Halloween Anniversaries in California

by Alex Cimon

Eighteen years ago, on Halloween, the California Desert Protection Act created two national parks in southern California. Joshua Tree National Park and, the spookily appropriate, Death Valley National Park celebrated their anniversaries yesterday. They are only separated by a little more than 250 miles, but each location has unique and historic features.

Death Valley

Death Valley. Credit: Gunther Hagleitner/Flickr

The National Park Service recognizes Death Valley as a “land of extremes.” With average summer temperatures reaching nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit and monthly rainfall consistently below one inch, the park is home to the hottest and driest areas in the United States. And Death Valley also boasts the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, with Badwater Basin dipping 282 feet below sea level. These distinctions paint a deadly picture, but the park consists of several different ecosystems supporting hundreds of species.

Only 15 miles from Badwater Basin is the highest point in the park, Telescope Peak, reaching 11,049 feet. Between these drastically different features are sand dunes, salt flats and even springs. One of these springs is Devil’s Hole, a unique and important environment. Tucked within caverns, it protects the desert pupfish and is the only naturally occurring location for this species. Besides this interesting fish, Death Valley is also home to bighorn sheep, frogs and toads, various types of reptiles and hundreds of birds.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park. Credit: total13/Flickr

The counterpart to this “land of extremes” is located at the intersection of three different California ecosystems. The western region of Joshua Tree National Park is home to the Little San Bernardino Mountains. Here, California juniper and pinyon pines distinguish the highest part of Joshua Tree. The southern and eastern territories of the park contain the Sonoran Desert. But in the north, where the Mojave Desert is found, lives the park’s namesake. The Joshua tree is an icon in this region with its heavy branches and spring flowers. This species also provides an important habitat for many birds and other animals surviving in the desert. Most of the mammals in the park are small rodents, but dozens of species of reptiles, as well as more than 250 kinds of birds, thrive in the desert environment.

Anyone reluctant about visiting a place called Death Valley or a park connecting two deserts may be reassured by the hundreds of thousands of people flocking to the parks each year. In fact, both areas offer a variety of recreational activities. Death Valley’s 785 miles of road are perfect for a scenic drive or a day of mountain biking. Joshua Tree provides day-trip opportunities, such as nature trails and rock climbing, as well as camping for extended trips.


Forest Frights

by Susan Laszewski

Each year, when Halloween rolls around, I go hunting for tales of ghosts and the paranormal. This year, I stumbled across a haunt that’s as interesting for its status as an ecological oddity as it is for the spooky legends that surround it.

In the woods just outside of Siler City, North Carolina, lies the Devil’s Tramping Ground. In this bare circle of earth about 20 feet across, nothing but a few strands of grass will grow. More interestingly, it’s said that nothing at all grows in the outer ring of the circle because this is where the devil comes each night to pace as he dreams up new ways of tormenting humankind. Local legend has it that wildlife never enter the circle and that things left in the circle during the day will have been moved from it by morning.

Devil’s Tramping Ground

Devil’s Tramping Ground. Credit: Jason Home/Flickr

Legend even has it that the North Carolina Department of Agriculture studied the soils in the area and was unable to determine why nothing grows there. According to the North Carolina Museum of History, however, that mystery can indeed be solved by science. The patch of earth is unusually high in saline content and may have served as a salt lick for ancient buffalo and other wildlife. Lovers of a good mystery need not be disappointed, though. It’s still unclear, for example, how this land came to be shaped in a nearly perfect geometrical circle. Spooky.

Equally interesting is the question of how this small patch of land inspired such fear and foreboding. Years of spooky tales shared around the campfires and practical jokes played on friends have no doubt contributed to its eerie reputation, but what made the spot fodder for such ghost stories in the first place? I began recalling other tales of haunted forests and what they had in common. Places where no birds sing, where sunlight can’t penetrate and where dry, gnarly branches reach out from dead tree trunks to grab unsuspecting souls? Put bluntly, where vegetation doesn’t thrive, it creeps us out.

