Why I’m Here: Making Life Greener for American City Dwellers

by American Forests

By Etienne Laffargue, Policy Intern

Eiffel Tower surrounded by trees.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris surrounded by trees. Credit: David Meenagh via Flickr.

On Thursday, October 15th, I began my internship at American Forests. In the building elevator, I could already feel the excitement and the butterflies in my stomach. After all, I had been anticipating this moment for more than two months and was very excited to arrive! As a Frenchman, I had to go through the process of obtaining a VISA to the United States, which tested my motivation to work with American Forests. As my new colleagues welcomed me to the team, I knew I had made the right choice. I felt at home and well taken care of from the beginning.

What I had come here to do was set in motion very quickly. After a short orientation, I was already on a conference call with our counterparts in national and local environmental and conservation organizations from across the country regarding the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The reason I chose American Forests out of all these organizations is that, here, I can specialize in trees and forests, both rural and urban. My goal as a Policy Intern is to help green and embellish cities across this continent. I believe, and scientists back this up, that the presence of trees in cities has positive effects on the health and wellbeing of its inhabitants. Don’t all city dwellers appreciate cool air as they commute on a hot summer afternoon? That is thanks to the trees. We all like our air pure and well oxygenated. And, this is also thanks to the trees. Do you like awakening to the songs of little birds? Well, thank the trees for hosting them. Do you enjoy sweet fragrances during the flowering season? Once again, thank you trees!

Whether it is in a rural or urban setting, I have noticed that trees contribute to an excellent quality of life for all of us. I feel harmonious when I look at them and sometimes play the game of imagining what they would tell me if I could converse with them. Trees are special, and I feel lucky to have them on our little planet.

By coming here I hope to contribute to American Forests’ mission and make life greener for city dwellers across America by taking care of nature and advocating for more trees in our cities. Enriching streets and parks with vegetation is an important step to harmonious urbanized areas, and, hoping that you share our enthusiasm for urban forests, I invite you to embark with us on this journey to preserve and restore the wonderful forests of America.

American Forests and Alcoa Foundation: Year Three of a Globally-Driven Collaboration

by American Forests

By Andrew Bell, Policy Intern

Hannover/Hildesheim region, Germany.

Hannover/Hildesheim region, Germany. Credit: Deutsche Umwelthilfe.

The Partnership for Trees’ torch was carried fervently into 2013, furthering a continual success characterized by community engagement and a thoughtful approach to outreach. With over 177,000 trees planted, 19 projects implemented and 1,200 acres of land restored, American Forests and Alcoa Foundation kept the foot on the gas in revitalizing the world’s green places. At the same time, the collaboration continued to make additional impacts that go well beyond the numbers.

“Environmental justice,” just hearing the phrase alone could easily conjure imagery of defending critically endangered wildlife, combatting illegal timber harvest and cracking down on reckless polluters. In reality, environmental justice is about far more than looking out for our treasured ecosystems. Rather, it’s about extending the bounds of stewardship to those who are most in need of a healthy and thriving environment. In New York, the Partnership for Trees is doing just that.

A severe ice storm in 1998 knocked the town of Massena’s urban forest coverage back a sizable amount. But, in collaboration with the Town of Massena Electric Department and their Green Efficient Massena program, a comprehensive effort is underway to ensure that the town continues to enjoy restored urban canopy. In 2013’s installment, 530 trees were planted over 40 acres of land in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. These urban trees go well beyond providing relief in the aesthetic sense; research shows that trees placed properly around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent, and that 100 million mature trees planted around residences can save 2 billion dollars annually in energy expenses.

For families that live from paycheck to paycheck — or even struggle to put food on the table — every dollar counts. And, in cases like Massena’s, communities can rely on their forests and trees to help stay the course in such taxing times. Such communities stand to benefit the most from what urban forests have to offer and, therefore, often deserve to be at the forefront of conservation efforts. Making room at the table for all is what environmental justice is truly about, and the Partnership for Trees is wholly dedicated to such a principle.

In Germany, American Forests and Alcoa Foundation found a different way to approach environmental justice. The country’s Hannover/Hildesheim region historically produced over 1,000 different kinds of apples, thanks to an abundance of rich biodiversity in their fruit tree orchards. Today, that plethora has been reduced to just several, while both wildlife and citizens alike suffer from the restrictive monoculture farming. To answer the call, the Partnership for Trees teamed up with German nonprofit Deutsche Umwelthilfe to implement their Meadow Orchards in Public Green Spaces initiative, planting 500 trees to help restore the region’s historically distinct biodiversity. These trees were planted across a variety of public lands, including schools and neighborhood gardens, so that they are easily accessible for all. This includes providing food for low-income families and opportunities for young students to be exposed to tree-care and environmental stewardship. Many of the tree species planted provide homes for wildlife, such as owls and dormice. As a whole, the Hannover/Hildesheim region’s fruit tree orchards can now serve both their community and their wildlife, while taking a resounding step forward in recapturing their rich, biologically diverse heritage.

