Giant Growth Spurt

by Susan Laszewski

Redwoods. Credit: proper dave/Flickr

This week, there’s new insight into some of America’s favorite trees.

On Wednesday, a group of researchers from the University of California-Berkeley, Humboldt State University and the Marine Conservation Institute presented findings from a four-year study of coast redwoods at a symposium at Berkeley. By taking core samples from redwoods on 16 test plots, they have been able to determine a chronology as far back as the year 328 A.D.

One of their most interesting findings is that the redwoods have experienced an unprecedented growth spurt since the 1970s. The exact cause is still unknown, but signs point to several effects of climate change. The iconic trees have likely been helped by the extended growing season of a warmer climate and by the climate change-induced decrease in fog, which has allowed them to get more sun. Soak up the rays, redwoods!

Their research is scheduled to continue for 10 more years. What else could we learn? Humboldt State forestry professor Stephen Sillett tells the Save the Redwoods League that these first four years of the program represent “the golden age of redwood exploration.” The study of redwoods, sequoias and climate will help the researchers understand more about how to conserve these important forests. The trees may also have much to teach us about climate change. Ancient redwood forests store at least three times more carbon above ground than any other forests on Earth.

The majestic redwoods have stood the test of time over thousands of years — the researchers identified a new record-breaker for redwood age: a 2,520-year-old colossus — and their future chances look good. Of course, that’s not the case for all the organisms that share the ecosystem, including us. As Sillett tells the Los Angeles Times, “When it comes to climate change, I’m more worried about humans than I am about redwoods. I think they’re going to hold their own.”

Like big trees? Don’t limit yourself to the coast redwoods and giant sequoias. Check out the National Register of Big Trees to discover more gentle giants.

Fire in the Rockies

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

The 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyo., use a modular air firefighting system-equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft in support of the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colo. on June 27, 2012.

The 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyo., use a modular air firefighting system-equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft in support of the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colo. on June 27, 2012. Credit: Staff Sgt. Stephany D. Richards/U.S. Air Force

“Euro-American settlement and the 20th-century fire suppression practices drastically altered historic fire regimes, leading to excessive fuel accumulation and uncharacteristically severe wildfires in some areas and diminished flammability resulting from shifts to more fire-sensitive forest species in others,” writes retired forester Kevin C. Ryan, et al, in the August online edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The article goes on to describe the drastic ecological consequences of fire exclusion for a variety of U.S. landscapes — from southeastern pine savannas and woodlands to the drier forests of the West. The lack of fire in these landscapes has resulted in species shifts, diminished wildlife habitat and denser forests. In some instances, less wildfire has contributed to a perfect storm of forest threats.

This is the case in the Rocky Mountains. Like much of the rest of the country, the forests of these spectacular mountains were managed throughout much of the 1900s with an eye toward wildfire suppression, creating a forest with more understory than ever before. “What you end up with is densely spaced forest, where the trees are competing for nutrients. And therefore they’re susceptible to disease, they’re susceptible to insects, they’re susceptible to fires,” Saratoga Forest Management owner Clint Georg tells NPR. And these insects are turning out to be a major problem.

Millions of acres of Rocky Mountain forests are dead or dying from an epidemic of mountain pine beetles. A native pest to the region, this insect population has been on the rise and more active in recent years thanks to a warming climate. As the U.S. Forest Service’s Brian Ferebee explains to NPR, “The host beetles have just taken advantage of a combination of climate change, drought and the lack of vegetation treatment across the landscape and have really spread.” Adds the Wyoming State Forestry Division’s Josh Van Vlack, “The mountain pine beetle has attacked the lodgepole pine and the Ponderosa pine at a pretty much landscape scale.” With pine trees dying by the millions, the repercussions for the area’s wildlife, other tree and plant species, recreation and more could be severe.

The gray areas of this Wyoming forest are dead or dying trees.

