A Very Wild Homecoming

by Susan Laszewski
Orphaned bobcat Chips

Chips is fed formula by a fire information officer after her rescue. Her proximity to humans during her recovery had rescuers worried. (US Forest Service photo)

Last September, Michelle shared a story that pulled our heartstrings: the tale of Chips, an orphaned bobcat kitten who was rescued by workers after losing her mother and suffering second-degree burns and an eye infection in the Chips Fire in California’s Plumas National Forest.

As you may recall, the young Chips was recovering at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care last fall, where rescuers planned to heal and then socialize her in preparation for her return to the wild.

Well, Chips’ journey in the world of humans has, at last, reached its happy ending, as she was recently released into the wild. But it wasn’t a straight and easy road.

Orphaned bobcat Chips

Chips, now wary of humans, growls at the camera shortly before her release. (Photo courtesy Robert Campbell, volunteer and rehabilitation worker, Sierra Wildlife Rescue)

After being nursed back to health, Chips was a little too comfortable around humans, and rescuers worried that she might not be able to survive out there on her own. So, they transferred her to Sierra Wildlife Rescue in Placerville, Calif., where she was placed in a den with other rescued bobcats. Among her own kind, Chips learned to chase down her own food — live mice released into the den by staff — and eventually became wary of humans, hiding when staff approached the den. Finally, at eight months old, Chips was judged ready for the wild and was released on April 19th.

The kitten’s trials show how important it is for wildlife to have a suitably sized habitat free of human influence. Some animals, such as certain species of songbirds or rodents, are important parts of the urban ecosystem and backyard biodiversity. But others, like Chips and her kind, need many acres of wilderness to thrive. Help us restore wildlife habitat so future rehabilitated wildlife orphans like Chips will continue to have a home to go back to.

Good luck out there, Chips!

New Trees on the Block

by American Forests

By Tacy Lambiase

Look out, big trees: Today, there are some new champions in town.

More than 40 new trees were declared the biggest of their species today with the release of American Forests’ National Register of Big Trees, which contains a total of almost 780 national champion and co-champion trees. The register, which is updated twice per year, records the largest trees of each species in the United States based on height, circumference and average crown spread.

The spring 2013 National Register includes champion trees like the Seven Sisters Oak in Louisiana. Credit: American Forests

The spring 2013 National Register includes champion trees like the Seven Sisters Oak in Louisiana. Credit: American Forests

While some new trees have been added to this spring’s register, others have been “dethroned” of their reign as champion trees. Here are some of the champions making headlines:

  • Oregon has 26 national champion trees, with newcomers including a ponderosa pine and blue-myrtle blueblossom.
  • Two co-champion palm coconut trees in Hawaii have been dethroned by a bigger palm, also located in Hawaii.
  • Texas moves into second place, overtaking Arizona, with 90 national champions, including co-champion anacua trees, nutmeg hickory, delta post oak and mescalbean sophora, and Florida remains the state with the most national champions.
  • Kentucky has a new co-champion American basswood. The tree is located next to Henry Clay’s tomb in historic Lexington Cemetery.
  • Unfortunately, six of South Carolina’s national champion trees have been dethroned due to the “10-year rule.” Trees that have not been re-measured in the last 10 years are removed from the register, as the trees need to be checked to confirm their health and condition.

While it’s always a little sad to see some our favorite big trees dethroned, it doesn’t mean that these magnificent trees can’t be recognized and appreciated in other ways. In fact, American Forests has developed an all-new Tree Protection Toolkit to provide advice and guidance about how you can preserve historic trees in your own backyard.

Credit: American Forests

Credit: American Forests

Sometimes, prized trees in yards, neighborhoods, communities or even national forests find themselves in danger from diseases, pests, storms and — too often — the consequences of living alongside humans. Unlike most things, which depreciate with age, trees appreciate in value over time and provide more benefits as they get older, which is why it’s important to protect treasured trees from destruction. The information compiled in the toolkit can help you determine why a particular tree is threatened, find out which departments within your municipality are responsible for handling tree and land-use issues, calculate the value of your tree, and so much more.


