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.

Community ReLeaf in Detroit

by Amanda Tai
Meeting in Rouge Park with Davey Resources Group, the Greening of Detroit, and the Friends of Rouge Park

American Forests meets with the Davey Resource Group, The Greening of Detroit and Friends of the Rouge. Credit: Amanda Tai/American Forests

Last week, Melinda Housholder and I, aka American Forests’ urban forest team, traveled to Detroit, Mich., the site of one of the Community ReLeaf 2013 projects. We had the opportunity to meet a lot of folks working on greening initiatives in Detroit and saw a lot of the city. It was a very interesting time to visit the city, being in the midst of its bankruptcy.

A few neighborhoods we drove past were well-maintained with beautifully landscaped traffic islands, but the majority of what we saw was abandoned houses and buildings with boarded-up windows. Many of the abandoned neighborhoods were only a short distance from Rouge Park, our Community ReLeaf site.

Detroit was a booming industrial city for the first half of the 20th century, with the founding of the Ford Motor Company in 1903. Rapid population growth made Detroit the fourth largest city in the U.S. with 1.8 million people in 1950. However, the city has recently seen a rapid economic and population decline. In 2010, Detroit’s population was at 700,000.

The city has also experienced environmental decline. Rouge Park is the only remaining forested area in Detroit. It’s home to the Rouge River, a variety of wildlife and native prairieland.

Measuring tree height in Rouge Park.

Measuring tree height in Rouge Park. Credit: Melinda Housholder/American Forests

In order to better understand the urban forest assessment being conducted in Rouge Park as part of Community ReLeaf, we met with our Davey Resource Group team on the western border of the park. The guys gave a rundown of their data collection plan and walked us through the work they do. There are several measurements to take in each randomly selected 1/10 acre plot and for each individual tree. For the plots, they estimate tree canopy cover by looking at the open spaces, where we could see sky through the trees; ground cover; and shrubs. For each tree, they measure diameter at breast height (DBH), canopy cover, tree height, percent gaps in crown cover and several other specifics to get a detailed picture of each plot. It was interesting to see real data being collected that would be put into the assessment.

We also met with The Greening of Detroit and Friends of the Rouge to talk about the initiatives that are going on in the park and city overall. One of the interesting initiatives is The Greening of Detroit’s Green Corps program, which helps both the environment and youth in the city. Green Corps is a youth employment program designed for high school students living in the city. Teens travel around the city to maintain more than 100 The Greening of Detroit planting sites. Through this program, corps members learn urban forestry skills, sustainability skills and financial literacy skills that will help build their resumes. Friends of the Rouge also talked about several activities that go on in the park and how it’s an important environmental and social piece of the city. With an Olympic-sized pool, amphitheater, mountain bike trails and butterfly tours, Rouge Park certainly has a lot to offer a city looking to turn things around, and we’re excited to be working with the Davey Resource Group and local partners to help assess and restore Rouge Park for the citizens of Detroit.

Take Part in Tree Check Month

by Scott Maxham

Earlier this week, American Forests joined the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to spread awareness about an invasive pest destroying hardwood trees, especially maples: the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB).

The beetle was first found in the U.S. in 1996 and is thought to have been transported in wooden packing material from Asia. They are known to infest 13 different species of trees. The most threatened tree is the maple. This is problematic to those who rely on harvesting its syrup and local ecotourism for those who enjoy viewing their beautiful fall foliage. Other trees infected by these pests are poplars, birch, ash, mimosa, willows and elms.

Infographic from:

Infographic from:

When this beetle burrows into a tree, there is no saving it, as the beetle starves trees by disconnecting tree tissues that transport nutrients and water. The beetle has been found in various states throughout the country, including New Jersey, Ohio, Massachusetts, New York and Illinois, and many fear that if ALB is left unchecked, it could spread to more northeastern states and even Canada. There is good news, though, as two states — New Jersey and Illinois — have been able to completely eradicate the bug from their trees. The key to the success is in early detection of an infestation, which allows a tree to be removed before ALB can spread to the tree’s neighbors. That’s where Tree Check Month comes into play.

APHIS has declared August as Tree Check Month because it is when the beetles become most active, meaning you are most likely to spot them. The concept is simple: If you’re outdoors this August, take 10 minutes to look over your trees and make sure they are not being eaten by ALB — don’t worry the pest is harmless to people and pets.

What should you be looking for?

Asian Longhorned Beetle

Asian Longhorned Beetle. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • Dime-sized exit holes
  • Shallow scars in the bark
  • Sawdust-like material on the ground or on branches
  • Dead branches
  • Sap seeping from wounds

Of course, the most obvious clue would be actually seeing the beetle. It is an inch and a half long with a black body with white spots on it. They have long antennas that are black and white and six legs that may be light blue. In addition to trees, the beetle can also be found on walls, outdoor furniture, cars, sidewalks and often are caught in pool filters.