Forest Digest – Week of October 12, 2015

by American Forests

Mangroves. Credit: Senorhorst Jahnsen (rabanito)/Flickr.

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

GR25: Getting Down and Dirty with Tree Planting in 1995

by Megan Higgs
Forested land in Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Forested land in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Credit: David Hepworth via Flickr.

When one thinks of Oklahoma, one thinks of plains, great comfort food, and friendly down-to-earth residents. But, with vast expanses of grasslands, what does Oklahoma offer in terms of forests?

Oklahoma is actually considered a crossroads for a variety of forest types: western grassland meets eastern woodlands, while there are Ozark hardwoods, nearby Ponderosa pines from the Rockies and swampy cypresses near Louisiana all intermingling. In fact, despite ubiquitous images of grassland, approximately 28 percent of Oklahoma’s land is forested.

In 1995, American Forests helped contribute to this forested area in a relatively unconventional way. While we’re used to getting our hands dirty with tree planting, we decided to take it one step further — by replanting former landfills!

The story began one year earlier, as in 1994, Environmental Protection Agency Subtitle ‘D’ required cities in Oklahoma to either comply with new regulations on landfill operations or to close their landfills and utilize approved sites. Several communities closed their landfills as a response to this mandate, and many covered former landfills with topsoil and planted them with grass.

However, four communities in particular wished to do more. The communities of Clinton, Cordell, Thomas and Weatherford all agreed to instead transform these former landfills into viable forested spaces. After the sites were prepped appropriately, more than 61,000 trees across 290 acres were planted across these four former landfills. At all sites, the planted trees have worked to help prevent soil erosion, increase wildlife habitat, capture rainfall that would otherwise leak through the landfill to cause potential water problems and establish tree cover in Western Oklahoma where few wooded areas exist.

With an ever-increasing population within the United States, ensuring that environmental protective measures are in place is often a concern for many environmental organizations, including American Forests. We have continued this work of planting along former landfill space, including returning to Oklahoma for 1996’s Lindsay landfill planting and planting in Virginia for 2000’s West Ox Road Landfill Restoration. In addition to restoring aesthetic value, enhancing carbon storage and filtering runoff, these projects’ significance lies in demonstrating the feasibility of reforesting closed landfills and the benefits and values of ecologically intelligent end-use management.

Forest Digest – Week of October 5, 2015

by American Forests
E. O. Wilson

Edward O. Wilson. Credit: Jim Harrison.

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

  • In the fight to stop climate change, forests are a vital weaponThe Guardian
    Leading up to the climate change summit in Paris next month, many countries are announcing their commitments to reducing greenhouse gasses, and forests are playing a vital role. If deforestation ended, our damaged forests were restored and we protected our remaining forests, our forests could remove enough carbon to equal one-third of all current global emissions.
  • What is a forest? NASA/USGS mission helps answer the questionPhys.org
    A team from NASA, as well as other institutions, analyzed eight satellite-derived maps of the earth’s forest cover and discovered differing depictions by as much as 6 percent, or a land area the size of China. This prompted a new study that was published earlier this week in Nature Climate Change.
  • The absence of trees could increase your risk of cardiovascular disease — ScienceAlert.com
    Another report has been released discussing the benefits of living near trees, including reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, making you feel several years younger as well as providing the same health benefits resulting from a substantial salary increase.
  • E. O. Wilson explains why parks and nature are really good for your brainWashington Post
    In this interview E. O. Wilson, renowned Harvard biologist and conservationist, discusses human’s desire to be in natural environments and science’s solid basis for proving nature’s benefits for mankind.

10 Trees You’ll Fall in Love With This Season

by American Forests

By Amelia Loeb, Communications Intern

Autumn in the northern hemisphere means leaves transitioning through vibrant hues.  Here’s our list highlighting some of the most beautiful tree species to keep an eye out for throughout the fall. But don’t take our word for it, get outside and make your own list!


