25 years of Global ReLeaf

by Jami Westerhold

While the world watched the space shuttle Discovery place the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit 25 years ago, American Forests was also launching a stellar program: Global ReLeaf.

Though we had dipped our toe in the water of forest reforestation before 1990, this was the first year we committed to supporting multiple large-scale, on-the-ground projects. Since its inaugural year, American Forests’ Global ReLeaf program has blossomed into what is now our keystone program, planting in all 50 states and 44 counties.

In 2009, Global ReLeaf was in Mississippi as part of the plan to restore canopy lost during Hurricane Katrina.

In 2009, Global ReLeaf was in Mississippi as part of the plan to restore canopy lost during Hurricane Katrina.

To commemorate Global ReLeaf’s 25th anniversary, we will post bi-weekly on Loose Leaf over the course of 2015 to highlight at least one project from each year of the program’s history. These posts will let us — and, more importantly, you — (re)discover how American Forests has worked with local partners to reforest areas, from near your backyard to the other side of the world. From our first project restoring jack pine forests for endangered Kirtland’s warblers to our restoration activities in areas damaged by Hurricane Katrina, American Forests has planted nearly 50 million trees.

Though the projects differ each year, there are common themes among American Forests’ comprehensive work to protect and restore the most damaged ecosystems. Whether damaged by fire, development, or other causes, none of these lands are expected to naturally regenerate at the pace needed, if ever. American Forests always ensures native species are used and all elements are considered. Though our lives are dependent on forests — more than half of drinking water in the U.S. originates in forests! — their importance is much broader, providing habitat for wildlife and reducing the rate of climate change.

In addition to our 25 years of Global ReLeaf, we will be announcing our 2015 projects, so keep a look out. Sneak peak: American Forests will be planting in a country — our 45th! — we’ve never planted in before: Madagascar.

Stay tuned as we continue our journey revisiting what American Forests has accomplished through the history of our Global ReLeaf program.


Trees and Pests: A different pathway

by Loose Leaf Contributor

By Faith Campbell, Emeritus environmental advocate and tree-pest expert

My previous blogs examined the risk to American forests from insects introduced by traveling on crates, pallets and other forms of wood packaging material (WPM). A second pathway for the introduction of tree-killing insects and disease pathogens is imports of live plants. Close to two-thirds of 91 pests now ravaging our wildland and urban forests probably entered on live plants.1

The spread of white pine blister rust in the U.S. and Canada from 1920 to present.

The spread of white pine blister rust in the U.S. and Canada from 1920 to present. Photo credit: The Nature Conservancy.

While many of these pests entered the U.S. before our government adopted plant pest statutes, introductions have continued in more recent years.

Among the trees severely depleted by these insects and diseases are American chestnut, whitebark pine and other high-elevation five-needle pines, Port-Orford-cedar, butternut, eastern and Carolina hemlocks, Fraser fir, and cycads found on Guam. Sudden oak death has killed well over a million trees, especially tanoaks, but also coast live oaks, California black oaks, canyon live oaks and Shreve’s oaks.

The risk that new insects or pests will be introduced on imported plants continues. While no one has conducted a thorough analysis to determine what proportion of imported plants is carrying a pest, in one study that looked at some of the data, approximately 12 percent of incoming living plant shipments had reportable pests. This translates to a pest “approach rate” more than 100 times greater than that for WPM.2

The aftermath of a hemlock woolly adelgid infestation.

The aftermath of a hemlock woolly adelgid infestation. Photo credit: Tom Coleman, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org.

Americans import probably 3 to 4 billion plants per year. These plants come in a wide variety of types — ranging from embryonic tissues that were cultured in test tubes to plant bulbs to whole plants. The risk of pest introduction is higher for larger plants, and those that bear roots, bark, buds or even leaves.

One trend is encouraging: A growing proportion of plant imports are cuttings and slips, which are less likely to be transporting pests. In recent years, the U.S. imported more than 75 million cuttings, while another 154 million bulbs are imported.3 Bulb imports can carry pests that attack other bulb plants, but are unlikely to carry pests that threaten trees and shrubs.

Still, we imported nearly 29 million shrubs and trees — the types of plants most likely to transport pests that could attack our trees.

Stay tuned as I go more in-depth about plant imports and their role in tree pest and pathogen outbreaks in the U.S.


