Forest Conservation and Local Communities

by American Forests

By Lizzie Wasilewska

In addition to the ongoing work of environmental researchers, sometimes the knowledge provided by local populations is just as crucial for the conservation of forests. For more than two decades, American Forests has worked with local partners to plant trees around the world through Global ReLeaf; we also encourage people to discover, register and celebrate champion trees in their region. Recently, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFR) has released a report that reaffirmed the importance of reaching out to local populations and gathering information about forests from them.


Sambas, West Kalimantan deforestation. Credit: netaholic13/Flickr

The CIFR researchers focused their study on the Malinau District of East Kalimantan Province in the Indonesian area of Borneo. Locals and outsiders recognize the toll that human development has taken here: The forest is still biologically diverse, but due to a decade of logging, mining and planation projects, it has degraded and fragmented. As a result, many local species — including the sun bear, tarsiers, slow loris, proboscis monkey, clouded leopard and orangutan — are threatened.

The researchers began their study by selecting individuals recognized by their communities as being knowledgeable about the forest. Typically, these were men who routinely

Proboscis monkey

Proboscis monkey. Credit: Russell Watkins

entered the forest to hunt and collect products. The selected participants then elaborated on the researchers’ maps of the region, providing crucial information about populations of endangered species. These local experts helped pinpoint wildlfie habitats and recounted their observations of the species’ behaviors.

This data proved invaluable for the CIFR’s time-sensitive research goals and efforts to save the forest from further destruction. In the conclusion of their study, the researchers write that “engaging local knowledge in biodiversity surveys can be not only cheap and practical, but also provide valuable support to achieve conservation outcomes,” and they encourage scientists to continue forging relationships with locals. Thanks to the knowledge these researchers gained from the Malunau community, they were able to develop forest conservation strategies faster and more effectively.

We have often found that local cooperation and education is one of the best ways to complete forest restoration work. In Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest, which was flooded due to Hurricane Irene, local volunteers and American Forests launched a project to reforest 41 acres with more than 7,000 trees. The new trees will improve living conditions for various species and filter the area’s water. This is one of many projects that has moved forward due to the dedication of local populations.

A Golden Design

by American Forests

By Marcelene Sutter

Golden Lion Tamarin

Golden lion tamarin, which is native to the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. Credit: Kevin Walsh

Who could say no to a face like that? Meet the golden lion tamarin, native to Brazil and so beloved by citizens there that it appears on the country’s currency. Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, or Mata Atlantica to locals, is the only place where these tiny primates can be found in the wild. Unfortunately, the rise of deforestation in the region poses a serious threat to the safety of this species. What was once an expansive ecosystem has shrunk from 500,000 square miles to less than 10,000 — and with it shrunk the tamarin population.

A concentrated effort to preserve this lion-maned tamarin began in the 1970s and focused mainly on breeding in captivity. By that point, there were fewer than 200 golden lion tamarins living in the wild. Through zoo breeding programs and other conservation programs, today, more than 1,700 golden lion tamarins live in patches of remaining forest, an improvement, but the problem is, if something doesn’t change in regard to habitat for these beloved monkeys, the entire conservation effort may still be for naught. There is no way to sustain this comeback without more available forests to facilitate population growth.

The Atlantic Forest in Brazil, home to the golden lion tamarin. Deforestation in this region has drastically reduced tamarin habitat, posing a great threat to the species. Credit: Barbara Eckstein

The Atlantic Forest in Brazil, home to the golden lion tamarin. Deforestation in this region has drastically reduced tamarin habitat, posing a great threat to the species. Credit: Barbara Eckstein

As it stands, deforestation in the region is not slowing, especially with the recent discovery of oil reserves north of the Atlantic Forest and the addition of two more lanes to the highway that cuts through the area. This has created another problem: On top of shrinking forest areas, what is left for the monkeys has become extremely fragmented. The still-recovering tamarin population is now separated into isolated remaining forest areas, a detriment to their genetic diversity.

One conservationist’s proposed solution to this problem of fragmentation is a bit unorthodox: Luis Paulo Ferraz, leader of the Golden Lion Tamarin Association, aims to construct a bridge over the highway for the tamarins. This bridge would need to be structurally sound enough not to be disrupted by the trucks below and would also need to be covered to provide the crossing tamarin with protection from predatory birds. Ferraz’s group, along with its American partner, Save the Golden Lion Tamarin, have been working together on ground-level models of this project within a golden lion tamarin reserve for years. In fact, as of December 2012, more than 68,000 acres of forest are connected by these planted corridors.

