Python-hunting Dogs to the Rescue

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Snakes creep me out. I get goosebumps looking at their pictures. I hid my face during any sequence in the last few Harry Potter films involving a large digitized snake. Yep, I’m a wuss when it comes to snakes. Yet, for the last few years, I’ve been fascinated by the story of Burmese pythons in Florida’s Everglades National Park — and a new twist involving some talented canines makes the story even better.

Burmese python

Burmese python. Credit: Skip Snow/NPS

For those of you who haven’t been following this ecological conundrum, Burmese pythons are taking over the Everglades. I’m not exaggerating. The pythons, a non-native species to the U.S., came to this country as pets — until their owners decided that having a snake in their house that could grow to more than 20 feet in length wasn’t the best idea. So what to do with an unwanted snake from a foreign country? They dump it in the wilderness, which has spelled bad things for the Everglades.

Unlike many national parks throughout the country that were preserved because of combination of their gorgeous landscapes and important ecosystems, the Everglades is protected mainly because of its biodiversity. It’s a swampy, marshy, water-based ecosystem that is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S., housing many rare and endangered species. It’s an unusual place where crocodiles and alligators actually live side by side. Thousands of wading birds use it for migration and breeding. And the pythons are threatening it.

Since 2000, mammal populations in the Everglades have seen a rapid decline. Bobcat, opossum and raccoon sightings have decreased in frequency by more than 87 percent, and rabbits and foxes aren’t seen anymore at all, according to a study released in January. According to study co-author John Willson, “The effects of declining mammal populations on the overall Everglades ecosystem, which extends well beyond the national park boundaries, are likely profound … Studies examining such effects are sorely needed to more fully understand the impacts pythons are having on one of our most unique and valued national parks.” And, mammals aren’t the only species at risk as pythons have also been documented to eat full-grown alligators (watch the video below from PBS’ “Nature” to see an alligator and python collide) and birds. Basically, to preserve the native wildlife that calls the Everglades home, the python population has to be controlled. But pythons are very skilled at camouflaging themselves, so how do you manage something you can’t find? By employing something that has a keener nose than you.

Watch Alligator Versus Python on PBS. See more from Nature.

For years, dogs have been employed to sniff out drugs and bombs, but now, their super sniffers are being turned to ecological uses: They’re being trained to hunt pythons. For three years, multiple departments at Auburn University have been working on a program called EcoDogs, which is designed to “train detection dogs to find plant and animal species, or their sign [such as their scat or dung], in the field for the benefit of ecological research, management or conservation.” These dogs are being trained to specialize in tracking things like scat from a variety of mammals such as skunks, black bears, weasels, bobcats and foxes to invasive root fungi that’s threatening pine trees in Alabama. Black labs Jake and Ivy, though, have living targets: Burmese pythons.

The dogs were trained for six months to prepare their bodies for the physical task and condition their brains in search patterns and distinguishing the smell of pythons. Then, they were taken into the Everglades for a field test, having been trained to “alert” their handlers of a python’s presence by sitting down when they got within five meters of one, at which point the dogs went in the truck and the human snake wranglers went to work. The Auburn program is still young, but Jake and Ivy have already helped researchers catch 19 pythons in the Everglades. Researchers hope that by adding these dogs to the list of tools available to hunt and capture pythons, the management of the Everglades python invasion will become easier. Good dogs!

Farm Bill 101: Conservation

by Amanda Tai

Credit: kevin dooley/Flickr

Every five years, Congress passes a massive piece of legislation called the Farm Bill. It serves as the primary funding source for food and agriculture policy. The current bill is set to expire in October, so the House and Senate are crafting and passing a new version prior to that deadline. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry passed their draft of the bill last week, sending the measure off to the Senate floor for a vote. On the other side of the Hill, the House continues to hold hearings and has yet to draft their version of the bill.

