, I can already relate and apply so many policies and terms I learned in my classes to what I am involved in at the office. It is so refreshing to be able to make the connections from class to real life. I learn better hands-on, and I can’t imagine a more fulfilling internship to get me started on my career path. I truly believe this will be more than just an internship for me, I feel in my element at American Forests.

For me, experience is the most valued. How I can make the most out of my time and make a difference in the world are two aspects I live by.

I moved to the United States from Morocco when I was nine years old. About 20 minutes from my house is one of the most beautiful parks, Great Falls National Park. My best friend introduced me to it, and we would always find ourselves at our “secret” mini-beach spot where we had a view that overlooks much of the beautiful scenery, considering how low it is. Going to Great Falls became a tradition with her and our families. The proximity of Great Falls to my house made me love it that much more, I have to make little effort to enjoy what I love.

Growing up in Morocco, my family and I spent a substantial amount of time in rural areas where my father’s family is from. I grew to love nature and everything else that compliments it.

But, it wasn’t until my later high school years that I realized how significant nature is in my life. I decided I want to be involved in the protection and restoration of our beautiful, underappreciated surroundings.

What captures my interest the most are the crucial functions of trees in urban communities. Trees are no doubt some of the most important elements, and I learned that I am the happiest when surrounded by them whether it be in the city, or rural areas. Since I want to expand my knowledge of green cities and the tremendous role trees play in urban settings, American Forests is the best place to do that.

I am confident my experiences and background will help me excel at American Forests and in protecting our environment.

Forest Digest – Week of May 23, 2016

by American Forests

Find out the latest in forest news in this week’s Forest Digest!
flower in forest

Experience Autumn in the Rockies: Fly Fishing for the Colorado Grand Slam

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

Our final day on our fall adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park is our fly fishing day! After a homemade breakfast at the Lodge of the Stanley Hotel, we’ll head into the park for a guided fly fishing tour suitable for all levels of fishing expertise, from beginners to experts. Our fly fishing guide, Eddie, will be showing us the ropes of fly fishing amidst the beauty of the Rockies and bringing us to the best spots in the park for catching trout. All the materials you need for a perfect fly fishing trip will be provided, including waders and reels.

We’ll get the chance to fish for what is known as the Colorado Grand Slam, which includes four different species of trout. While on our fishing adventure, you can look out for rainbow, brown, brook and the greenback cutthroat trout species.

The greenback cutthroat trout is unique to the area and was actually presumed to be extinct by 1937, until several wild populations of what were thought to be greenback cutthroat trout were discovered in the South Platte and Arkansas basins starting in the late 1950s. This discovery prompted an aggressive conservation effort, and the greenback was designated as Colorado’s state fish in 1996.

An Adventurer’s Connection to Nature: Q&A with Eddie Bauer Guide Ben Ditto

by American Forests
Ben Ditto

Ben Ditto and Jon Gleason cozy up for a cold night 19 pitches up Fitzroy, a patagonian mountain located in Argentina. Photo courtesy of Ben Ditto.

We all have a different connection to nature. For those who have a love of outdoor adventure and spend much of their time in nature, that connection is imperative to who they are. This is the case for Ben Ditto. Ditto is an avid climber and has climbed all over the world, including in the Indian Himalayas and the Peruvian and Patagonian Andes. He is also a photographer and filmmaker and has done work to spotlight the peregrine falcon. During his summers, Ditto serves as a “climber in residence” in Yosemite Valley. In the following interview, learn more about Ditto’s connection to the forests and environment in which he thrives.

Q: Do you think it was nature or nurture that created in you the seeds of the passion you have for outdoor adventure?

A: A mix of Nature and Nurture combined to allow me to find inspiration in the outdoors as a youngster. My outdoorsy father has a weak spot for unknown places on any map. As a kid growing up around Chattanooga, Tenn., there are a great number of forests, mountains and Canyons to explore. In those days it was very common for me and my brothers to join my father at cold winter campsites and on isolated trails. It was through him that I learned to love the unknown and be okay with being lost in the woods, the canyon or the white-out. Thanks to my Dad and the landscape around Chattanooga, I had exposure to climbing, trails, rivers and, believe it or not, a little bit of snow every now and then. So, it was quite a fun childhood.

Ben Ditto climbing, Fish Eye, in Spain

Ben Ditto climbing, Fish Eye, in Spain at the well known cliff, Oliana. Credit: Doug Mcdonnell.

