Help for Witness Trees

by Susan Laszewski
Hemlock grove at the Flight 93 National Memorial

Hemlock grove at the Flight 93 National Memorial.
Credit: James O’Guinn

Trees stand witness to many significant historical moments, often taking on a symbolism of resilience and hope. The witness trees that stand at the Flight 93 National Memorial are such trees. Managed by the National Park Service, this grove of hemlocks is the spot into which Flight 93 crashed on September 11, 2001, when crew and passengers aboard the aircraft thwarted al-Qaeda hijackers’ attempt to crash the plane into the U.S. Capitol Building.

hemlock woolly adelgid

Hemlock woolly adelgid egg sacs. Credit: Sloan Poe

Now, those trees that stood witness to a tragic occasion and have come to stand in memoriam to the brave crew and passengers of Flight 93 are under siege by an invasive insect. Hemlock woolly adelgid, most easily spotted by its white egg sacs, is currently present in about half of the Eastern hemlock’s range, in states from Georgia to Maine, and could spread further north.

The National Park Service announced last week that they are taking action to try to prevent the further spread of the insect among the witness trees. The project will include several methods of treatment, including soil-buried tablets, soil injection, tree injection, bark spray and horticultural oil spray. Many young seedlings and saplings and 1,351 mature trees will undergo treatment.

Learn more about the witness trees and Flight 93 National Memorial at the National Park Service website. To learn more about hemlock woolly adelgid, read the American Forests magazine feature, “The Last of the Giants,” by Will Blozan.

The People’s Tree

by American Forests

By Lisa Swann

The 88-foot Engelmann spruce selected as the 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree is
hoisted onto a flatbed truck, where it will be secured for the 5,000-foot journey
across the country. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

More than 300 people gathered recently in 25-degree weather to witness the harvesting of the 88-foot 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree from the Colville National Forest in northeastern Washington State, the first step in its 5,000 mile journey to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

It took more than a dozen equipment operators and spotters to place the tree into position on a Mack Truck. A few extra feet of trunk had to be cut to make it fit.

The Engelmann spruce — also known as white spruce, mountain spruce or silver spruce — is native to western North America and is mostly a high altitude mountain tree, growing at 900-3650 meters above sea level.

The Capitol Christmas tree is lit each year on the U.S. Capitol grounds by the Speaker of the House. It will hold nearly 10,000 lights, but will first make appearances during its trip in Ogden, Spanish Fork and St. George, Utah; Sedona and Flagstaff, Ariz.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Amarillo and Dallas, Texas; Little Rock, Ark,; Nashville, and Knoxville, Tenn.; Roanoke, Va.; Hagerstown, Md.; and Allentown, Penn. If you want to track the tree as it moves across the country, check out

The tree — known as the “People’s Tree” because it comes from public land — will arrive at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland on November 24th and will be paraded into Washington, D.C. the next day.

The Elf of Plants

by Loose Leaf Contributor

Credit: Tom Jutte

The mushroom is the elf of plants,
At evening it is not;
At morning in a truffled hut
It stops upon a spot

As if it tarried always;
And yet its whole career
Is shorter than a snake’s delay,
And fleeter than a tare.

‘T is vegetation’s juggler,
The germ of alibi;
Doth like a bubble antedate,
And like a bubble hie.

I feel as if the grass were pleased
To have it intermit;
The surreptitious scion
Of summer’s circumspect.

Had nature any outcast face,
Could she a son contemn,
Had nature an Iscariot,
That mushroom, — it is him.

-Emily Dickinson

From: The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Series Two. 1896. Boston, MA: Roberts Brothers.