What does the Farm Bill have to do with forests? While farming regulations do make up a major part of the bill, there is also an entire section (called a “title”) dedicated to conservation programs. Conservation plays such a significant role that the 2008 Farm Bill was deemed the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, emphasizing the importance of conservation practices for landowners and farmers. The bill’s Title II: Conservation is a major vehicle for restoration in this country; offering incentives, education, and technical assistance for farmers and landowners to incorporate conservation projects on their land.

In fact, the suite of tools in Title II make up the largest conservation program in the U.S. in terms of acreage and assistance provided. With so much at stake in one piece of legislation, conservation groups want to ensure they have a seat at the table. American Forests has been an active part of the Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition since the group first came together in preparation for the 2008 Farm Bill. The coalition brings together a diverse group of community organizers, forest landowners, industry representatives, conservation non-profits and academics who work on conservation. Their goal is to ensure that landowners and farmers are given the appropriate resources and tools to do conservation work. The group successfully advocated for conservation programs in 2008; new opportunities supporting wetland restoration, wildlife habitat recovery, reforestation, and forest disease mitigation were added to the bill.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that the current political climate is tough, with the upcoming presidential election and federal agency budget cuts. The Senate draft includes funding cuts for conservation programs, but the result was not a total loss for conservation. These programs will still be able to function with the funding they received; it just means we have to push even more for funding increases. With the help of forest-supporting Senators to back us up and the House still mulling over the measure, it’s important that we continue the conversation to increase funding so that we can protect and restore our forests, wildlife habitats and wetlands for years to come.

Renewing a Legacy at Arlington

by Scott Steen, CEO

First, let me welcome all of Loose Leaf’s new readers. We have been blown away with the response we have been getting lately. More importantly, we are delighted with how many people are liking, commenting and sharing our content. Our work to protect and restore forests depends on you. We need you to help get the word out and keep the momentum going, so thank you for your energy and enthusiasm.

Arlington National Cemetery tree planting: Scott Steen, Katherine Hammack and Steve Van Hoven

(From left) American Forest CEO Scott Steen; Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment; and Steve Van Hoven, Arlington National Cemetery urban forester, plant a descendant of Arlington Oak near the Kennedy gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery. Credit: Leroy Council/U.S. Army

Some of you may have seen that I had the opportunity to take part in a ceremony on Friday (Arbor Day) near the Kennedy gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery. The purpose was to dedicate three oak seedlings that were planted to replace the majestic Arlington Post Oak that had stood on the site for 220 years and was destroyed last August by Hurricane Irene. This one tree came to be a symbol of Arlington National Cemetery and was a big reason that the site was chosen for the resting place of a beloved president whose life was tragically shortened. In 2007, American Forests collected acorns from Arlington Oak and used them to grow new saplings. These saplings were used in the Arbor Day planting.

During the next five decades or so, the trees we planted on Friday may grow to more than 80 feet high and up to two feet wide. If we’re lucky, they should start producing acorns in about a quarter century.

President Kennedy once told the story of the great French Marshal Lyautey, who asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshal replied, “In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!” When we plant trees, we do it not only for ourselves, but also for generations to come.

At American Forests, we plant trees on a fairly massive scale — about four million last year. We talk a lot about “landscape scale projects” and “ecosystem restoration.” On Friday, I was reminded again of the power one single tree can have on people’s imaginations and of the way that planting a tree can move our thoughts beyond ourselves and toward leaving a legacy for future generations.

Water in the Big Apple

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill Mountains (Photo credit: Mwanner)

American Forests has had a lot to say over the years about the relationship between forests and water. From protecting sourcewater to managing overflow in cities to advocating for forests’ integration into the Clean Water Act. And of course, we’ve been planting trees to restore watersheds for decades. Despite all this, the message about forests and water only really hit home for me when I learned about the water in New York City.

The Big Apple has more than eight million people living it, and all of them need water. How one city can provide clean drinking water for this many people boggles the mind — or at least, it sure boggled my mind. That is, until I found out that a lot of the work is done before the water even arrives in the city.