1Liebhold, A.M., E.G. Brockerhoff, L.J. Garrett, J.L. Parke, and K.O. Britton. 2012. Live plant imports: the major pathway for forest insect and pathogen invasions of the US. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 10(3): 135-143. Accessed December 7, 2012.
2Liebhold, A.M., E.G. Brockerhoff, L.J. Garrett, J.L. Parke, and K.O. Britton. 2012. Live plant imports: the major pathway for forest insect and pathogen invasions of the US. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 10(3): 135-143. Accessed December 7, 2012.
3Data on import volumes of particular types of plants were provided by Manuel Colunga.


Up close and personal: Tree climbing

by Loose Leaf Team

By Lea Sloan, Vice President of Communications

When I was invited to get a lesson in how to climb a tree with ropes by Peter and Patty Jenkins, husband and wife partners in Tree Climbers International (TCI), based in Atlanta, my adventurous side instantly said “YES!” But in the back of my mind I wondered whether I would freak out after I got 15 or 20 feet off the ground!

A recent business trip to Atlanta gave me the chance to find out. The setting was a magnificent willow oak in a park in a nearby town. Peter walked me through the basics: thick round nylon line, some very cool knots, adapted from Peter’s early days as a rock climber, a “saddle” that you sit on while hoisting yourself up, gloves and a helmet — so you don’t get bonked a branch or anything else dislodged by the ropes above you.

Peter tossed the throw-weight with a feeder line over a chosen fork in a branch about seven stories up with impressive ease, and pulled the soft nylon line up and over the leather sheath that guards the branch. The system for climbing is easy — standing in the rope stirrups (loops) made with a short attached line, and sliding the “magic knot” (Blake’s Hitch) up the main line, which pulls the saddle up. With a couple of practice stand-and-slides, I was on my way up.

American Forests' VP of Communications, Lea Sloan, about 20 feet up in a tree's canopy.Twenty feet up, I paused to rotate around and look. I felt anchored by the big tree, and calmly in its spell. Patty did look smaller, sitting at the picnic table below, but I felt no trace of fear. I kept on going, to within ten feet or so of the rope apex. It felt like the most natural thing in the world.

Coming down was effortless — an easily controlled slide down, slipping the Blake’s Hitch down the rope leader.

Peter, a certified arborist, started TCI in 1983. Customers used to tell him that it looked like he was having fun (he was) — and it sparked the idea for TCI. Decades later, with Patty on board as business and marketing chief, TCI has taught many thousands of people from all over the world, all ages (3 – 83) and walks of life, including professional arborists, how to climb trees safely and without harming the tree (no leg spikes or abrasive ropes). And with a track record of absolutely no injuries in more than 30 years in business — no people hurt either.

I’m hooked. Can’t wait to go bigger. I’d love to get into the canopy of a redwood or Douglas-fir — and spend the night in a hammock. The DNA from the tree creatures we’re all descended from must be alive and well in my cells, because I felt completely at home in that tree.


Forest Digest — Week of December 15

by Christopher Horn

It’s the last Forest Digest of 2014! With some of our staff out over the next few weeks, we won’t be reporting on the forestry news from around the world until Jan. 9!

  • “Report suggests forest-cutting can have an immediate effect on climate”The Washington Post
    Researchers say in a new report released this week that cutting down forests like the Amazon not only releases carbon — stored by the trees — into the atmosphere, but directly and more immediately affects the climate, from changes in rainfall patterns to rising temperatures. The report also suggests that omplete deforestation of the Amazon would alter rainfall in the much of the United States.
  • “U.S. Forest Service considers knocking back old-growth forests to benefit wildlife”The Times-Picayune
    THe U.S. Forest Service is considering changing management practices to replace old-growth stands of forest with younger stands in an effort to help populations of wildlife. According to Forest Service data, wildlife species that depend on young forests have experienced population declines over the last two decades in western North Carolina’s Nantahala and Pisgah national forests.
  • “Yurok tribe hopes California’s cap-and-trade can save a way of life”Los Angeles Times
    Forestry crews from the Yurok tribe, California’s largest Native American tribe, lead an inventory of their lands, in hopes of making money through the state’s cap-and-trade program. Rather than use their trees for timber harvest, the Yurok can manage their forests for carbon storage, selling credits to oil companies and other businesses that must reduce emissions.

