We Grow ’Em Big Out Here

by American Forests

By Josh DeLacey

The world’s biggest Sitka spruce. Credit: Josh deLacy

The world’s biggest Sitka spruce. Credit: Josh deLacy

There is a rivalry between Washington and Oregon that has been going on for decades, and it isn’t just about football and hipster cred — we fight over trees, too. For 15 years, each state had a claim to the “world’s largest Sitka spruce,” as judged by American Forests, and whenever it was time for the annual measuring, Pacific Northwesterners on both sides of the state line would bristle a little that their tree was only a “co-champion.” When a 2006 storm took Oregon’s tree out of the running, Oregonians half-jokingly blamed the northerners.

Last week, I visited the surviving champion while backpacking in Washington’s Quinault Rain Forest, part of which is in Olympic National Park. At 191 feet tall and almost 60 feet around, the 1,000-year old Sitka spruce is big. But compared to its neighbors, not especially so.

In Quinault Rain Forest and Olympic National Park, big trees are at home. Five other national champion trees populate the area: western redcedar, Alaska-cedar, Douglas-fir, western hemlock and mountain hemlock. They all grow within a few miles of the Quinault River, along a stretch less than 30 miles long.

In Quinault Rain Forest, big trees, moss and lichens abound.

In Quinault Rain Forest, big trees, moss and lichens abound. Credit: Josh deLacy

This area is a temperate rainforest, one of several in the western Olympic Peninsula. Outside of this narrow area between mountains and coast, though, temperate rainforests are rare. Less than one fifth of one percent of the world’s land has ever been classified as temperate rainforest, and logging and development have shrunk that number even more. It’s no surprise that trees in the protected Olympic National Park hold so many records — most of their peers are holding up bridges or ceilings or doing some other job.

The surviving temperate rainforests crank out big trees because, for starters, they get a lot of rain. Twelve to 14 feet annually, in fact, which is about four times more rain than Seattle gets. Consistently moderate temperatures allow for massive trees, as well, as extreme cold and heat both can cause cavitation in a tree, a phenomenon that limits the flow of fluid and nutrients from roots to leaves. In Quinault, temperatures rarely fall below freezing or creep above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. On top of that, temperate rainforests have nutrient-rich soil. It’s an ideal location, plant-wise. Instead of struggling to survive, trees have nothing to do but grow and set records.

A map based on NASA images shows the world’s distribution of average tree heights, and aside from a small region in south Asia, the Pacific Northwest’s rainforests tower high above everywhere else. Forests in Indonesia, New Zealand even the Amazon don’t come close.

So if you want to see big trees, visit Quinault Rain Forest. Just don’t tell an Oregonian.

Help Forests by Supporting the Farm Bill

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

What do food stamps, biofuels and environmental conservation have in common? A little something called the Farm Bill. And when I say little, I’m being facetious: The Farm Bill is a big, expensive, important deal to the tune of $939 billion in government spending and programs.

Larriland Farm, Md.

Larriland Farm, Md. Credit: Travis Modisette

What is it exactly? To use legislative speak, it’s an omnibus bill pertaining to agriculture and food policy that comes up for debate and renewal every five years. In layman terms, it’s a massive piece of legislation that contains a whole ton of laws that impact a heck of a lot of stuff, including forests and conservation. And for the last eight months, the programs it controls have been operating under an extension, as the last Farm Bill was originally set to expire in October 2012, which is not an ideal situation and needs your support to help rectify.

Right now, as I write this, the House is debating its version of the Farm Bill reauthorization — the Senate passed its version earlier this month — with a vote expected tomorrow. At stake are myriad forest and conservation-related programs. If the House does not vote “yes” for a new Farm Bill, we’ll most likely end up with another extension, which means we’ll continue to be operating billions of dollars’ worth of programs circa 2008. Translation: not as cost-effective or up-to-date as we should be. The new Farm Bill is designed to save money and improve the programs under its purview, which means strengthened conservation programs.

So head to our Action Center and send our pre-written letter to your congressional member asking him or her to vote “yes” on the Farm Bill reauthorization, as this is the crucial next step in getting a new Farm Bill approved. Once the House has approved its version, conferencing can begin, where the two houses negotiate about the differences in the two bills and come up with a final version to go before President Obama.