American Forests recognizes the importance of protecting endangered species in Brazil, which is why we’ve participated in tree plantings at three separate sites in the Atlantic Forest, for a total of 24,860 trees. This and a multitude of other projects for endangered species have been accomplished over the years through our Global ReLeaf program. For instance, currently, the orangutan population in the Dolok Sibual Buali Nature Reserve in Indonesia faces challenges similar to those of the golden lion tamarin, which is why American Forests and the Sumatra Rainforest Institute (SRI) are reforesting 140 acres of degraded Sumatran orangutan habitat in the Batang Toru forest. To learn more about orangutan habitat resoration or any of our 2013 Global ReLeaf projects, visit the Global ReLeaf area of our website.

Getting Our Hands Dirty

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyo.

Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyo. Credit: khasut/Flickr

If you’re a regular reader here on Loose Leaf, you know that our forests and ecosystems, while very good self-regulators, sometimes need a helping hand — and a helping hand is what they’re going to get en masse tomorrow.

Tomorrow is National Public Lands Day, the largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands each year. On this, the 20th anniversary of the event, more than 2,000 projects are registered across the country. And it just so happens that American Forests is going to be out there doing our part, too.

First, we’re co-hosting a volunteer tree planting in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest. This event is taking volunteers to the Moccasin Basin area to plant 1,000 whitebark pine seedlings in an area damaged by the Hardscrabble Fire. This project is part of both our Endangered Western Forests initiative, which is working to research, restore and protect whitebark pine in the Mountain West, and our Global ReLeaf forest restoration program. This year, we’re planting 11,000 whitebark pine in Bridger-Teton National Forest to help restore the keystone species to the landscape.

Asbury Park, N.J.

Asbury Park, N.J., August 2013. Credit: Melinda Housholder/American Forests

On the East Coast, we’re going to be at work in New Jersey’s Asbury Park, where we’re planting 40 trees along streets and other lands in the 1.6-square-mile community. The planting is part of our Community ReLeaf program, which is dedicated to assessment, restoration and education about urban forests. This planting is just the first of many restoration activities that will occur in Asbury Park this year as part of Community ReLeaf.

As you can tell from the diversity of our two events, public lands encompass a major part of our lives — from urban oases to national forests, from local gardens to wildlife refuges, from state to national parks. And days like tomorrow are important to maintaining their health and vitality. Days like tomorrow are the days we at American Forests love the most, too: The days we all come together to celebrate the natural world.

Today, sadly, marks the end of my adventure as co-editor of Loose Leaf and regular blogger, as I am moving onto new horizons. I have greatly enjoyed getting to discuss a variety of environmental topics with our readers over the last two years, and I am comforted knowing that I’m leaving you all in the capable hands of our current blogging team. Best wishes, Michelle

Following in the Footsteps of Johnny Appleseed

by Susan Laszewski

Ripening crabapples. Credit: Kelcy Vogel

On this day, 239 years ago, John Chapman was born and would go on to change the American landscape and help to instill a certain fruit with national symbolism. Most know him better as Johnny Appleseed.

Folklore paints Johnny Appleseed as having walked across the country scattering apple seeds in the wilderness along his way. In fact, his plantings were more deliberate than that. Knowing how important apples were to settlers for making hard apple cider, he planted nurseries along the frontier, so that once settlers arrived, the trees they would need were ready.

At American Forests, we know that fruit-bearing trees continue to be important resources to communities around the globe. So, in honor of John Chapman’s birthday, let’s revisit some of our recent Global ReLeaf projects that planted fruit-bearing trees.


Global ReLeaf planting in Ica, Peru.

  1. Reforestation of the Peruvian Coastal Belt, 2009-2011

    For this project, we partnered with Trees for Cities and the Association for Children and the Environment in Ica, Peru, to plant 10,000 trees and give local children a hands-on learning experience about the amazing huarango tree. In addition to providing fruit, this amazing tree can capture nine liters of water in its canopy each night, making it an important resource for battling desertification in area. It also enriches poor soils, providing natural fertilizer in which the children participating in the project planted their own vegetable gardens, following in the footsteps of John Chapman.

  2. Growing Tree Businesses Project, 2011

    American Forests partnered with Tree Aid and a number of local Ghanaian groups, with support from Origins, to plant 15,166 trees in 10 northern Ghanaian villages vulnerable to drought and floods. The project focused on trees from which the local communities could harvest non-timber forest products, including citrus and mangoes. The project also provided participants with training surrounding tree maintenance, resource management and more, increasing food security for 955 rural entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur himself, I think Johnny Appleseed would have approved of the forest-friendly business practices.