Already know of a tree worth preserving? Learn more about American Forests’ Big Tree program, view the National Register of Big Trees or consult the Tree Protection Toolkit!

Enjoy Nature Today

by American Forests

By Tacy Lambiase

Happy Arbor Day! Enjoy the great outdoors this weekend by taking a walk, working in a garden, visiting a park, basking in the sun or planting a tree. Below are some of our favorite nature quotes to inspire you on this special day.

“If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” Vincent Van Gogh

Credit: NeilsPhotography/Flickr

Credit: NeilsPhotography/Flickr

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”  Rachel Carson

Credit: Frank Kovalchek/Flickr

Credit: Frank Kovalchek/Flickr

“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks.  Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough to pay attention to the story.” Linda Hogan

Credit: Domenico Salvagnin/Flickr

Credit: Domenico Salvagnin/Flickr


“He who plants a tree
Plants a hope.”
Lucy Larcom

Credit: zingyyellow/Flickr

Credit: zingyyellow/Flickr

Will you join us in protecting our precious forests this Arbor Day?

A Tale of Two Mountains: Part Two

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Newly planted trees along San Antonio Creek in the Jemez Mountains

Newly planted trees along San Antonio Creek in the Jemez Mountains. Credit: WildEarth Guardians

“Riparian areas are extremely important and, with long-term forecasts calling for drought and higher temperatures, they are some of the most at-risk landscapes in New Mexico,” says Ron Loehman, conservation chairman with New Mexico Trout, in People Restoring America’s Forests: 2012 Report on the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program.

Yesterday, I talked about the intersection of forest restoration and riparian health in New Mexico’s Zuni Mountains. Today, I’m turning my attention to Loehman’s backyard: the Jemez Mountains, located northeast of the Zuni.

Like its neighbors, the Zuni Mountains, the Jemez Mountains are an important water source for the area and have been devastated by wildfire. In 2011, the second largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history, the Los Conchas Fire, burned across more than 150,000 acres of the Jemez Mountains. As Loehman relates, “Fish populations on streams where we have done projects … were wiped out or greatly reduced by the fire. And all wildlife suffered, not just the trout. The scope and intensity of the damage shows how much at risk the rest of our Jemez streams are.”

Jemez Mountains planting

Students from a local elementary school help with a planting project in the Jemez Mountains in 2012. Credit: WildEarth Guardians

Even before the Los Conchas Fire, American Forests recognized the importance of this ecosystem. Since 2010, we’ve been partnering with WildEarth Guardians to restore riparian areas in the Jemez Mountains and, together, have planted more than 280,000 trees in the area, restoring almost 800 acres of critical ecosystem. But this isn’t the only work underway in the Jemez Mountains.

One of the first 10 projects funded under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) program, for three years, the Southwest Jemez CFLR project has been working to reduce wildfire risk, restore perennial streams and improve forest health and wildlife habitat. So far, 2,668 acres have been cleared of hazardous fuels, and 3,546 acres of wildlife habitat have been restored. It’s successes like these that make American Forests a proud supporter of the CFLR; we sit on the CFLR Coalition Steering Committee, which was created to ensure that CFLR projects receive full funding throughout the course of their 10-year project plans. In 2012, this goal became a reality with all 20 CLFR projects receiving full funding, with another three receiving additional support — a level of funding that continued in 2013 through continuing resolutions. Now, the coalition and our policy team are actively working to make sure that full funding is here to stay in FY2014 and beyond because the CFLR programs are proving we can make great strides when we work collaboratively on forest restoration.

A Tale of Two Mountains: Part One

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

It’s called the Land of Enchantment. From mountains to desert, from national forests to historic monuments, New Mexico is indeed a land of many wonders. Keeping all of its wonders healthy and intact, though, is proving a bit complicated.

