The Need for Urban Parks

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Baseball in the Park

Playing baseball in the park. Credit: Thomas Rumley

I’m one of those people who remember very little of their childhoods. I have vague impressions of events and activities, but very little that is concrete. Among those “little” things, though, of which I have a crystal-clear memory are my childhood parks and playgrounds.

I can picture the grove of trees where my friends and I hid away, the field where we played Red Rover, the monkey bars I conquered, the drinking fountain shaded by a forested path. If those places didn’t exist, I may not have had my front two teeth knocked, but my childhood also would not have been the same.

I’m guessing that many of you have similar memories of special parks and playgrounds. Imagine how you would feel if that place had never existed. What if you lived in a blighted urban area with no park or if your city or town ran out of money to keep your park clean and safe? It’s a depressing thought that is also a reality for so many. There is a solution, though, if Congress is willing to act, so send them a letter asking them to support the Community Parks Revitalization Act.

Autumn in the Park

Autumn in the park. Credit: Pat Pilon

The Community Parks Revitalization Act was introduced this summer by Representative Sires (D-NJ) and is aimed at promoting urban forestry and recreation. This act would authorize the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to issue grants to local governments to improve parks and other recreation areas. These grants would also specifically target building recreation programs and places for at-risk youth and military members and their families.

But beyond the recreation that these projects would provide, there is a financial upside as well. Our friends at the National Recreation and Park Association pulled together some interesting facts about the benefits parks provide to communities. Here are some highlights:

  • Quality of parks and recreation resources is a key criteria for listing the best cities for businesses, jobs and places to live.
  • Outdoor recreation supports 6.1 million direct jobs and generates $80 billion in tax revenue each year (Outdoor Industry Association).
  • Parks and greenspaces increase property values.

Basically, urban parks are a winning proposition for so many reasons, which is why we need the Community Parks Revitalization Act to get out of committee and into a floor vote. Help us improve urban greenspaces throughout the country by telling the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation to vote on the Community Parks Revitalization Act to get it moved to the full House Committee on Natural Resources, which will get it one step closer to full House vote.

Calculating Your Green Home

by Susan Laszewski
Stormwater runoff

Stormwater runoff. Credit: thanh.ha.dang/Flickr

Last month, we joined our friends, American Rivers, in helping to spread the news of the importance of green infrastructure and encourage the EPA to update its approach to managing stormwater runoff. Green infrastructure, which is part of the urban forest, captures rainwater and allows it to be absorbed into trees, roots and soil, rather than running off paved surfaces, picking up pollution and sediment on its way to waterways. Many of you helped work to make a difference by telling your representatives to put pressure on the EPA to modernize their approach to stormwater.

But if you’re a homeowner, you can also make a difference right now, where you live, by employing green infrastructure tactics on your own property. Green infrastructure isn’t just for public works. In fact, trees and plants on private property are an important part of the urban forest.

A rain garden on a private lawn

A rain garden on a private lawn. Credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

If you’re interested in implementing stormwater runoff control in your own yard, the EPA has a tool to help you get started: the stormwater calculator. Enter information about your property and the types of green infrastructure practices you use or would like to use — such as rain harvesting, rain gardens, green roofs or street planters — and the calculator will estimate the amount of your stormwater runoff. It can answer questions like how much daily rainfall your current or planned green infrastructure can prevent from running off into streams and waterways.

If you enjoy learning about the environmental impacts and benefits of your yard, you don’t have to stop at stormwater runoff. Check out our carbon calculator to learn what your home’s carbon footprint is and how many trees you could plant to offset it. And if you don’t have the space or means for planting new trees, we’ve got you covered. Support American Forests. We’ve already planted more than 45 million trees through Global ReLeaf and our other tree restoration programs, many in the urban forest, and we’ll be planting many more.

Community ReLeaf in Asbury Park

by Melinda Housholder, Urban Forests Program Director
A rain garden developed by the Asbury Park Environmental Shade Tree Commission in Asbury Park, N.J.

A rain garden developed by the Asbury Park Environmental Shade Tree Commission in Asbury Park, N.J. Credit: Melinda Housholder/American Forests

A few weeks ago, I went on a site visit to Asbury Park, N.J. Nope, not to visit the Stone Pony, one of the world’s best-known music venues and a favorite hot spot for visits by Bruce Springsteen. Even better, I was there to visit the trees.

