Stopping Deforestation, Helping Business

by American Forests

By John-Miguel Dalbey

A recent interview published in E&E News suggests that practices which prevent deforestation may actually be good for business. Unilever, an international umbrella corporation headquartered in London, recently joined the 2013 Commitment to Development “Ideas in Action.” CEO Paul Polman, in the same E&E News interview from February 12, argues that such sustainable practices are in fact beneficial for both the environment and the economy, as destruction of global forests is irreversible, and will cause harvests to crash, causing catastrophic losses for both the economy and the environment. As the third largest consumer goods multinational and one of the oldest in the world, this commitment carries no small weight. Parent company behind such U.S. brands as Dove and Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever has already begun using entirely sustainable palm oil. As consumer of three percent of global palm oil, this is no small feat. This may well set a business trend throughout the consumer goods sector worldwide, and Unilever has already been credited with pressuring Wilmar International, controller of roughly 45 percent of the global palm oil market, into adopting a no-deforestation policy in areas with a “large conservation value.” Wilmar has similarly pledged to end deforestation worldwide.

Deforestation from an Indonesian palm oil plantation

The last batch of sawnwood from the peat forest in Indragiri Hulu, Riau Province, Indonesia. Deforestation for oil palm plantation. Wakx/Flickr, aidenvironment

Globally, the growth of palm oil plantations has devastating impacts for tropical forests, particularly in Southeast Asia and Indonesia. Roughly 85 percent of global palm oil is harvested in this area, as palm trees producing the oil grow well in tropical climates; however, this has caused massive rainforest deforestation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service reports an eightfold increase in plantation size in Indonesia alone and states that roughly 10 percent of worldwide carbon emissions are due to deforestation. Palm oil itself is used for a massive range of purposes, from biodiesel and soap manufacture, to food filler and cooking oil.

American Forests supports several replanting efforts in Southeast Asia and Indonesia, such as the Orangutan Habitat Restoration and Protection in the Dolok Sibual Buali Nature Reserve and the Forests for the Future program.


A Stitch in Time

by Susan Laszewski
Flooding in Iowa City.

Flooding in Iowa City. Credit: Daniel McDermott

Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? That saying resonates with many of us; we’re a species that likes to procrastinate. But there may be more wisdom in the old adage, “a stitch in time saves nine.”

It might seem like common sense that prevention is better than trying to fix problems after they happen, but a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has quantified just how much better it can be when it comes to flooding — particularly the increased flooding we can expect as sea levels continue to rise.

The researchers found that it’s more cost effective for most coastal area economies to use flood prevention strategies — including green strategies like buffer islands — than it is to repair damages after a flood. “The global costs of protecting the coast with dikes are significant with annual investment and maintenance costs of U.S. $12–71 billion in 2100, but much smaller than the global cost of avoided damages,” which vary by area. Climate change-fueled sea level rise is coming, they say, and we must adapt, not wait and see where the cards fall. And there is a lot at stake here. It is estimated that as many as 1 billion people currently live in at-risk areas.

The study addresses both grey and green flood prevention infrastructure — grey such as levees and green such as coastal forests and wetlands. Last year, another report showed us just how many Americans these coastal buffers are protecting. Taken together, these studies say a lot about the benefits and potential benefits of our hardworking coastal buffers. It’s why many of our American Forests Global ReLeaf projects are working to protect buffers like wetlands and mangroves.

Reducing the Urban Heat Island Effect

by American Forests

By John-Miguel Dalbey

Green Roof in Ontario

Green Roof in Ontario – Photo Credit sookie/Flickr

The urban heat island effect, in which darkly colored construction materials such as asphalt and tar shingles absorb heat and make their urban surroundings warmer, has been well documented for years. However, a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that refitting buildings with white-painted roofs or green roofs (those with planted trees) can negate this effect. This stands to reason, as white or green colors absorb less heat energy than darker colored materials. Furthermore, green roofing could even go so far as to sequester carbon and reduce warming. This effect is furthered by plants’ process of evapotranspiration, in which plants absorb water in the soil through their roots, and release it through their leaves, adding moisture to the surrounding air. In a city, this increased moisture reduces ambient heat, as water vapor can absorb large amounts of heat energy. Green roofing strategies will also combat warming indirectly, as their direct effects on city temperatures will reduce air conditioning and heating usage. However, the study notes that white roofing only increased winter cooling, as white paint does not insulate as well as plant material and soil, leading to an increase in heating usage.