Farewell, Skippers

by Susan Laszewski

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Pollinator Week is a time to celebrate pollinators and marvel at how some of the smallest among us — bees, hummingbirds, bats and others — facilitate the reproduction dance of so many of our flowering trees. In fact, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), more than 75 percent of all flowering plants are pollinated by animals. Without pollinators, we wouldn’t have crops like coffee, chocolate or many fruits and vegetables. Pollination by insects alone contributed to approximately $30 billion worth of crops in 2010.

zestos skipper

The Zestos skipper hasn’t been spotted in Florida since 2004. Credit: Marc AuMarc

But, this year, there is also sad news: Last week, the FWS, alongside other members of the Imperiled Butterflies of Florida Working Group, concluded that two south Florida pollinators, both butterflies, are likely extinct. The rockland grass skipper hasn’t been spotted since 2000, while the Zestos skipper was last seen in 2004 and even that was after decades without any sightings. What makes the Zestos skipper’s story particularly poignant is that it was only recently discovered to be a separate subspecies, distinct from the Zestos skippers in the Bahamas and eastern Antilles. Those skippers’ healthy populations account for why the disappearing Florida butterfly was never listed as endangered.

While many factors may have contributed to the skippers’ disappearances, including pesticides, invasive species and poaching, scientists believe the main culprit is habitat loss and fragmentation. That’s why we work to protect and restore wildlife habitat in order to protect biodiversity. We’ve planted more than 44 million trees, including some projects focused specifically on pollinator habitat, such as our Forests for Monarchs partnership with the La Cruz Habitat Protection Project, planting 100,000 trees in the monarch’s winter habitat. But our habitat restoration work depends on the support of people like you. Please help us continue our protection and restoration efforts.

Cell Phones to the Rescue

by Scott Maxham

In today’s rapidly evolving society, you can find a cell phone in almost everyone’s pocket. Working at a toy store, I find it amazing how much people are glued to their devices. Even more amazing is that their children are borrowing their phones, and more common than not, they have their own phone to play with. When I was their age, I could only dream of such technology by pretending my folded-up juice box was a phone. So with everyone and their dog using a cell phone, why not give our trees this same luxury?

Agriculture drastically changes the look of Indonesia.

Agriculture drastically changes the look of Indonesia. Credit: Neil Franklin

The San Francisco-based company Rainforest Connection plans to protect trees by giving them cell phones — I hope the phones are hands free, or should I say branch free. The company plans to use old Android smart phones to monitor illegal deforestation in Indonesia’s rainforests. Over the last 25 years, Sumatra, an island of Indonesia, has lost more than half of its rainforest due to agricultural conversion. To put this loss into perspective, Indonesian rainforests represent a third of the world’s total rainforest. The deforestation is so severe that a May 2013 report by England’s The Observor reveals that scientists are worried that many of the area’s species will be extinct in 20 to 30 years since only fragments of the forest may remain. Enter Rainforest Connection’s old cell phones.

Sumatran orangutan.

Sumatran orangutan. Credit: Schristia/Flickr

As detailed by The Huffington Post, the company is testing technology that allows cell phones to be placed throughout threatened forests, they are left on to monitor forest sounds. If the phones pick up the sound of chainsaws where they shouldn’t be, they send a message to forest rangers. While cell phones can be expensive, the phone plans for these trees are much cheaper, costing less than three dollars a month. Powered by solar energy, one phone can monitor a third of a square mile. Currently, Rainforest Connection is doing a trial test of 15 phones in the Western Sumatra’s Air Tarusan Reserve in Indonesia, an area of the world with which American Forests is very familiar.

In the last decade, we have done multiple restoration projects in Indonesia to aid the threatened wildlife species, especially the endangered Sumatran orangutan. Since 2006, we’ve planted more than 100,000 trees in Sumatran to rebuild orangutan habitat. It is reassuring to know that the work we have done is being supported by other efforts, especially to curtail the rapid, and often illegal, destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests.

