Spying on Bears Live

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

A few years ago, I vacationed in Alaska, and while I was lucky enough to see some caribou and moose while in Denali National Park & Preserve, I must admit I was a bit disappointed not to encounter — from a safe distance — a bear. Well, on Tuesday, Alaska’s Katmai National Park & Preserve gave me a way to vicariously see a bear — and become increasingly distracted from my work — with its newly launched Brooks Camp Bearcam.

Brown bears in Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska

Brown bears in Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska. Credit: Patrick Moody/Flickr

Yes, you read that right: a bearcam. A live camera that is continuously streaming footage of bears fishing for salmon in the Brooks River. It’s engrossing — bears are there all the time! But why? As I’ve discovered, it’s all about the salmon.

According to Katmai National Park’s website, “The world’s largest run of sockeye salmon occurs in Bristol Bay, Alaska, each summer. Part of those salmon move into Katmai National Park using the Naknek drainage and end up at Brooks Camp. This is why so many bears gather in July on the Brooks River Falls.”

Pacific salmon, of which there are many varieties, spend their adult lives at sea in the saltwater of the Pacific Ocean. However, they’re born in freshwater — from intertidal pools to mountain streams — and every year, thousands of mature salmon must return to the waters where they were born to give birth to a new generation. Once they leave their saltwater habitat behind, they face various threats to survival, including brown bears. Some salmon will die of starvation on the trip since they stop eating the minute they enter freshwater. Some will die from polluted waters, while others are caught up in fishing nets. All of these difficulties and other factors, such as habitat loss, have led many Pacific salmon species to be declared threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act. (Click here to watch a video about and discover some of the work American Forests is doing to help Pacific salmon.) But I digress.

Brown bear cubs in Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska

Brown bear cubs in Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska. Credit: Patrick Moody/Flickr

Salmon are an essential part of bears’ diets, as salmon helps shore up a bear’s fat reserves for winter hibernation. Therefore, anywhere where salmon are ripe for the picking is ripe for bear spotting. About 100 bears live in the Brooks Camp area, where the bearcams are located, but Katmai is actually home to an estimated 2,200 brown bears. Because of its remoteness, which is good for the bears, Katmai only receives about 10,000 visitors per year, so the webcams are a way to bring the experiences of this Alaskan wilderness to a wider variety of people.

“I think it’s an unparalleled opportunity for people to get that front-row seat of the lives of the bears at Brooks Camp,” Roy Wood, chief of interpretation for Katmai National Park and Preserve, told the Associated Press. While two cameras are running now, the Associated Press reports that two more are to come, giving wildlife lovers many different bear activities to enjoy — from the catching of salmon on the falls to moms and their cubs downstream to aerial views of the ecosystem. You know I’ll be watching.


Clearing a Path for Illegal Logging

by Amanda Tai

Credit: D H Wright/Flickr

The Lacey Act was introduced more than a century ago and was the first piece of federal legislation to protect against wildlife trafficking.

Today, because of a 2008 amendment, the Lacey Act is primarily used to protect against importing non-native plant species and illegal logging practices. This act has been an important part of protecting not only the American wood-product industry and domestic forestry jobs from being undercut by illegally imported goods, but also promoting the sustainable use of domestic trees over the illegal logging practices that lead to global deforestation. In the next week, a House floor vote could change all that.

House leadership has announced that H.R. 3210, the “Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness” or RELIEF Act, will be coming up for a full House vote in the next week. The RELIEF Act would undermine efforts to prevent illegal logging and trading by:

  • Eliminating the requirement for non-solid wood products manufacturers (i.e. paper products makers) to know their wood source.
  • Establishing a fixed penalty for first-time offenders regardless of the volume of or value of the illegal product – instead of using a scale with higher penalties for more severe offenses.
  • Eliminating the requirement for manufacturers to turn over goods that have been proven to be stolen.

These components of the RELIEF Act take away from the measures and punishments in the Lacey Act that deter illegal practices, leaving less incentive to stay away from them.

Dave Matthews is one of the many musicians that support the Lacey Act. Credit: chris friese/Flickr

Since the 2008 amendment that included the protection of timber and wood products, illegal logging is slowly on the decline as new practices become more commonplace. But even with the Lacey Act in place, these illegal practices still occur and cost the American wood products industry around $1 billion annually. Passing the RELIEF Act would only exacerbate this figure.