Biking the Zuni Mountains in Cibola National Forest

Biking the Zuni Mountains in Cibola National Forest. Credit: USDA

Southwest of Albuquerque lies Cibola National Forest, and within Cibola loom the Zuni Mountains. Here, delicate forest restoration is at work. Wildfires in recent years left some of the forest badly damaged, which is why American Forests Global ReLeaf helped reforest 340 acres of the forest in 2011. However, many other parts of Cibola are overgrown, meaning conditions are ripe for more wildfire. As a result, in 2012, the Zuni Mountain Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, one of the 23 projects American Forests supports through its work on the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) steering committee, brought together more than 20 partners to help make the Zuni Mountains more resilient to wildfire, drought, bark beetles and climate change. Two of the primary ways that the project partners hope to accomplish the goal of removing hazardous fuels is through thinning and controlled burns — sometimes forest restoration is not about putting trees in the ground, but making sure that our forests are healthy and diverse. In its first year, the project was able to clear 1,700 acres of hazardous fuel, and all was going well … until the Zuni bluehead sucker reared its head.

Living in just a few select streams in New Mexico and Arizona, the Zuni bluehead sucker population has shrunk dangerously low. So low that in January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed that the sucker be designated endangered on the Endangered Species List. Now, getting on this list is a long, arduous task (we’re talking years of review), but regardless, the discussion has warranted some concern for the Zuni CFLR project.

Cibola National Forest

Cibola National Forest. Credit: Joel Kramer

As reported by E&E News, if the Zuni bluehead sucker is listed, all thinning projects will need to be coordinated between the U.S. Forest Service and FWS because the way the forests are thinned might impact the streams, which, in turn, will impact the sucker. However, there is something else that might impact the streams: wildfire. Ash could have a serious negative impact on the sucker’s streams, causing harm to its population. Is this the restoration equivalent of a rock and a hard place or what? If you thin the forests to make the forest safer from wildfire, you might damage the streams. If forest fires break out, they might also damage the streams. As a result, the mantra should be: Proceed with caution.

One thing everyone is in agreement on, though, is that healthy forests mean healthier streams and happier fish — all are goals worth pursuing.

And a little more than 100 miles up the freeway, those same goals are being pursued in another CFLR project. This one focuses on the Jemez Mountains, but that’s a tale for tomorrow.

The Joy of the Federal Register

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

Now, before you skip this post based on the title, ask yourself this: How does the U.S. Forest Service decide what paint to use to mark trees? Ever been hiking through your favorite forest and think, who decides where to put those trail blazes and why did they choose white or blue or orange? Lucky for you, there is a place you can go to find out not only these answers, but more information than perhaps you ever wondered about our national forests: the Federal Register.

Old Rag Mountain Trail in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Old Rag Mountain Trail in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Credit: David Fulmer

As a public policy attorney, I rely on the Federal Register to tell me what is going on in the executive branch. It is a daily schedule of, among other activities, the planned meetings, proposed rules, proposed collection of information and procurement activities of the agencies, sub-agencies and the White House, and perhaps most importantly, final rules. And the best part is, it is available to anyone with internet access or a library card. It is a transparent view behind the curtain that is our government. Established by statute in 1935, the Federal Register is updated every weekday morning and published online and in print. I get an email alert with all the day’s entries, and it can make for some interesting reading.

For example, last Friday:

  • The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities Exchange Commission issued final rules and guidelines to require regulated financial institutions to create programs that address the risk of identity theft (seems like a good idea);
  • The EPA published a series of proposed rules to address air quality in Indiana;
  • And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a 90-day finding on a petition to delist the wood bison under the Endangered Species Act (spoiler alert: there was not enough evidence to delist).
Wood bison at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Wood bison at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Credit: Larry Ewing

You want to know about your government? Set up an alert from the agencies you’re interested in following on the Federal Register website or set up your own RSS feed for your favorite statutes. Oh, you don’t have one? Might I recommend the Wilderness Act of 1964? It has been termed “one of the most idealistic pieces of federal legislation ever enacted,” and in our current political climate, that sounds pretty amazing.