Forest Digest — Week of December 1

by Loose Leaf Team

We hope you had a happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends! Even if you’re still stuffed from the turkey — or Tofurky for our vegetarians out there — we have a healthy helping of the latest forest news, so check out this week’s Forest Digest:

  • “In a Queens Forest, Compiling a Picture of Urban Ecology”The New York Times
    In Alley Pond Park in Queens, N.Y., there is a variety of instruments — a webcam and a wind vane, humidity and temperature sensors, rain gauges and instruments to measure solar radiation — all attached to a hardy oak tree. This is part of the U.S. Forest Service’s new “smart forest” initiative, in which data is collected from selected woodlands to help scientists manage landscapes in a changing climate. Dr. Lindsey Rustad, a research ecologist with the Forest Service and co-director of the USDA’s Northeast Climate Hub, says “we know relatively little about what’s going on in these forest ecosystems. Eighty percent of the population lives in urban areas, so understanding urban forest ecology is critical.”
  • “Mountain beetle threatens Minnesota’s pine forests”Minnesota Public Radio
    Over the past couple decades, mountain pine beetles have devoured 45 million acres of pine trees in western North America — the world’s largest forest insect outbreak in recorded history. Now the beetles are headed east, and Minnesota’s majestic pines may be threatened. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is proposing a quarantine in hopes of keeping the beetles at bay and protecting the state’s nearly 200 million pine trees.
  • “Still a burning issue: Forest thinning plan almost done”The Arizona Republic
    The Forest Service is nearing completion of a plan for the first phase of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI). It aims to use mechanical thinning, prescribed fires and other techniques to prevent catastrophic burning across 2.4 million acres of the Kaibab, Coconino, Tonto, and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests. This is being done to address the massive wildfires that have destroyed more than half a million acres in northern Arizona’s ponderosa-pine forests.
  • “New Research on Smart Phone Training for Citizen Scientists”Alliance for Community Trees
    New research funded by Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry shows that smartphone-based training is as effective as in-person training in helping citizen scientists to recognize invasive plants. These results show potential to help grow the field of citizen science, as University of Massachusetts researchers noted app-based video training provided comparable — but less expensive — results to in-person delivery in the context of invasive plant identification.
  • “Deforestation may be at root of Brazil drought”Associated Press
    In a new study, scientists say decades of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has created drought conditions in southeastern Brazil, home to 40 percent of the country’s population. The cutting of trees in the Amazon is hindering the rainforest’s ability to absorb carbon from the air and get water through tree roots to supply vast “sky rivers,” which generate more than two-thirds of the rainfall in southeastern Brazil.
  • “Cut down your own Christmas tree”KRDO – Colorado Springs
    The Forest Service has a deal — for only $10, you can get a permit to cut down your own tree in part of the Pike National Forest. Why? It’s beneficial to the forests. “We do this to help reduce the fuel load of the trees that are on the forest land,” Scott Steiner of the Forest Service said. Check your local Forest Service office to see if this is offered at your district!

A winter showcase of trees

by Christopher Horn

Later this month, five artists will exhibit their tree-inspired works at Diehl Gallery in Jackson, Wyo., the popular travel destination located in the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Area.

“Winter Arboretum” features artists Jeri Eisenberg, Susan Goldsmith, Peter Hoffer, Anastasia Kimmett, and Richard Painter, whose works were inspired by the splendor of trees and how these artists have interpreted it. A portion of the proceeds from the show, which runs from Dec. 18 to Jan. 31, will benefit American Forests and our Endangered Western Forests initiative.

Winter #1 by Anastasia Kimmett. Oil pastel and acrylic on paper.

Winter #1 by Anastasia Kimmett. Oil pastel and acrylic on paper.

On Thursday, Dec. 18, gallery owner Mariam Diehl will host an opening night reception from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Additionally the gallery is open during Jackson’s Holiday Celebration and Art Walk on Saturday, Dec. 27 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.

If you’re unable to visit the gallery in person, the artists’ works are available for purchase remotely. Simply identify the piece and call or email the gallery for acquisition information

The Endangered Western Forests initiative is a collaborative effort coordinated by American Forests to help restore the threatened, high-elevation whitebark pine ecosystems. While thousands of acres of whitebark pine trees have succumbed to mountain pine beetle and white pine blister rust, both exacerbated by climate change, there are many stands of disease-resistant trees that are proving to be an essential part of the solution to restore these valuable forests.

