A Golden Day for New Mexico

by Susan Laszewski

Last Thursday was a good day for New Mexico.

On that day, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar dedicated the 559th and 560th units of the National Wildlife Refuge System, both in New Mexico.

Fall in the bosque.

Fall in the bosque. Credit: Frank Carey/Flickr

Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, meaning Valley of Gold, will indeed bring riches to New Mexico. These 390 acres are one of only a handful of urban national wildlife refuges in the country and the first in the Southwest. The refuge’s location just five miles from downtown Albuquerque puts it within a half hour’s drive of half of New Mexico’s population. From this prime location, Valle de Oro will provide opportunities for outdoor play and education for children and recreation for all ages. Considering that a full 38 percent of Americans were involved in wildlife-related recreation last year — and that they spent $145 billion dollars on it — it’s also expected the new refuge will be a boon for tourism in the area.

It goes without saying that humans aren’t the only ones who will benefit from the wildlife refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will work to restore the native bosque forest — an ecosystem rarely seen outside the dry Southwest. In this riparian ecosystem, cottonwoods, often called the “heart of the bosque” — a play on their heart-shaped leaves — provide critical habitat for more than 500 species, from desert cottontails and beavers to porcupines and coyotes. The bosque also serves as an important stopover for migrating birds such as snow geese and sandhill cranes. For more on New Mexico’s unique bosque ecosystem, check out the American Forests feature on Albuquerque’s forest.

Willow flycatcher.

Willow flycatcher. Credit: Bill Bouton/Flickr

Down the road, other woodland species, including threatened and endangered species like the southwestern willow flycatcher and the Mexican spotted owl, will benefit from the establishment of the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, more than 42,000 acres of land dedicated the same afternoon as Valle de Oro. Coupled with the recently established Sangre de Christo Conservation Area in Colorado, Rio Mora will create a wildlife corridor around five miles of the Mora River, ensuring protection for the Rio Mora watershed.

From natural riches to educational riches and economic riches, these wildlife refuges have the potential to bring great fortune to New Mexico. It’s a golden opportunity.


Yosemite’s Spokesman

by Julia Sullivan

Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park. Credit: Randy Le'Moine Photography/Flickr

One hundred and twenty-two years ago today, one of America’s most celebrated national parks came into being – Yosemite. Located in the central eastern portion of California and covering an area roughly the size of Rhode Island, this park boasts dramatic valleys, a protected grove of ancient sequoia trees, waterfalls coursing into Yosemite Valley, and hundreds upon hundreds of wildlife species. No wonder it draws in more than 4 million visitors every year!

Yosemite National Park’s landscapes and features have inspired awe and wonder in its beholders for centuries, but one man in particular was especially moved by its scenery. John Muir, revered by many as “the father of conservation,” played a critical role in the establishment of Yosemite National Park on October 1, 1890.

Muir first set foot in Yosemite in 1868 and – in a sense – never left. He settled nearby, working first as a shepherd and later at a sawmill, and wrote various articles for publication in newspapers across the country. Deeply attached to the area and with a burgeoning interest in preservation, he became a prolific writer and somewhat of a Yosemite spokesman.

In the 1880s, Muir focused his attention on areas surrounding the state-administered Yosemite Grant, which had been set aside in 1864, and threw himself into the preservationist role with great vigor. He was alarmed by livestock animals’ degradation of the delicate ecosystems of the High Sierras and sought to convey this threat to Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine. In 1889, he took Johnson to the park and impressed upon him the need to incorporate the area into a national park. After Johnson’s publication of Muir’s exposés, a bill emerged in Congress. It proposed creating a federally administered park surrounding the old Yosemite Grant, and it passed. The following year, Yosemite National Park was born.

He did not rest at this achievement, however. In 1903, Muir led President Theodore Roosevelt on a tour of Yosemite and lobbied for additional protections. Three years later, state authorities ceded the land under the Yosemite Grant to the federal government, thus completing the park.

Muir only truly lived in Yosemite for a few years, but his experience there left him forever changed. After discovering his calling in the California wilderness, he embarked on what would become a lifelong fight for preservation.


Celebrating Public Lands

by Alex Cimon
A group of young volunteers came to clean up Russell Lake in Savannah, Georgia during NPLD 2011

A group of young volunteers came to clean up Russell Lake in Savannah, Georgia during NPLD 2011. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District

Tomorrow, thousands of volunteers will recognize our diverse natural environments — and what they have done for us — through the 2012 National Public Lands Day (NPLD). This National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) program has taken off since 1994, when the first NPLD was held. That year, the program was supported by 700 volunteers at three sites. In 2011, more than 170,000 volunteers worked on 2,067 different sites in every state. And this year, both those numbers are expected to grow.