So what has the Forest Service been up to? Well, if the intro paragraph didn’t give it away, the National Tree-Marking Paint Committee is having a meeting in South Carolina in May — for three days! Did you even know we had a Tree-Marking Paint Committee? But that’s not all the Forest Service is up to. Many of our national forests are submitting environmental impacts statements to undertake various work within the forest boundaries. For instance, Ochoco National Forest in Oregon needs some vegetation and fuel management while Arizona’s Tonto National Forest has extended its public comment period on its vegetation management.

The Federal Register is a daily look at the men and women behind the curtain of your federal government with opportunities for comments and participation on activities of various agencies and the White House. And by the way, if you’re interested, there is a public section of the National Tree-Marking Paint Committee meeting — you just need to provide your own transportation to South Carolina.

The Federal Register: your kaleidoscope of federal government activities.

The Earth’s Forests

by Loose Leaf Contributor

This week, we celebrate not one, not two, but three amazing holidays that all focus on nature and the environment!

Bench Lake, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Bench Lake, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. Credit: lawdawg1/Flickr

Today is Earth Day, a day when people around the country gather together to give thanks to Mother Nature. First celebrated on April 22, 1970, Earth Day is a yearly reminder that we need look after and care for our environment. American Forests, of course, does this 366 days of the year through forest restoration, public policy and advocacy, and much, much more.

It’s also National Park Week, in which the National Park Service (NPS) recognizes and celebrates all 401 properties in the system — from seashores to historic landmarks to national parks. And, we’re all invited to join the celebration, as the NPS is waiving all admission fees to the national parks this week!

On Friday, we wrap up this exciting environmental week with Arbor Day. Did you know that Arbor Day was celebrated for the first time in 1872, the same year that Yellowstone became our first national park? [For more on the history of Arbor Day and its connection to some national champion trees, check out our Big Tree story “Nebraska’s Garden of Eden.”] You could say that the 1870s were a pretty happening time for conservationists, as we had Yellowstone, the first Arbor Day and then, in 1875, American Forests was created! What an amazing few years, no?

But while history and celebrations are grand, the bigger picture here is Earth. How is she doing? Well, when it comes to forests, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, San Mateo County, California

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, San Mateo County, California. Credit: Miguel Vieira

In 2010, it’s estimated that forests covered almost 10 billion acres, or 31 percent, of the world’s total land area. That may sound like a lot until we put it in historical perspective: In the preceding 10 years, it’s estimated that Earth saw a net forest loss of 12.8 million acres each year. That’s almost 1.3 billion acres in just 10 years!

In the U.S., forests make up about a third of the total land area, a figure that has held fairly steady for the last century, but a simple percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. While they may technically still be standing, forestlands across the U.S. are under siege. Last year, more than nine million acres burned in wildfires. Last fall, in a mere few days, Hurricane Sandy damaged millions of trees along the East Coast. In northern Colorado and southern Wyoming, an average of 100,000 trees are killed daily by mountain pine beetles. Forests in our urban areas are also feeling pain: Approximately four million trees are lost in urban areas each year. And these are just a few examples.

Greater Yellowstone Area

A research trip to the Greater Yellowstone Area, as part of the American Forests Endangered Western Forests initiative. Credit: American Forests

Here at American Forests, we’ve designed programs to combat these threats facing our forests:

So in honor of Earth Day, National Park Week and Arbor Day, will you join us in our fight to protect our forests by becoming a member or by having trees planted? We’ll see you in the forest.