To achieve this goal, American Forests and our partners have employed a range of strategies, including:

  • Planting more than 100,000 disease-resistant seedlings,
  • Collecting cones from mature, disease-resistant specimens,
  • Applying pheromone patches on more than 10,000 disease-resistant trees to ward off mountain pine beetle infestation,
  • Assisting on-the-ground partners with management and community outreach plans.

Together, with the support of our on-the-ground partners as well as generous gifts from the likes of Diehl Gallery, our members and people like you, we can ensure a future for this critical species.


Plant trees while you shop

by Loose Leaf Team

Each year American Forests is pleased to present a selection of some of our amazing partners who give a little bit back each time you shop. So if you’re tired of getting the same-old same-old, why not check out some of the options below? And don’t forget, you can always give the Gift of Trees!


This global provider of Holiday ecards for business has supported American Forests by offsetting more than 65,000 tons of CO2 emissions! For every ecard ordered, the company plants 10 trees with us. So if you, your friends and family, and/or your company is sending ecards this holiday season, why not try out eCO2 Greetings Ecards and help protect our forests.

Since 1995, Eddie Bauer has offered customers the ability to add $1 to their checkout total to plant trees with American Forests. Along with Eddie Bauer’s own generous contributions, more than 6 million trees have been planted to date by people just like you! Make sure you select the “add a dollar to plant a tree” option at the checkout to help us plant millions more.

This socially conscious and environmentally focused shoe company is planting 50,000 trees through American Forests’ Global ReLeaf. Check out their retractable spiked boots and hyper grip shoes that will help make winter bearable while also looking chic on your feet.

All-natural skincare products that help plant trees might sound too good to be true, but Origins’ Plant-A-Tree initiative has helped plant more than 500,000 trees worldwide! Origins products are manufactured using a combination of renewable resources, wind energy and earth-friendly practices – the perfect gift for a green conscious recipient!

A cornucopia of useful items, gifts that wow and nature-inspired products. UncommonGoods not only offers gifts that are unique and uber cool, but through their Better to Give program, the company will also donate $1 to the charity of your choice – we hope you’ll pick us!

Originating in Florence, Italy, these eco-chic fashion watches were introduced to the United States in 2010. Made from repurposed wood, they can be found in both men’s and women’s styles. Each watch sold plants a tree with American Forests.

Fracking at George Washington National Forest

by Rebecca Turner

On Nov. 18, the U.S. Forest Service released the much-anticipated management plan for the George Washington National Forest. At the heart of that anticipation was whether the Forest Service would uphold a proposed ban of hydraulic fracturing in the forest — it would have been the first national forest to have such a ban. Instead, the Forest Service compromised, allowing hydraulic fracturing — known more familiarly as fracking — where leases already existed prior to the plan.

About one percent of the total 1.1 million acres in George Washington National Forest will be drilled using the hydarulic fracturing, or fracking, method. Photo credit: Aneta Kaluzna

About one percent of the total 1.1 million acres in George Washington National Forest will be drilled using the hydarulic fracturing, or fracking, method. Photo credit: Aneta Kaluzna

The Forest Service’s decision to allow fracking is counter to their mission to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. While American Forests agrees with the multi-use mandate for our national forests, not all activities are good for our nation’s forests. Energy and mineral exploration does not sustain the health, diversity or the productivity of our forests. It threatens them.

George Washington National Forest contains more than 40 species of trees and 2,000 species of shrubs and herbaceous plants. The forest has 2,340 miles of perennial streams and 200 species of birds and 60 species of mammals. Overall, 53 federally-listed threatened or endangered animal and plant species call this forest home. As the largest and most popular national forest in the eastern U.S., it is a prominent recreational spot, with sites such as the Appalachian Trail, Mount Roger National Recreation Area, and Virginia Creeper Trail.

Every 10 to 15 years, national forests must update their management plans, and the George Washington management plan was up for its renewal in 2014. The Forest Land and Resource Management Plan for the George Washington National Forest was last revised in 1993, and the last draft was in 2011. That draft stated plans to ban fracking in the 1.1 million-acre forest — a ban that would have been a first for any national forest. American Forests has consistently advocated in support of this ban because of the potential risks to the watershed, quality of drinking water, and wildlife.