Each location offers a different opportunity for volunteers. The projects range from removing invasive vines and trees in Washington, D.C., parks to identifying and recording the diverse species of migratory birds and wildlife around Caesar Creek Lake in Ohio. Governors, mayors, and for the past three years the President of the United States, issue proclamations, through National Public Lands Day, urging their citizens to participate.

Besides the contributions of local sites, national parks also play a major role in NPLD. In addition to their individual volunteer efforts, such as maintaining a carriage road and trail for Maine’s Acadia National Park, many of these locations will also be waiving their daily fees for visitors. This gives the National Park Service an opportunity to educate the American public by making them aware of how important public lands are and what they can do to protect them. Education, along with building networks and supporting outdoor recreation, is one of the main goals of NEEF and why this day exists.

These goals have been accomplished with the help from partners, like long-time corporate sponsor, Toyota, and a diverse group of friends, such as the Boy Scouts, Audubon Society and even the North American Inter-Fraternity Council.

NPLD also pays homage to volunteers of the past. Each year, NPLD honors of the Civilian Conservation Corp’s “tree army,” which ran from 1933-1942. As one of the public relief programs under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the army was an effort to maintain the natural environment of America.

See what your community is doing for NPLD and what you can do to help at http://www.publiclandsday.org/.


Ascending Denali

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Here on Loose Leaf, we often focus our discussions on places where forests, trees, plants, animals, insects, etc. thrive — or should be thriving — but a special story caught my eye this week. One that takes us way up north to Alaska to altitudes not often experienced by men and women and where plants dare not roam.

Members of another Wounded Warrior mountain-climbing trek: the 2011 Combat Wounded Warriors Denali expedition

Members of another Wounded Warrior mountain-climbing trek: the 2011 Combat Wounded Warriors Denali expedition. Credit: 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard

Within Denali National Park & Preserve sits Denali, a mountain commonly known as Mt. McKinley. Denali, meaning “The High One,” is the tallest mountain peak in North America at 20,320 feet and a peak that experiences some of the severest weather in the world. During the 2011 climbing season, the average high temperature at 14,200 feet was less than 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Attempting to ascend to Denali’s summit is not for the frail or faint of heart. In the 2012 climbing season, of the 1,223 registered climbers who made the attempt, only 41 percent succeeded.

Those 1,223 individuals included five American veterans. But these weren’t just any former military members — these veterans that tackled Denali are Wounded Warriors: two double-leg amputees, two above-the-knee amputees and a wounded warrior with severe muscle damage in his legs. For those unfamiliar with Wounded Warriors, these are extraordinary individuals who have suffered severe injuries while serving in America’s military. In 11 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq almost 50,000 people have been injured, and it’s estimated that more than 1,600 limbs have been lost.

In taking on Denali, the five Wounded Warriors would face some nasty weather and icy terrain — and do so with prosthetics that no one could be sure would hold up under the pressure of such an extreme environment. How did these men fair on Denali’s wicked mountainside? Watch the video below to find out or read about their exploits in this Fairbanks News-Miner piece.


Last-Minute Action in Congress

by Amanda Tai

Credit: ttarasiuk/Flickr

November elections are only a few months away and members of Congress have already left Capitol Hill to hit the campaign trail in their home states. Early Saturday morning, the Senate passed a continuing resolution (CR) with a 62-30 vote, after the House passed the measure last week, which will keep the government up and running through March 27. Lawmakers will have sufficient time after the election to focus on passing a longer-term budget measure. The CR gives agencies a 0.6 percent across-the-board funding increase, which equates to $8 billion more than fiscal year 2012.

Some areas actually received additional increases, like wildfire suppression programs. An additional $800 million was directed toward wildfire suppression for the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service, which were not sufficiently funded in fiscal year 2012. As part of the Fire Suppression Funding Solutions Partner Caucus that submitted a letter to Congress requesting supplemental wildfire funding, American Forests is pleased to see this additional funding.

Credit: filar_williams/Flickr

This effort also allowed lawmakers to make pushes for their own campaigning capital. For example, Senator Jon Tester’s (D-MT) Sportsmen bill to boost hunting and angling opportunities on public lands passed a procedural vote in the Senate, making it a top priority when Congress returns. The bill also adds a conservation element for wetlands. A Senate subcommittee also announced a draft environmental spending measure. The bill funds the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of the Interior, and the EPA at $29.7 billion for fiscal year 2013; a 1.7 percent increase over current spending levels.

Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee leadership hope the draft serves as a guideline for Congress, when it returns from recess, for finalizing a fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill. The EPA would see significant boosts under the bill. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund in particular, which helps improve drinking and wastewater systems, would receive a $291 million increase over the president’s requested levels.

The measure also supports important programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would receive a 17 percent increase over current levels. Overall funding levels in the Interior Department — which oversees the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management — would remain around the same level. American Forests supports Congressional efforts that work to fund important federal programs for clean water, recreation, wildlife habitat restoration, and conservation work.


The Future of Fire

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

Dumping water onto the flames

Dumping water onto wildfire flames in Larimer County, CO. Credit: The National Guard

As summer winds down and we head into fall, there is still no relief in the West from the wildfires that rage in Washington, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon and Idaho. While the national news focuses on a presidential election only seven weeks away, the daily realities of ongoing wildfires fade from the 24-hour news cycle. But for those who live in the areas that are still burning — and for those who fight the fires themselves — wildfire season is far from over.

Two articles this past week bring some bad news, coupled with what could be considered a silver lining. First, the bad news. A nonprofit research organization, Climate Central, has released a report that discusses the increase in size and number of yearly wildfires, as well as the expected prevalence of these larger, longer and more sizable wildfires. The burn season itself is two and a half months longer than it was 40 years ago, while fires burn twice as much land area. Even just looking at the last decade, on Forest Service land alone, the average annual area burned exceeds two million acres.

The report says rising temperatures and increased drought are contributing to more and bigger wildfires. This change in climate, the report says, leads to the larger wildfire years that the West continues to experience. Unfortunately for all involved, if this proves true, a wildfire season like the current one could become the new normal. The report does not simply discuss climate change as a straight-line correlation between rising temperatures and more 100 degree days. Instead, the effect of warming, according to the authors, varies depending on elevation, latitude, the carbon feedback cycle and numerous other factors. Those who study wildfires have noted earlier and earlier snowmelt in the Rockies, ongoing and persistent drought and higher temperatures as just some of the factors that contribute to larger wildfires.

But even amongst these admittedly discouraging trends, there may be a small silver lining: wildfires bring money into the local community, at least in the short term. The University of Oregon’s Institute for a Sustainable Economy did a study on the economic impacts in communities affected by wildfires. The key findings included two main points: 1) employment and wages in affected communities increase during the time period of the wildfire and 2) many of these local communities — already subject to cyclical employment due to the nature of their economies — in the year following a wildfire can suffer from amplified volatility in employment, particularly in terms of tourism and natural resources.

The study demonstrates that while in the longer term, communities are more vulnerable to swings in seasonal employment post-fire, the short term may provide a critical economic boost to areas most directly impacted by the wildfire. Money spent by the Forest Service in suppressing fires plays a key role in the economics of the surrounding community, providing some of the increase in employment and wages. The longer-term impact of the Forest Service money, however, may benefit others outside of the local communities more. This is due, in part, to the need for both specialized equipment and specifically trained individuals that must be brought in from non-local areas, requiring the Forest Service to spend its funds outside the fire-affected communities.

None of this is to say that the short term gains can ever make up for what can be a devastating long term result, both environmentally and economically. But, as scientists continue to study the future of wildfire, gaining a better understanding of the economic impacts of wildfire may also assist in the continued evolution of how the U.S. copes with it.


Where the Giants Are

by Susan Laszewski

Giant sequoias

Giant sequoias. David J Laporte/Flickr

They are the largest living non-communal organisms on the planet. Some were alive when Confucius was born; some even when Ancient Rome was founded. They have stood rooted in place and thrived while fire raged around them. The giant sequoia is one of Earth’s most astounding treasures. And though they once covered North America, towering above even the tallest dinosaurs, today the western Sierra Nevadas are their only home.

Efforts to protect and preserve these keepers of history have been long and complex, but historically, September has been an auspicious month for giant sequoia trees.

On September 25, 1890, the first part of a battle for giant sequoia conservation that had already been waged for over a decade came to an end when a bill was signed ensuring protection for certain areas of the forest. Yet the struggle was far from over. The lands that became a national park that day were but a small part of the area that early conservationists hoped one day to protect, and a tiny percentage of the giant sequoia’s habitat. Some of the remaining lands, including those surrounding the famous Grant Grove, which had previously been cut off from other protected areas, were added to the park exactly one week later when a second mysterious bill — one whose author has never been identified — came to Congress in the last week of September and was signed into law on October 1. Kings Canyon did not gain national park status until 1940, forming the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks that visitors enjoy today.