Nature Heals

by American Forests

By Tacy Lambiase

Credit: Amrit Patel/Flickr

Credit: Amrit Patel/Flickr

Sometimes, bad things happen in our lives that can damage us emotionally, physically and mentally. But we’ve known for a while that the presence of nature in our lives can help us heal and overcome obstacles. Spending time in the great outdoors can sharpen our mental capabilities, enhance our creativity abilities and lower our blood pressure and heart rate. Even people recovering from physical injuries heal faster when they have access to nature or even just the ability to look at trees out of their windows.

“As a species that exists within nature, we are incredibly affected by its absence and presence,” writes Neil Chambers on treehugger.com. “Yet, we function in cities and buildings that largely lack a connection to the environment. … The act of simply reconnecting people to the natural elements brings about faster recovery rates, reduced stress and eased symptoms of physical and mental disorders.”

But nature can also comfort people who are experiencing emotional turmoil, such as grieving someone’s death. Coping with the loss of a loved one can be an exhausting and emotionally draining process. When tragedies occur, humans react with emotions ranging from shock and anger to sadness and lasting depression. While mourning can throw us into a state of prolonged grief and despair, the natural world can help us to regain a sense of peace and inner calm.

“Being in nature one becomes aware of the infinite circle of life,” Dr. Kirsti A. Dyer tells Mother Nature Network. “There is evidence of decay, destruction and death; there are also examples of rejuvenation, restoration and renewal. The never-ending cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth can put life and death into perspective and impart a sense of constancy after experiencing a life changing loss or a death.”

Connecting with nature can help people move beyond grief and towards emotional and mental well-being. Taking walks in a park, working in a garden or hiking along a wooded trail are all activities that can motivate individuals to keep moving and stay active in the wake of a personal tragedy.

Perhaps John Muir, one of America’s most active conservationists, knew the emotional benefits of nature best when he advised:

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

Quiet, Please. The Tree is Speaking.

by Susan Laszewski
Artist Alex Metcalf’s Tree Listening Project, shown here in 2009, allows visitors to listen to the sounds of trees drawing water from their roots. Now, scientists are learning to discern which of these sounds are indicative of drought conditions. Credit: Tom Grinsted.

Artist Alex Metcalf’s Tree Listening Project, shown here in 2009, allows visitors to listen to the sounds of trees drawing water from their roots. Now, scientists are learning to discern which of these sounds are indicative of drought conditions. Credit: Tom Grinsted.

As sci-fi as it sounds, the news that trees make noise beyond the human range of hearing — and that some of these noises communicate important messages to other organisms — is not new. Studies have shown, for example, that some plants release pollen in response to bees’ buzzing.

But could trees be saying anything to us? Okay, they may not be speaking to us directly, but new research suggests that, if we learn how to listen, we could gain valuable information on how to protect trees by eavesdropping on them.

It’s long been known that cavitations — air bubbles that block the flow of water throughout the tree — make a sound that can be heard with a microphone. If too many of these cavitations occur, such as we might see in drought conditions, a tree can die.

The problem is that the sounds of cavitations, among other tree activity, are outside our usual range of hearing and can only be heard with the proper equipment. Then, the question of how to tell which sounds are indicative of cavitations — and therefore early warning signs of drought stress — was a bit of a doozy.

Until now. A team of scientists from Grenoble University, Saint-Martin-d’Hères in France, led by physicist Alexandre Ponomarenko, presented a study at last month’s meeting of the American Physical Society that seems to hold the promise of a day when what is now lost in translation could be found. Using a gel capsule-like device developed by Cornell University’s Dr. Abraham Stroock, the scientists were able to take a peek inside a simulated tree and observe the cavitations and other activity at the same time sounds were being recording. Cross referencing the visual and audio data, they were able to distinguish the sounds that corresponded with cavitations from other sounds, such as fractures in the wood.

Artist Alex Metcalf’s Tree Listening Project, shown here in 2009, allows visitors to listen to the sounds of trees drawing water from their roots. Now, scientists are learning to discern which of these sounds are indicative of drought conditions. Credit: Tom Grinsted.