Remember that one of the most common ways that invasive pests like ALB spread is by moving firewood, so only use local firewood and never take it with you.

Help us stop the spread of ALB by taking just 10 minutes to look over trees in your yard or favorite park. Together, we can rid our forests, lawns and parks of these unwanted pests.

P.S. For more tips and resources on ALB, visit APHIS’ website dedicated to ALB.

Keeping Up With Climate Change

by Susan Laszewski
Iberian lynx

Iberian lynx. Credit: James Gordon

Wildlife will have to evolve 10,000 times faster to keep up with climate change finds a new study published in Ecology Letters.

Researchers at the University of Arizona and Yale University estimated the rate of evolution for 17 vertebrate groups — comprised of 540 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians — by looking at genetic data to determine when species in the past split off into other species. They found that species can adapt to an average temperature increase of one degree Celsius per one million years. Yet, global temperatures are expected to rise as much as four degrees Celsius in less than 100 years. As temperatures rise, wildlife will need to seek higher latitudes or higher ground to stay in temperatures and climates they’re adapted to. Species who are unable to make the move could face extinction.

Several recent studies on species expected to be extinct within 50 years illustrate the idea all too well. A study published last week in Nature Climate Change estimates that the Iberian lynx — believed to be the world’s rarest cat — will be extinct within 50 years, even if the world is able to meet carbon emissions reduction goals.

Jewel lizard

Jewel lizard. Credit: Mana von Unger

A very special group of lizards is in a similar bind according to a study in Global Ecology and Biogeography. Lizards of the Liolaemus genus, such as the colorful jewel lizard of Peru, have thrived in part thanks to the adaptation of giving live birth. This adaptation is believed to be the key to the lizards’ spread into colder climates. Ironically, the very adaptation that gave them success in the past may doom them in the future: The transition from eggs to live birth is an irreversible one. They now depend on colder climates for survival. Like the lynx, these lizards are predicted to disappear within the next 50 years.

News like this can be discouraging, but it’s also important to keep conservation successes in mind. For example, partly through efforts to preserve Jack pine forests, Kirtland’s warbler has rebounded from a population of a few hundred to 2,000 singing males. And earlier this year, we heard that the Siberian tiger has been making a comeback in several key ecosystems. Some species will not be able to keep up with climate change, but we’ll continue to do all we can, with your help, to restore and protect habitat so that others can.

Run, Salmon, Run

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

It’s farmer vs. fisherman in California.

The battleground is the Klamath River and at stake are the abundant agricultural fields of California’s Central Valley and the lives of thousands upon thousands of endangered Chinook salmon. No pressure.

Standardized Precipitation Index map - Loose Leaf July 2013The instigator of this conflict is ages old and drought is its name. As you can see from the standardized precipitation index map from the National Climatic Data Center, the northern section of the state has been experiencing abnormally dry and moderately dry conditions for the last eight months.

This area of California is home to the nationally designated Wild and Scenic River the Klamath. Flowing 286 miles from Oregon to California, it’s the second longest river in California, making it a major player in watershed and ecosystem health, but it’s perhaps most famous for its seasonal salmon runs. Every fall, adult Chinook salmon leave the salt water of the Pacific Ocean and enter the freshwater of the Klamath — as well as California’s longest river, the Sacramento — to reach their native spawning grounds, where they end their lives as they give birth to new life.

It’s an arduous journey that requires optimal conditions for success. Two of these conditions are temperature and river height. The Klamath needs to be high enough for the salmon to make their run, but also cold enough to protect both the fish and their eggs from baking to death. With this year’s drought, experts fear that neither of these conditions will be met. And the timing couldn’t be worse, as experts also predict an above-average run size of 272,000 adult Chinook salmon.

Chinook salmon in the Salmon River, a tributary of the Klamath River

Chinook salmon in the Salmon River, a tributary of the Klamath River. Credit: Enrique Patino/NOAA Fisheries Northwest

The solution being proposed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees water supplies through government dams, powerplants and canals, is to release up to 62,000 acre-feet — 2.7 billion cubic feet — of cool water from the Trinity Reservoir to supplement Lower Klamath River flows. But, there’s a potential problem. The Trinity also feeds the Clear Creek Tunnel, which, through a number of mechanisms and other locations, eventually feeds the Sacramento River, providing irrigation for the Central Valley’s farmers.