This study points out that the beneficial effects of green or white roofing may vary between different areas. According to E&E News,Cool roofs in Northern California had a small impact on rainfall compared to Arizona, while other parts of the country faced stronger effects.” This is most likely due to variances in regional weather patterns and ambient heat. But, in total, both green and white roofing are viable, easily implemented means of combating rising city temperatures. Green roofs in particular seem to be a more beneficial solution, as they provide insulation while absorbing carbon and are more aesthetically pleasing.

To learn more about the benefits of green infrastructure like green roofs, check out our book, “Urban Forests Case Studies: Challenges, Potential and Success in a Dozen Cities.”

Water Availability

by American Forests

By John-Miguel Dalbey

A dry riverbed in California

A dry riverbed in California

The recent drought sweeping the nation’s west has many experts questioning where the U.S. will be acquiring new sources of fresh water in the near future. According to a recent survey of over 600 scientists and environmental policymakers, the results of which were published in the journal BioScience, the issue of water availability is a number-one priority in terms of resource scarcity within the next 10 years. In an interview with Environment & Energy, Murray Rudd, professor of environmental economics at the University of York and author of the survey, states that “long-term water supply was a very large concern among the natural resource managers and academics that answered this survey.” While the survey’s top question, “What quantity and quality of surface and groundwater will be necessary to sustain U.S. human populations and ecosystem resilience during the next 100 years?,” made no direct mention of climate change, Rudd claims indirect worries over climate change pushed this question to the forefront. “Anytime that you’re dealing with water, climate change and change in precipitation patterns are certainly in the background.” This is most likely due to the implied knowledge of the relationship between drought and climate change: As climate change becomes an increasingly present and real issue, rising temperatures will have drastic effects on the world’s water cycle.

California in particular has been hit heavily by the recent drought, with water rationing measures being implemented. American Forests has conducted reforestation efforts in the area, as well international reforestation efforts in both Honduras and Ghana, in order to prevent drought. Forest cover helps retain a certain amount of water within an area as vegetation traps moisture and releases into the air via transpiration. Root systems help trap water underground as well; therefore, protecting forests will aid in staving off even more intense droughts.

The Need for Ecological Forestry

by American Forests

By Alexandra Bower

O&C lands Coos Bay

Credit: Francis Eatherington

American Forests Science Advisory Board member Dr. Jerry Franklin of the School of Environmental and Forest Science at the University of Washington was a recent witness in the Congressional Hearing for the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources regarding the Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013 (S. 1784). The bill, sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), aims to bolster revenue for struggling lumber counties in Oregon without causing harm to sensitive lands, protected forests and endangered wildlife, while focusing on revenue from federal harvests. However, it more than doubles logging in western Oregon’s O&C lands — lands set aside for timber production by the O&C Act of 1937 — sparking instant opposition from environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council.

While some environmental advocates believe the efforts made by Wyden, chairman of the committee, threaten laws laid out by the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, other forestry specialists see the good laid out in the bill that protects old and sensitive forests, provides economic stability in struggling Oregonian counties, and reduces the risk of disastrous wildfires and insect attack.

Credit: Bureau of Land Management, Oregon

Dr. Franklin, who worked closely with Wyden’s office on the bill, provided his expertise on the issues in his address to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on February 6. He discussed the need for “ecological forestry,” an adaptive management practice based on the most current science and understanding, which is present in the Oregon and California Land Grant Act. He defines this as an “approach to managing forests utilizing principles from natural forest development” such as natural growth and disturbances, and points out the act in question embraces this technique. He says the bill recognizes different management approaches for various forest types, particularly the distinction between dry and moist forests, and addresses the policies that are necessary for each.