Big Mountains and Big Trees

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Credit: Matthew Paulson

The Great Smoky Mountains, which run along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, comprise one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world; they were formed 200 to 300 million years ago. A mere 79 years ago tomorrow, these mountains became protected as Great Smoky Mountains National Park after years of fundraising and effort by local residents to get the area officially designated as a national park.

The most visited national park in the country is an ecological wonderland that is home to more than 17,000 documented species — scientists believe the park may actually be home to up to 80,000 undocumented species. These species include more than 100 species of native trees, which is no surprise given that the park is 95 percent forested and 25 percent of that is old growth. And where there is old-growth forest, there are big trees … including national champions.

National champion red spruce

National champion red spruce. Credit: American Forests

In past years, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been home to more than 10 national champion trees listed on the National Register of Big Trees. As of the Spring 2013 update, the North Carolina side of the park claims three champion trees:

  • The red spruce (Picea rubens), which is the biggest of the park’s current champions. Nominated in 2007 by Jess Riddle and Josh Kelly, the tree measures 147 feet tall and 152 inches around with a 24-foot average crown spread for a whopping 305 total points.
  • The cinnamon clethra (Clethra acuminata). A species native to the area, this national champion is 33 feet tall and 10 inches around with a 12-foot average crown spread for 46 total points.
  • The Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense). Also nominated by Jess Riddle, this champion is just a touch smaller than the cinnamon clethra with 44 total points.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park isn’t the only home for North Carolina national champions, though. The state boasts 26 national champions. Its biggest is a mammoth eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) located in Macon County, which is 159 feet tall with 362 total points. Beyond national champions, the North Carolina Champion Big Tree Program, which has been operating since the 1970s, has almost 400 state champions in its database.

So, this weekend, in honor of Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s anniversary, here’s a toast to the mountains, forests and big trees that make Appalachia so special.

Bald Eagles, From Sea to Shining … Lake

by Susan Laszewski
Bald eagle

Bald eagle. Credit: Andrew Price

I was delighted to read in the USDA blog this month about “Bald Eagles Making a Comeback.”

Anne Poopatanapong, district wildlife biologist for the San Jacinto Ranger District, writes that the pair of bald eagles she has been monitoring for 13 years in California’s Lake Hemet is doing well and has been fruitful. Since 2007, she and volunteer eagle enthusiasts have observed fledgling eagles every year.

It came as no surprise to read that the U.S. Forest Service is putting efforts into protecting and restoring the bald eagle — we’ve worked with them on it ourselves. We partnered with the forest service last year to plant 88,000 trees in Superior National Forest to the benefit of bald eagles and other wildlife.

Two bald eagles

Two bald eagles. Credit: blmiers2/Flickr

The 2011 Pagami Creek Fire was a bad blow to bald eagles and other residents of Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. It blazed through 90,000 acres, just four years after the Ham Lake Fire had burned 75,000. And while fire is a natural part of the boreal forest ecosystem of Superior, declines in the diversity of tree species had left the forest more vulnerable to the blaze and less able to recover — and left the bald eagles and osprey with fewer places to nest.

So, we teamed up with the Forest Service to plant a more diverse mix of trees, from white and black spruce to northern white cedar and white, red and Jack pines that bald eagles are particularly fond of nesting in.

So, we thank the Forest Service for keeping up the good work. From California to Minnesota, we’re rooting for bald eagles. We’ll continue doing our part to restore the forests they rely on, and you can help.

Fire Season Off to Hot Start

by Scott Maxham

On the West Coast, the forest fire season has started early this year due to a dry winter and spring. Areas of California that usually receive more than 10 inches of rain by early summer have only gotten about two inches so far. This has led Cal Fire to report that fire activity is up this year by 45 percent.

The 2008 Freeway Complex Fire in Riverside County, Calif.

The 2008 Freeway Complex Fire in Riverside County, Calif. Credit: Erik Nielsen

The threats of forest fire are not just domestic this year. Researchers from NASA have predicted that the Amazon will experience an increase in forest fires, too. This is due to a lack of rain — projections show this trend will continue. Researchers are tracking the water temperature of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This year, both are warmer than average, which scientists interpret to mean a lack of rain that leads to dry, flammable forests.