There is hope though. The RELIEF Act may have passed the House Natural Resources Committee, but several environmental groups, the timber industry, labor unions and even musicians are already speaking out against this bill. You too can take action by telling your representative to vote NO on the RELIEF Act by filling out and sending advocacy letters through NRDC or Sierra Club. I hope that representatives will hear this message loud and clear before the bill comes up for a vote.


Fire in the West – Part 1

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

British Columbia smokerjumper. Credit: August Gregg (August G)/Flickr

Last week I had the tremendous opportunity to travel to Wyoming and learn more about American Forests’ work in some of our western forests. The trip was eye-opening to the devastation caused by the mountain pine beetle and white pine blister rust. These two factors — along with the fire-suppression policy implemented by the U.S. Forest Service in the early 1900s — have played a major role in the current condition of forests in the West. Like many issues, there are very strong opinions on all sides of the fire debate, and it is not my role (nor my wish) to become enmeshed in the merits of one school of thought over another. Instead, over my next two posts, I am going to give you a look into how the current Forest Service fire policy came to be. It is a great example of decades of how changing views, science and, most importantly — at least for my role — law, all interact on one issue.

Now, as a history buff, the timeline of the Forest Service’s original fire-suppression policy alone is fascinating stuff. From smokejumpers to Smokey the Bear, it’s a gripping tale (if you haven’t clicked the link above, go on and click it!). The Forest History Society also gives a nice overview of the early policy complete with first-hand accounts of firefighting and black-and-white archival photographs. But even more interesting is how fire-suppression practices in the 1930s and 1940s shifted in the early 1970s to a more tolerant burn policy based on scientific advances, while still including suppression where and when appropriate. The burn policy was further altered and tightened in the wake of the 1988 Yellowstone fires, which burned hundreds of thousands of acres in and outside of the park. Science and experience are powerful drivers in the ever-shifting fire policy of the Forest Service.

The drive from Cody, Wyoming, to the East Gate of Yellowstone gives insight into yet another challenge faced when creating and adapting fire policy: human habitation. Throughout the Wapiti area and even into Shoshone National Forest, houses and businesses dot the landscape, providing an additional factor in firefighting procedures. Should homes be saved at all cost? Or does choosing to build in more-remote areas mean that your home is not a priority when fire does come? These questions have no easy answers, as the fluctuation in the Forest Service’s approach to fighting fires attests.

Calfire S-2F3AT Tanker 71 working the Sawtooth Complex Fire in San Bernardino County, California, September 2006

Calfire S-2F3AT Tanker 71 working the Sawtooth Complex Fire in San Bernardino County, California, September 2006. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

Additional voices from Washington, D.C., joined the fire-policy conversation in 2002 when President George W. Bush established the Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI). The HFI directed the Department of Agriculture (home of the Forest Service), the Department of Interior and the Council on Environmental Quality to streamline the regulatory process that accompanies fire-management policies. Streamline, regulatory, blah, blah— what does it mean?

Well, in the smallest nutshell I can find, there is a law called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to consider the impacts of any major federal action that may significantly affect the environment. To do this, agencies use either an environmental assessment (EA) or an environmental impact statement (EIS) to assess their actions. The HFI designated certain activities, such as hazardous-fuel reductions and rehabilitation actions on smaller acreages, to be excluded from the EA and EIS requirements. Simple regulatory changes, right? Well, not really. But that’s a story for next month. See you then.


Restoring Forests to Help Prevent Wildfire

by Scott Steen, CEO
Battling the High Park Fire in Colorado

Nebraska National Guard crewmembers of Company C 2nd-135th General Support Aviation Battalion dump water from a Bambi bucket onto flames of the High Park Fire, in Larimer County, Colorado, June 18, 2012. Credit: Staff Sgt. Tate Petersen, Company C, 2nd-135th General Support Aviation Support

This June, more land burned from wildfires than in any other June in the last decade — more than 1.3 million acres. At the same time, there were actually fewer fires than usual. This pattern of fewer fires resulting in greater levels of destruction is getting more common each year. Across the U.S., we are seeing more and more megafires like that in Colorado’s Waldo Canyon, which was the most destructive fire in the state’s history.

Now, more than ever, we need to find ways to minimize these incredibly destructive fires to protect homes, land and resources. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) Coalition today announced the success of a number of projects designed to do this very thing. For the second year in a row, reports show that this U.S. Forest Service program focused on pre-emptive thinning and controlled burns is a cost-effective solution in addressing wildfire.