He also points out that thinning and forest openings are necessary components of ecological forestry in moist forests to “accelerate structural development” and provide necessary habitats for forest dwellers like elk and deer. The bill calls for “variable retention harvesting,” which is a harvesting method that mimics natural occurrences and provides for continuity and minimal disturbance of species and habitats. Dr. Franklin favors “aggregated retention,” which leaves forested patches when logging, supporting habitats and processes for a large variety of forest and wildlife.

In addressing the concern that environmental laws would be limited, Dr. Franklin says that the bill ensures regulatory agency and scientist assessments and plans that would monitor logging activity, but suggests that an “adaptive management approach” should be utilized to monitor and modify O&C lands management practices as needed.

In his testimony regarding the National Forest Jobs and Management Act of 2014, Thomas Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, stated that he was in support of Wyden’s efforts to provide “resources to manage and restore our forests so they are more resilient.” The bill suggests that it would provide much-needed jobs in the area, protect natural resources and would not endanger wildlife or the legislation that protects it.

Wyden was adamant about going forward with the bill in order to “offer an alternative to grinding underemployment in rural Oregon” and ensure the safeguarding of our national forests.

Farm Bill’s Stewardship Contracting

by American Forests

By John-Miguel Dalbey

Stewardship program in an Arizona National Forest

Stewardship program in an Arizona National Forest. Credit: Kaibab National Forest

President Obama’s signing of the Farm Bill on Friday, marks the bill’s momentous passing after two years of negotiations. Forest conservationists and timber harvesters in particular celebrated the permanent authorization of “Stewardship Contracting” clause in the bill, which allows the U.S. Forest Service, as well as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to issue contracts to timber harvesters and increases forest restoration efforts. In past years, this clause was set to be renewed with each passing of the Farm Bill, but was made permanent in the recently passed version. These contracts, which are set for 10 years at a time, allow for timber harvesters to conduct prescribed burns, as well as thin forests that would otherwise become dangerously dense, thus preventing wildfires. In 2013, the Forest Service issued 195 contracts, which allowed for the production of 865,000 tons of biofuel from the thinning of 171,000 acres and the reduction of hazardous fuels on 69,000 acres. In total, 36,000 acres of forest vegetation and 72,000 acres of wildlife habitat were improved through these contracts. More than one fourth of all timber harvested from national forests was through stewardship contracting. The Forest Service estimates that a further 82 million acres are in need of restoration due to pests, fire and lack of rain.

American Forests, along with many of our forestry partners, is extremely pleased with the permanent authorization of this important tool that allows the Forest Service and BLM to increase restoration efforts on their lands. Chris Topik, director of the Restoring America’s Forests program under The Nature Conservancy, stated that “by providing permanent stewardship contracting authority, the Farm Bill provides certainty to communities, industry and conservationists to expand the collaborative forestry that improves the health of our federal forests that desperately need attention,” adding that there would be no increased taxpayer spending. Representatives from the Federal Forest Resource Coalition and the National Association of Forest Service Retirees made similar statements of support. We now look forward to working with the federal agencies to ensure the implementation of this tool is efficient and effective to ensure the restoration occurs in the best manner possible.

There has been a 54 percent increase in forest fires since 1960, and since 1970, the fire season has become two months longer, with fires five times larger on average. This intensification is largely due to climate change and buildup of hazardous fuels. Forest Service lands alone generate $13 billion in annual revenue, while sequestering 13 percent of the nation’s carbon output, housing thousands of species and storing half the nation’s water. Therefore, steps to protect our forests should be lauded, especially those bridging the divide between conservationists and business.

Root Rot

by American Forests

By John-Miguel Dalbey

Stands of Douglas-fir, commonly referred to as “Christmas trees,” across the Pacific Northwest have been fighting off root rotting fungus for millennia; however in recent years, the rot, combined with other tree diseases, has been killing Douglas-fir at an alarmingly increasing rate. Scientists have begun to suspect that climate change’s effect on the area has led to an increase of these infestations. This effect could possibly be due to increases in temperature, moisture and humidity in the area, combined with decreases in snow and cold weather, all environmental factors in which these fungi thrive. In fact, many worry that this increase in disease could turn the Northwest’s forests from carbon sinks — systems which absorb carbon dioxide — into carbon emitters as the dead trees rot and release their sequestered carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Timber companies are worried as well, as the decrease in forest productivity has already begun to drastically decrease profits in the area, by millions of dollars in lost revenue annually.