Humans have always depended on vegetation for everything from the simple needs of sustenance and shelter to higher needs like mental well-being and artistic inspiration. We already know that healthy forests clean our air, clean our water, provide habitat for wildlife that ecosystems depend on and even help cities save money on energy bills. Maybe we should add “ward off evil spirits” to the list of benefits that our forests provide.

For a spooky camping trip likely to boast some beautiful fall foliage along the way, visit the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s website for directions to the Devil’s Tramping Ground.


A Hidden Gem

by Julia Sullivan

Accessible only by boat or seaplane, closer to Cuba than to the American mainland and housing the largest masonry fort in the United States, Dry Tortugas is not exactly the typical American national park. In fact, it is one of the most remote, smallest and least-visited parks in the system. Nevertheless, it is remarkable, and today marks its 20th anniversary.

Fort Jefferson on Garden Key

Fort Jefferson on Garden Key. Credit: U.S. National Park Service

While its history as a national park is a relatively short one, its historical and cultural significance is vast. Nearly 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, the Dry Tortugas are comprised of seven keys. Discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513, the islands are strategically located on the edge of the main shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean. As early explorers and merchants traveled through the Tortugas to and from the Gulf Coast, the islands came to be both an important passageway and a navigational marker.

In enemy hands, the Tortugas would have threatened the ship traffic and eastern seaboard of the United States. So in 1846, the United States began construction on Fort Jefferson in an effort to protect the lucrative shipping channel. After nearly 30 years of construction, the fort was left unfinished and unarmed — and so it remains. It did, however, fulfill its intended purpose. Fort Jefferson came to be regarded as a brilliant and undeniable symbol of the United States’ desire to be left alone and helped to protect the peace and prosperity of our young nation. Even in its unfinished state, the fort was one of the largest masonry coastal forts of the 19th century — large enough to have served as a military prison during the Civil War.

Sooty tern

Sooty tern. Credit: Andy Sewell/Flickr

Fort Jefferson was proclaimed a national monument in 1935, but further attention was eventually drawn to the Dry Tortugas’ subtropical marine system and wildlife. Their thriving coral and sea grass communities are among the most vibrant in the Florida Keys. Large sea turtles return to their beaches every summer to bury clutches of eggs. And the sooty tern’s only regular nesting site in the United States is on Bush Key, adjacent to Fort Jefferson. In light of its tremendous natural resources and rich cultural heritage, the area was declared Dry Tortugas National Park on October 26, 1992.

While it is off the beaten path, there is certainly no shortage of things to do at Dry Tortugas. Visitors can explore historic Fort Jefferson, snorkel the incredible marine resources, enjoy world-class birdwatching and engage in countless other activities. Happy Birthday to this hidden gem!


Strengthening Reforestation in Cuyamaca

by Loose Leaf Team

By Gerry Gray, Ph.D., Senior Vice President

Loose Leaf welcomes American Forests Senior Vice President Gerry Grey to our writing family. Gerry has a doctor of forestry degree and has been with American Forests for more than 20 years. He will be joining us from time to time to share his insights on our work and other issues related to forests around the world. ~MW & SL

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in California

We recently received good news from Lisa Gonzales-Kramer, the project manager for an innovative reforestation project that American Forests has sponsored for several years in southern California’s Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, which experienced the largest wildfire in California history. In early October, the project achieved “registered” status from the Climate Action Reserve, which means that it cleared an extensive review process by an accredited 3rd party verifier and has been accepted by the Climate Action Reserve as a project that can issue Carbon Reduction Tons (CRTs) in California’s emerging carbon market.

The Climate Action Reserve (CAR) is a nonprofit organization that was created in 2001 by climate change legislation in California to help develop appropriate protocol for carbon-offset projects and to establish a voluntary carbon market. [Editor’s note: Need a refresher on CAR and how carbon offset programs work? Check out this Loose Leaf post on the subject.] The Cuyamaca Reforestation Project was the first reforestation project and the first forest-carbon project on public lands to be “listed” by CAR in November 2009. Now that the project has received a determination that it is in full compliance with CAR’s forest protocol, it can claim to be the first reforestation project and first public-land, forest-carbon project to achieve “registered” status.