Artist Alex Metcalf’s Tree Listening Project, shown here in 2009, allows visitors to listen to the sounds of trees drawing water from their roots. Now, scientists are learning to discern which of these sounds are indicative of drought conditions. Credit: Tom Grinsted.

By learning to recognize these sounds, we would be able to help trees suffering from drought before it became too late. Dr. Ponomarenko tells National Geographic, “With this experiment we start to understand the origin of acoustic events in trees.” This research could one day lead to handheld devices that allow us to listen to trees or even to devices that stay with the tree, monitoring it fulltime for signs of drought. A sort of walkie-talkie from the tree to us, letting us know when action is needed.

But don’t start tuning your radio for tree signals yet. It will take a lot of hard work and research to apply what was learned from a piece of wood in a lab to a complex, living tree. Nonetheless, the future looks a little less dry.

Wanted: Wildfire

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Black-backed woodpecker

Black-backed woodpecker. Credit: Mike Laycock/National Park Service

Wildfires are one of the most prolific forces affecting our nation’s forests. They are often intense and unpredictable — and are only likely to become more so in the coming decades thanks to climate change. They threaten homes and communities, which is why American Forests supports projects like the U.S. Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program, designed to reduce wildfire risk in local communities. They can be scary things, but for many species, they aren’t scary at all. Instead, they are essential for life.

The black-backed woodpecker is one such species because it likes beetles, and do you know what beetles like? Blackened forests. Why? Because fire-damaged trees are easier for wood boring, of course. Unfortunately for the black-backed woodpecker, though, in 1936, the U.S. embarked on a fire suppression policy that would last for decades. Low-intensity burns were squelched before they could get started and the woodpecker’s preferred fire-burned habitat began to disappear — and so did the woodpecker. Compounding matters were salvage efforts in post-fire landscapes, where damaged wood was removed for logging purposes instead of being allowed to regenerate naturally, which again, removed habitat and food source for burn-loving species that actually moves its habitat to coincide with burn areas.

Last spring, conservation groups petitioned to have the black-backed woodpecker added to the Endangered Species List, and American Forests joined the effort through a letter in our Action Center, which allowed our members to speak out and encourage management of post-fire landscapes that accounts for species that need burned forests to survive. Earlier this month, it was revealed that those voices were heard, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would consider the species for federal protection and was opening a 60-day information-gathering and comment period.

Whitebark pine

Whitebark pine. Credit: Donald Owen/California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection/Bugwood.org

But what about other fire-loving species? American Forests has its conservation sights set on protecting and restoring another: whitebark pine. Growing in the high-elevation forests of the Mountain West, whitebark pine is considered a keystone and foundation species. It earns this status by providing food for a variety of wildlife and serving as shelter for hundreds of plant and animals species, protecting them from harsh weather on the mountaintops. But while it’s looking out for others, who’s looking out for it?

Decades of fire suppression mean that the whitebark’s forests are more densely populated than the species would like. Being a pioneer species (or one of the first to populate an ecosystem), it doesn’t do well with competition, and its seeds struggle to survive. Plus, a dense canopy results in less sunshine, and the whitebark loves to — no, needs to — soak up the rays to flourish. Low-intensity fires would help clear some of the competition and open up the forest canopy to some sunlight for the whitebark, which needs all the help it can get since it’s also facing threats from an unprecedented outbreak of mountain pine beetles and white pine blister rust.

Mountain pine beetle

Mountain pine beetle. Credit: U.S. Forest Service Region 2 Rocky Mountain Region Archive/Bugwood.org

The American Forests Endangered Western Forests initiative is providing some of that help. We’re creating healthy planting sites for whitebark pine, planting disease-resistant seedlings, reducing the amount of competing species to help with natural regeneration and so much more.

You know who else might help the whitebark? The black-backed woodpecker. Remember? It finds beetles tasty, including mountain pine beetles. So if we help one, we might help the other. Welcome to the glorious circle of life.