  3. Planting Trees, Planting Hope in Rural Honduras, 2011

    Together with long-time partner Sustainable Harvest International, American Forests reforested 90 acres with 25,000 trees in Honduras to restore a watershed that had been damaged by slash-and-burn agricultural practices and to provide fruit trees to help feed the local community — although not with alcohol as John Chapman did. Along with the tree planting, Sustainable Harvest International provides training to local farmers in sustainable practices, helping communities move away from destructive slash-and-burn practices.

Celebrate Johnny Appleseed’s birthday with us. Learn more about our Global ReLeaf projects or support our work.

Sequoia National Park Celebrates Its Birthday Today

by American Forests

By Lizzie Wasilewska

Sequoia National Park, which celebrates its 123rd birthday today, is home to three national champion big trees. These trees occupy a remarkable forest that contains more than 8,000 sequoia trees, some of which can reach the height of a 26-story building, with base diameters wider than an average city street.

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park. Credit: Rene Rivers

Among the national champion big trees in Sequoia National Park are a piute cypress, a California fremontia and the renowned Giant Sequoia known as General Sherman, which is often considered the largest tree in the world. This tree is just one of record breakers in California’s Sequioia National Park: The park also contains the summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states, and the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park has the country’s deepest canyon — its namesake, Kings Canyon. These attractions are popular with visitors, who can explore a variety of trails throughout the wilderness.

Hikers are not the only visitors who have been attracted to the park’s forests. It is the second oldest national park in the U.S., and researchers continue to carefully study its artifacts and cultures with the number of recorded historical sites in its territory growing each year. Over the centuries, it has been home to several cultures, including the Western Mono, the Foothills Yokuts and the Tubatulabal. For many years, its resources also appealed to trappers, sheepherders, miners and loggers.

Luckily, its designation as a national park in 1890 prevented humans from depleting its resources. In the Giant Forest, which is one of the largest sequoia groves in the park, all commercial activity has been removed, and about 70 years ago, thanks to the efforts of then-park superintendent Colonel John Roberts White, 282 buildings were demolished, and the health of 231 acres was restored.

The sequoia trees in the Giant Forest, some of which can live for up to 2,000 years, are living documents of this park’s history. Combined with several other tree species, including three of the top 10 oldest tree species in the world, these sequoias make up a landscape that is renowned for its beauty and diversity.

H.R. 1526: Limiting Judicial Review of Forest Management

by Alison Share, Environmental Public Policy Associate, Crowell & Moring LLP
Logging truck in Rogue River National Forest.

Logging truck in the middle of Rogue River National Forest. Diamond Lake Highway, near Crater Lake, Ore. Credit: Terry MacVey

These days, much of the oxygen in Washington is being consumed by speculation about whether Congress will be able to pass a continuing resolution in time to avoid a federal government shut down on October 1. But contrary to what you may hear, read or see on the news, Congress is still working and passing other bills; last Friday, the House passed an important bill that addresses logging and wildfire management in national forests.

H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, passed 244-173 with 17 Democrats voting to support the measure and only one Republican voting in opposition. Proponents of the bill argue that over the next decade, it will create more than 200,000 jobs and save nearly $400 million. Opponents, which include both the White House and environmental groups, criticize the bill’s limited environmental reviews and its delegation of federal forest management to states.

Even though only small pieces of the H.R. 1526 pie will likely see the light of the Senate floor, one of the most attention-grabbing provisions concerns the current amount of timber sales. The bill places statutory requirements on the board feet of timber to be harvested annually, doubling the current amount. And although increased logging in national forests can create headlines, one concerning aspect of the bill, especially in terms of environmental policy, is the manner in which this increase is accomplished.

The bill explicitly designates sections of national forests as “forest reserve revenue areas,” designed for the purpose of logging and revenue generation for specific, mainly western, counties. Timber harvesting projects within these forest reserve revenue areas, however, are exempt from judicial review that is otherwise required under several key environmental statutes, including:

  1. Timber salvage projects within these revenue areas are exempt from judicial review.
  2. Decisions on logging and other projects by the secretary of agriculture are not subject to injunctions or restraining orders based on any procedural requirement violation.
  3. Project review otherwise required under the Endangered Species Act is limited.
  4. And, because it all really does come back to the National Environmental Policy Act, H.R. 1526 drastically curtails environmental review of a proposed project within these revenue areas.