Sweet gum Tree Leaves in Fall Photo Credit: J. Micheal Raby via Flickr

Sweetgum leaves in fall. Credit: J. Micheal Raby via Flickr

Liquidambar styraciflua

Native to the Southeastern United States.
Can be seen as north as Chicago and as far south as Florida.
Leaves: Star-shaped; turn a glossy reddish-purple
Stump Scratcher: It’s documented that extracts from the sweet gum tree were used in ceremonies between the Aztec Emperor Montezuma and Spanish conqueror Cortez.




Red Maple

Red Maple leaves in Fall Photo credit: Greg Wagoner via Flickr

Red maple leaves in fall. Credit: Greg Wagoner via Flickr

Acer rubrum

Native to Northern Great Plains and Great Lakes areas.
Can be seen all over the United States.
Leaves: Turn ruby red to yellow-orange
Stump Scratcher: It’s the state tree of Rhode Island, but it remains a mystery why it was chosen.




Pin Oak

Pin Oak leaves in fall Photo credit: ekentir via Flickr

Pin oak leaves in fall. Credit: ekentir via Flickr

Quercus palustris

Native to Southern New England, Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Mid West.
Can be seen all over the United States except for southern Florida and parts of Texas.
Leaves: Turn scarlet to Bronze
Stump Scratcher: Pin oak acorns provide a food source for many woodland creatures, such as mallards, songbirds, squirrels and white-tailed deer.




American Beech

American Beech Tree Leaves Photo Credit to Suzanne Cadwell via Flickr

American Beech leaves in fall. Credit to Suzanne Cadwell via Flickr

Fagus grandifolia

Native to Novia Scotia and southern Canada.
Can be found across the United States in ornamental settings.
Leaves: Turn a vibrant to dusty yellow
Stump Scratcher: Until it fell in 1916, there was an American beech tree in Tennessee into which “D. Boone Cilled A Bar On Tree In Year 1760 ” was carved.




Eastern Redbud

Eastern Redbud Leaf Photo Credit Vincent Brassinne via Flickr

Eastern redbud leaf in fall. Credit Vincent Brassinne via Flickr

Cercis Canadensis
Native to North and Central America.
Can be seen across the United States, excluding places with hot, dry climates.
Leaves: Heart-shaped; turn a musky yellow
Stump Scratcher: Eastern redbuds produce beautiful pea-like, rose-colored flowers in spring, before they produce any leaves.




Quaking Aspen

Quaking Aspen leaves in fall Photo credit: Bryce Bradford via Flickr

Quaking Aspen leaves in fall. Credit: Bryce Bradford via Flickr

Populus tremuloides

Native to northwestern United States.
Can be found in the northwestern United States.
Leaves: Turn gold
Stump Scratcher: It’s “quaking” due to the slight breeze that rustles through the leaves.
Stump Scratcher 2: Holds the title for largest living organism, because it grows in clones. Trees up to 50-feet apart can be connected by underground stems.



Honey Locust

Honey Locust in Fall Photo Credit: Leonora Enking via Flickr

Honey locust leaves in fall. Credit: Leonora Enking via Flickr

Gleditisia triacanthos

Native to United States, notably from Pennsylvania to Nebraska.
Can be seen across the United States.
Leaves: Turn a bright yellow
Stump Scratcher:  Native Americans used honey locusts as a source of wood, medicine and a sweeting agent in food.




Alpine Larch

Apline Larch in Fall Photo Credit: Credit J Brew via Flickr

Apline larch leaves in fall. Credit: Credit J Brew via Flickr

Larix lyallii

Native to the northwest United States.
Can be seen in the southern and western United States.
Leaves: Needle-shaped; turn a golden-yellow
Stump Scratcher: Unlike most conifers (think pine-cones), alpine larches drop their needles before winter like a deciduous tree.





Gorgeous Trees Not Native to the Western Hemisphere

Japanese Persimmon

Japanese Persimmon Leaves in Fall Photo Credit: miheco via Flikr

Japanese persimmon leaves in fall. Credit: miheco via Flikr

Diospyros kaki

Native to China (it’s a misnomer).
Can be seen south of New England and Northern California in ornamental settings.
Leaves: Turn bright orange-yellow
Stump Scratcher: Its yellow-orange fruit can hang on past when the leaves drop off and are said to taste similar to an apricot.




 Crape Myrtle

Crape Myrtle leaves in Fall Photo credit: Brandi Korte via Flickr

Crape myrtle leaves in fall. Credit: Brandi Korte via Flickr

Lagerstroemia indica

Native to China.
Can be seen in the Southern United States and along the west coast.
Leaves: Turn yellow to fiery orange
Stump Scratcher: Fall isn’t just their time to shine. During spring, crape myrtle trees display plumes of bright pink flowers.