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in California

American Forests began its sponsorship of the Cuyamaca Reforestation Project in 2008 when we provided a restoration tree planting grant through our Global ReLeaf program. In 2009, we made a much greater commitment to the project when we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the California Department of Parks and Recreation (CA State Parks) to provide long-term support for the efforts in Cuyamaca with funds that we received through a legal settlement between the state of California and ConocoPhillips Company. The project’s new “registered” status is a major step forward in assuring that the CRTs, or the carbon-offset benefits, from the project will be available for transfer to ConocoPhillips.

American Forests’ board of directors and senior staff visited Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in late August to get a firsthand look at the reforestation project. Located about 40 miles east of San Diego in a mountainous landscape, Cuyamaca had been a combination of grassland, chaparral, oak woodland and mixed-conifer forest until the 2003 Cedar Fire. The park also had provided habitat for diverse flora and fauna, including rare and sensitive species, and contained important cultural sites, particularly related to the Kumeyaay Indians.

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

American Forests board and staff members in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

The Cedar Fire in 2003 — California’s largest fire in recorded history — destroyed 95 percent of the mixed conifer forest in the nearly 25,000-acre park. Historically, CA State Parks has treated wildfires as natural disturbances and relied upon natural regeneration to restore parks. However, post-fire surveys in Cuyamaca showed very little regeneration of the native mixed-conifer species, especially Jeffrey, Coulter and sugar pines. Ecologists predicted that without reforestation activities, the park would be dominated by herbs, grasses and shrubs, particularly Ceanothis palmeri, for the foreseeable future. CA State Parks decided to take a new course of action: to design an innovative reforestation project to restore the park’s diverse native forest. The agency also decided to submit the project for listing with CAR, as a means of raising project revenue through the emerging carbon market.

American Forests’ board and staff were thrilled by the opportunity to visit with Lisa and other Cuyamaca staff. We also were impressed by the innovative planting techniques employed to encourage seedling survival in a challenging environment. American Forests is proud to be a major sponsor of the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park reforestation project, pleased with the progress being made both on-the-ground and through the CAR process and delighted to be able to partner with CA State Parks and the wonderful people working on the project.

For more information on our efforts in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, read our American Forests magazine feature “Regrowing a Forest.”


Forests Around the World

by Amanda Tai

Did you know that today is United Nations Day? The United Nations Charter entered into force on October 24th, 1947, replacing the League of Nations with an international organization dedicated to facilitating social, economic and environmental development and cooperative efforts. United Nations Day is dedicated to honoring the achievements of the United Nations Organization (UN), which include major milestones in efforts to protect and restore our environment.

Since its formation in 1947, the UN has developed branches dedicated to environmental work. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is known for its annual conference on sustainable development (known as UNCED or Earth Summit), the most recent being Rio+20 this past summer. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) set global climate change goals in the 1990s through the Kyoto Protocol, which established binding targets for countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Haitian students plant trees to restore a forest on International Environment Day, which is run by UNEP. Credit: United Nations Photo/Flickr

More recently, in 2000, the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) was established to develop policies and provide guidelines for “the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests and to strengthen long-term political commitment to this end.” The UNFF holds an annual conference that serves as a forum for discussing international forest policy. It also gives countries the opportunity to share their developments, experiences and lessons learned on forest management. In 2006, during the seventh session of the UNFF, a multi-year strategy (2007-2015) was developed to provide guidance on the use of sustainable forest management practices. The objective of the strategy is to reforest areas that have gone through deforestation, prevent future forest degradation and better the livelihoods of people who depend on forests. The next session of the UNFF is set to take place April 8-19, 2013, in Istanbul, Turkey.