In its required Draft Finding of No Significant Impact of its plan to release water in the Lower Klamath River, the Bureau of Reclamation states, “The expected schedule for water delivery to the Clear Creek Tunnel has already been developed, and the Proposed Action would not affect these exports.” Nevertheless, with a seemingly never-ending drought on their minds, California’s agricultural community is nervous about the proposed plan, and according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority has given a 60-day notice of intent to sue if water for Central Valley farmers is used to protect the fish in the Klamath.

What will happen if no action is taken and if the water is too low and too hot? We could see a repeat of 2002 when up to 65,000 of the endangered salmon died from the effects of too little, too warm water.

At American Forests, we know that river conditions in northern California are extremely important to the well-being of communities — human and wildlife alike — which is why in the last decade, our Global ReLeaf program has supported multiple projects in the Klamath basin. In 2012, our most recent project in this area planted 477,200 trees in Klamath National Forest to restore riparian areas affected by the Elk Complex Fire.

Needless to say, we’re very curious to see how this Klamath dilemma plays out.

The Klamath River

The Klamath River. Credit: Jimmy Emerson

Keep Cool, Keep Clean

by Susan Laszewski
Stomata on a purple heart plant

Stomata on a purple heart plant. Credit: Yersinia pestis/Flickr

New research published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics has found that an estimated 460 lives in the U.K. could have been saved from premature death if only trees and plants had been less stressed by a heat wave-induced drought.

Trees clean our air: In addition to absorbing CO2 and producing oxygen, they also play an important role in filtering some of the most common pollutants. During a heat wave, however, a method that plants employ to conserve water also prevents them from filtering as much pollution. When the ground is dry, plants close their stomata — pore-like openings — to keep water in, but the stomata are also the mechanism through which they absorb all that air pollution, including ozone. While atmospheric ozone protects us from harmful cosmic rays, close to the earth, it’s the primary component of smog. So while water stays in when plants close their stomata, ozone and other pollutants stay out — out in the air we’re breathing.

London’s urban forest and skyline

View of London’s urban forest and skyline. Credit: scyrene/Flickr

So, as the summer heats up, at-risk populations, such as people with respiratory difficulties, are left vulnerable. The study found that of the ozone-related premature deaths that occurred in the U.K. during a 2006 heat wave, an estimated 460 would have been avoided had plants been absorbing pollutants at their normal rate.

As important as urban forests’ role in cleaning our air is, reading about this study brought to mind another important benefit of urban forests. They don’t just clean the air; they also cool it. This benefit of trees is especially significant in urban areas where what’s known as the heat island effect is in place. Because our buildings, streets and paved surfaces store the sun’s heat, temperatures in the city are higher than those in surrounding areas. Planting and caring for a healthy urban forest is one way to help cool cities.

That’s why we work to restore forests globally and why we’re starting our new project, Community ReLeaf, to help cities gain insight into their urban forests — insights that can inform management and planting strategies. Heat waves will continue to be a fact of life, but by doing what we can to mitigate the heat island effect, we may also be helping our forests clean the air.

At Home in the Trees

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Everyone knows that birds and trees have a special relationship. For birds, trees provide shelter and food, and for many trees, birds help them reproduce by distributing their seeds. But this relationship can’t be taken for granted, and to protect one, we must protect the other.

Kirtland’s warbler

Kirtland’s warbler. Credit: Joel Trick/USFWS

During my Michigan adventure last week, my colleagues and I visited Hiawatha National Forest, where American Forests Global ReLeaf has supported many projects in the last decade. Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Hiawatha is one million acres of diverse forestland and recreation opportunities — and it’s a place where planning and management are underway to protect an endangered species and its favorite trees.

In the 1980s, the world’s Kirtland’s warbler population had shrunk to a few hundred singing males recorded in the wild. Over the last few decades, foresters, forest managers, wildlife experts and others have helped that species recover by controlling the brown-headed cowbird population in Michigan and the upper Midwest — the only place in the world that the Kirtland’s warbler is found — and preserving Jack pine forests, which are the preferred habitat of Kirtalnd’s warbler. Now, the recorded Kirtland’s warbler singing male population is more than 2,000 in Michigan, which surpasses the original recovery plan’s goal. The bird isn’t out of the woods, though, as its continued population health is contingent on making sure that sufficient habitat is always available, which means making sure new Jack pine stands are planted or replanted each year.

Examining a young Jack pine in Michigan's Hiawatha National Forest.

Examining a young Jack pine in Michigan’s Hiawatha National Forest. Credit: Michelle Werts/American Forests

Our friends at Hiawatha predict that in the next few decades, more and more Kirtland’s warbler will be finding their way north, and since the bird only accepts Jack pine forests that are at least four years old as habitat, now is the time to make sure the species has a northern home to turn to. This is why we’ve been partnering with Hiawatha consistently since 2007, as we’re planning for the Kirtland’s warbler’s future. (Fun Fact: The first Global ReLeaf project was planting Jack pine for Kirtland’s warbler back in 1990.)