Asbury Park is one of five inaugural Community ReLeaf project sites, which is why I found myself on my way to New Jersey. On my first day, I met with Tom Pivinski with the Asbury Park Environmental Shade Tree Commission and Lisa Simms with the New Jersey Tree Foundation to discuss the area’s urban forest and our Community ReLeaf project, which is assessing the urban forest in a number of ways, including how they can best maximize their open space by planting more trees, especially in areas that were hit by Hurricane Sandy. We had an excellent time sitting out in a local rain garden — developed by the Asbury Park Environmental Shade Tree Commission — where we talked with our field crew about the status of the current assessment, which looks at the changes in the urban forest canopy after Hurricane Sandy hit. We are looking forward to the final results coming out soon and seeing some potential urban forest planting scenarios that would best benefit the local community.

Director of the Urban Forest Program Melinda Housholder (second from right) and members of the Asbury Park Environmental Shade Tree Commission at a meeting to discuss an American Forests Community ReLeaf project

Director of the Urban Forest Program Melinda Housholder (second from right) and members of the Asbury Park Environmental Shade Tree Commission at a meeting to discuss an American Forests Community ReLeaf project. Credit: American Forests

We also took a tour around the city, looking at areas that were the most affected by the storm, like Library Park, which lost 23 trees. We stopped by the new urban community garden that hosts both private garden beds and public ones for anyone in the community who wants to come by and pick all sorts of healthy fruits and vegetables. And, we stopped by the site of our upcoming volunteer tree event, where we will be hosting 30-40 volunteers from our generous partners at the Bank of America Charitable Foundation and IKEA at the end of September to come learn about the benefits of urban forests and celebrate city trees by planting them!

The second and final morning that I was there, I had an excellent meeting with several members of the Asbury Park Environmental Shade Tree Commission (and a few lovely canine friends) to learn about the history of the urban forest in Asbury Park, the current work that is underway and the variety of challenges and opportunities that face the urban forest there. I was especially excited to discuss the Community ReLeaf project and ideas for leveraging the assessment results in the coming months.

It was wonderful to see so many different elements of an urban forest — from rain and community gardens to city parks and trees — during my trip, and I am looking forward to our Asbury Park tree planting later this month.

Recovering Reds

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Eastern redcedar

Eastern redcedar. Credit: Jason Sharman, Vitalitree,

Two new studies reveal good news for two species of “red” trees: the eastern redcedar and the red spruce. And the good news is actually tied to old news: the 40-plus-year-old Clean Air Act. In 1970, Congress established the Clean Air Act to address the unsightly, unhealthy pollution and smog plaguing America’s cities and industrial centers. Now, scientists are starting to observe the long-reaching effects of the act.

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) looked at 100- to 500-year-old eastern redcedar, Juniperus virginiana. Spending four years studying eastern redcedar tree rings in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, the research team found that eastern redcedar growth improved after the passage of the Clean Air Act. For a majority of the 1900s, the studied trees did not grow as fast as in the previous decades and even centuries, which was unexpected considering carbon dioxide levels were higher — more carbon dioxide usually leads to increased plant growth in the short term. The scientists attribute this to the high acidic pollution, but less than 15 years after the passage of the Clean Air Act, the research reveals a shift in tree growth.

Red spruce

Red Spruce. Credit: USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station Archive,

Says research team member Dr. Jesse Nippert, Kansas State University associate professor of biology, in a release about the study, “Our data clearly shows a break point in 1982, where the entire growth patterns of the trees in this forest started on a different trajectory. It took 10 years for that landmark environmental legislation to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, but it eventually did. When it did, we saw an entire ecosystem recover from years of acidic pollution.”

The eastern redcedar wasn’t the only tree suffering from the effects of acidic pollution, or acid rain, though. The red spruce suffered greatly in the mid to latter part of the 20th century from acid rain, leading to the tree’s decline. However, some U.S. Forest Service and University of Vermont scientists have recently noticed that after years of decline, in the last decade, the red spruce of New England are growing at a rate greater than the average growth rate of the last 100 years. While the researchers don’t know exactly what caused the red spruce’s recovery, as reported by, one of the theories is that the Clean Air Act — and thus a reduction in acid rain and pollution — may have played a big role.