The gray areas of this Wyoming forest are dead or dying trees. Credit: Jami Westerhold/American Forests

As a result, forest managers, scientists, researchers, government agencies, nonprofits and others are working tirelessly to try to help this endangered western landscape. Our Endangered Western Forests initiative is protecting and restoring damaged western forests and supporting continued research, while engaging local citizens and promoting strong forest management policies to save the Rocky Mountain pine forests by focusing on the forests of the Greater Yellowstone Area.

One silver lining — if there can be any of this alarming situation in the West — is a boom in jobs through sawmills. As NPR reports, many sawmills in Colorado and Wyoming are reopening after more than a decade of disuse to harvest and process the beetle-killed trees, whose wood is still strong enough to be used as lumber. By clearing out the dead trees, the harvesters are also creating a less dense forest, which could help natural regeneration of the fallen pines.

You can help these western forests, too! Donate now to the American Forests Endangered Western Forests initiative to support forest restoration, research and other efforts to support the Rocky Mountain forests.

A Fund Worth Fighting For

by Susan Laszewski
Mule ride at Grand Canyon National Park

Mule rides are an important part of Grand Canyon visitor experience. Credit: Grand Canyon National Park.

The next time you’re enjoying the great outdoors, take a moment to thank the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Given that this fund has protected land in every U.S. state — including such iconic recreation areas as Grand Canyon National Park — and supports more than 41,000 state and local park projects, chances are good there’s a park near you that has benefited from the program.

This important fund was created by Congress in 1965 in order for natural areas, historical sites and forests to be obtained and safely maintained for our national heritage and to provide recreational opportunities throughout the country. Recently, however, the LWCF has been facing threats of cuts. The worst of these include an attempt within a recent House Appropriations Committee bill proposal to eliminate funding to this vital conservation program altogether. Thankfully, this draft did not make it past the committee, but the LWCF is not out of the woods yet.

So, why the push to limit funding for this important program? The reductions have been proposed as a way to alleviate the national debt. Tough times call for tough measures, right? There’s just one problem with that line of reasoning: The LWCF isn’t funded by taxpayer dollars. It’s financed by revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters. Although the annual appropriation should be around $900 million from these offshore revenues, the appropriated funding has never come anywhere near that number as funds are repeatedly diverted to other areas.

Fly fishing in Yellowstone

Fly fishing in Yellowstone. Credit: IM_RON/Flickr

And that’s the main problem that LWCF is facing — reallocation of its funds for other conservation programs, especially for National Park Service backlog. The National Park Service has an ever increasing debt and badly needs funding for maintenance backlog. The LWCF would only help them acquire more land, which would seem to exacerbate maintenance problems. Or so the story goes, whereas in reality, more land will actually alleviate the visitor stress that some parks — like Oregon Caves National Monument — are under. Rather than reallocating from one to another, we want to see Congress work on ways to appropriately fund all of these vital conservation programs, such as through usage fees, permanent endowments or public/private fund matching projects.

Thankfully, the Senate appropriations have been much friendlier to conservation program funding. Senator Baucus (D-MT) has proposed a bill called the Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act of 2013 (S. 338) that would permanently protect this impactful program. With the role this fund plays in protecting our natural forested areas and providing safe recreational areas throughout the country and as a member of the LWCF Coalition, we hope that Congress will make more favorable decisions when they come back from recess.

But we don’t have to just sit back and hope. We can tell Congress how we feel. Write to the Senate to ask them to pass S. 338 to protect the LWCF and the forests and natural land that it safeguards. Get started with our pre-written letter.

To learn more about the LWCF, its history and what work we are doing to protect this program, please visit the LWCF Coalition website.

Grand Canyon National Park

View from the South Rim. Credit: Grand Canyon National Park.