But Jack pine and Kirtland’s warbler aren’t the only twosome that needs to be looked after in the country. Our friends at the American Bird Conservancy have put together a series of helpful guides on how to manage forests across the country for various species of birds.

  • Land Manager’s Guide to Cavity-Nesting Bird Habitat and Populations in Ponderosa Pine Forests of the Pacific Northwest – This guide is intended to provide land managers in ponderosa pine habitats with information on bird species’ status, distribution, density, habitat relationships and potential responses to habitat management or restoration activities.
  • An acorn woodpecker, a species associated with Pacific Northwest oak habitat

    An acorn woodpecker, a species associated with Pacific Northwest oak habitat. Credit: Don DeBold

    Land Manager’s Guide to Bird Habitat and Populations in Oak Ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest Part One | Part Two – This provides land managers in oak habitats with information on bird species’ status, distribution, density, habitat relationships, and potential responses to oak habitat management or restoration activities. The report is divided into two downloadable files; part one is the land manager’s guide, and part two are the species accounts.

  • Managing Land in the Piedmont of Virginia for the Benefit of Birds and Other Wildlife – Often overlooked in its importance to birds, the Piedmont provides valuable nesting, migration and wintering habitat that is scarce in other parts of the state. This report details the many simple changes one can make to benefit birds in this region.
  • Northeast Bird Monitoring Handbook – This handbook presents 10 steps that optimize the value of bird monitoring when designing new programs, modifying existing ones or applying results to the practice of bird conservation.
  • Field Guide to Southeast Bird Monitoring Protocols and Programs – This guide is targeted at researchers, land managers and biologists in the southeast bird conservation community and beyond. The main objective of the guide is to serve as a starting point when considering a monitoring program by summarizing many of the protocols that are available.

As you can see, there are many, many factors that must be considered in ensuring healthy forest habitats. And we’re only talking about how to keep them healthy for bird populations. When you add in keeping forests healthy for other wildlife species, for human recreation, for drinking water, for clean air and more, well, it’s a big job. That’s why we’ve been helping forests since 1875 thanks to the help of members like you.

A Burning Alaska

by Scott Maxham
Cloudy Alaskan wilderness

Cloudy Alaskan wilderness Credit: Daniel Hoherd

Since it seems the media only highlights the forest fires that take place in the lower 48 states, many people would be surprised to know that millions of acres of forestland is burned in Alaska each year. Yes, you read correctly, Alaska. The National Interagency Fire Center reports that Alaskan fires have burned 1,043,908 acres so far this year. In comparison, this is 10 times the amount of acres that have burned in California this year. In fact, Alaska has burned more in the last few years than it has in the past 10,000 years, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the study, researchers analyzed charcoal samples found in 14 lakes in the Yukon Flats of Alaska to study the history of fire in the boreal forest. They discovered that over the last 10,000 years, there have been periods of increased fire activity in the region, most notably during two distinct periods:

  • Between 6,000 and 3,000 years ago, which the researchers hypothesize was due to an increase in the flammable black spruce.
  • And 1,000 years ago during a period referred to as the Medieval Climate Anomaly, which was a warm, dry period similar to today’s climate.

Both of these periods pale in comparison, though, to the fire activity of the last few decades. According to the report, the Yukon Flats area experienced an average of 10 fires per 1,000 years over the last 3,000 years. Over the last 50 years, that number has risen to 20 fires every 1,000 years.

What does this level of fire do to the boreal forest? The forest changes, as less flammable trees survive and reproduce. Periods of increased fire activity mean that the coniferous white and black spruce are replaced by deciduous trees, such as aspen and birch trees. This process can take a long time, which is why we see it as beneficial to help out nature by planting trees that will survive forest fires.

In 2012, American Forests Global ReLeaf supported a project in Tok, Alaska, that planted 2,700 trees. Not just any old trees, but birch trees that are resistant to fire, but still provide a healthy forest habitat. The trees were primarily planted around a school that acts as a community evacuation center. It is important that such a place be away from flammable trees, but still be surrounded by nature.

Birch trees

Birch trees credit: Marc Buehler

A complicating factor of increased fire activity in boreal forests is carbon. Boreal forests make up 10 percent of the Earth’s surface and contain half of the world’s underground soil carbon, which is released by forest fires. This contributes to a positive feedback loop in which forests burn and cause temperatures to rise, which could lead to more forest fires.

The researchers behind the Yukon Flats study are hopeful, though, that history will repeat itself in Alaska, with deciduous trees replacing coniferous ones and thus stabilizing wildfire rates in the region. Only time will tell if this comes to pass.