Douglas-Fir, the species threatened by root rot.

Douglas-Fir, the species threatened by root rot. Credit: Homer Edward Price

One strain of root rot, known as “laminated root rot,” has single-handedly reduced timber harvests between five to 15 percent, a Washington State Academy of Sciences study found. While weakened trees are more likely to be killed by fungus, an infected healthy tree is still left more vulnerable to other threats such as beetle infestation, fire or strong winds. As fungus-infected trees decompose more rapidly than trees killed by other means, they release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere much more rapidly. And as climate change leads to extreme weather events, infected trees will be doubly threatened by storms, wind and flooding. Furthermore, such a large amount of dead, decaying trees in a forest leaves the entire ecosystem vulnerable to fire.

American Forests conducts several Douglas-fir replanting efforts[SL2]  across the Pacific Northwest, whether the cause of deforestation was logging, fire or disease. The Tumblebug Fire Restoration project in particular is one of the larger Douglas-fir restoration projects in effect. This project aims to preserve the delicate Oregon forest system by planting 60,000 Douglas-fir trees across an area in excess of 8,000 acres, damaged by the lightning-induced Tumblebug Fire.

An Ugly Bill

by American Forests

By Alexandra Bower

Senator John Barrasso (R- Wyoming) introduced a bill, the National Forest Jobs and Management Act of 2014, which passed the House 268-154 yesterday, with support from 41 Democrats and all Republicans.

Logging truck in the middle of Umpqua National Forest.

Logging truck in the middle of Umpqua National Forest. Credit: Terry MacVey

The bill is an effort to resuscitate the logging industry in national forests by reducing the price and environmental review associated with it. In turn, this means that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — which requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of certain major federal actions — would be limited in its assessments of the proposed logging. The Wilderness Society opposes the restrictions because of the stipulations laid out in the bill that could enforce logging in sensitive lands that were previously protected by NEPA. The bill defines the term “suitable timberlands” as lands available to be logged, including old-growth reserves and other protected lands. This could lead to a 150 percent upsurge in present logging levels and a definite increase in logging on protected federal lands. Paul Spitler, the Wilderness Society director of wilderness campaigns, calls the bill “an ugly one.”

Barrasso’s bill designates a 7.5-million-acre logging quota, which could force the Forest Service to transfer funding from other important programs, such as wildfire management and urban forestry programs. The Forest Service, and many national conservation groups including American Forests and the Wilderness Society, believe the constraints on NEPA and the detrimental impact of increased logging are injurious to the lasting sustainability of national forests.

Barrasso’s bills have been strongly opposed by conservation groups who emphasized the threatened wildlife in question. However, they were backed by the timber industry.

Southbound Snowies

by Susan Laszewski

I had been reading a lot this winter about the irruption of snowy owls, then, about a month ago, I saw a snowy owl myself right here in downtown Washington, D.C., perched above a parking sign with its beak tucked under its wing.

Snowy owl.

Snowy owl. Credit: Douglas Brown

Snowy owls usually stay near the Arctic Circle for breeding, often coming south toward the Canada-U.S. border during winter. This winter, however, many have been spotted in the Midwest and on the East Coast much farther south than is usual. The phenomenon has birders and other wildlife enthusiasts excited about the rare chance to see one of these beautiful creatures. I stood in the cold for some time with a few other admirers, watching the owl that had graced our city streets from a respectful distance.

Snowy owl in D.C.

Snowy owl in D.C. Credit: rho-bin/Flickr

It’s not yet clear what brings so many snowy owls so far outside their range this year. Theories range from a dearth of their favorite food forcing them to travel farther in search of meals, to an abundance of food last year having allowed for a very successful breeding season, meaning more owls that would need to spread out farther. Food shortages occur and drive owls farther afield every six to 10 years, but this year’s abundance of southbound “snowies” is particularly remarkable. “An irruption like this probably hasn’t happened in 30 years or more,” ornithologist Peter Paton with the University of Rhode Island tells the Providence Journal, adding that some have been spotted as far as Florida and Bermuda.