More Than a Forest

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Cabinet Mountains from Bull River Road, Kootenai National Forest

Cabinet Mountains from Bull River Road, Kootenai National Forest. Credit: U.S. Forest Service Northern Region

It’s a land of Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, mountain hemlock, western redcedar, black cottonwood, quaking aspen and more. It’s 2.2 million acres of mountains, river valleys, hills, lakes and forest. Today, Kootenai National Forest celebrates its 107th anniversary of being part of the National Forest System — and we celebrate years of partnership with it.

Located along the border of northwest Montana and northeast Idaho, Kootenai National Forest contains breathtaking, glacial-formed landscapes. One of its crown jewels is the 94,000 acre Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, which has a history of big game hunting and mining, but has been protected as a “Primitive Area” since 1935 and as a wilderness area in 1964 with the passage of the National Wilderness Preservation Act. This area is so pristine that studies have shown that water from the Cabinet Mountains is among the top five percent of the purest water in the lower 48 states. The Cabinet Mountains aren’t the only area of interest in this national forest.

Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area, Kootenai National Forest

Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area, Kootenai National Forest. Credit: Robyn Fleming

Ten Lakes Scenic Area provides visitors with 89 miles of trails, taking you through alpine mountains and by high mountain lakes. It’s a popular spot for horseback riding, as no motorized vehicles are allowed in the 6,400 acres of Ten Lakes. And for the tree lovers — aren’t we all? — Kootenai boasts Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area, which is famous for the western redcedars that grow along the bank of the Ross Creek. This 100-acre grove has trees that date back more than 500 years.

Needless to say, Kootenai is a pretty spectacular place, which is why we’ve been helping to make sure it remains that way. Since 2006, we have planted more than 144,000 trees to restore various areas of this forest through our Global ReLeaf program. We’ve planted disease-resistant whitebark pine in order to help restore the population of the flagging keystone species for the benefit of the area’s wildlife, including the threatened grizzly bear, and we’ve conducting plantings in other areas to overturn the damage caused by additional pests, such as the Douglas-fir beetle, because we want to make sure Kootenai is around to celebrate many more anniversaries to come.

The Importance of Big, Old Trees

by American Forests Science Advisory Board

In the December 2012 issue of Science, American Forests Science Advisory Board member Dr. Jerry F. Franklin published an ecological study, “Global Decline in Large Old Trees,” with his colleagues Dr. David Lindenmayer and Dr. William Laurance. Dr. Franklin kindly sat down with American Forests staff members to discuss the study and the importance of big, old trees.

Old-growth hemlock within Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area of Bald Eagle State Forest, Penn.

Old-growth hemlock within Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area of Bald Eagle State Forest, Penn. Credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli

What exactly is a big, old tree? “Each forest has its own definition of what is large and what is old,” Dr. Franklin explains, “but we’re generally talking about trees that are over 150 years of age, and often, we’re talking about trees that are many centuries old.” And it’s this age, more than their size, that makes these trees so vital to the forests they call home.

“Big, old trees are not simply enlarged versions of young trees,” says Dr. Franklin. He says that this is the key point of the research and paper: to educate forest managers and the public on the impact that old trees have on an ecosystem’s health. One of these major impacts is on wildlife.

“Big, old trees have suffered the slings and arrows of climate, insects and diseases, and so they typically have a lot of features like cavities, which are really important from the standpoint of wildlife.” Various animals can use these cavities as living spaces. Dr. Franklin describes the struggles his co-author, Dr. Lindenmayer, is observing in Australia, where old trees are declining and younger trees simply don’t have the cavities to support wildlife. Unlike in North America, where woodpeckers can help form cavities in younger trees, Australia does not have any cavity-making wildlife. Only time and wear-and-tear can create these niches in the country’s trees.

Because of big, old trees’ irreplaceable role in forest health, Dr. Franklin believes strongly that we need to be developing forest plans to create diverse-aged canopies throughout our forests. “I’m really trying to get everybody to understand that we really need all elements, all stages of successional development of forests on our federal forest landscapes,” he says.