Solutions that Bear Fruit

by American Forests

By Marcelene Sutter


Blueberries are just one of the many fruits that will be available for picking upon the completion of the Beacon Food Forest. Credit: Brandi Jordan

We can all agree that freshness matters in the taste of produce, whether you harbor fond memories of blueberry picking as children or frequent the farmer’s market in search of garden-fresh fruits. However, city-dwellers often do not have the opportunity to pick fresh fruit for themselves, but that will soon change for residents of Seattle, Washington. A 7-acre public plot in the working-class neighborhood of Beacon Hill is slated to become the largest urban food forest on U.S. public land. Currently, Friends of Beacon Food Forest, as the project has been dubbed, are working with $100,000 in seed money for the first phase of the project, a 1.75-acre test plot, scheduled to open by the end of the year. The forest will highlight fruit-bearing plants and visitors will be able to pick many fruits including apples, blueberries and plums.

The question of how to deal with visitors eager to take more than their fair share of the forest’s produce has been raised, and Glenn Herlihy, co-founder of the project, says that the only solution so far is to ensure that there is more than enough to go around. Herlihy’s primary concern right now is preparing the park for visitors and drawing residents of the diverse surrounding neighborhoods. Herlihy sees this as an opportunity for community-building, calling the Beacon Food Forest “a place where all ages and ethnicities can meet.” For the residents of this area, having a food forest would provide a sense of community as well as an important step forward in the realm of environmental justice.

Environmental justice is a little-known term for an important concept: the idea that all people have the right to the same basic rights, including fair distribution of negative environmental consequences. American Forests has addressed this idea with our Urban Forest Restoration Program, in conjunction with our friends at Alcoa Foundation, in Seattle’s West Duwamish Greenbelt area. The West Duwamish Greenbelt area, which is near Beacon Hill, experiences adverse effects from its proximity to one of the most polluted waterways in the country. More work still needs to be done across the country to ensure environmental justice for all citizens, but these projects are an important step forward.

Bleak Bear Behavior

by Susan Laszewski
polar bear

Polar bear. Credit: Gerard Van der Leun

Images like this one have come to represent the consequences of climate change. The polar bear has become a symbol of the difficulties facing many wildlife species as their habitat continues to change at such a rate that they are often unable to adapt. In the polar bear’s case, as sea ice disappears, they are increasingly facing difficulties finding food. Last week, we were reminded again of what this can mean for human communities as well.

While leaving a Halloween party, three people in the town of Churchill, Manitoba, on Hudson Bay were attacked by a polar bear. Two escaped unharmed, but the third was injured, as was a neighbor who came to their aid. The bear was later shot, as was another bear as a result of the incident — a mother with a cub. The cub was taken to a zoo.

Steven Amstrup, chief scientist at Polar Bears International, told the Guardian that, “We have predicted in no uncertain [terms] that as bears become hungrier as the sea ice absence period is longer, more and more of these animals are going to be venturing into communities, venturing into villages, raiding food caches, getting into garbage, and even attacking people. So we predict these kinds of events are going to be more frequent and more severe because of climate change.”

grizzly bear

Grizzly bear in Girdwood Alaska. Credit: Princess Lodges

I’m reminded once again that polar bears are not the only bears whose encounters with humans — dangerous to both human and bear — are on a track to increase due to climate change. As climate change has led to a population boom of mountain pine beetles in the North American West, grizzly bears have been facing a shortage of one of their favorite foods. As the beetles attack whitebark pine, the nutritious whitebark pine seeds are getting harder and harder to come by. Like polar bears, grizzlies are increasingly forced to venture toward towns and camps in search of food, increasing the potential for dangerous conflicts  with humans.

Yellowstone National Park spokesperson Al Nash told Reuters in September, “We are expecting an increase in human-bear encounters and we are reinforcing safety messages.”

At American Forests, we started our Endangered Western Forests initiative to protect and restore the whitebark pine for the entire ecosystem that depends on it — including the grizzly bears. Please help us protect an important food source for these creatures. Many species, including humans, are already feeling the consequences of their loss.

