105 Years of Zion National Park

by American Forests

By Lisa Swann

Zion National Park

Zion National Park. Credit: National Park Service

Zion National Park in southwestern Utah is celebrating its 105th anniversary tomorrow, and there is a lot to celebrate! With deep, sandstone canyons, pinyon-juniper and conifer woodlands, hanging gardens and waterfalls, the park is a delight to visitors. Some 207 types of birds can be found in the park. This rich tapestry of habitats and species make it one of the most visited sites in Utah.

The park includes Horse Ranch Mountain, at 8,726 feet and desert, riparian and woodland communities and neighbors the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin and the Rocky Mountains. One of the more unique features within Zion National Park’s 229 square miles is a series of narrow sandstone canyons.

More than 1,000 species of plants can be found in the park, from tall cottonwoods growing along the river to towering pines and firs shading the higher elevations. Some plants in the park, such as prickly pears, cholla and yucca are adapted to the desert climate. In the hanging gardens, one can find colorful Zion shooting-stars, scarlet monkey flowers, and Western and golden columbines.

A variety of wildlife find food, shelter and nesting places in Zion. From the Endangered Species list, California condors fly above the cliffs of the park. Zion’s canyons are also home to the highest density of the threatened Mexican spotted owl — a species whose habitat American Forest has been restoring in New Mexico through our Trigo Reforestation Global ReLeaf project. But that’s not all. The park is home to approximately 67 species of mammals, 29 species of reptiles, seven species of amphibians, and nine species of fish. For all their sakes, we wish Zion National Park a very happy birthday.

Trout in Trouble

by American Forests

By Marcelene Sutter

Fishing is a fond memory for many of us, whether you spent childhood summers fishing with friends, or enjoy bonding with your children or grandchildren on fishing trips. Fishing for many in the American West means one thing: trout. The trout is iconic in this region, especially in Montana, where the cutthroat trout is the official state fish. The trout, native to the American West and prized by fisherman for its mild, earthy taste and by state governments for the income it generates (about $250 million per year in Montana alone), finds itself seriously threatened by climate change.

Cutthroat trout, the state fish of Montana. Credit: USFWS Mountain Prairie.

Climate change has not only warmed the water in the streams where the trout lives, but also caused droughts and reduced snow in the winter, negatively affecting water flow in the spring, making it harder for trout to move. In order to better understand the specific effects that climate change is having on trout in the west, scientists are using electric currents to catch and, subsequently, track the cutthroat trout, native to the northern Rockies region of Montana, with small transmitters known as pit tags. Brad Shepard of the Wildlife Conservation Society explains that the electric current is used as an attraction device to make the fish easier to net, telling NPR that the current “actually draws fish.” Scientists catch the fish, insert the trackers and release the trout back into the streams, beginning a years-long tracking process. Finding these trackers sometimes takes scientists off the beaten track; they have been found anywhere from marten dens to the freezers of local fishermen. Scientists are looking to follow the lives of these fish, determining growth and mortality rates, as well as time and cause of death. This data is collected and analyzed to determine any correlation to changes in stream flow and water temperature, to see if these factors affect the trout in a significant way. These factors really affect the trout, cueing “when they spawn, when they hatch, when they emerge, when they come out, how fast they grow, where they go,” as Shepard tells NPR. “But as you shift things in one direction, you can, in fact, lose part of the population.”

It will take time to fully understand the effects that lessened stream flow and higher water temperature have on cutthroat trout, but early emerging trends suggest that non-native fish, such as the rainbow trout, are moving further upstream, which previously was too cold for that species, into the cutthroat trout’s range. As the two trout species mix, rapid hybridization occurs, resulting in a marked decrease in trout fitness. This new, weaker trout becomes prey for fish, such as bass, which are moving into trout habitat that was once too cold for them. Climate change poses and new and serious threat to this iconic fish of the American West, and measures must be taken now, at the first sign of trouble to ensure its survival.

Lessons Learned: The Need for Future Research on Urban Forests

by American Forests

By Maria Harwood

National Academy of Sciences

At the National Academy of Sciences. Credit: Amber Case

Earlier this year, our director of Urban Forest Programs, Melinda Housholder, attended a workshop hosted by the National Academy of Sciences titled “Urban Forestry: Toward an Ecosystem Services Research Agenda” and blogged about a few of the presentations she was able to attend.

Recently, the workshop summary was published online, free to download as a PDF, detailing not only the individual presentations, but also the necessary next steps to further our understanding of urban forests and their associated ecosystem benefits.

It was determined that the key mechanisms behind ecosystem functions need to continue to be explored, so we can develop a more in-depth understanding of the role urban forests play within an urban ecosystem. Currently, the state of our research on the topic is quite limited and does not fully allow blanket statements about the ecological benefits of urban trees to be extended across varied landscapes.

Our expanding knowledge of urban forests must address these gaps in order to demonstrate the value of urban tree plantings as a tool in attaining state air and water quality goals. Similarly, proponents of implementing green infrastructure to address stormwater management issues are advocating for legislation that will promote further research on the techniques, as well as encouraging the EPA to integrate green infrastructure technologies into their regulatory programs.

The need for future research on urban forests is great, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming. While key research has already been conducted to form the framework of our understanding of urban forest ecosystem services — including air and water quality, heat island mitigation, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration — we now need to take these lessons learned and continue expanding upon them to better maximize our understanding of our urban forests’ potential into the future.

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 capitolchristmastree.com.

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.