Taking Baths in the Forest

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Remember when yoga was just a craze? Now, it’s just a normal part of many people’s workout routines. Might another mind, body, spirit experience from Asia be on its way?

Credit: apparena/Flickr

Credit: apparena/Flickr

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been noticing the buzz in the environmental world over the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, translated as forest bathing. We first explored the idea of forest bathing back in 2011 through our magazine article, “A Tree-lined Path to Good Health.” The gist of the practice is to simply go out into a forested area (park, backyard, etc.) and commune with nature. The idea is to absorb the peace and tranquility of your forested surrounding, taking in the smells, the textures and the general environment. If you do this, your body will thank you.

Scientists in Japan, such as Yoshifumi Miyazaki and Qing Li, have discovered myriad physiological benefits to shinrin-yoku:

  • Decreases in cortisol (stress hormone) levels, sympathetic nervous activity, blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Increases in levels of white blood cells that release anticancer proteins to attack tumors and cells infected by viruses — a benefit that stays with you for a month after the activity.

The practice of forest bathing is so popular in Japan that the country has designated 48 official Forest Therapy trails, which are used by more than 2.5 million people each year, according to Outside magazine.

With our often stress-filled lives, I’m thinking some daily relaxation in a rural or urban forest sounds like just what the doctor, or scientist, ordered. I mean, a glass of wine can be consumed just as easily sitting on a boulder in the forest as in a bathtub, right?


Hummingbirds’ Early Arrival

by Loose Leaf Team

By Tacy Lambiase

Last month, we discussed the possibility that certain tree species may start budding earlier in the springtime in response to warmer winter temperatures. Well, animals are going to have to adapt, too, and some animal species, like the ruby-throated hummingbird, are already altering their behavior to accommodate climatic shifts.

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Some ruby-throated hummingbirds are starting to migrate earlier. Is this a cause for concern? Credit: hart_curt/Flickr

According to a recent article published in The Auk, the journal of The American Ornithologists’ Union, ruby-throated hummingbirds are migrating from their winter habitats in Central America to their North American homes earlier than in the past — 12 to 18 days earlier, in fact. This shift in the hummingbirds’ migration pattern is probably due to warmer temperatures in Central America during the winter months and carries implications for the survival of the species.

As Dr. Ron Johnson, a scientist and one of the study’s authors, told the Associated Press, “With any bird that migrates over long distances, it’s good to show up at the nesting grounds at a good time when you can set up a territory and build your nest and when the young come along there will be a lot of food available.”

But if these hummingbirds migrate to North America early, there is a possibility that there may not be enough food available for them when they arrive. The ruby-throated hummingbird’s diet consists of small insects and nectar from flowers and flowering trees, and the existence of both also depends on the changing seasons.

While the full implications of earlier migrations for hummingbirds and other bird species are not yet understood, it is important to keep them in mind. In 2011, we conducted a habitat restoration project in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest to aid the ruby-throated hummingbird and other species because hummingbirds are not just a popular species among birdwatchers; they also benefit ecosystems across North America by helping to pollinate plants and trees. Just as they depend on a balanced ecosystem to thrive, the health of our forests and even our backyard environments may depend on them.


Animals Gone Urban

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

One of the many benefits that urban forests provide is habitat for wildlife. But in keeping true to the stereotype of overcrowded cities, it appears that a few communities around the country are experiencing wildlife overpopulation — to somewhat detrimental results.

Red-winged blackbirds

Red-winged blackbirds. Credit: Bob Webster/Flickr

In Kentucky, the residents of Hopkinsville are suffering a bird invasion. Millions of blackbirds and European starlings have set up roost in the Kentucky community of 35,000, creating a literal black cloud in the sky throughout the day. Local experts tell Reuters that the inundation is most likely due to the unseasonably warm winter in Kentucky, where the ground hasn’t really frozen this year. When the ground freezes, the birds’ preferred diet of leftover crops and insects isn’t available, and they move further south.