Q: Of all the creatures to go to bat for, so to speak, what is it about the peregrine falcon?

A: Due to our behavior as humans, we are culpable for the extinction of a great many species whose habitat is rapidly changing. As a climber, one of the species that I have encountered worldwide is the great cliff dwelling raptor, the peregrine falcon. Between the 1950s and 1980s, the peregrine almost became extinct due to the pesticide DDT.  Due to recovery efforts from scientists around the world, and the ban of DDT, top tier predators, such as the peregrine falcon, have made a remarkable recovery. I find the peregrine falcon to be an inspiring success story, and I love to see them soar and hunt among the steep walls of Yosemite. My work filming the peregrine falcon is motivated by a desire to promote respect among climbers for something beyond themselves.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon as seen from el capitan. Photo courtesy of Ben Ditto.

Q: As a photographer, filmmaker and blogger/adventurer, what impact do you hope your work will have on others?

A: I think that we all have a personal perspective that can inform our friends and families about issues that are important in our lives. My goal as a content creator is to provide information about environmental issues and low impact ways of living so that people who may be paying attention can take this information into account while making decisions about their own lives. I think people make better decisions when they have more information about subjects. I hope to inspire people to live outside of the box when it comes to work, living simply and respecting nature and all the organisms on the earth, including themselves.

Ben Ditto navigates a tyro lean traverse

Ben Ditto navigates another tyro lean traverse above a river in Argentina. Credit: Andrew Mclean.

Q: What is the connection for you, if any, between your adventure life and your view of the natural world?

A: Being out in the landscape keeps me focused on the important things in life. Whether I’m climbing, skiing or just out for a walk, being in nature keeps me humble by reminding me to pay attention to what I’m doing and that I’m just a tiny part of what is happening on the planet. The tiredness I feel after a long day in the mountains also helps me to appreciate the simple things in life.

Ben Ditto (orange shirt) runs back and forth to complete the king swing on El Capitan's famous nose route.

Ben Ditto (orange shirt) runs back and forth to complete the king swing on El Capitan’s famous nose route. Credit: Tom Evans.

Forest Digest – Week of May 16, 2016

by American Forests
old-growth forest

Credit: Yinghai Lu

Find out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest!

Experience Autumn in the Rockies: Behold the Quaking Aspen

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

quaking aspen

Credit: John B. Kalla via Flickr.

While we’re anxiously awaiting our travels to Rocky Mountain National Park this September, let’s learn a bit about the star of the Rockies’ autumnal show — the quaking aspen.

The quaking aspen is the most widely distributed tree in North America and can be identified by their smooth, white bark that is marked by black scares where lower branches are naturally self-pruned. The leaves of the quaking aspen are heart-shaped, with finely saw-toothed margins. The leaves attach to branches via a long and flattened petiole, which causes the leaves to flutter at even the slightest breeze — hence the name “quaking aspen.” In the spring and summer, leaves are glossy green. But, during the fall, leaves transform into a rainbow of yellow, gold and, in some instances, red. These beautiful fall colors are very important to many communities in the West, and tourists travel hundreds of miles to view them.

The quaking aspen also has a unique winter survival mechanism. Beneath the aspen’s thin white outer bark is a thin photosynthetic green layer. This layer allows the plant to synthesize sugars and retain bark, making it survival food for deer and elk during hard winters.

Quaking aspens are extremely unique for a number of reasons. First, unlike most trees that spread through flowering and sexual reproduction, the quaking aspen reproduce asexually, by sprouting new trees from the expansive lateral root of the parent. Thus, each tree isn’t technically an individual, but is one part of a massive single clone. “The Trembling Giant,” or Pando, is an enormous grove of quaking aspens in Utah, very recently thought to be the world’s largest organism, spanning 107 acres and weighing 6,615 tons. During autumn, you can see where the different aspen stands are located — the trees of a particular clone will change color at the same time because they are genetically related.


Credit: Bryce Bradford via Flickr.

Another unique feature of the quaking aspen is its relationship with fire. The aspen is considered a fire-induced successional species. Fire reduces the overstory, stimulates shoots to sprout and kills invading conifers growing in the aspen clone. A fire intense enough to kill an aspen overstory will stimulate abundant suckering — as many as 50,000 to 100,000 suckers can sprout and grow on a single acre after a fire.

The quaking aspen is just one of the interesting and beautiful plant species that we will get to see on our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park!