For the same cost of fighting a single megafire (approximately $40 million), CFLRP funds restoration projects that bring together local forest workers, sawmill owners, conservationists, businesses, sportsmen and outdoor recreationists to collaboratively address forest-health concerns on Forest Service lands near their communities. In 2011, the combined efforts of these projects reduced the risk of fire across more than 120,000 acres, while creating more than 500 jobs and improving 192,000 acres of wildlife habitat, among other results.

Deschutes National Forest, Oregon

Deschutes National Forest, Oregon. Credit: American Forests

American Forests is a founding member and sits on the steering committee of the CFLRP Coalition, which is comprised of more than 140 local, regional, and national forest stakeholders. The coalition exists to ensure the success of all CFLRP projects, which range from accelerating longleaf pine restoration in Florida to collaborative work in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest to reduce fire risk to forest restoration in Arizona. The coalition also advocates for full and consistent funding of the program. As part of these efforts, we have been meeting with members of Congress across the country to gain support, and with Congress busy drastically cutting funding for conservation programs, we are heartened that CFLRP will continue to receive the full funding level next year, allowing its important work to continue.

A hallmark of CFLRP and the coalition is bringing diverse groups — including private businesses, communities, counties, tribes, water suppliers, associations, nonprofits and more — together to accomplish work that benefits all: the restoration of healthy forest ecosystems. We look forward to continuing to fight for the CFLRP and programs like it and to working with our partners across the country to continue our mission of protecting and restoring forests for the benefit of communities, families and individuals across the country.


Thieving Rodents Save Trees

by Loose Leaf Team

Usually, when we talk about trees and wildlife, we emphasize how important trees are to the animal’s survival. I never knew before working here that the reverse could also be true — that trees would be relying heavily on animals for their survival. New studies are revealing that small rodents known as agoutis are a key to the survival of many trees in Central and South American rainforests.

Colorful seeds of a palm tree in Florida.

Colorful seeds of a palm tree in Florida. Credit: James Albright (greyhound dad)/Flickr

Because plants and trees are fairly stationary, they rely on outside factors for seed dispersal to continue their lines. Some of the methods of transportation include self-projectile mechanisms, wind, water and animals. Some seeds have hooks and burrs to attach to the fur of animals; some hitch a complimentary ride inside the animal, as an enjoyable fruit or snack. The issue with the trees in the American tropics is that the seeds are so large that it is unlikely that animals can swallow them. So how are they being transported from their parent tree and ensuring future generations?

Many years ago, ancient elephant relatives known as gomphotheres roamed these tropical regions, eating the large fruits and passing them as they traveled from place to place. When these mammoth creatures became extinct, the land became inhabited by smaller animals, who have found other ways of spreading the seeds of these trees that rely on seed dispersal for their survival. As scientists recently discovered, the thieving agoutis go around uncovering and stealing each other’s buried seeds and transporting them to areas they would never naturally reach.

An agouti enjoys some fruit in Playa del Carmen.

An agouti enjoys some fruit in Playa del Carmen. Credit: The Sean & Lauren Spectacular/Flickr

In one of the first studies of its kind, researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute led by Patrick Jensen studied the black palm on Panama’s Barro Colorado Island by not only radio tracking the potential seed-dispersing animals, but also the seeds themselves. Jensen’s team followed 589 black palm seeds, which had the fruit already scraped off, and 16 agoutis, while also having remote cameras on 154 of the agoutis’ seed supply locations. What they found out was that many of the original seeds were stolen, buried and then stolen again by another thieving rodent. Over the course of a year, one of the palm seeds was hidden 36 times and traveled more than 2,460 feet, eventually being eaten 920 feet from its parent tree.

How beneficial is this for the trees? Without these large rodents, it is likely that certain tropical tree species could become extinct. In the case of the black palm, the agoutis may be carrying the fate of the trees in their paws. Without the wide-spread dispersion of seeds, only a small percentage of the tree’s fruit will become new trees with little chance of survival or future.


Tales of Snow Leopards and Beetles

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Oftentimes, environmental news follows similar themes and patterns: forests are being lost to industry, development, climate change, insect and pests, disease, etc. Every now and then, though, the news gets flipped on its head, showing that nature is a complex, interrelated web — as was the case with a few stories this week.