In a recent statement, the White House expressed its opposition to H.R. 1526 as legislation that not only would harm the long-term management strategy of national forest lands, but also directly conflicts with existing statutory requirements. That said, many members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle and in both the Senate and the House, support the idea of increasing timber harvests on national forest land. As the recent wildfire in Yosemite tragically demonstrated, years of fire suppression policies have left forests too vulnerable to large and uncontrollable fires. Senator Wyden (D-OR) has expressed his support for legislation that will increase logging on national forest lands and is expected to introduce his own proposal concerning national forest land use.

But while many have expressed support for increasing timber quotas, for both revenue generation and forest management, other observers say this should not be at the expense of environmental and judicial review and that limiting environmental and judicial review, while expedient in terms of approving projects, is short-sighted for the long-term care of our national forests. It’s a classic example of the difficult trade-offs that occur in formulating a national resources policy.

Celebrating Grey Towers

by American Forests

By Marcelene Sutter

Gifford Pinchot, first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Gifford Pinchot, first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Credit: Materialscientist/Wikimedia Commons

Tomorrow, our friend and partner, the Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Founder Gifford Bryce Pinchot, a former vice president of American Forests and a contributing author to our magazine, is often called the father of American conservation for his innovations in the field and dedication to the protection and management of American forests.

President Kennedy with Dr. and Mrs. Pinchot at the Finger Bowl where historic conversations were held.

President Kennedy with Dr. and Mrs. Pinchot at the Finger Bowl where historic conversations were held. Credit: U.S. Forest Service/Grey Towers National Historic Site

President John F. Kennedy, who gave a speech to dedicate the Pinchot Institute upon its opening on September 24, 1963, described the principles that the institute exemplified as, “action for which those who come after us will be grateful, for which will convert killers and spoilers into allies … .” Since 1961, when Pinchot set the ball in motion with his proposal that the Pinchot estate serve as an environmental education center for the American public, the Pinchot Institute has been dedicated to in-depth research on key environmental concerns.

Currently, the institute is conducting nonpartisan research on energy and climate concerns with the goal of positively affecting the future of conservation with the development of practical solutions to these challenges. Because of its access to prominent scholars in this field of study, the Pinchot Institute has proved an effective mechanism for the conversion of these conservation findings into legislation and policy changes that determine the management of our nation’s forests.

Grey Towers National Historic Site, Milford, Penn., home of Gifford Pinchot.

Grey Towers National Historic Site, Milford, Penn., home of Gifford Pinchot. Credit: Kristine Paulus

As President Kennedy also said in his dedication of the Pinchot Institute, “the fact of the matter is, this institute is needed more today, than at any time in our history.” With mounting environmental concerns, his statement remains true today for this vital organization, as well as for all conservancy organizations such as ours. This is why we at American Forests have made a commitment to action on policies that will protect and expand the presence of trees in America.

One of the issues that we are currently supporting is the Community Parks Revitalization Act, which is under consideration by the members of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. This legislation, if moved to the floor and passed, would focus on rehabilitating and expanding greenspace in urban areas, something that certainly aligns with the ideals of Pinchot. These urban recreation areas and the trees are desperately needed and would benefit the more than 80 percent of Americans who live in cities. To encourage the House Subcommittee to send the Community Parks Revitalization Act to the full committee, email our pre-written letter to the members of the subcommittee.

Tulip, Magnolia or Something Else?

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

National champion tuliptree yellow-poplar during the winter

National champion tuliptree yellow-poplar during the winter. Credit: Sheri Shannon/American Forests

The national champion tuliptree yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) in Chesapeake, Va., stands at 115 feet in height, with a trunk that is almost 30 feet around. All of which makes it pretty impressive, but maybe even more impressive is that its lineage could possibly date back to the Early Cretaceous period, meaning its ancestors shaded the dinosaurs!

In a new study published in American Journal of Botany, co-authors Dr. David Dilcher and Dr. Mikhail S. Romanov posit that the modern-day tuliptree descends from a plant named Archaeanthus and not the magnolia, as commonly thought. Using advanced technologies of light, scanning electron and polarizing microscopy, Drs. Dilcher and Romanov studied Archaeanthus fossil flowers and fruits first uncovered by Dr. Dilcher in 1975.

Artist's reconstruction of Archaeanthus

Artist’s reconstruction of Archaeanthus. Credit: Dr. David Dilcher

“We discovered features of the fruits and seeds, not previously detailed, that were more similar to those of the tuliptree line of evolution than to the magnolias,” Dr. Dilcher says in Indiana University’s press release on the study. “Thus, the beautiful tuliptree has a lineage that extends back to the age of the dinosaurs. It has a long, independent history separate from the magnolias and should be recognized as its own flowering plant family.”