Beyond the annoyance factor of sharing their community with millions of birds, there is a health concern as well, as blackbird droppings can carry a fungal disease called histoplasmosis. This disease can lead to lung infections, lethargy and other health issues.

The city has resorted to air cannons to try to scare the birds southward.

A thousand miles away, Denver International Airport is experiencing a different kind of wildlife invasion: It’s hunting wabbits. The Associated Press reports that federal wildlife workers are removing 100 rabbits from the airport area each month. Why? The rabbits are eating the spark plug cables and other wiring in parked cars.

The airport reports that in 2012 only three claims were submitted for car damage due to rodents or rabbits, but parking companies in the area are still investing in better fencing and roosts for hawks and eagles to help with their bunny problem.

Both of these stories help illustrate how delicate the balance is when humans, nature and animals intersect. Trees, shrubs, flowers and the like make us healthy and happier in our urban environs, but they are also prime homes for our wildlife friends. While urban forests can provide critical habitat for wildlife, it is important to continue planning and managing for a healthy environment for all its inhabitants through effective wildlife and urban forests management plans.


EAB Goes Global

by Susan Laszewski
An adult emerald ash borer feeding on a leaf.

An adult emerald ash borer feeding on a leaf. Credit: David Cappaert.

The beautiful, but deadly, emerald ash borer (EAB) doesn’t look to be slowing down. In fact, this army of tree pests is taking its attack on ash trees global.

Last month, four Russian scientists — three from Moscow and one from Siberia — paid a visit to the U.S. to learn more about a pest that has recently become all-too-familiar to them. Yury Ivanovich Gninenko and Yulia Anatolievna Sergeeva, researchers in forest protection against invasive insects from the Russian Research Institute for Silviculture and Mechanization of Forestry (VNIILM) in Moscow were joined by forester Aleksandr Evgenievich Droskov and head of the V.N. Sukachev Institute of Forest’s Department of Forest Zoology in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, Yuri Baranchikov, for a two-week trip to the U.S. that was less about seeing the sights and more about delving into information about the emerald ash borer. After attending a conference on invasive forest pests in Maryland and stopping by some East Coast laboratories, they headed to Michigan State University (MSU), where American Forests Science Advisory Board member and forest entomologist Dr. Deborah McCullough and her colleagues have been devoting a lot of energy to studying these critters.

MSU is a logical choice for a trip revolving around EAB. Since EAB was first identified in Detroit, Mich., in 2002, the state has been one of the hardest hit by EAB. Now, it looks as if the Moscow area is heading down a similar path.

According to the researchers, EAB is now killing ash trees in Moscow at an alarming rate. While EAB is native to far eastern parts of Russia, the insect had to travel 11 time zones across the largest country in the world to get to Moscow, likely by way of the Trans-Siberian Railroad or Highway. That’s quite a journey for a little bug, and it means that Moscow’s trees are totally unfamiliar with this new threat.

Even more foreboding is that Moscow lies just 280 miles from western Europe, whose ash species have all been determined to be vulnerable to EAB. At this rate, says McCullough, it “won’t be long until EAB has circumnavigated the whole northern hemisphere.” Yikes!

The future of ash trees may look grim, but for those that want to do more than despair, there are ways you can help. Learn what you can do in the fight against EAB.


Helping Our Backyard Birds

by Loose Leaf Team

By Tacy Lambiase

blue jay

While usually pretty common on checklists, fewer blue jays were recorded during last year’s bird count. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region

The 2013 Great Backyard Bird Count has begun! For 16 years, expert and amateur bird watchers have recorded which species of birds are residing in their neighborhoods during this unique four-day event. And from now until Monday, February 18, you can get involved and try your hand at bird watching, too.