Snow leopard

Snow leopard. Credit: Зелёный_hornet/Flickr

Usually, I come across depressing stories of how climate change is causing problems for various forests around the world — like the rapid decline of white pines in the West — so imagine my shock this week when I read about a new study in Biological Conservation that discusses how forests themselves are becoming a problem for snow leopards in the Himalayas. Forests and big cats clashing is not something I expected to come across this week, but below the surface, I discovered a more familiar foe: climate change.

Snow leopards make their homes in Asia’s high-alpine peaks — areas so high that no forest can grow there and not many other predatory species can survive. But according to the study, if greenhouse gases continue to increase, forests will creep up the Himalayas, bringing tigers and other big cats into up to 30 percent of the snow leopard’s current turf — turf that the leopards can’t afford to lose.

Less than 6,500 snow leopards exist in the wild, making the species endangered and making the loss of their habitat a very big cause for concern. To compound matters, snow leopards are an indicator species, which means if they’re in trouble, there’s a good chance the ecosystem as a whole is in trouble. Communities and governments in Nepal, India, Bhutan and China are trying to develop plans for how best to manage the snow leopard population, as no one wants to lose our “queens of the mountains.”

Northern tamarisk beetle sibling the Mediterranean tamarisk beetle

Northern tamarisk beetle sibling the Mediterranean tamarisk beetle. Credit: Robert D. Richard, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

And, just when I finished digesting this information about snow leopards and forests, I was struck by another topsy-turvey headline: how beetles destroying plants can be a good thing. Most of the time, we hear about beetles and other insects in a negative light, such as the emerald ash borer decimating millions of ash trees across the East and Midwest, but in the Southwest, the site of a northern tamarisk beetle may actually be a good thing.

Scientists introduced the leaf beetle Diorhabda carinulataI, or northern tamarisk, to the Southwest with the intent of using it as a biocontrol against the region’s invasive tamarisk plants. Tamarisk was imported to this country centuries ago and often outcompetes common species like willow and cottonwood. Plus, it steals copious amounts of precious water supplies, as it is one thirsty plant. The northern tamarisk beetle is a natural predator of tamarisk and, since its introduction a decade ago, has rapidly evolved to the American lifestyle and is getting busy attacking tamarisk plants. Of course, the beetle isn’t without its detractors, as some groups question the use of the beetle as a biocontrol, but for the moment, the beetle seems to be settling in and performing its task well. Only time will tell if the project is ultimately a success or whether the beetle will find itself at the center of a problem of its own.

 


Giving a Hoot About the Northern Spotted Owl

by Amanda Tai

The Northern Spotted Owl. Credit: USFWS Pacific/Flickr

The Pacific Northwest is well known for its old-growth forests, untouched by humans for centuries. These diverse and resilient ecosystems are home to a host of wildlife, including the northern spotted owl. But unlike perception, not all of the forest has remained untouched.

In the last few centuries, destructive activities such as clear-cut logging have become a threat to old-growth forests and the wildlife that call them home. Much of what’s left of the Pacific Northwest’s old-growth forests lies on public land, managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, which allows for some timber harvesting. Despite their rich history and diverse plants and wildlife species, these forests remain targets for logging activities. This isn’t good news for the northern spotted owl.

Primarily found in the old-growth forests of Oregon, Washington and California, the northern spotted owl is very territorial and sensitive to habitat disturbance. That means human activities like logging, land conversion and forest fragmentation are huge threats to the survival of the species. Due to diminishing old-growth forests, the northern spotted owl has been listed as a threatened species, which is a disturbing sign for the health of the old-growth forests — the northern spotted is an “indicator species,” which means that scientists study them to get a better picture of the health of the overall ecosystem.

Recognizing the urgency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is working on recovering the species and recently sought public comments on revising the critical habitat area for the owl. According to FWS definitions, critical habitat is an area that’s essential to the conservation of a species and is legally protected under special management practices. American Forests submitted comments with several suggestions for the agency. The comments point out the agency needs to incorporate adaptive management strategies that allow for close monitoring of species recovery and making adjustments if necessary. It’s also important for the agency to take an “ecosystem approach” to management, focusing on recovering the overarching ecosystem that the owl relies on for the most effective and lasting recovery. Another suggestion is to incorporate landscape-scale management, which heavily values local knowledge and public participation.

Banding the owls help the FWS track and monitor the species. Credit: USFWS Pacific/ Flickr

While the government works on plans to protect the owl under the Endangered Species Act, American Forests has conducted restoration projects in this area of the country to help protect the northern spotted’s habitat and the Pacific Northwest’s old-growth forests. Examples include restoration in San Bernardino National Forest in 2011 and Angora Fire restoration projects in 2009 and 2010.