Related to this is developing forest policy that recognizes the importance of not just saving, but restoring old-growth trees and forests. “In this country, we really don’t have forest management policies that call for either retaining or restoring or maintaining populations of big, old trees [such as the ponderosa pine forests of the Pacific Northwest],” Dr. Franklin relates. “Now, in various parts of the National Forest System, we don’t log them anymore. … We save some old-growth forests. … But we don’t have a policy that says we recognize that the big, old trees are a structural element of our forests that we want to retain and restore where we’ve lost it because it’s important to the completeness of these ecosystems.”


Redwoods. Credit: Hawkoffire/Flickr

What would such policy look like in action? “Where we’ve got them, we keep them,” advises Dr. Franklin. “Where we don’t have them, but we have intermediate-aged stands, we manage some of those stands or some of the trees within the stands in a way that’s going to lead to the development of large, old trees.” Dr. Franklin cautions, though, that this isn’t about creating huge stands of old-growth-only forests: “You really need all stages of successional development of forests in our federal forest landscapes. … We need to be thinking about the early stages of succession, as well as the old stages.”

Dr. Franklin explains that the first step toward protecting and restoring big, old trees is getting people to recognize their importance: “Big, old trees aren’t just objects of oddities and objects of interest. We need to have populations of big, old trees present in much our forest landscape in order to provide the kinds of habitat that we need for a lot of our wildlife.”

It sounds simple enough, but one thing that more than 100 years of forest policy and advocacy work has taught us is that nothing is easy when it comes to policy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fight worth having. Thank you to Dr. Franklin for taking the time to chat with us. To read the complete Science article, “Global Decline in Large Old Trees,” visit

Birthday Bear Hugs

by Susan Laszewski

Smokey Bear is turning 69 today, and I have reason to believe it may his best birthday party yet. Why? Because there will be a lot more hugs to go around!

Smokey is taking a less authoritarian approach toward educating people about wildfire prevention these days. Rather than disapproving looks and stern warnings, he’s opting for positive reinforcement — in the form of hugs.

So, here’s a big birthday bear hug for the lovable Smokey, still encouraging personal responsibility in the forest after all these years!

Just remember: Although he’s a bear, the Smokey we all know and love is a park ranger, not a wild animal. Do not attempt to hug any other bears.

A Tree Like Any Other Tree

by Scott Maxham
Oak tree

Oak tree credit:Justin Kern

With roughly 30 percent of Earth’s land surface categorized as forestland, it can be quite the project to estimate how these trees are interacting with the planet. How much carbon are they taking in? How much water are they using and releasing into the air? How much oxygen are the trees producing? These questions are easy to answer if you’re looking at one particular tree in a specific location. When scientists must estimate how a whole stand of trees is interacting with the environment, though, it becomes tricky, but some recent research may help with that.

As reported by, researchers from the University of Arizona’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology have discovered that trees of different species often have similar infrastructure or branching systems despite their diverse outward appearances. Publishing their results in journal Ecology Letters, the scientists describe how they sampled various trees, coniferous and deciduous, with very different shapes — nine trees were researched in all — but the way in which the branches split is remarkably similar in all of the studied trees. In addition, they found that all of a trees branches combined equals the area of the trunk.

If this idea sounds familiar, it should. The observation that all trees share a similar branching pattern and have branches that when combined equal the size of the trunk was first suggested by Leonardo da Vinci 500 years ago, although theories why all trees share this universal design is still being debated and researched.

Young Tree

Young Tree Credit:Rosa Say

The implications of this new research are pretty significant according to the researchers, as it would allow one to measure just a few trees in order to determine the ecological function of the entire forest. Lead researcher Dr. Lisa Patrick Bentley tells, “This theory can be used to scale the size of plants to their function, such as amount of photosynthesis, water loss and respiration, especially in light of climate change. If you were to look at an entire forest and wanted to know how much carbon this forest puts out, our study supports the idea that you might only have to look at the properties of a few trees, representing the smallest and the largest, to figure this out.”