The new federal management plan reverses the 2011 draft’s intent of a total ban on fracking. Instead, it restricts drilling to 10,000 acres already leased for oil and gas drilling, about one percent of the total national forest.

Quite simply, fracking damages delicate forest ecosystems. The process of hydraulic fracturing releases shale gas and oil by injecting water and unknown chemicals into the earth, and has been known to cause significant groundwater contamination as well as dangerous levels of methane emissions, a hazardous greenhouse gas. According to researchers, fracking has also been linked to earthquakes, indicating that this practice has a significant effect on the geology of the planet.

Another concern with fracking in the George Washington National Forest involves the James and Potomac rivers. These rivers feed the Chesapeake Bay, which is the focus of a multibillion-dollar restoration project directed by the Environmental Protection Agency. If these rivers are polluted as a result of fracking, they could interfere with the progress on this restoration project, as well as affect the drinking water for as many as five million people.

On the plus side, the plan nearly doubles riparian protections and strongly recommends that Congress designate a 90,000-acre scenic area on Shenandoah Mountain and 27,000 additional acres of new wilderness. Unfortunately, this is not enough. The continued leasing for oil and gas is counterintuitive to the popular use of the largest eastern national forest — which sees about one million hikers, campers, hunter, anglers and wildlife watchers annually — and contrary to the mission of the Forest Service to ensure healthy and resilient forests.


American Forests to participate in #GivingTuesday

by Loose Leaf Team

#GivingTuesday logo.Tired of the crowds and hassle of post-Thanksgiving shopping days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

Try something different this year and add #GivingTuesday — Dec. 2 — to your post-Thanksgiving plans.

The mission of #GivingTuesday is to inspire a national day of giving at the start of the holiday season. #GivingTuesday celebrates and encourages charitable support of nonprofit organizations across the country. American Forests is proud to once again partner with this incredible one-day event. Please support us on Dec. 2 by donating now to help restore forests, create wildllife habitat and improve the health of the planet.

Share your #GivingTuesday support on Facebook or Twitter and get your friends involved too!

We thank you for your continued support of American Forests!


Forest Digest — Week of November 17

by Loose Leaf Team

There’s an international flavor kicking off this week’s Forest Digest. Get all your forest news this week, as there will be no Forest Digest next week when American Forests and our staff celebrate Thanksgiving.

  • “Pew, Pew, Pew! NASA Space Lasers to Map Earth’s Forests in 3D”Space.com
    A new laser instrument developed for the International Space Station is expected to generate 3D maps of Earth’s forests. The instrument, called Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI), uses lidar, a special kind of laser technology, to create detailed 3D maps and measure the biomass of forests. The maps will allow scientists to estimate the total amount of carbon stored inside the planet’s trees. One of the most poorly quantified components of the carbon cycle is the net balance between forest disturbance and regrowth, and these advances will help monitor forest degradation, adding to the critical data needed to mitigate the effects of climate change.
  • “Fracking to be permitted in GW National Forest”ABC News
    Environmentalists and energy boosters compromised a deal that would allow fracking in the largest national forest in the eastern United States, but would make most of its wood off-limits to drilling. The federal management plan reverses an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing in the 1.1 million-acre forest that the U.S. Forest Service had proposed in 2011. A total ban would have been a first for America’s national forests, which are commonly leased for mining, timber and drilling. However, some environmentalists were pleased that at least some balance was struck between energy development and conservation.
  • “Study: 11 million acres of dry NW forests need restoration”KTVZ – Central Oregon News
    More than 11 million acres of dry forest in Oregon and Washington are in need of restoration, according to a new study by scientists for The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service. The study, published in Forest Ecology and Management, is a comprehensive, data-driven analysis of where, how much and what kind of activities are needed across the fire-adapted forest landscape to restore ecological processes.
  • “Quaking aspen trees dance with life”Mother Nature Network
    Why are the aspen trees so unique? Well, perhaps because it has several species, with only two that can be found in North America. Or the fact that the aspen is a tree of many names, like the trembling aspen, white poplar, or even “popple.” The National Park Service even says that “it may be better not to think of aspens as trees at all”, as they grow from a large underground network of roots and spout up via asexual reproduction. They are uniformly yellow because each tree is identical, part of the same organism and sprouting from the same system of roots. This solidarity lends itself to a long life, allowing us to admire its beauty for quite some time.