American Forests & Alcoa Foundation: Year Two of a Globally-Driven Collaboration

by American Forests

By Andrew Bell, Policy Intern

2012 Muskegon Conservation District project

Volunteers at the 2012 Muskegon Conservation District project. Credit: Muskegon Conservation District.

For part two of the “Partnership for Trees” celebratory blog series, we’ll take a glance back at 2012, a year that brought nine projects and more than 270,000 new trees to life. Here’s two more projects that showcase not only versatility and a commitment to restoration, but also the partnership’s shared vision of engaging communities for years to come.

At home in the U.S., American Forests and Alcoa Foundation teamed up with the Muskegon Conservation District to host a variety of hands-on, educational outreach and service events through the Woods for Wildlife Initiative. School children, Alcoa employees, interested landowners and the general public all came together to put forest management techniques to the test in their community. In 2012, nearly 23,000 trees were planted by 150 volunteers across 26 acres. That’s 150 more people now invested in their community’s forests. But, interestingly enough, the Muskegon Conservation District was familiar territory for the partnership in 2012 as it participated in the collaboration’s inaugural year. And it hasn’t left since! Each installment of the five-year, 200-acre, 100,000-tree alliance has seen a new project within the Muskegon Conservation District, making it one of the backbone projects of the partnership’s commitment, showing dedication to making a lasting impact and engaging communities for the long haul.

On the international front, an exciting opportunity took American Forests and Alcoa Foundation to West Africa for a project in Sangaredi, Guinea. The partnership connected with a local organization, Association Guinéenne d’Eveil au Développement Durable (AGEDD), to see their “Sustainable Environmental Management in Sangaredi” project flourish in the sweltering summer heat. Planting 28,500 trees across 148 acres of land, while utilizing the help of 2,500 volunteers over the course of the project’s lifespan, the project was a beacon of hope for a stronger community.

2012 “Sustainable Environmental Management in Sangaredi” project

Volunteers at the 2012 “Sustainable Environmental Management in Sangaredi” project in Guinea. Credit: Association Guinéenne d’Eveil au Développement Durable.

Thanks to mining, slash and burn agriculture and animal husbandry practices, Sangaredi’s forest ecosystems were at a breaking point. This wasn’t due to reckless abandon or excessive utilitarianism, but rather an unfortunate price to pay for sustaining a developing community. So, when American Forests and Alcoa Foundation shook hands with AGEDD, all parties involved knew there was much more at stake in this project than restoring a forest. And, as a result, far more was gained.

The 28,500 trees planted were made up of a variety of species, including cashew, mango, palm and African mahogany among others. Such a diverse group is tethered by one commonality: they’re all deemed “useful” by the community and provide much more value when alive and thriving than when cut down. Whether considered medicinal, edible or high-quality timber, all of the species planted contribute vital and practical community services while fostering a green economy. With the partnership’s help, AGEDD was able to teach this practice, known as agroforestry, to the 2,500 volunteers. Alcoa Guinea and AGEDD representatives were joined by villagers, students, school authorities and community leaders in this effort, all working hand-in-hand to strengthen a community driven by a healthy and thriving forest ecosystem. Those volunteers have since passed the torch to an additional 1,500 forest stewards, all engaged in caring for this vital ecosystem for the many years beyond the program’s closure. As the age-old proverb suggests, the American Forests and Alcoa Foundation partnership with AGEDD has taught a community how to fish, in hopes that they will be fed for generations to come.

Forest Digest – Week of September 28, 2015

by American Forests
Urban Forests

While urban forests provide a variety of social, economic and health benefits, the distribution is substantially skewed both racially and economically.

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

  • Could forests store more carbon as the climate warms? — Grist.org
    A new study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey was published on Monday revealing that public lands may potentially play a very valuable role in the nation’s effort to combat greenhouse gas emissions as climate change may actually increase the amount of carbon stored by federal public lands by nearly 20% by 2050.
  • Forest Giants Suffer Most During DroughtsSmithsonian Science News
    A recent study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute concludes that larger trees are affected the most by drought, regardless of type of geographical location.
  • Why Urban Trees Solve Most of Our ProblemsHuffington Post Green
    While green spaces and more trees in our cities provide a number of benefits, there are still challenges when it comes to the racial and economic distribution of our urban forests.