Now, of course, there are outliers, with Dr. Bentley relating that some aspects of the new theory need to be modified to incorporate species variations. But the research is an intriguing step toward being able to more accurately and quickly calculate the work forests are doing on our behalf.

From Tragedy to Beauty

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Trees don’t live forever.

It’s a shocking statement, I know, but beyond old age, trees combat destructive forces on a daily basis: insect, disease, development and weather. All of these things can create devastating losses or damage to trees, but some people are turning these negatives into positives — artistic positives.

A custom sliding barn door made by Wood From the Hood from reclaimed wood felled by a North Minneapolis tornado

A custom sliding barn door made by Wood From the Hood from reclaimed wood felled by a North Minneapolis tornado. Credit:

As reported by WCCO CBS 4 in Minnesota, a June thunderstorm toppled 3,000 trees in Minneapolis, a devastating blow to the city’s renowned urban forest, but what if these trees could find a new life? That’s the question Cindy and Rick Siewert asked themselves a few years ago when they had to cut down an ash tree in their yard. Thus, Wood From the Hood was born, a company specializing in using reclaimed wood to create “beautiful, high-quality wood products.” These products can range from furniture to cribbage boards; each item is unique and handcrafted from scratch, allowing the downed urban tree to find a new purpose. Rick tells WCCO, “It’s going to live on. It’s not going to contribute to the carbon footprint if we actually make something out of it.” Even better, it allows people to hold onto a special memory of a special tree: “There’s always a story behind the tree,” says Rick. The Siewerts aren’t the only ones finding new lives for trees, though.

Earlier this summer, in Davenport, Iowa, city arborist and forestry manager Chris Johnson transformed an eight-foot, downed limb from a cottonwood tree into a bench along one of the city’s recreational trials. The Quad-City Times reveals that this is just one example of Johnson’s wood utilization program. His crew makes downed trees into boards and benches to sell at a local farmers market and is also creating benches for some area bus stops. Johnson says that wood reutilization is “a growing trend, and it’s coming from the East. It stemmed from the emerald ash borer.” Speaking of tree-killing insects, a company in Montana, Bad Beetle, is turning a tragedy of losing 10,000 trees on the founder’s ranchland to mountain pine beetle into a unique opportunity: sustainable technology accessories.

A clock made from wood displaying the effects of the blue stain fungus

A clock made from wood displaying the effects of the blue stain fungus. Credit: Jenny Lazebnik

We’ve talked a lot about the devastation being wrought across the Rockies by the mountain pine beetle, but one detail that hasn’t come up yet is how it’s really a fungus being carried by the beetles that ultimately kills the trees. The blue stain fungus (Grosmannia clavigera) travels along with the mountain pine beetle, and once in a tree, its spores spread throughout the tree, eventually blocking the tree from properly circulating nutrients. This, in turn, kills the tree. The evidence of the infestation, though, is eerily beautiful, as the fungus — true to its name — creates a blueish-silver tint to the infected wood. And artists and entrepreneurs throughout the Rockies are using this unique, dead wood to create anew. The aforementioned Bad Beetle? It’s making wood cases for Apple products like iPads. The History of Colorado Museum used blue stain wood for its ceiling and some benches, while in Canada, they’re using this “denim pine” for flooring, siding and furniture and even for the roof of the 2010 Winter Olympics Speed Skating Oval.

But while we applaud all of these creative individuals for finding new life for trees, we love it when trees remain happy and healthy in their urban and rural forests. So help us protect our endangered western forests today or help support our other work.

Beetles Cultivating Disaster

by Susan Laszewski
Picking avocado

Picking avocado. Credit: Nathan Gibbs

Avocado lovers, beware. A study recently published in Fungal Genetics and Biology suggests a threat facing avocado crops in California and Florida could take a new turn.