Good old NYC receives 90 percent of its water from the well-forested mountains that cover the rest of the state: the Catskills. New York City’s watershed spans the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River Valley. This watershed includes two reservoirs, which together deliver roughly one billion gallons of water to New York City every day. But here’s the kicker: the water that comes from the reservoir in the Catskills is such high-quality water that it doesn’t need to be artificially filtered. The water that comes out of the faucet in an eighth-story apartment in the middle of the concrete jungle is the same water that flows through the remote forest upstate. That forest does such a good job of cleansing and purifying the water that there is no need for any additional filtration.

Think about the implications of that for a minute. Not only is it a concrete, quantifiable example of a benefit of forests that is often overlooked, but it also equates to a lot of money in the bank. The cost of constructing and maintaining a filtration plant that could process those one billion gallons every day would be truly incredible. To put it in perspective, the city is currently spending roughly two billion dollars to build a filtration plant to filter water that comes from the Croton Reservoir, which accounts for only 10 percent of the city’s total water use.

Forests take on a whole new value when you realize how much money they may be saving you. In 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency tested NYC’s Catskills water to make sure that it still met the requirements for unfiltered water, and it passed with flying colors. To continue taking advantage of the water-cleansing properties of their watershed, New York City designates funds for conservation in the Catskills. The cost is minimal, especially compared to the alternative, but the benefits are a healthy forest and a healthy watershed, with all the benefits provided by both. I call that a win-win.

Learn more about the role that forests play in your water and how you can help protect them by visiting our Forests & Water page.

The National Register of Big Trees Is Here!

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland & Michelle Werts

Hawaii's champion palm coconut

Hawaii’s champion palm coconut. Credit: Hawaii’s Big Tree Program

We’ve been teasing you with tidbits from it for weeks, but today, the teasing is done: The full 2012 National Register of Big Trees is now available over in the Big Tree section.

Now, for those of you that are newbies to Loose Leaf or to the National Register, since 1940, American Forests has been working to locate, appreciate and protect the biggest trees in the country through our National Big Tree Program. From towering giants to wizened favorites to tiny titans, the register recognizes the biggest trees from hundreds and hundreds of species.

So, what are some of the highlights of the new 2012 register? Oh, so many:

  • 761 champion trees
  • 16 native Hawaiian species now on eligible species list
  • 90-plus new champions
  • 70-ish dethroned champions
  • 220 species without champions
  • 111 champions in Florida, the state with the most champion trees
  • 5 states with no champions: Delaware, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Wyoming

Also, for the first time this year, American Forests will update the register not once, but twice! This fall, we’ll be updating the register again to reflect any changes to the champion trees. So get out there and find some big trees — especially one of those eligible species with no champs, as you’ll become an instant celebrity (in the big-tree world) with a national champion tree to your name.

Father of Landscape Architecture and Urban Parks

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

A portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted by John Singer Sargent

A portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted by John Singer Sargent

Last week, we celebrated the birthday of the “Father of National Parks.” Today, we’re recognizing another famous father.

Frederick Law Olmsted, aka “Father of Landscape Architecture” and creator of many of America’s famous urban parks, was born on this date in 1822. During a century in which America was rapidly expanding and becoming more urban, Olmsted recognized the importance of green spaces for not only their beauty, but also for how they could help reduce stress and allow people a quiet escape from the demands of a busy world.

As a result, some of today’s largest cities have magnificent parks either directly because of Olmsted or indirectly due to his influence. Here are a few of his lasting legacies.

New York City’s Central Park
After a national landscape design contest in 1857 — the first of its kind in the country — Olmsted and his associate Calvert Vaux’s Greensward Plan was selected as the guiding principle behind the park’s design. Under this plan, the park was transformed into a rolling pastoral landscape. To create this effect, the designers actually lowered four of the roads that cut through the park below the surface to create an uninterrupted oasis, which the 843-acre park remains to this day. And, Central Park isn’t Olmsted’s only contribution to NYC’s cityscape — Brooklyn’s Prospect Park was also his handy work.