As our world seems to become smaller and smaller through faster online communication and a continually growing global economy, I think it’s encouraging that environmental policy is following in those same footsteps. International forums like the UNFF provide a space for forest policy experts to share with and learn from each other in ways that continue to benefit forests worldwide.


Tales of the Forests – 3,000 Years Ago

by Alison Share, Environmental Public Policy Associate, Crowell & Moring LLP
Danube Delta

Danube Delta. Credit: Austin Donisan/Flickr

There was some legal news this month in the world of the seemingly never-ending litigation concerning the Roadless Rule. The United States Supreme Court declined to review the Roadless Rule ruling (try saying that five times fast) from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. If you aren’t familiar with how the appeals process works, never fear, most people aren’t. In the federal court system, the first level of decision-making is done by the district courts, aka the trial courts. If the losing party wants to, it may, within a certain time frame, appeal to the circuit court. There are 13 circuit courts in the United States: 1st-11th Circuits, the D.C. Circuit and the Federal Circuit. Each of these circuit courts covers specific states: the 10th Circuit covers Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas. It is the decision of the appellate court that can be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.

Earlier this month, in somewhat anticlimactic fashion, the Supreme Court declined to review the 10th Circuit decision that upheld the Roadless Rule. By deciding not to review the case, the Supreme Court let stand the 10th Circuit decision upholding the Roadless Rule. The rule, originally formulated at the end of the Clinton administration, limits road construction and timber harvesting on more than 58 million acres of currently undeveloped national forest land. With this decision by the Supreme Court, the only ongoing litigation concerning the Roadless Rule is a case filed by the state of Alaska concerning Tongass National Forest. It is currently pending in federal court in D.C.

Danube Delta

Danube Delta. Credit: Sergiu Biris/Flickr

Danube Delta

Danube Delta. Credit: Sergiu Luchian/Flickr

The Roadless Rule is designed to protect undeveloped forestland from logging and road building — activities that humans have carried out for thousands of years. Before I began my legal career, I worked at a college in Ohio, where I had the opportunity to take a number of geology courses. Those courses, coupled with my passion for history, triggered my interest in a recent report on Scientific Reports about such an undeveloped forest.

While current forest rules can be subject to the ebb and flow of administrative action and litigation outcomes, it was recently discovered that the rich ecosystem that exists in the Danube Delta of eastern Europe has its origins in deforestation that occurred 3,000 years ago. The Danube Delta, which exists where the freshwater river flows into the Black Sea, is home to countless species existing in 23 different ecosystems. Scientists recently explored the beginning of the Delta by analyzing the sediment that has built up over the years. And among the diatoms and dinoflagellates (and people say legalese is obtuse!), scientists discovered a marked increase in sediment loads between 2,000-3,000 years ago.

This sediment load increase was linked to large-scale deforestation that occurred farther up the Danube watershed. Scientists determined that by the height of the Roman Empire, approximately 2,000 years ago, large portions of Serbia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria had already undergone significant clearing in order cultivate land for crops. Over time, this deforestation led to increased sediment runoff, which travelled down to settle at the intersection of the Danube and the Black Sea. The sediment build up was key in the development of the area’s marshes and wetlands, developing into the varied ecosystems that exist today. By studying the chemical make-up of these sediments, scientists were able to discover periods of large-scale deforestation that may otherwise have never been known. This deforestation— to accommodate agriculture for an expanding human population — triggered the beginnings of a vibrant ecosystem that is still with us today.

While this historical deforestation has led to the multifaceted ecosystems that currently exist in the Danube Delta, the results of present-day deforestation can be ecologically devastating, leading to a loss of wildlife habitat and increasing soil erosion. As the Roadless Rule and its litigation demonstrate, forests, along with their protection and use, continue to be pivotal pieces in the development of our human environment.


Deep Diversity

by Alex Cimon

With kayakers battling rapids 2,000 feet below “pygmy forests” and oak flats, Colorado’s Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park is one of the more unique natural experiences one can have. Over the weekend, this diverse 14-mile stretch along Gunnison River celebrated its 13th anniversary as a national park. In recognition of Black Canyon’s founding, let’s take a look at what makes this park a special destination.