Trouble for English Forests

by American Forests

By Lisa Swann

If you’re a fan of “Downton Abbey” or “Monarch of the Glen,” then you know the importance of Great Britain’s forests. Useful not only to aristocratic landholders for income and fine hunting land, forests also provide beauty and health benefits and fight climate change for all.

brown hairstreak

The brown hairstreak butterfly is one of the species that stands to benefit from the American Forests and Alcoa Foundation Partnership for Trees project in Exeter, England. Credit: Ian A. Kirk

With forest land cover at only 10 percent in England (one of the smallest percentages of forest in Europe), a new plan to halt government grants to landowners for forests next year comes as a surprise. Earlier this year, the government announced plans to expand the country’s forest land by more than 12,000 acres per year. Stopping new grants to landowners while changes to the Common Agricultural Policy are being made will likely cut in half the number of trees planted next year, and reduce the number by two-thirds in 2015, when England could actually end up in a period of deforestation.

“By not realizing that this lack of funding could have a severe impact on how well we respond to tree disease in terms of planting to build resilient landscapes, the government is sleepwalking into an era where England’s woods may start to shrink,” said Hilary Allison, Woodland Trust Policy Director. Until now, the current rural woodland program has planted more than 30,000 acres of woodland.

American Forests is also planting in England. Partnering with Devon Wildlife Trust, Alcoa Foundation and American Forests are planting 1,000 trees across eight locations in Exeter, England, to improve the environment surrounding local schools and to create a wildlife corridor from currently fragmented woodland.

While experiencing a major period of urban growth, Exeter’s residents do not want that growth to come at the expense of wildlife or their urban forest. We’re planting a combination of up to 15 different tree species to provide food and habitat for a variety of Exeter wildlife, including native fruit-bearing trees that provide winter food for Arctic migrant birds and blackthorn for the brown hairstreak butterfly.

And that’s not the only work Alcoa Foundation and American Forests are doing in England. With partner Friends of Kingfisher Country Park, we are planting 200 trees in Birmingham’s Kingfisher Country Park, a popular local recreation area, for the benefit of all its visitors — human and wildlife, alike.

Short-term Thinking for Long Term Solutions

by American Forests

By Marcelene Sutter

Hurricane Sandy flooding in New York City

Hurricane Sandy flooding on Avenue C at East 6th Street in New York City, one example of the type of devastation made more common by climate change and the resulting extreme weather patterns. Credit: David Shankbone

From a young age, we are taught about the benefits of thinking ahead, but Lou Verchot, director of forests and environment research for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), says that scientists may be thinking too far ahead in the presentation of their climate change data. Most of the current climate change research focuses on the long term, presenting projections for the environmental landscape 70 to 100 years in the future, instead of data describing short-term change and present-day adaptations. Verchot explains that looking this far ahead with climate change can damage the viability of passing meaningful legislation. He contends that looking too far forward lets legislators off the hook, stating, “When you talk to a policy-maker about a 70-year time horizon, hypothetically they say, ‘Well, I have to get elected tomorrow, so I’ll focus on a problem that will be solvable in five years and let my successors worry about what will happen in 70 years.’”

As legislators review the recently released study from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Verchot worries that communities already facing the devastating effects of extreme weather will be neglected. Even though, as he says, “the trends that are important for policy-makers and land managers are at the five-, 10- or 20-year time horizon,” IPCC studies, like much of the research in the field, are more focused on climatic changes toward the end of the century, rather than in the present. Verchot will articulate these principles next week at the Global Landscapes Forum in Warsaw, which will hold forums on bringing together scientists from different disciplines and generating more short-term climate change data for the purpose of drafting and enacting more meaningful climate change legislation in a viable timeframe. With increased scientific collaboration, as well as the collection of data that represents present challenges to communities affected by extreme weather, policy makers would be presented with data that more accurately and convincingly outlines the threats to their constituents, hopefully prompting advocacy and swift action.

The Fire of Fall Colors

by Loose Leaf Contributor
Aspens in fall.

Aspens in fall. Credit: ™ Pacheco


In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The gray smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

-Robert Louis Stevenson, 1885

Bats: Out of the Witches’ Cauldron and Into the Fire

by Susan Laszewski

Double, double, toil and trouble!

The witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth threw several of our forest creatures into their witch’s brew:

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog

But this Halloween, some of these creatures have threats other than being mixed into a potion to worry about: disease. For the bat population, white nose syndrome (WNS) represents a fate scarier than any vampire attack or witch’s brew.