Giant sequoias

Giant sequoias. bumeister1/Flickr

Still, between Sequoia & Kings Canyon and Yellowstone National Park, only about half of the giant sequoias were protected. Luckily, the national parks are not the only place where giant sequoias are protected today. In April 2000, President Bill Clinton created Giant Sequoia National Monument on lands within Sequoia National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service was tasked with drafting a management plan for the newly established national monument, but when the plan was completed two years later, several environmental groups, along with the California attorney general, found it lacking and challenged it in court. Judge Charles R. Breyer of the United States District Court for Northern California sided with them and the Forest Service was asked to begin again.

They went at it with renewed vigor. This time, the process took six years and a lot of input from the public. Finally, this year, another September victory was won for giant sequoias. The new management plan became official on September 4th, allowing more than 300,000 acres of forest to join those in the national parks as protected lands that will never be used as timber.

It’s difficult to pin down one day of the year to celebrate our giant sequoias and the advances that have been made over the years in protecting them for future generations. Some would say tomorrow, September 25, is the anniversary of the park; others would say it’s October 1. Some might say we were not truly able to celebrate until a few weeks ago when the management plan for Giant Sequoia National Monument was complete. Perhaps it’s better not to choose a day. It serves as a reminder that we should celebrate these herculean trees every day as well as a reminder that our work protecting forests is still not done.


Climbing Safely

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

This week’s International Society of Arboriculture’s 2012 True Professional of Arboriculture is looking out for trees and the people around them. Rob Springer is one of the first tree worker evaluators (a tree-climbing specialist) in the Mid-Atlantic ISA Chapter and is a TCIA-certified tree safety professional.

Rob Springer

Credit: Rob Springer/ISA

Rob Springer’s love of trees began in the Boy Scouts. A forester who led many of Springer’s troop’s camping trips often impressed Springer with his ability to identify trees even after having dropped their leaves in the winter.

Springer has had the opportunity to work on historic properties with very old trees. One project involved an original ash tree planted by George Washington along the bowling green at his home in Mount Vernon.

“I personally have always enjoyed southern red oaks for their beautiful canopy, and they are a joy to climb. I remember climbing trees at six or seven years old, sometimes falling out and having the breath knocked out of me. And to think I’m at a point in my life where I am a safety and training coordinator for Bartlett Tree Experts.”

Springer is recognized as a leading safety expert on arboriculture in Virginia, speaking and conducting workshops on safety. When Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA) adopted a tree-trimming standard to address the number of fatalities and accidents among tree workers, he had the opportunity to work with VOSHA to help them better understand the industry’s equipment and safe work practices.

“It’s one of the most comprehensive standards in the country,” explains Springer. “In the past, if there was a fatality, the only recourse was a logging standard or construction standard, which doesn’t deal specifically with our work in arboriculture.

Springer is even known to incorporate the use of melons into his safety talks with arborists, something he says he borrowed from Don Blair, a respected ISA member and safety expert.

“I was trying to make the point that hard hats really work,” says Springer. “I used an axe handle and hit the cantaloupe. It went flying over everyone in the front row. Then, I placed a hard hat on the second cantaloupe and struck it hard with the axe handle, not even a bruise on the cantaloupe. That first talk was nearly 20 years ago, and even today, I have guys who come up and talk to me about that. It had an effect because at that time, some weren’t wearing hard hats or safety glasses. After that demonstration, they started using them.”

“Safety happens one day at a time and one hour at a time. There’s a lot of risk to what we do, so we have to manage that risk. That’s part of what makes this work challenging and interesting. We do something that a lot of people can’t do and aren’t willing to do.” –ISA and Rob Springer

We hope you have enjoyed our profile of ISA’s True Professionals. In case you missed them, these are the other 2012 award winners: Tim Kastning, Bruce Kreitler, Bill Logan and Donald Lee Picker.


Biodiversity in Peril

by Susan Laszewski

Last Wednesday, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) released a new list of the 100 most critically endangered species. Forests are home to 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, so it comes as no surprise that many of these threatened species are forest dwellers.

Let’s take a look at a few species on the list and the ways in which they interact with their forest habitats.

    Greater bamboo lemur.