The U.S. Capitol
No, Olmsted didn’t design the iconic dome, but he did sculpt the green space surrounding it. His plan was to create a symmetrical flow around the building that would highlight it in its best light. By using carefully placed low walls, trees, shrubs and curved walkways, Olmsted made sure that the Capitol could be ogled from any number of vantage points. And, that marble terrace that goes all the way around the Capitol … that was all him, too.

Stanford University

Stanford University. Credit: Conny Liegl (MoonSoleil)/Flickr

Stanford University
Olmsted didn’t just leave his mark on the East Coast. When the Stanford family decided to establish a university in California, they turned to Olmsted to design the campus. According to Stanford’s website, the design process was often “contentious, but finally resulted in an organization of quadrangles on an east-west axis.” While the idea of quadrangles might be English in concept, as executed on Stanford’s campus, it’s all about creating green vistas and open spaces while keeping the buildings centralized.

These three sites only scratch the surface of Olmsted’s legacy, as he had a hand in dozens of urban parks, urban parkways, residential communities, college campuses and housing estates across the country. And that doesn’t even count his personal legacies: his son and stepson, who continued in his footsteps, created landscape architectural impacts of their own.

Olmsted and his family were pioneers with their emphasis of incorporating green spaces into cities and urban areas around the country, paving the way for those that came next. Many of our urban parks and trees owe a big influence to the work of Olmsted and his fellow landscape designing compatriots. So, today, in celebration of Olmsted and the urban green spaces he inspired, go pay your respects to him by visiting a local park and basking in the joy the trip brings.

Fish and Wildlife: Beyond the Five-Year Plan

by Amanda Tai

American Widgeon. Credit: Andrea Pokrzywinski/Flickr

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe testified before a Senate Environment and Public Works panel yesterday, urging lawmakers to renew the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). The bill was enacted in 1989 to provide administrative support for a wetlands conservation and habitat restoration grant program, but that funding is scheduled to run out at the end of October. Passing the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act of 2012 would ensure funding for wetland conservation and restoration projects for the next five years. Wetland protection is important for all the benefits those ecosystems provide, such as wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, carbon sequestration, flood control and water purification. Several migratory bird species like the Reed Warbler and American Widgeon rely on these wetlands for food and shelter during their seasonal flights.

Some examples of wildlife habitat protection work that rely on NAWCA funding include the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Reed Warbler. Credit: coniferconifer/Flickr

NAWMP started in 1986 after waterfowl populations saw record lows and wetland acres continued todecrease. An international plan committee — including Canada, Mexico and the U.S. — oversees the program and helps figure out long-term strategies to protect migratory birds and waterfowl habitats. To date, the pla. n has helped protect 15.7 million acres of waterfowl habitat and has invested $4.5 billion in wetland restoration. As Ashe pointed out in his testimony this week, this is not only good for birds, but all other species that live in wetland habitats.

Ashe also advocated for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Reauthorization Act of 2011. Established by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation distributes public grants with private matching donations for conservation projects. Since its start, the foundation has been able to literally triple every federal dollar for conservation and restoration projects. Since federal agencies are experiencing funding cuts across the board, it’s encouraging to see that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been successful in the past, leveraging federal funding to do conservation work.

Extending NAWCA may only guarantee funding for these programs and their work through 2017, but it signifies a growing commitment from Congress to invest in wetland restoration, now and in the future. Investing in the health of wetland habitats will benefit generations to come and give future restoration projects a foot (or wing) in the door.