And this just marks the most recent in a string of years that has seen intense wildfires wreak havoc on ecosystems across the country:

Unfortunately, these damaging wildfires — as opposed to low-intensity fires needed for many species to reproduce — are likely to become more common as experts predict that climate change will exasperate the intensity of forest fires in the future. Increased water temperatures often lead to a decrease in participation, and if seasons change, wildfire season may start earlier and end later. It appears that intense wildfires are on the horizon.

An Excel-lent Evening for Urban Forests

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Urban Forests Case StudiesLast night was a special one for both me and American Forests. At the Association Media & Publishing’s 33rd Annual EXCEL Awards gala last night, we collected a Gold Award and an EXTRA! Award for our Urban Forests Case Studies: Challenges, Potential and Success in a Dozen Cities. The book, which we published last fall, was a labor of love, and while it feels tremendous to be honored for it, I am more excited about the award in hopes that it will help expose more people to the world of urban forests.

Of all of the issues we tackle here at American Forests, an urban forest is one of the gnarliest to comprehend. I mean, the very name seems to contradict itself: How can you have a forest in an urban area — at least one not of the concrete variety? But “forests” do exist in cities, towns and communities across the country. They just don’t always resemble the idyllic, rural forests and landscapes made famous by painters and photographers. Instead, these forests are comprised of that tree in the median, the plants in your front yard, the river that cuts through the city, the parkland where the children play. It consists of all of those nature elements you come across in the city every day — the ones you may not even register.

And while they may be easy to overlook on a daily basis, these forests can only exist with a helping hand, which is what Urban Forests Case Studies celebrates. It acknowledges the men, women, governments and organizations who have stepped up to make sure that their urban forest is working for all of the people who rely on it because urban forests do so much for us on a daily basis:

  • Planting trees at a Sacramento Tree Foundation event. Credit: Sacramento Tree Foundation

    Planting trees at a Sacramento Tree Foundation event. Credit: Sacramento Tree Foundation

    Studies have shown that every $1 invested in urban trees results in $2 to $4 in benefits, including lowered energy costs, reduced stormwater flows, improved aesthetics, higher air quality and reduced carbon dioxide concentrations.

  • Urban trees in the lower 48 states store 770 million tons of carbon, valued at $14.3 billion, and remove approximately 784,000 tons of air pollution annually, with a value of $3.8 billion.
  • A single front-yard tree can intercept 760 gallons of rainwater in its crown, reducing runoff and flooding on your property.
  • Public housing residents with nearby trees and natural landscapes reported 25 percent fewer acts of domestic aggression and violence.
  • Tall, dense trees with soft ground surfaces can reduce noise by 50 percent or more.

With more and more people moving into cities — experts estimate that urban land in the lower U.S. will increase by 8.1 percent by 2050, a land mass larger than the state of Montana — urban forests are going to be more important than ever in the future, which is why earlier this year, American Forests launched its Community ReLeaf program with partner Bank of America Charitable Foundation. Taking into account things we learned through our research for Urban Forests Case Studies, this program is working with cities across the country to measure the impact of their urban forests and figure out how and where the urban forests can be bolstered to provide more services to urban residents.

Philadelphia skyline

Philadelphia. Credit: Ed Yakovich

Now, before I sign off for today, I need to take a moment to thank those crucial for making the book and, thus, this award happen. First, the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban & Community Forestry Program, who has been an unfailing partner to the American Forests Urban Forests Program over the last few years and whose grant made our award-winning Urban Forests Case Studies possible. Second, all of the individuals in the 12 cities who selflessly gave their time and expertise to this book. They are the ones working in urban forests every day, fighting the good fight to keep them healthy and working for us. As this book and award wouldn’t exist without the U.S. Forest Service and the local urban forest practitioners we are pleased and excited to share this award with them.

Coastal Life-givers

by Scott Maxham
Floating mangrove, Homebush Bay, Australia.