It’s tough to restore and protect wildlife habitat with increasing human activity and interference, but my hope is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service incorporates American Forests’ suggested management strategies to ensure that the northern spotted owl will continue to be spotted in old-growth forests for years to come.

 


Weather and Urban Forests: For Better and Worse

by Melinda Housholder, Urban Forests Program Director
Bike riding in the park

Bike riding in the park. Credit: Paul Davidson/Flickr

In the last few weeks, many folks, especially on the East Coast, have witnessed the realities of urban forests — for better and for worse.

With temperatures across the country exceeding heat records, urban forests have played a critical role in providing a shade refuge for pedestrians, cyclists and anyone stuck out in the heat. For example, in a rather un-canopied area of Baltimore, with the sun beaming down on a 100-degree day, I witnessed several people huddled under a single street tree as they waited for their bus. According to EPA, “shaded surfaces may be 20-45°F cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials.“ Trees and vegetation can be used to mitigate higher temperatures in cities — known as the urban heat island effect — and they can be strategically placed around buildings to help decrease the demand for air conditioning. With such intense summer temperatures over the past weeks, many of us have been grateful for urban forests as a way to seek shelter from the sun.

However, there is the other side of urban trees — fallen trees. In the last two weeks, the East Coast experienced one of the most destructive types of thunderstorms, a derecho with wind gusts up to 90 mph. The storm did damage from Indiana to New Jersey, with a good deal of damage in West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Driving around D.C., I saw trees uprooted in people’s front yards, huge limbs crushing parked cars and trees ominously leaning on people’s houses. And, unfortunately, there were the trees that knocked out the power lines, removing thousands of people’s access to much-needed electricity and A/C during the record-breaking heat wave.

Although urban forests are a critical natural resource within our urban environment, we can’t ignore the truth: Sometimes, they are a liability. Luckily, an important key to urban forests is that there are ways to manage them to limit the damage they might cause.

Here are a few tidbits from the University of Florida and suggestions from D.C.-based, tree-planting nonprofit Casey Trees on how to create a healthy urban forest that can better weather a storm:

  • Tree pruning

    Tree pruning. Credit: Peter Prehn (Pictoscribe – Home again)/Flickr

    Trees that are preventatively pruned are less likely to fail than neglected trees.

  • Trees in shallow soils are more prone to blow over than trees rooted more deeply.
  • Trees in a group blow down less frequently than single trees.
  • Trees growing in confined soil spaces are prone to blowing over.

In the case that a tree doesn’t survive a storm, remember these tips:

  • Tree damage on private property should be promptly examined by a certified arborist to determine its structural stability, prevent or treat infection and/or provide restoration pruning.
  • If you remove a tree, replace the tree using Right Tree, Right Space principles.

Especially in these days of severe weather events, it is of utmost importance to manage our urban forests so that they can continue to provide the benefits that we all need on hot, summer days and minimize the challenges that might come our way on the windy, rainy days. What have been your recent experiences with urban trees during some of these extreme weather days?


Safe Crossings for Wildlife

by Loose Leaf Team

When driving down the highway, I usually find myself wincing as I pass under a bridge. The idea of 1,000-pound cars and trucks driving over me in my little car is never something that has made me comfortable. But I am not sure how I would feel looking up to find a bear or a moose casually walking across the bridge above me.

A green bridge over a highway in Boeblingen, Germany.

A green bridge over a highway in Boeblingen, Germany. Credit: Klausfoehl/Wikimedia Commons

In Canada and other countries, wildlife overpasses have been built or are being built to cater to passing wildlife such as bear, elk and lynx. These bridges provide safe and secure pathways for animals to cross over busy highways and freeways. The overpasses, also known as green bridges or ecoducts, are generally covered with soil and vegetation constructed to resemble the forests that lie on either side of the bridge. What do the animals think about these overpasses and do they use them? In Canada’s Banff National Park, there are currently 41 structures for wildlife crossing. Since they started monitoring usage in 1996, 11 species of large mammals like bears, elk and cougars have gone across these green bridges more than 200,000 times. These structures are definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to creating opportunity and safety for wildlife and also serve as a reminder that the construction of roads creates a huge impact on many wildlife species and the environment they live in.

A black bear in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.