The slopes of Black Canyon split by Gunnison River

The slopes of Black Canyon split by Gunnison River. Credit: markbyzweski/ Flickr

Carved by the Gunnison River, the canyon is constantly being reshaped. As with most geological change, this process has been gradual, as the river has been influencing the landscape for approximately two million years. Within this actively shifting environment, several species of plants and animals thrive. This is due to the protection and maintenance of three distinct life zones surrounding and within the canyon:

  • The pinyon pine is a trademark feature of the “pygmy forests,” nicknamed for the small trees that populate this area, that surround the park along the Colorado Plateau. Junipers are also often in the mix. These pygmy forests were traditionally an excellent source of food, fuel and medicine for American Indians and still provide us with firewood and pine nuts today.
  • The second distinct life zone in Black Canyon is the oak flats that dominate the space around the canyon rim. Wildflowers, dense thickets and diverse wildlife characterize this part of the park. Oak acorns are plentiful and rich in nutrients, creating a welcome home for common wildlife such as the mule deer and black bear.
  • But the area between the canyon walls is what makes Black Canyon of Gunnison exceptional. Due to differences in erosion, sunlight and vegetation, the southern wall is sparsely vegetated and very steep. The northern wall, however, boasts pockets of Douglas fir and a variety of bird species. Bighorn sheep and mountain lions can also be found roaming the slopes. This scene extends down to the river, where several types of cottonwoods line the banks and large trout flourish.

The canyon’s terrain may seem like a challenge, but the national park is actually quite accessible. Two entrances, the north rim and south rim, give visitors different perspectives. But with its various nature trails and year-round accessibility, the southern rim is more developed. South Rim Road is the featured drive through the national park, but the Chasm View Nature Trail, Rim Rock Trail and Oak Flat Trail are also popular stops. Those looking for a more interactive visit can experience the park in several ways, including whitewater river kayaking, rock climbing, horseback riding and fishing.


The Race to Save California’s Oaks

by Susan Laszewski

The clock is ticking for oaks in northern California. The 2012 U.S. Forest Service aerial survey reveals that cases of sudden oak death (SOD) — caused by the pathogen p. ramorum — have increased tenfold in the last year. The disease is fatal for tanoaks and a number of oak species and also is damaging to other trees, including coastal redwoods.

Sudden Oak Death mortality of tanoak in Marin County, California

Sudden Oak Death mortality of tanoak in Marin County, California. Credit: USFS Region 5/Flickr

The first known incidents were in the 1990s in European nurseries, from which the disease spread into wild areas in the Netherlands and England. The first documented case on this side of the pond was in 2001. How exactly it got here is still unclear, but the aggressive rate at which it’s spreading is hard to miss. Last year, there were 38,000 new cases across 8,000 acres. This year? Nearly 376,000 cases across a whopping 54,000 acres. The pathogen thrives in the wet coastal tanoak and redwood rainforest and so far is confined mostly in northern California, with some pockets in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. However, the disease tends to crop up in nurseries, where the ideal conditions can be mimicked, creating potential for it to spread outside its current range.

So, what are the consequences if these oak die? A major change in species composition will affect ecosystem functioning in many ways. According to the California Oak Mortality Task Force, food sources for wildlife will be lost, water quality could decrease and wildfires could become more frequent and more intense. In addition, another alarming finding of the most recent survey is that SOD is becoming more common in urban areas as well, including a few confirmed cases in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. If the disease becomes common in the urban forest, it could affect neighborhoods’ air quality, water quality, housing prices and more.

As with many things, it seems the solution to preventing the spread of this horrible disease lies in communities coming together. The University of California-Berkley is spearheading community-based “SOD Blitzes” to educate citizens about SOD and get people involved in detecting and tracking the disease. These “citizen-scientist surveys” have helped to create a detailed map of the pathogen’s distribution, mainly by looking at the leaves of California bay laurels, p. ramorum‘s preferred host. If the pathogen can be detected before it spreads to oak trees, successful management may be possible. It’s a race against the clock.