Ambrosia beetles of the Euwallacea genus bore into avocado trees to farm Fusarium fungi, which they use to feed their young. It’s well-known that these fungi can damage and kill the infested tree, but the new study draws attention to an even more concerning possibility. If an ambrosia beetle cultivates its kind of Fusarium fungus in a tree that another beetle is using to cultivate a different Fusarium variety, those fungi could cross and create new, more dangerous strands.

Ambrosia beetle

Ambrosia beetle of the Euwallacea genus. Credit: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural resources,

It’s certainly a concern, considering that the invasive ambrosia beetle is currently undergoing a population boom. “Over the past four or five years, ambrosia beetles seem to be really out of control,” says David Geiser, plant pathologist at Pennsylvania State University and co-author of the study in a Pennsylvania State University press release. That’s because the beetles are hitching rides on wood cargo pallets shipped around the world.

Adult Asian longhorned beetle

Adult Asian longhorned beetle. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Wait a minute! This sounds familiar: It’s the same way the invasive Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), which is threatening northeastern forests and the maple industry, arrived from China. It’s also likely how the emerald ash borer (EAB) — which is decimating the Midwest’s ash trees as we speak — arrived here.

So what can we do? Last Thursday kicked off Tree Check Month. Take a moment to learn the signs of ALB and who to call in your local area if you spot some.

And don’t forget how pests like these got here in the first place. Transportation of invasive beetles on wood doesn’t only occur over oceans. It can also occur from campsite to campsite. Remember not to move firewood. Our avocados, ash trees and maple sweets could depend on it.

The Cannabis Conundrum Continues

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

If you had told me two years ago when I started at American Forests that I would have a series on our soon-to-launch blog about marijuana, I definitely would have had a big laugh, but as it turns out, pot is no laughing matter when it comes to the health of forest ecosystems. While the federal debate over the legalization of marijuana continues to rage, an increasing number of reports are emerging about the harmful effects that the illegal cultivation of marijuana is wreaking on forest landscapes.

Chemicals and trash found at illegal marijuana grow site in California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Chemicals and trash found at illegal marijuana grow site in California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Credit: USFS Region 5

A western fisher, a species being threatened by the use of rat poison for illegal marijuana farms

A western fisher, a species being threatened by the use of rat poison for illegal marijuana farms. Credit: USDA

Last November, I discussed California’s struggles to environmentally regulate a crop that is legal in the state, but illegal federally — meaning it’s difficult to develop state regulations to monitor and control a substance that is banned federally. The reason regulation is such a concern is because marijuana is a water-hogging, shade-hating crop, so in order for it to prosper, unregistered growers are razing forestland and re-routing water supplies to sustain their fields, while using harmful chemicals to keep their crops healthy.

Since I filed my last report, it appears that the situation isn’t getting any better. Earlier this summer, The New York Times reported on the presence of poison in a number of different wildlife species in California — from a member of the weasel family to endangered spotted owls. The source: A rat poison, like d-Con, used to protect marijuana plants from wood rats. Then, last week, The Huffington Post discussed local California officials’ reluctance to enforce marijuana-growing laws out of safety concerns, as many of California’s illegal crops are under the control of Mexican cartel members.

But, before you dismiss this story as a California-only concern, it turns out that illegal marijuana farms are harming forests — and wildlife — around the globe. A recent story on reveals that Nigeria is also struggling with the environmental impacts of marijuana farming. In a study of nine forest reserves by The Southwest/Niger Delta Forest Project, it was uncovered that 50 percent of the reserves’ deforestation from 2010 to 2012 was due to marijuana cultivation. Making matters worse, these reserves are home to the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, which is listed as endangered on International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. So even though Nigeria and California are continents and worlds apart, the struggle to protect forest ecosystems from the harmful effects of marijuana crops is universal. And there is no easy solution.

Hopefully, continued focus on the problem will lead to tenable solutions and a balance between legal farming of a legalized crop and punishments for those illegally cultivating marijuana and harming the environment in the process.