Legal Environmentalism

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

Today, Loose Leaf welcomes its third regular guest blogger, Alison Share, who will be joining us on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Unlike the rest of current blogging team, Alison comes from outside the nonprofit world: She’s a law associate who works in torts and public policy, which often overlaps into the environmental world, so we’re excited by the new perspective she’ll be bringing to the blog each month. So without further ado, take it away Alison.~K&M

I always find introductions to be a little bit tricky. How to be memorable without being obnoxious; how to amuse your listener without being boorish? I’m not sure that I know how to balance that line. Inevitably, I find myself either cowering in the corner afraid to go near it or running headlong over it like a schoolchild hurling themselves at the arms of the opposing team in a rousing game of Red Rover.

Regardless, here I am. The newest member of the Loose Leaf team, and it’s an honor to be here. Unlike the rest of your faithful bloggers, I’m a bit of an interloper — I don’t work for American Forests. Instead, I am drawn to American Forests purely by love. In 2001, I spent five glorious months working on organic farms in New Zealand. I worked on the land of a registered arborist and on the land of a biologist looking to restore native trees to the land. I once helped plant 1,000 feijoa trees over a single weekend. Another time, I spent two full days in a box canyon planting kauri trees and ended up with blisters, along with feelings of “weary to the bone in a good way,” galore.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Steven Chase/USFWS

In 2004, I took a trip with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) through Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Northern Alaska. There, I saw decades-old trees that were only one or two feet high. In the far north, where there is only sunlight for a few months of the year, the lush growth that we enjoy here on East Coast is unimaginable. That trip to ANWR changed my life. I left my job as a college lacrosse coach and launched myself headlong into the unknown world of law. After I graduated from Vermont Law School, I took another NOLS trip — this time with crampons and an ice ax up to the summit of Mt. Baker in the North Cascade Mountains.

So where does this leave me? Honestly? Someplace fairly unexpected. I am currently an associate at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Crowell & Moring. I practice in the torts group, as well as in the public policy group. My policy work focuses mostly on the remediation of sites that are contaminated. Most of this proceeds under either the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) or the unwieldy-named Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund). RCRA controls, from “cradle to grave,” the handling and disposal of both hazardous and non-hazardous materials, while CERCLA provides the statutory framework to clean up sites contaminated by hazardous materials. My work also includes supporting companies with new technologies, either for remediation or for alternative sources of energy.

It is from a standpoint of legal environmentalism that I hope to offer you a different perspective every fourth Tuesday of the month. I will be highlighting a news article, a court decision or a legal topic that is worth exploring a little more in-depth. As a lawyer, I can offer a legal perspective on issues. But as a lawyer who loves the environment, I hope to provide you that perspective with an environmentally conscious twist. I aim to educate and entertain while limiting the bad puns (but no guarantees).

Thank you very much for taking part of your day to read this post. Please leave any questions or comments below, and I will do my best to answer them all. Until my return next month, a few words to ponder:

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. ”
–Franklin D. Roosevelt

Fun in the Forest

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

So far this Earth Month, we’ve been looking at a lot of the great benefits that forests provide, from mitigating climate change to providing homes for wildlife and managing water flow in our cities. But today, let’s look at a completely different thing that forests provide for us: Fun!

hiking through the forest

Photo credit: Miguel Vieira

Forests are like amusement parks, only with more variety. When it comes to recreation, there’s very little that the forests around the U.S. don’t offer. You can hike, bike, ski, snowshoe, swim, kayak, raft, canoe, climb, camp, photograph, explore and learn. And that’s just the beginning. You can see giant trees, bizarre plants, unusual animals, glaciers, geysers and more. You can use forests to relax and de-stress or to work out, amp up and get your blood pumping. All you have to do to take advantage of this is find the park or forest nearest you. Here are just a few of the great examples of how you can get out there and have some fun.

Take a Hike!
Just about every park or forest can offer you some great hiking, but the arguable king of trails in the U.S. is the Appalachian Trail. This 2,181-mile trail stretches from Mount Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mountain, Georgia. It passes through 14 states, including miles of wilderness, forests and national parks. You can pick it up at any point along its route and hike sections as long or short as you like — either way, you’re guaranteed a great view. Or, if you’re really intense, you can try the whole thing.