Make sure to reserve your spot soon to avoid missing out on the trip of a lifetime.

Meet Our New Director of Corporate Giving

by American Forests

Lindsey HuerterLindsey Huerter recently came to American Forests as our new director of corporate giving. We’re excited for the experience, enthusiasm and new ideas she’s bringing to the position and the organization — and we think you should be excited, too! From why she’s looking forward to helping further the American Forests’ mission to the story behind her favorite tree, read more about Lindsey.

  • Why did you choose to go into conservation?
    My background is in sports. I have worked for baseball teams and in college athletics the past eight years. While I love the atmosphere that comes with a ball game, I have desired for quite some time to find a role that allows me to truly make an impact on the environment that so many species call home. My position with American Forests allows me to do just that each and every day. Growing up in west Michigan, I was surrounded by beaches and forests that provided years of memories with friends and family. I am excited to be a part of an organization working hard to make that an opportunity for future generations.
  • What aspects of American Forests’ work are you most excited to be a part of?
    There are many aspects of my new role I am looking forward to, but I think what I am most excited about is the ability to be both a professional and personal advocate for the work I am representing. I love developing new relationships with the community I am a part of, and being able to passionately share the mission and vision of American Forests is something I can’t wait to start doing. It’s a great feeling to know I can help American Forests build partnerships that will help fund national and international programs rebuilding crucial ecosystems.
  • What do you think are the most significant challenges facing forests today?
    While there are many challenges facing forests today, the one that really resonates with me is the loss of habitat for species due to the destruction of important ecosystems. Human activity, such as land development, can negatively impact the resources wildlife needs to flourish. And, it is great to know that the biggest issues our forests are encountering are being addressed by an organization I get to be a part of.
  • Do you have a favorite story from your years in the field?
    I haven’t worked in conservation prior to this role but do have many great stories from my five years working with the Dayton Dragons, the single A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The Dragons helped me discover what truly drives me as a professional and that is impacting the community I am a part of in a positive way. Due to the incredibly generous corporate partners of the Dragons, I had the opportunity to provide families with their first chance to come out to a game together, honor a child overcoming their battle with cancer during a special inning break presentation, highlight nonprofits providing valuable services to the Dayton area and give kids a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet and interview Dragons players and their mascot. The Dragons, and local organizations throughout the Miami Valley, put such an emphasis on community involvement, and getting to implement so many incredible outreach programs was a blessing. I am really looking forward to helping American Forests and their corporate partners make a difference both nationally and internationally.
  • What is your favorite tree and why?
    Selecting a favorite tree is a tough question. Where I grew up in Michigan, we were lucky enough to experience a breathtaking, albeit short lived, autumn. Fall in Michigan was something I always looked forward to. The changing colors, jumping in raked leaves and the anticipation of the snow that would soon arrive were all highlights of my childhood in Grand Rapids. While these colors left a lasting impression on me, it would have to be the White Pine that I claim as my favorite tree. When visiting a friend in northern Michigan, we ventured over to Higgins Lake. The water was a stunning turquoise color, something you would expect to see on vacation in the Bahamas, yet here it was just two hours north of my home town. The only giveaway that we were still in Michigan was the greenery surrounding us. White pine, spruce and fir trees were sprinkled around the lake, giving the view its signature pure-Michigan touch. I love heading north when I am back home and experiencing this view all over again.

Forest Digest – Week of May 9, 2016

by American Forests

Find out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest!

  • Climate Change Means More Wildfires In Earth’s Boreal ForestsHeadlines & Global News
    Recent research from scientists at the University of Montana proposes that wildfires, similar to the one currently ravaging through Canada, will continue to impact boreal forests in the wake of climate change.
  • ESA satellite will study Earth’s forestsThe Space Reporter
    The European Space Agency is scheduled to launch a satellite, called BIOMASS, in 2021 that will help record the height and weight of earth’s forests and monitor how they change over time.
  • Invasive insects are ravaging U.S. forests, and it’s costing us billionsWashington Post
    Recent news resulting from research into the “sudden oak death,” which has killed more than a million trees in California, reveals that the pathogen can no longer be eradicated, only contained and harm mitigated.
  • MRI imaging moves from hospitals to forests to help sick trees — Phys.org
    A study published in the Journal of Plant Physiology reveals insight into the use of advanced imaging technologies — typically used on human patients — on plants and trees to better understand how they are affected by severe drought and the ways in which varying species recover.