This year, American Forests is planting more than 7,000 trees in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest, including red spruce, so this news of the recovery of two eastern favorites is welcome news indeed.


California Dreamin’ of Clean Air

by Susan Laszewski
Pasadena highway

The Pasadena Freeway heading toward Los Angeles. Ground transportation was found to account for 53,000 early deaths each year. California is the state most affected. Credit: TheKenChan/Flickr

Taking deep breaths can help relieve stress, but depending on where you live, the air you breathe may lead to other health problems.

A new study by a team of MIT researchers has found that air pollution in the U.S. contributes to more than 200,000 premature deaths each year. The researchers tracked ground-level emissions from six different sectors, including industrial, residential and vehicular emissions. Their findings, published in Atmospheric Environment, show emissions from ground transportation to have the greatest impact on health, causing 53,000 early deaths each year.

The team also did a state-by-state analysis and found California to be the most adversely affected state, suffering an estimated 21,000 air pollution-related early deaths per year.

These findings underscore the importance of clean air, which also relates to the importance of urban forests. With a single tree able to absorb up to 10 pounds of air pollutants each year, urban forests are a key strategy in helping to reduce and mitigate air pollution.


Pasadena, Calif. Credit: cameron23/Flickr

In May, American Forests launched our Community ReLeaf program in five cities across the U.S., each of which is the site of an assessment and restoration project focused on that city’s particular needs. Given the findings above, it may come as no surprise that the Pasadena, Calif., Community ReLeaf project is largely focused on air quality. The assessment phase of the Pasadena project is measuring the benefits of the city’s public street trees in both economic and health terms, including the capacity of the urban forest to help address air pollution and smog, two of the city’s major challenges. The assessment will be used to inform Pasadena’s future Urban Forest Management Plan. Stay tuned for the results of our research and assessment this fall.


After Katrina: Eight Years Later

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

A Texas Army National Guard Blackhawk deposits a 6,000 pound-plus bag of sand and gravel on-target, Sunday, September 4, 2005, as work progressed to close the breach in the 17th Street Canal in New Orleans post-Katrina.

A Texas Army National Guard Blackhawk deposits a 6,000 pound-plus bag of sand and gravel on-target, Sunday, September 4, 2005, as work progressed to close the breach in the 17th Street Canal in New Orleans post-Katrina. Credit: Alan Dooley/U.S. Army Corp of Engineers

Eight years ago today, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana. The level three category hurricane unleashed upward of 10 inches of rain on the Gulf Coast with winds at speeds greater than 140 mph.

By the time the storm dissipated a day later, more than 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded, while cities, communities and ecosystems across the Southeast began to deal with the fallout from the intense winds and massive storm surges. Katrina affected millions of acres of urban and rural forest and is the most costly storm in U.S. history, causing more than $100 billion worth in damages.

Compounding matters was the arrival of a second storm, Hurricane Rita, not even a month after Katrina battered the Gulf Coast. The Washington Post described the two as contributing to “the largest single forestry disaster on record in the nation.”

Less than a year after the terrible twosome, American Forests Global ReLeaf began to help rebuild both urban and rural Gulf Coast forests.

All told, we have planted more than 139,000 trees in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida to aid in hurricane recovery efforts since 2006. Of course, an ecosystem can often take decades — or even centuries — to return to its pre-natural disaster state. [Check out our American Forests magazine feature “Recovering From Disaster” for more on how ecosystems are affected by and regenerate after natural catastrophes.] Every year, though, we are committed to chipping away at the issue, helping diverse landscapes recover from a variety of ailments — natural disasters, invasive pests, disease, climate change — but we need your continued support and help. If you’re not already, please consider becoming an American Forests member today to help us continue our mission of protecting and restoring forests.

Visiting the Monarchs’ Home

by Matthew Boyer
Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly. Credit: William Warby

This summer, I visited the central mountain region of Mexico, where millions of monarch butterfly migrate to each winter. American Forests and La Cruz Habitat Protection Project have partnered to reforest this area for almost a decade, and in that period of time, together, we have planted more than 850,000 trees to help preserve the monarch’s winter home. While my visit took place during the summer months, which meant the butterflies weren’t in residence, I was very excited to see this valuable ecosystem and the successes we have made firsthand as I toured the region.