Snowy owl being treated at Smithsonian's National Zoo on January 30.

Snowy owl being treated at Smithsonian’s National Zoo on January 30. Credit: Jen Zoon, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Another ornithologist, Dr. Kevin J. McGowan of Cornell University, doesn’t want to rule out the effects of climate change yet, either. He tells the New York Times that the disruption to the snowy owls’ arctic habitat — which he calls “one of the most vulnerable ecosystems on the planet” may also be driving them farther south.

Either way, the owls’ big adventure down south can be dangerous for them. Their usual habitat is one sparsely populated by humans and they’re now venturing into densely populated areas with obstacles they aren’t used to. Like traffic. Several owls have been reported killed by traffic and airplanes in East Coast cities. Last week, a snowy owl in downtown D.C. — most likely the very owl I had stopped to watch a month ago in the same area — was hit by a bus and injured. Happily, that owl has been taken to the National Zoo for veterinary care.

So, if you’re in one of the areas these owls are now venturing into, enjoy the chance to see these beautiful birds in person. Just remember to observe from a respectful distance.

California Wildfires and BLM Budget Cuts

by American Forests

By John-Miguel Dalbey

In California, wildfires and forest fires are a yearly occurrence. Already, the warm, dry Santa Ana winds have stirred up fires in both Kimball Island, between Sacramento and San Francisco, and Jurupa Valley in Riverside County. The first fire resulted in no casualties and only one destroyed building, while a second burned down several homes and other small structures according to State Fire Captain Lucas Spelman, quoted in the Huffington Post. No injuries or deaths were reported, other than the sad loss of two pet dogs. As the current combination of dry spells and winds continue, more wildfires are expected.

The Rim Fire approaches the Groveland Ranger Station in the Stanislaus National Forest.

Rim Fire approaches the Groveland Ranger Station in the Stanislaus National Forest. U.S. Forest Service photo.

Coinciding with the drought, the Bureau of Land Management had its budget cut 47 percent, leading to a loss of half its forestry staff. As a consequence, many related projects, while funded, are left unmanned. In particular, the Mother Lode Field Office in Folsom, Calif., has lost a major portion of its staff, leaving the 200,000 acres of forest and woodlands vulnerable to wildfire. Specifically, the office’s Giant Gap Stewardship project lacks the workforce to complete its goals. The project area, 150 acres of mixed conifer west of Iowa Hills, above the North Fork of the American River, has been identified in the Iowa Hills Community Protection Plan is in need of commercial thinning to reduce the high risk of fire in the area. A local landowner with property bordering the area has already taken steps to thin the forest on his land and has approached the BLM requesting that the surrounding area be made less fire prone in order to protect his property. While the BLM had completed 80 percent of a planned shaded fuel break for the area in early 2011, budget constraints have since prevented the hiring of a head forester for the project. Due to the combined absence of staffing and funding, this project remains uncompleted, leaving the local forest and community vulnerable.

Fire plays many important roles in our forests, but can sometimes be too frequent or too intense for forests to recover from without help, especially as climate change takes its toll. Wildfire can contribute to climate change and carbon emissions through the burning of large amounts of biomass. This may create a “positive feedback loop,” in which the absence of trees and increased CO2 lead to more extreme droughts and winds, which in turn lead to worsening fires in a vicious cycle. For this reason, American Forests undertakes forest restoration projects following forest fires, many of which are in areas of California. Such projects are vital to the continued wellbeing of national forests and wildlife areas and the global ecosystem as a whole. Reintroducing trees to recently burned areas as soon as possible helps to reduce erosion and buildup of ash or soil in waterways, and aids in the rapid reintroduction of displaced wildlife. Planted trees also aid in absorbing particulate matter and CO2 emissions created by fires, offsetting some of the damages.