Wildlife observation can not only be fun, but it also helps to keep track of migration patterns and population sizes of various species. As participants record how many of each bird species they encounter, the coordinators and scientists behind the Great Backyard Bird Count begin to get a sense of where certain birds are most likely to be sighted. While past bird counts have only been conducted in the United States, this year’s count is the first time that participants from all over the world are invited to participate and submit data.

“We’re eager to see how many of the world’s 10,240 bird species will be reported during the count this year,” says Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick in the release on the event. “We’re looking forward to this historic snapshot of birds that that will be reported from around the world. We need as many people as possible to help build the wealth of data that scientists need to track the health of bird populations through time.”

snowy owl

Last year, bird watchers frequently sighted snowy owls during the Great Backyard Bird Count. Credit: Arjan Haverkamp/Flickr

Although some statistics remain consistent over time, each year’s bird count provides new insights into where different species are living and thriving around the world. For example, according to the 2012 bird count results, participants recorded more snowy owl sightings in the U.S. than in previous years. Normally, an artic-dwelling bird, these owls could have flow farther south last year in search of prey that was in short supply in their native habitat. Other bird species, however, were harder to find in 2012 than in previous years. The number of blue jay sightings was below average, indicating that these birds probably migrated elsewhere in search of food, such as acorns. Therefore, the abundance of trees and nuts in certain habitats can have an effect on the bird populations in the region.

Over the years, American Forests Global ReLeaf has conducted many projects to restore and protect habitat for migratory birds. For instance, in 2012, we planted trees in Arkansas’ Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge to help reforest part of the Mississippi flyway, in Louisiana to connect forest fragments and create wildlife corridors and in Veracruz, Mexico, to restore critical habitat for migratory birds — to just name a few.

Do you want to help the birds in your backyard? Registration for this year’s bird count is free, and all you have to do is create an online account and submit your findings from February 15 to February 18. You can also choose how long and on which days to observe your local birds and are welcome to submit multiple checklists per day. Happy bird counting!

Curious about great places to go bird watching? Check out our feature “Birding in the U.S.”


Roses: Sour Instead of Sweet?

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Roses

Roses. Credit: Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

For years, we’ve been told that nothing says “I love you” quite like a red rose — except maybe a diamond ring. But does that red rose love the environment? Survey says: Relationship complicated.

The Society of American Florists reports that more than 85 percent of fresh-cut flowers in the U.S. are imported every year. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is responsible for inspecting all imported flowers, says that in 2011, it processed 5.1 billion cut flowers, 802.5 million of which were processed during the Valentine’s season. Breaking down the figures even further, imported fresh-cut roses in 2011 were valued at $365.4 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau. What does all of this tell us? A humongous amount of flowers are traveling a long way to surprise your sweetheart. And travel means carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas production.

A 2007 comparative study by England’s Cranfield University revealed that 12,000 cut roses emitted almost 5,000 pounds of CO2 during their production in Kenya and delivery to the U.K. The same number of roses from the Netherlands emitted more than 77,000 pounds of CO2. It’s figures like these that result in calls for going local, right? Not so fast.

Roses in Edwards, Miss.

Roses in Edwards, Miss. Credit: Natalie Maynor/Flickr

One thing that accounted for the major difference in the CO2 production in Kenya and the Netherlands was growing conditions. In Kenya, it’s hot pretty much year round, which means less energy consumption in the growing process. In the Netherlands, greenhouses are needed, which equals a whole lot of additional energy demands. As you can imagine, buying local roses in snow-covered regions of the U.S. for Valentine’s Day might be tricky. As Vince Butera, a florist in York, Penn., tells the York Daily Record, “I believe in buying locally when I can, but there are no growers in York County, so I bring in a lot of flowers from California …”

For many people, though, carbon isn’t the only concern when it comes to imported flowers. Most U.S.-imported flowers come from Ecuador and Columbia, where Audubon reported in 2008 that 20 percent of the chemicals applied in flower production are restricted or banned in the United States and Europe. Not to mention concerns over worker health related to pesticide use and other labor rights concerns.