Not located out east? That’s ok, check out the Pacific Crest Trail (2,663 miles) if you’re out west or the Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles) if you’re in the Rockies. There’s something for everyone, as you can see from our list of the best hiking trails in the U.S.

Rafting the lower rogue river

Photo credit: USDA Forest Service

Rolling on the River
If moving along on the water is more your style, there are always a lot of options, from rivers to lakes. One of the most famous in the U.S., of course, is the Colorado River. Stretching from the Colorado Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico, the river offers 1,450 miles of adventure for rafters, kayakers, canoeists and other paddlers, whether beginners or experienced adrenaline junkies. It passes through no fewer than 11 national parks, as well as number of national forests and state parks.

Camp Out
Sometimes a day trip just isn’t enough — you want to stay out in nature day and night. This means it’s time to break out the tents because you’re going camping! Whether it’s in your back yard or out in the wilderness, camping can be a fantastic getaway.


Photo credit: Miguel Vieira

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular sites for camping in the U.S., but you can have fun with camping just about anywhere. Check out this list of top camping sites in national parks or head on over to the USDA Forest Service to find a national forest near you.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for a feature article on camping across the U.S., coming in the summer issue of American Forests magazine.

Can’t get away from the city? Enjoy the trees in your city park, whether it’s on the scale of the 843-acre Central Park in New York City, or the cozier green space in your neighborhood.

While we’re talking about fun outdoors, this week is National Park Week. From April 21 to April 29, all national parks are admission-free, so don’t forget to take advantage!


Happy Earth Day!

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland & Michelle Werts

Hiking in Redwood Regional Park

Credit: Miguel Vieira/Flickr

What does Earth Day mean to you? Maybe it offers an opportunity to volunteer in your community, cleaning a local park or sprucing up the landscaping outside of a school or office building. Or maybe Earth Day is another day to get outside and enjoy our beautiful planet on a long hike or bike ride. Whatever you decide to do, we’d love to hear about it. Join the conversation below or on Facebook and Twitter, and let us know what you did to celebrate this Earth Day.

Earth Day also offers an excellent opportunity for all of us to think about how what we do every day affects our environment and how we can cut back on our energy use to reduce our carbon footprint. Worried about yours? You can calculate it by using our Carbon Calculator! Perhaps make a pledge to take a bus or train to work a few days a week, leaving the car in the garage. Or, instead of buying that pallet of bottled water, invest in a filter for your faucet or a filtering pitcher for your fridge — and shut the faucet off while brushing your teeth to save gallons of water per year. And make sure you flip the light switch when you leave a room and turn down the thermostat when you leave the house — it’s a drain on our precious resources to illuminate, cool or heat an empty room.

The best part is, all of these Earth-saving strategies can also end up saving you money. Saving green by going green? That’s a concept we can all get behind.

As you know, our forests and trees are excellent conservationists. Trees absorb rainfall and act as natural water purifiers, ensuring a clean and plentiful water supply. A tree close to your property can provide shade for an outdoor air-conditioning unit and your house itself, cutting down on the amount of energy you need to use to cool your home. And, perhaps most importantly, trees and forests play a critical role in removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, which helps slow the rate at which our planet heats and may help solve what is quickly becoming a global climate-change crisis.

So, in addition to forgoing those plastic bottles, what else can you do this Earth Day to help our forests improve our planet? You can get out there and plant a tree or two with a local tree-planting group. If you don’t have one in your community, you can support our tree-planting efforts in every state in the U.S. by making a donation to American Forests. Take the opportunity today to go visit a local park or forest and admire the peace a tree canopy can provide. We promise that you’ll be glad you did.

Happy Earth Day 2012 from your friends at American Forests!

Mount Diablo Regional Trail in California

View from Briones to Mount Diablo Regional Trail in California. Credit: Miguel Vieira/Flickr