During my trip, I visited two monarch butterfly sanctuaries and learned how the people of these small mountain villages prepare to celebrate the arrival of these beautiful insects through art, music and festivals. I became fascinated by how much pride these local people have for the forests and how many of them, though incredibly impoverished by U.S. standards, donate their time, talent and resources to protect and defend these lands for very little monetary gain, if any. The monarch’s forest is under constant threat from illegal logging and invasive insects, but the people in these mountain communities defend it fiercely — much as they do their private land. They realize how important this habitat is for the butterflies and the economics of their own villages.

Because American Forests is so proud of the reforestation we helped fund in this region, we are organizing a private member tour in the region in February 2014. This tour will be open to all American Forests members, but will be capped off at just 26 participants. I look forward to sharing this experience with our membership, and I am sure it will be a magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Visit our Monarchs in Mexico event page for more details on the trip or to RSVP.

The Politics of Fighting Fire

by Alison Share, Environmental Public Policy Associate, Crowell & Moring LLP
The Rim Fire at night from 35,000 feet in the air

The Rim Fire at night from 35,000 feet in the air. Credit: Ty Carson

Last Wednesday, I traveled to San Francisco to attend a conference for work. My colleague, who traveled separately, showed me photos he had taken on his flight. The photos were of the fire currently burning in Yosemite National Park, bright and jagged slashes of orange and red against the night backdrop. All from 35,000 feet. He said, in a conflicted voice, that it was beautiful to see them from above.

The Yosemite fire has put San Francisco on alert for damage to the power grid and issues with the water supply, as the fire is currently four miles from the city’s main reservoir. Thousands of homes around the fire itself are in danger, and hundreds of people have been evacuated. Vermont has mud season; the West has fire season. This year, however, with the mandatory agency budget cuts implemented by sequestration, the danger of the fire season is exacerbated.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) total estimated budget from direct appropriations for fiscal year 2013 is approximately $140 billion. Of that, the U.S. Forest Service received $5.5 billion, of which it allocated $2.7 billion to Wildland Fire Management, which includes the preparedness, suppression and removal of hazardous fuels programs. In March of this year, however, the Forest Service was still unsure of the final amount that would be available to allocate to actually fighting wildfires. Sequestration removed $115 million from the fire suppression line-item and diminished the wildfire reserve fund by more than $100 million. These cuts led to the removal of around 500 firefighters and 50 engines.

The California Army National Guard’s 1-140th Aviation Battalion fighting the Rim Fire near Yosemite, Aug. 22, 2013.

The California Army National Guard’s 1-140th Aviation Battalion fighting the Rim Fire near Yosemite, Aug. 22, 2013. Credit: Master Sgt. Julie Avey/U.S. Air National Guard

The Forest Service has already spent approximately $1 billion this year on wildfire suppression, even though the number of fires and the acreage burned are under the 10-year average. The roughly 32,000 fires, however, have burned for much longer, and many of the 3.4 million acres affected have been close to the wildland-urban interface. As a result, more money and resources have been needed to battle these blazes. And now, with only a fraction of the Yosemite fire contained, the Forest Service announced that its allocated funds to fight wildfires have been nearly exhausted.

With only $50 million left in the wildfire suppression line-item, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell is having to halt spending on restoration programs, employee travel, hiring and overtime to draw off the necessary funds to continue fighting wildfires. The $600 million needed will prevent the Forest Service from taking proactive steps to prevent future fires and decrease restoration efforts in previously fire-devastated areas.

This intra-agency money shifting, known as “fire borrowing,” while not new, has increased with the cutting of overall agency budgets. Calls for the return of funding necessary to fight current fires and prevent future ones still require congressional action, but current budget negotiations appear to be leading towards a continuing resolution with sequester-level spending rather than including additional appropriated funds.

The policy aim of preventing fires and the mission to fight currently burning ones are running up against the wall of politics. The reality is that fires in the West continue to burn, and the Forest Service must find the funds to fight them from somewhere, leading to the detriment of future fire prevention.