So, going local it is, yes? A qualified yes. Qualified? Going local is good, but going local creatively is better. Are cut roses that wither and die really the best way to say you care? Maybe a potted, local plant instead. Or a handmade treat or craft — not necessarily made by you if you lack the skills. Perhaps a gift of trees through a certain forest-loving nonprofit. For Valentine’s Day, and other gift-giving holidays, remember that there are lots of ways to show you care, but not all ways are green.


State of the Climate

by Susan Laszewski

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address on Feb. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

We’ve written before about the Obama administration’s rhetoric on climate change. Last month, in his inaugural address, Obama pledged to address climate change, saying “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” Last night, in his State of the Union Address, the president renewed that commitment, but he also provided us with a glimpse of what that “more” might be.

The president proposed an energy security trust, to be funded by revenues from oil and gas on public lands, which would work to wean us off our dependence on fossil fuels through research and development of renewable energy technology. In urging Congress to work together on a solution to climate change, he also invoked the example of the bipartisan Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, a collaboration of Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Ten years ago, that bill was rejected 43 to 55, but Obama implied that now is the right time for a similar bill.

But Congress is not the only branch of government that can take action. A month ago, we joined 69 other organizations in urging the president to use his executive authority to reduce carbon pollution. Last night, Obama responded, saying that “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”

These proposals and declarations of commitment are welcome news here at American Forests, where we’ve planted more than 43 million trees around the world as part of our commitment to mitigating climate change. As Obama said, “We were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent to make what difference we can.” At American Forests, we’ll keep trying to make what difference we can, too.


Cooking for Human and Forest Health

by Loose Leaf Team

By Tacy Lambiase

In developing nations, personal health and well-being are not just dependent on what you cook to eat every day. It’s how you cook it that can have the most impact. And not just on human health, but on the environment as well.

A traditional outdoor cookstove

A traditional outdoor cookstove. Credit: McKay Savage/Flickr

Deforestation on the slopes of Mount Kenya, Embu District, Kenya

Deforestation on the slopes of Mount Kenya, Embu District, Kenya. Credit: Trees For the Future/Flickr

Roughly three billion people around the world rely on open-fire cookstoves to prepare their food. However, these traditional stoves are not properly ventilated, releasing smoke and ash into people’s homes and ultimately into the atmosphere. This repeated exposure to smoke often leads to serious health problems, including breathing difficulties, respiratory diseases and even lung cancer. According to a recent global health study, the fumes from these stoves kill 3.5 million people per year. This shocking number of deaths is greater than the yearly number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

However, more energy-efficient and “clean” cookstoves have started to gain popularity in developing countries. Not only can these stoves improve human health through better smoke ventilation, but they can also positively affect forests, too.

Last month, an article in National Geographic focused on the positive effects that biochar cookstoves have had on communities in Kenya and Costa Rica, two places where American Forests Global ReLeaf has conducted reforestation projects. In a traditional open-fire cookstove, wood or charcoal is burned for fuel while carbon and soot is released into the air. But in a biochar cookstove, a dark residue (biochar) is produced when biomass is burned. The biochar can then be collected and used as a kind of fertilizer to improve the nutrient levels and overall quality of depleted soil. By replacing carbon emissions with biochar, these stoves can benefit the land and are less harmful to the atmosphere.

Biochar also reduces stress on local forests. Art Donnelly, the president of a biochar cookstove manufacturing company called SeaChar, told National Geographic that a biochar stove needs 40 percent less wood to operate than an open-fire stove. For many people, these cookstoves have greatly decreased the need to gather wood, reducing the amount of trees that need to be cut down for fuel. Although deforestation has already negatively impacted some countries like Kenya, biochar could be a new solution to this problem.

In Kenya, the demand for charcoal and hardwood has caused drastic changes to the landscape, eroding soil and decreasing biodiversity. But with new technology like biochar and a greater awareness about the benefits that cookstoves can have on human health and the environment, communities can take action and begin protecting the trees they depend on every day.