Floating mangrove, Homebush Bay, Australia. Credit Rodney Campbell

As I viewed this picture of mangrove overtaking an old World War II boat, I was reminded of the beauty of nature and the ecosystem services it provides. Many marvel at this juxtaposition of nature reclaiming what man has made; it gives us a taste of what a post-apocalyptic world would be like. For me, however, the mangroves represent tranquility and remind me of the cleaning power of nature.

Yellow-crowned night-heron in J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Yellow-crowned night-heron in J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Credit Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

I have been studying and exploring mangroves for a number of years around Sanibel Island, Fla. I have spent countless hours at Florida’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. I have also explored mangroves while kayaking through Tarpon Bay and while fishing on a boat alongside them. Through my time with the mangroves, I’ve learned that they have a deep importance in the many ways that they serve humans and nature.

One of the first ways mangroves serve humans is by improving water quality and increasing biodiversity in aquatic ecosystems. In many ways, mangroves are the essence of “Water and Biodiversity,” the theme for the United Nation’s designation of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation. Mangroves provide for diversity in many ways:

  • They are nurseries for fish that grow up eating the fallen leaves of the mangroves.
  • The trees provide a home and feeding area for many birds from the yellow-crowned night-heron to the ospreys and bald eagles that feed on mature fish.
  • Many other animals thrive in the mangrove ecosystems, such as crocodiles, alligators, monkeys, bats, hawksbill sea turtles, crabs, starfish and countless others.

Mangroves are also important for local economies, as fishermen depend on these areas for a steady supply of fish, which provide jobs and a commodity that can be sold to local restaurants and sent around the world. Plus, there is ecotourism, which includes bird watchers, boaters, hikers, fishermen and other nature enthusiasts.

Fiddler crab.

Fiddler crab. Credit: malfet_/Flickr

And mangroves, like many other trees, provide countless benefits to human health and safety. In addition to carbon sequestration and oxygen production, they clean the water of pollution due to runoff. They also help reduce flooding and help to cut down on the destruction of storms and hurricanes, which are proving to be more destructive with the rising and warming waters. These trees also provide a beautiful aesthetic benefit: Kayaking under a canopy of mangroves is an unparalleled experience. Mangroves have so much to offer and are an integral part of ecosystems.

Luckily, in Florida, mangrove destruction has decreased, and the species is able to flourish in the 1.5 million acre Everglades National Park — a beautiful place to visit. However, in Asia, this is not the case. With a rising global demand for seafood, many mangrove forests are cut down for fish or shrimp farms. I am honored to be working this summer with an organization that has planted 20,000 mangrove trees in Indonesia and more than 815,000 mangrove trees in China with help from their partner Alcoa Foundation. Mangroves provide many wonderful ecosystem services, economic benefits and esthetic value. People all over the world should be able to share in their beauty and benefits.

The Climate Dream Team

by Susan Laszewski

Tomorrow is a day internationally dedicated to celebrating one of the most important ecosystems on our planet. And for once, I don’t mean forests. Tomorrow is the UN-designated World Oceans Day. But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean we won’t be talking about forests. After all, you can’t have one without the other.


This nautilus needs calcium carbonate to form its shell. Credit: Pacificklaus Photography, 2009

Yesterday, Michelle wrote about an important way that forests and oceans are connected: Forests prevent erosion into rivers and streams, keeping large quantities of sediment from washing into oceans. But that’s not the only way that forests help oceans out. Oceans and forests are Earth’s carbon sequestration dream team. Together, they regulate our planet’s climate. And when one of them is on the bench, the other one has to pick up the slack.

So, when deforestation prevents forests from sequestering their fair share of CO2, the oceans end up absorbing more, leading to ocean acidification. This is bad news for calcifying marine organisms — those organisms whose skeletons are formed from calcium carbonate, like corals and mollusks. As the water becomes more acidic, fewer carbonate ions are available to form their shells, leading to thinner shells and less protection for the organisms. If the ocean continues to acidify, shells and coral could dissolve. The changing chemistry of the ocean may have other effects that we aren’t aware of yet, as well.

In this way, deforestation sets off chain reactions that affect the whole planet. That’s why we’re working hard to restore forests where we can and protect healthy ones from deforestation. This World Oceans Day, consider helping our forests help our oceans. There’s no such thing as a team of one, and the oceans need their partner.