The big brown bat is one of the species of bat at risk of white nose syndrome.

The big brown bat is one of the species of bat at risk of white nose syndrome. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The fungal disease, named for the white fungus that appears on the bat’s nose, ears, wings or tail, causes strange behavior in bats. They may leave their cozy hibernation spot and fly outside during the day in the cold winter months. Often, affected bats may cluster near the entrance of the cave.

WNS has already cost the lives of around 6 million bats in eastern North America. If we lose these creatures, we’re losing much more than beloved symbols of Halloween. Bats play several very important ecological roles, including insect control.  A single, pregnant bat can eat as much as its own weight in insects in a single night. By consuming insects that are harmful to agriculture and forests, bats are estimated to be worth billions of dollars to the agricultural industry. Bats are also important pollinators and seed dispersers. When viewed in the context of declining bee populations, the combined threat to some of our major pollinators is concerning, indeed.

So, while there’s no need to fear bats this Halloween, there may be cause to fear their dwindling numbers as WNS continues. Scientists are still learning about the causes of WNS and how it is spread, but there is evidence that humans may play a role in spreading the disease — which has so far been shown to have no effect on people — when we enter the places where bats are hibernating. Even absent the disease, disturbing bats during hibernation is a big problem, as they will then waste some of the precious stored energy they need to survive the winter. Bats disturbed during hibernation may not make it to the spring.

Learn more about white nose syndrome and how you can help at

And have a Happy Halloween!


Bats. Credit: Stuart Anthony

Timber Takes a Hit

by American Forests

By Marcelene Sutter

A forest road in Siberia

A forest road in Siberia, where trees are under siege by illegal loggers fueled by the Russian network of organized crime. Credit: Mikhail Koninin

In the dense forests that cover about half of Russia, the global leader in log exportation, trouble is brewing. Here, these trees are threatened by a dangerous manifestation of greed — organized crime. The timber of Russian trees is in such high demand that thieves have no problem selling illegally logged wood, resulting in what Russian President Vladimir Putin has called a nearly 70 percent increase in illegal logging over the past five years.

Beyond rampant corruption and organized crime, illegal logging carries with it another serious threat: The oak and walnut trees targeted by illegal loggers for their value in flooring and furniture are the same species that make up the forest habitats of the endangered Siberian tiger. The deer and wild boar that make up much of the tiger’s diet feed on walnuts from these trees. Only about 450 of these beautiful tigers are still living in the wild, and this small number is severely threatened by loss of habitat. Some of this timber is stolen from these forests without permits, but much is taken when those with proper permits cut more than they are allowed to, or cut down species not specified on their permits.

The Siberian tiger, whose habitat is threatened by rampant illegal logging in Russia

The Siberian tiger, whose habitat is threatened by rampant illegal logging in Russia. Credit: Jöshua Barnett

Looking into this problem, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), based in the United States, recently published a report that traces illegally cut wood to its source. The findings of this report indicate that much of the wood is funneled through China and then spread throughout the world. One alleged culprit of illegal logging distribution is Chinese-based company Xingja, a major supplier to Lumber Liquidators in the United States. The allegations brought forth by the EIA in this report could have serious repercussions for Lumber Liquidators because of the Lacey Act, which prevents American companies from purchasing illegally logged timber. Both Xingja and Lumber Liquidators deny the claims in the EIA report, with Tom Sullivan, CEO of Lumber Liquidators stating that, “If we had any knowledge of any mill of ours buying from an illegal source or a non-sustainable source, we immediately would not buy from them. We are extremely pro-active in making sure that all our materials are from legal and sustainable sources.” Lumber Liquidators says that it is fully cooperating with the investigation.

At American Forests, we realize how illegal logging and deforestation can negatively impact endangered species, which is why we participated in habitat restoration for the Siberian tiger in Russia in conjunction with the Far Eastern Branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography, the Russian Academy of the Sciences, and the Russian Federal Forest Service. To learn about this and any of our other Global ReLeaf campaigns, visit the Global ReLeaf main page on our website.