Creative Champions for Trees

by Loose Leaf Contributor
2011 American Forests and Scotties tree planting event

A 2011 American Forests and Scotties tree planting event in Miami. Credit: American Forests

We’ve reached the homestretch of the Scotties TREES ROCK! Video Contest. That means you only have one week left to vote for your favorite contestant!

Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard from our finalists about why trees are so important to their communities and schools. These kids have creatively expressed their love of nature and have big ideas for how they would use $10,000 to improve their schools’ outdoor environment.

Should Sarah, Sean or Vince win the prize money? You decide! Meet these last three finalists below, watch the other videos and cast your vote!

Sarah S. from Lone Oak, Texas, would like her school to plant more trees that will provide shade for her and her fellow classmates. Sarah explains how trees provide us with oxygen while ridding the atmosphere of harmful pollutants.

Sean S. from Cary, N.C., reports from the Trees Rock News Network about how trees provide suitable habitats for many animals. Sean hopes to plant at least 30 trees at his school to provide shade for a play area.

Vince G. from Santa Cruz, Calif., talks about how mighty redwood trees positively affect his community. He explains how trees prevent erosion and provide goods like paper and food. Vince would like his school to have more trees that will provide shade for concrete sidewalks and play areas.

If you enjoyed these videos, remember to vote for your favorite every day until February 15th at www.scottiestreesrock.com!

Did you miss our previous profiles? Meet Audrey K., Anuhar C. and Cate G. and Kaylee L., Kyle P. and McCoy P. and Oliver Z., Ryan C., and Ryan M.


We Love Our Western Public Lands

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Yesterday, Colorado College in Colorado Springs released its third annual “Conservation in the West” poll, which illuminates how much western residents value their public lands.

Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park. Credit: F. Delventhal/Flickr

Conducted as part of the college’s State of the Rockies project, the bipartisan poll of residents in six states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Montana) revealed that 91 percent of westerners agree that the region’s public lands — we’re talking national parks, forests, monuments, wildlife refuges and the like — are essential to the state’s economy. Drilling a bit deeper, 79 percent of respondents believe that public lands improve their quality of life and 74 percent think they attract high quality employers to the region. These percentages make it hardly surprising that when it comes to selling public lands to corporations for development, 71 percent of those surveyed oppose the idea. While this poll is based on the perceptions of those individuals living in the region, we’ve already discussed a 2012 research report that has the figures to back up how the West’s economy is growing rapidly thanks to public lands. So, it appears that the bottom line is that both people and the economy are recognizing how good public lands are for the West. Now, we just need to make sure those public lands stay healthy.

Colorado College’s State of the Rockies project was founded to help increase public understanding of the vital issues facing the Rocky Mountain region, which include water supply concerns — 27 million people rely on the Colorado River Basin, but climate projections indicate that the future may hold drier conditions for the famed river. Also hampering the West’s waterways is tree loss.

Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Grand Tetons, Wyoming. Credit: Frank Kovalcheck/Flickr

Almost 42 million acres of forest in 10 western states are considered to be dead or dying. Drilling down even further, a deadly disease and a beetle are killing swaths of high-elevation forests throughout the Rockies. And for anyone who has ever gazed at a beautiful mountaintop, you know that the high elevations are where the snow “lives.” The trees that live there, too, help regulate how quickly the snow melts and help filter the water coming from these high sources. In periods of drought or scarcity, their role becomes even more important. So what happens if they’re not there? That’s too scary to even contemplate, which is why we launched our Endangered Western Forests initiative last year.

The initiative has many goals, but ultimately, we’re searching for ways to protect our western forests and improve their health. And we’re doing it in some of the most famous public lands in the U.S.: the Greater Yellowstone Area. With more than three million people visiting Yellowstone National Park alone each summer to partake in its beauty, recreation and wonder, we think it’s an area worth saving — and hope you do to.