Fighting for Clean Water

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Waterfall

Credit: Fred Hsu/Flickr

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA), which is the federal law governing water pollution in the U.S. The enactment of this act was fraught with peril, as it was passed by the Senate in November 1971 and by the House in March 1972 only to be vetoed by President Richard Nixon on Oct. 17, 1972. A day later, both the Senate and House would override Nixon’s veto, officially establishing CWA as the law of the land for protecting the integrity of our nation’s waterways. For the last 40 years, CWA has made significant headway in the fight against water pollution, but sadly, nearly half of all rivers, lakes and streams in the U.S. are still not swimmable or fishable.

Much of the CWA’s success has been in curtailing what’s known as point-source pollution, which is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “any single identifiable source of pollution from which pollutants are discharged, such as a pipe, ditch, ship or factory smokestack.” By setting up regulations on common point source polluters like factories and sewage treatment plants, water pollution from those sources has been greatly reduced. However, there’s still the issue of nonpoint-source pollution.

Nonpoint-source pollution has the wonky definition of anything not defined as point source. Basically, this amounts to pollution that is a result of water running over polluted land during snow melts or rainstorms. Nonpoint source pollution often includes fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, oil, grease and other toxic chemicals. In the past 30 years, there has been a threefold increase in nitrogen pollution from nonpoint agricultural sources entering the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Therefore, as the CWA moves into its next 40 years, American Forests is encouraging its governing body, the EPA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop plans and programs to address the nonpoint-source problem, especially because forests can play a crucial role. Researchers have found that for every 10 percent increase in forest cover in the source watershed, treatment and chemical costs decreased by approximately 20 percent.

Help us encourage the EPA and USDA to continue to improve the work of the CWA by visiting our Action Center and signing a pre-written letter about the CWA and its needed improvements that will be sent to the heads of the EPA and USDA.

Lewiston-Auburn, Maine

Lewiston-Auburn, Maine. (Left) Documerica photo by Charles Steinhacker from June 1973: The Androscoggin River flows between Lewiston (eastern shore) and Auburn (western shore). Lewiston is the state's foremost textile center. (Right) Same location in October 2012. Photo by Munroe Graham.


Hiking in the Hoyt

by Amanda Tai

Yesterday, I paid a visit to the Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, Oregon, and I want to share my experience and a few photos with you because I discovered that whether you’re an avid outdoorsman or a city dweller, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at the Hoyt Arboretum.

Foliage at Portland's Hoyt Arboretum

Foliage at Portland's Hoyt Arboretum. Credit: Amanda Tai

After stopping by the visitor center to grab a map, I was ready to hit the trails. I started out on the Redwood Trail, which features rich groves of redwoods and sequoias.

After stopping by the visitor center to grab a map, I was ready to hit the trails. I started out on the Redwood Trail, which features rich groves of redwoods and sequoias. Credit: Amanda Tai

From the Redwood Deck, I was able to get a 360-degree view of these gigantic trees. It’s quite a peaceful and humbling experience.

From the Redwood Deck, I was able to get a 360-degree view of these gigantic trees. It’s quite a peaceful and humbling experience. Credit: Amanda Tai

From the Redwood Trail, I veered off onto the Bristlecone Pine Trail, where I saw something I later found out is called the Chilean Monkey Puzzle Tree. Its name comes from the unique structure of its leaves and branches, which would present a challenge to a monkey trying to climb it. As you can see in the picture above, it has an unusual spiky appearance that looks like aloe vera leaves.

From the Redwood Trail, I veered off onto the Bristlecone Pine Trail, where I saw something I later found out is called the Chilean Monkey Puzzle Tree. Its name comes from the unique structure of its leaves and branches, which would present a challenge to a monkey trying to climb it. As you can see in the picture above, it has an unusual spiky appearance that looks like aloe vera leaves. Credit: Amanda Tai