    Greater bamboo lemur. Credit: Leonora Enking/Flickr

  • Greater bamboo lemur

    The greater bamboo lemur is found only on the island of Madagascar. The IUCN’s list estimates that between 100 and 160 of these animals are living today, mainly within Ranomafana National Park. They are a specialized species: a full 98 percent of their diet consists of one just plant, giant bamboo. Consequently, they are unable to adapt well to changes in their environment, lacking flexibility in their food source. As the forests of Madagascar are lost to slash and burn agriculture and other threats, these primates face great danger. In addition to losing their food source, they are also losing the cover and safety of the forest. Bamboo is a low-energy food, meaning that the lemurs must spend much of their day eating and, like another animal with a low-energy diet — the sloth — lead a very sedentary lifestyle.

  • Dusky gopher frog

    Considered the most endangered frog in North America, the dusky gopher frog was until recently believed to live only in Glen’s Pond in Harrison County, Mississippi, within De Soto National Forest. Recently, a few more of these frogs were discovered in other nearby ponds — McCoy’s Pond and Mike’s Pond — but the Glen’s Pond population of 60 to 100 frogs is still believed to be the only one large enough for breeding. These dark, spotted frogs are very picky about their habitat, requiring the temporary, fish free ponds found in the sandy longleaf pine forests they call home. When not in the ponds, they live in other homes provided by the forest: the burrows of other small woodland animals and holes in stumps. They were once found from eastern Louisiana to Alabama, but less than two percent of the original forests they ranged remain today.

  • Javan rhinocerous.

    Javan rhinocerous. Credit: eikona/Flickr

  • Javan rhinoceros

    Deep in the rainforests of Indonesia and Vietnam live a small handful of Javan rhinos. In Indonesia, the Javan rhino lives only in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java. They have been protected there since 1931, but fewer than 100 are estimated to be alive today. In Vietnam, only 10 or so Javan rhinos remain and they are found within Cat Tien National Park. These colossal mammals love low-lying sites with lots of water and mud wallows.

  • Araripe manakin

    First documented as recently as 1998, only 800 or so of this brightly colored bird are estimated to be living today, none outside of a very small area in the Araripe National Forest of Brazil. They are threatened largely by destruction of their rainforest habitat, including the trees of the cordia genus whose fruit they eat and the other trees and shrubs where they live and build their nests in the lower and middle stories of the forest.

Madagascar, Mississippi, Indonesia, Brazil. These four species live far from each other, but the forests they call home have something in common. Did you notice? Due to destruction of large areas of their habitat, each of these animals is now found almost exclusively within small areas of nationally protected land. Protected lands do not exist in a vacuum, however. If we don’t take certain measures — protection of the water systems that affect these habitats, reforestation and enforcement of current protection laws, for instance — much of our planet’s biodiversity, including these four beautiful species, will be lost.


A Helping Hand for Wildlife

by Amanda Tai

Baby Gopher Tortoise. Credit: USFWS Southeast/Flickr

Without the help of a sign or fence, it can be hard to see exactly where public land ends and privately-owned land begins. Wildlife can’t seem to tell the difference either. To a bird, a tree is a tree, regardless of who owns the land. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), nearly two thirds of all threatened or endangered species are on private lands. That’s why it’s so important that there are programs to help protect critters that find shelter on private lands.

For example, the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) works with private landowners to help protect habitat on their property. WHIP is administered by NRCS and is authorized through the 2008 Farm Bill. The program offers incentives such as technical and financial assistance to landowners who voluntarily agree to use conservation practices that will restore wildlife habitat on their land. Sounds like a win-win situation!

This Sunday, even more good news was announced. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe and NRCS Chief Dave White unveiled a historic agreement between the agencies. Building upon the success of WHIP, a new partnership project called Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) will take action to improve the habitats of seven high priority at-risk and vulnerable game species:

New England Cottontail. Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region/Flickr

  • Lesser Prairie Chicken
  • New England Cottontail
  • Southwestern Willow Flycatcher
  • Greater Sage Grouse
  • Gopher Tortoise
  • Bog Turtle
  • Golden-Winged Warbler

Like WHIP, participating landowners will voluntarily agree to use appropriate conservation practices on their land in order to protect wildlife habitat. Thanks to the new partnership, WLFW will ensure that these working lands stay in production while also staying in accordance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Ashe notes that this new partnership shows that wildlife conservation efforts and working landscapes can both support and benefit each other. WLFW will give landowners peace of mind, knowing that their land will receive long-term protection and that they are helping to preserve wildlife habitat.

The FWS and NRCS plan to partner with several state and local entities to implement the project. American Forests is encouraged to see collaborative efforts like this new partnership that benefit both people and wildlife that depend on forests. Check out more of American Forests’ policy work on wildlife habitat.