Concern about the state of fire funding has led American Forests to join a broad coalition of conservation, timber, recreation, sportsmen and employer groups asking Congress to provide immediate funding to support firefighters, ensure adequate funding in the fiscal year 2014 budget for wildfire suppression and implement a solution to continuing fire suppression shortfalls. Read more about this issue and efforts in our Newsroom.

In the Nick of Time

by Susan Laszewski
Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park is home to many tall trees, though none as tall as Hyperion. Credit: Philippe Vieux-Jeanton

Two very special anniversaries were celebrated over the weekend, and, as fate would have it, they are tied together in a providential way.

It’s been seven years since the discovery of Hyperion, the coast redwood that knocked the Stratosphere Giant from its place as record holder for world’s tallest tree. But its 379.65-foot height is not the only thing that makes Hyperion remarkable. Not only does the tree grow on a steep hillside — not the usual soil-rich creek bottoms that redwoods prefer — but it also grows in the midst of an area that was heavily logged in the 1970s. In fact, a whopping 96 percent of the coast redwoods there had been logged, but somehow, Hyperion survived, hidden away all those years.

And how has this massive tree survived since then? It’s largely thanks to the National Park Service, which coincidentally also celebrated an anniversary over the weekend — its 97th. In 1978, Jimmy Carter signed an expansion of Redwood National Park into law, redrawing the park’s boundary to encompass the area that Hyperion calls home and bringing an end to logging in the area, perhaps just in time for Hyperion.

Hyperion was barely saved from the chainsaw, and today, it continues to be protected not only through the national park land it lives on, but also through the privacy it’s been afforded: The exact location of the tree has never been made public so that, left in peace, it may continue to live to great heights.

Endangered in Minnesota

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

A bald eagle, a species which was recently removed from Minnesota’s list of endangered, threatened and special concern species

A bald eagle, a species which was recently removed from Minnesota’s list of endangered, threatened and special concern species. Credit: Pen Waggener

Most are familiar with the story of the bald eagle: how the iconic American bird was almost extinct in the United States in the mid-1900s, but through habitat protection, the banning of DDT and other management activities, the species recovered and was removed from the Endangered Species Act list in 2007. Unfortunately, though, some species go in the opposite direction.

Earlier this week, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) updated its list of endangered, threatened and special concern species for the first time in 16 years, and sadly, more species were added to the list than removed. Only 29 species, including the aforementioned bald eagle were removed from the list, while 180 species were added. From fungi, lichen and moss to insects, mollusks, fish, birds and mammals, many categories of species were examined and designated as needing attention in Minnesota.

Why were so many species added to Minnesota’s list? State wildlife officials tell the Minneapolis Star Tribune that declining water quality, prairie loss and fragmented forests are to blame, as is a failure to examine species and landscapes as a whole: “We’ve got to learn how to manage at a larger scale,” says Richard Baker, endangered species coordinator for the DNR, which means looking beyond one species and examining ecosystems as a whole.

A Canada lynx kitten, a species of “special concern” recently added to Minnesota’s list of endangered, threatened and special concern species, gets measured by a wildlife biologist.

A Canada lynx kitten, a species of “special concern” recently added to Minnesota’s list of endangered, threatened and special concern species, gets measured by a wildlife biologist. Credit: James Weliver/USFWS

Actually, landscape-scale restoration and management is something for which American Forests is advocating on the national level. We currently have a letter in our Action Center encouraging the director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), the overseers of the national endangered and threatened species list, to develop a national habitat-protection plan. You can use our pre-written letter to urge the FWS to design and implement such a plan. As we say in the letter, “This plan must emphasize habitat connectivity, reduce stressors and engage the public. The FWS needs to identify land and water parcels strategically located to connect and buffer habitats. These sanctuaries cannot remain fragmented.”

But while we’re working on policy issues on a national level, we’re also helping on the local level. In 2013, we have two Global Releaf projects in Minnesota designed to improve wildlife habitat: One is reforesting an area of Chippewa National Forest that was impacted by a severe 2012 storm, while the other is restoring pine and spruce trees to an area of Superior National Forest affected by pest problems. By working together, we can hopefully reverse this alarming development in Minnesota.