Time will tell if the tuliptree remains in the magnolia family, as it is at present, or if this new research leads to a redefinition, but one thing is very clear: Tuliptree can grow to enormous heights, as evidenced by our national champion. But will the Virginia tree remain the national champion? All will be revealed with the release of the Fall 2013 National Register of Big Trees on October 4.

Charred Forests, Melting Snow

by Susan Laszewski
Credit: fortherock/Flickr

Credit: fortherock/Flickr

You know how when it’s really hot out, you’re better off leaving the black shirt in the closet and going for something lighter? Well, according to new research, forests are having a similar issue.

A study, conducted by Oregon State University researchers, funded by the National Science Foundation and published in Geophysical Research Letters, found that snowpack melts faster in forests which have been charred by wildfire. The researchers explain that as the charred particles are shed from the tree throughout the winter, they darken the snow, reducing its reflectivity.

How much of a difference could a few burned bits make? The researchers found a 40 percent decrease in the surface’s reflectivity, or “albedo,” and a 60 percent increase in solar radiation reaching the snow’s surface. At a test site 5,000 feet in elevation in Oregon’s Cascade Range, snowpack was found to disappear 23 days earlier due to the phenomenon. The shedding of charred particles after a burn will last at least two years and can last as long as 10, so these effects could be seen for multiple winters.

While fires are a natural part of these forest ecosystems, the situation today is compounded by an increase in the intensity of wildfires, as well as the expected increase in wildfire numbers due to climate change. In high elevations of the Rocky Mountains, such as those in the Greater Yellowstone Area, climate change has led to earlier snowmelt in other ways as well. As warming temperatures have allowed for a population boom of mountain pine beetles, the whitebark pine trees that provide the shade and soil stability that aid in retaining snowpack are dying, leading to earlier melting.

Earlier snowmelts have the potential to wreak a lot of havoc on communities. In addition to increased flooding, a faster snowmelt can also alter an area’s water supply. As spring runoff begins earlier, it may not last as late into the year. The study’s findings could help resource managers plan for fluctuations in water availability.

At American Forests, we advocate for sound policies to manage wildfire and the complications that are arising as the climate changes. We also launched our Endangered Western Forests initiative to address the challenges of the whitebark pine.

As study co-author Anne Nolin asks, “What does it mean for your water supply when headwater catchments burn, the snow melts faster and the spring runoff begins even earlier? It is a provocative question for resource managers.”

Helping Forests Face Climate Change

by American Forests

By Lizzie Wasilewska


Credit: Jaakko Paarvala

In its new guide, Climate Change Guidelines for Forest Managers, the Food and Agriculture Organization on the United Nations (FAO) discusses many ways of combating and thinking about the effects of climate change on forests. As Michelle emphasized in her recent blog entry about the SAFE Act, early efforts to prevent, rather than simply react to, the effects of climate change are crucial for the long-term health of forests. In its guide, FAO also highlights the importance of preemptively building up forests’ resistance to climate change.

The authors of the guide frame forest management strategies as globally significant, noting that forests are a key part of many ecosystems, economies and cultures. Forests act as a worldwide “carbon sink” that moderates the effects of fossil fuels, which means that forests’ deterioration can worsen the health of other ecosystems. And, with forest damage, there often comes damage to forest-dependent people as well. For example, up to five million women in West Africa earn most of their income by collecting and marketing nuts that they harvest from shea trees. The FAO guide highlights the importance of identifying and supporting communities like these, whose livelihoods would disappear if their forests disappeared.


Deforestation. Credit: Andrew Ashton

Forest managers and the public can also look in this guide for potential solutions to these issues. In order to help forest-dependent communities, the FAO suggests that forest managers encourage residents to invest in environmentally safe technologies like fuel-efficient stoves, which can lead to greater profits as well as healthier forests. They also recommend that forest managers grow more fire-resistant plants in forest ecosystems since the rate and strength of wildfires is projected to increase.

Of course, some of these things are easier said than done. As the authors of the guide say, “climate change impacts are cross-sectoral, which means that to prepare for them, coordination is needed among government agencies, NGOs and stakeholders in multiple sectors.” Luckily, if organizations like the FAO continue to publish strategies for dealing with climate change and legal measures like the SAFE Act move into action, the future of forests holds promise.