A black bear in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Katrina Bowman/Flickr

Every day, animals lose their homes to highway construction, timber harvesting, agriculture conversion and urban and residential developments. And those animals whose habitat is left behind often find themselves dealing with habitat fragmentation, as new roads and highways are being paved right in the middle of many species homes. For most animals, the ability to periodically change location is an important part of life. When forests are cut down to make way for roads, the areas where wildlife were once free to roam are divided into smaller subdivisions of land. When species are confined to these isolated areas, the stability of their population suffers with increased difficulty in finding food and breeding ground, and while many species can create homes and nests in small sections of forests, many need much more area to survive.

American Forests has recognized the threat forest fragmentation poses to ecosystems and wildlife and is working to build back habitat for a variety species. In Louisiana, we are working with the National Wild Turkey Federation to replant 20,000 bottomland hardwoods to reconnect the area’s forest for migrant birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. We are also working in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to connect fragmented ecosystems along the Rio Grande River that were separated by urbanization and farmland. This project will help rebuild habitat for species like the endangered ocelot and jaguarundi, as well as migratory birds.

As the world population continues to grow, it’s likely that forests and other ecosystems will often come face to face with issues around new roads and developments. It is important to be aware that human impact is the cause for much of the habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. Planting trees to reconnect forests and building overpasses as a way for animals to travel across busy highways are both good steps in the right direction.


The Path to Forests

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

If you had asked me at age 10 what I wanted to do when I grew up, I doubt working at a forestry-focused nonprofit would have been part of my answer. If you asked again at age 18, I would have sworn that I was going to make a name for myself in Hollywood — behind the scenes, that is. Even in college, where I realized that I really wanted to write, it never occurred to me to do so for an environmental organization. So today, on my last day at American Forests, I can’t help but look back and laugh at the many things that shaped my path to bring me here — and the three in particular that made all the difference.

Redwoods

Trees in Redwoods National Park Credit: Brian Garrett

When I was a kid, I lived in what is still one of the smallest towns I’ve ever seen. Penryn, California, is home to only a few hundred people and is rural enough that there was little choice but to be close to nature. Our yard had this gnarled old tree, bent into an arch, with limbs that draped down to form a hollow in the middle. If I wiggled between the veil of branches, I would find myself inside this room of limbs that seemed to have grown just for me. It was big enough to stand in, to bring friends, even to camp out in a sleeping bag. There was a hollow in the trunk big enough to store books or toys. There was one sturdy branch towards the top with a bow in it, where I could sit, peek out from between the branches and watch the world. It was my favorite place and probably the reason that I often look at trees and wonder how the world looks from among their branches.

Penryn may have had some wonderful trees, but with so many farms, orchards and ranches nearby, there wasn’t a real forest to be seen. I just thought that a forest must be a whole bunch of trees like those near my home — interesting, but not particularly impressive. That changed on one summer vacation. I was immersed in a book in the car as we drove for hours, not paying attention to where we were going. The car stopped, we got out and I looked up … and up … and up. We were in Redwood National Park, and I was thunderstruck. I had never even seen buildings as tall as those trees, much less living things capable of such size. But it wasn’t just the trees. There were birds singing that I had never heard, unknown animals crawling across the ground and the air smelled different and alive. Young as I was, I got the distinct impression that these massive trees had created their own world here — and I was in awe of it.

Years later, in high school, I found myself with the choice of several classes to satisfy a science requirement. My dad, an environmental engineer, suggested an environmental science course, and I agreed, thinking that if it was difficult, I could get him to help me. As it turned out, I had never had a class I found so interesting. Learning the science behind things that I had seen my whole life, like forests and rivers and rain, was like learning the secrets behind a magic trick, and I couldn’t get enough of it. It was the first of several classes along the same track, and even though I didn’t make a career out of the science, I continue to be fascinated by environmental news and research — a field I have been lucky enough to immerse myself in for work as well as my own curiosity.

A single tree, a summer vacation and a high school science class — probably more than anything else, these are the things that brought me here. They taught me appreciation for the experiences that the natural world can give us, respect for what it is capable of and an enduring desire to know how and why things work they way they do. These — combined with my own talents — made it all but inevitable for me to end up at American Forests, where I could use my set of skills to help others learn more about the environment and hopefully inspire the same awareness of its value that I have found. If even one post of mine has made someone stop and think, “Wow, I didn’t know that nature could do that,” then I am well satisfied.

Thanks for reading, and I wish you all the best.