Riparian Restoration on the Upper Greenbrier River

by American Forests

By Sydney Mucha, Communications Intern

West Virginia is known as the mountain state or the coal state to most people, but to me it is home. I was born and raised in a state filled with natural beauty that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see and where trout streams ran on for miles. And, while this is not actually true, it did feel like it when my father and I would make a day trip up to the mountains for fishing. We would wake up before the sun rose and head down the road only to stop for breakfast at a little mom-and-pop diner before making our way out to the stream. We would often go just outside of Elkins and into parts of the Monongahela National Forest where Dad taught me the difference between brook, brown and rainbow trout as well as an assortment of other environmental things. These informal teachings stayed with me and continue to fuel my passion for the environment. And, I am not alone in this.

Trout Unlimited and American Forests partnered this spring to help restore a riparian area along the headwaters of the Greenbrier River in the Monongahela National Forest. This habitat is suffering from thermal loading from lack of vegetation and increased sedimentation and only supports a few minnow fish species. Yet, after proper reforestation, trees will shade the river and will decrease the water temperatures, which will help bring more aquatic life back into the area. Trout thrive in cooler waters, so it is expected that they will return to the area and the populations downstream will also improve.

The planting is composed of 3,011 red spruce and other large, native trees that will easily be able to shade the stream in a few years. And, all of the work has been done by hearty volunteers willing to brave the cold. But, there are also many members from Trout Unlimited and fishermen from the whole state who have been eager to help increase these native trout populations. The people of West Virginia are truly invested in the nature of the state and will continue well into the future.

So, can you pass for a native by finding the difference between the three species of trout pictured below? Brook trout are more aggressive and have light worm-like markings on their backs as well as a milky white anal fin. Brown trout are brown (hence the name!) with large spots, and they usually are much bigger since they have a longer life span. Rainbow trout have small spots on their backs and have a reddish stripe running the length of their body, which makes them the easiest to identify. Look at the pictures below to see if you can now spot the difference!

Rainbow trout

Rainbow trout, photo by Seattle.roamer via Flickr

Brown trout

Brown trout, photo by Michael Meiters via Flickr

Brook Trout

Brook Trout, photo by Penn State

To learn more about this project, visit its Global ReLeaf page.

GR25: Planting Trees in Response to Disaster in 1996

by Megan Higgs
Downtown Pripyat in 2012.

Downtown Pripyat in 2012. Photo by Elena Filatova via Wikimedia Commons.

Trees and forests emanate innumerable benefits for humans — they are nature’s simultaneous cleaning crew, carbon sinks and aesthetic enhancers. However, they can also be incredible healers, protectors and signs of both hope and remembrance when most needed.

For American Forests’ Global ReLeaf program, 1996 marked an extremely successful year, with hundreds of thousands of trees being planted across 20 states and four countries. However, 1996 was much more than that — halfway across the world, it also marked the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. While American Forests focuses much of its restoration work within the U.S. and the Americas, we are constantly addressing various critical needs throughout the world — and Chernobyl was certainly one of them. On April 26, 1986, a catastrophic nuclear accident occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, a now-abandoned city in Ukraine.  During the disaster, Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor No. 4 was destroyed through a series of explosions and fire, releasing large quantities of radioactive particles. The Chernobyl incident is recorded as being the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, causing at least 31 deaths among employees and with estimates of cancer deaths ranging anywhere from 4,000 to 200,000.

Unsurprisingly, the city of Pripyat was evacuated and thousands were relocated.  On the disaster’s 10th anniversary, American Forests hoped to provide assistance to these families by planting over 13,000 trees in the Ukraine, particularly near these refugee settlements. This project sought to alleviate the stresses of relocation on multiple fronts: the planted trees increased wooded areas, improved sanitary conditions near these settlements and directly involved the displaced through project planning and implementation. The planted trees also provided a symbolization of healing at a time desperately needed and worked to serve as a living commemoration of those whose lives were drastically affected.

Since that time, there have been a number of disasters — anthropogenic and natural, across the world and in our own backyards — that American Forests has worked tirelessly to address.  In 2002, we took you back to a journey of commemoration for the victims of 9/11. In 2007, we helped restore some hope to New Orleans through our Katrina ReLeaf projects. And, in 2014, we helped plant mangroves for improved coastal resilience in the Philippines, hoping to mitigate the effects of future storms after witnessing the destructive effects of Typhoon Haiyan.

The aftermath of disasters are a devastating component of this work — there is no way around this fact. However, American Forests will continue to offer assistance in response to these critical needs and areas.  While peaceful, serene forests often seem detached from these disasters, they possess an incredible capacity to clean, calm, heal and serve as a reminder, both for remembrance and for the continuation of life.