A Menace to Maples

by Susan Laszewski
Asian longhorned beetle

Adult Asian longhorned beetle. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

If it wasn’t enough of a threat to America’s sweet tooth that climate change may affect maple syrup yields in the next 50 years, the sugar maple is facing another threat as well — an invasive pest. We’re wrapping up Invasive Species Awareness Week by shining the spotlight on a tiny pest with big consequences: the Asian longhorned beetle or ALB.

ALB is a black beetle between one and one-and-a-half inches long, with white spots and — as its name implies — two antennae that are even longer than its body. In addition to recognizing the beetles themselves, you can also spot them by signs of occupation on the tree. In early autumn, females dig out oval depressions in which to lay their eggs. When the larvae hatch, they burrow into the wood to feed and grow through the winter. In spring, they emerge as adult beetles, leaving tell-tale, dime-sized holes behind them.

ALB exit holes

ALB exit holes. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

ALB most likely arrived by way of wooden packing crates from their native range of China and parts of Korea and Japan. Their presence has already cost the U.S. tens of thousands of trees and hundreds of millions of state and federal dollars, and that’s just in the few states where they’ve established themselves so far: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and, previously, Illinois. If they get a chance to spread throughout the country, they have “the potential to cause more damage than Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight and gypsy moths combined” and kill 30 percent of the country’s hardwoods, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The maple industry, in particular, is worried. This $41 million industry has already been affected in Massachusetts, where more than 60 square miles are under quarantine, and nearby Vermont and New Hampshire are keeping a close eye for signs of the bug. Sugar and other maples also give us some of the most vibrant fall colors. One million tourists flock to New England to leaf peep every fall, bringing a billion dollars in tourism revenue with them, all of which could be at the mercy of ALB if it continues to spread.

Asian longhorned beetles

Adult Asian longhorned beetles. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

What’s more, while maples appear to be a favorite of the beetle, they are not the only trees in danger. Unlike some pickier beetles, ALB enjoys a wide variety of deciduous hardwood trees, including ash, birch, elm, poplar and willow. This means that the maple-dependent industries will not be the only ones in danger. ALB could have far-reaching consequences for the lumber and nursery industries, too.

But there is hope. ALB has already been eradicated in Illinois and in certain counties of New Jersey and New York.

What can you do? Using local firewood is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of ALB and other invasive pests. Check out http://www.dontmovefirewood.org/ to learn more.

Invasive Species: How You Can Help

by American Forests

By Tacy Lambiase

As Monday’s blog post showed, invasive species can be really bad news for our country’s native plants and animals. From white pine blister rust in the West to the emerald ash borer devastating trees across the Midwest, nonnative species can throw ecosystems completely out of balance.

But what can be done to stop these species from getting out of control? What can individual people do to help? In honor of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, we’ve compiled a list of simple steps that you can take to prevent the proliferation of invasive species.

  • Volunteers remove water chestnut, an invasive species, from Oxbow Lake in Massachusetts.

    Volunteers remove water chestnut, an invasive species, from Oxbow Lake in Massachusetts. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    Plant native species of trees and shrubs on your property. Although some plants may look aesthetically pleasing, they are not always beneficial to the local environment. In addition to preserving your lawn’s soil, consciously choosing to landscape with native plants will make your yard into a suitable habitat for birds and other wildlife. Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website to find out what nonnative species may inhabit your backyard already.

  • Get involved with a local effort to remove invasive species. Many environmental groups organize events for volunteers to help remove invasive plants from parks or other wild areas.
  • Never release pets or exotic animals into the wild. Recently, scientists have discovered giant goldfish living in Lake Tahoe. It is believed that these fish ended up in the lake after people dumped the contents of their aquariums into the water. Now that these goldfish are eating large amounts of smaller fish, they are threatening to disrupt the natural food chain of Tahoe’s ecosystem. If you ever need to find a new home for an animal, contact a local rescue group or nature center.
  • After spending time in nature, be sure to clean off the outside of your boat or camping equipment. Invasive plants and seeds can become easily trapped in outdoor recreation gear, and you could accidentally help them spread to new environments.

Finally, you can support organizations that work to combat invasive species. Since 2011, American Forests has been working to protect Lake Tahoe’s forests against white pine blister rust. Although sugar pines used to cover the region, they now account for less than five percent of the tree cover around Lake Tahoe because of this invasive fungus. American Forests also supported a project in Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota to reforest an area with native plants that had been overrun by nonnative plant species, including tansy and honeysuckle.

By becoming educated about invasive species, we can all take action to mitigate the serious effects they can have on our environment.

Revitalizing Los Angeles’ Backyard

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

For many Americans, spending time in a forest is a time-honored getaway:

  • 42.5 million Americans or 15 percent of the U.S. population older than age six went camping in 2011.
  • 67 percent of those campers camped in public campgrounds, like those of local, state and national parks and forests.
    Courtesy of the 2012 American Camper Report.
Volunteers doing restoration work in Angeles National Forest

During phase one of this effort to restore Angeles National Forest, volunteers from the Alcoa Carson Fastening Plant, John Marshall High School and San Fernando High School helped with the restoration work on a Friends of the Forest Day. Credit: National Forest Foundation

Sometimes, though, our favorite getaway sites get caught in the path of forces bigger than themselves, which is what happened to popular picnic sites in Angeles National Forest in 2009. A wildfire known as the Station Fire consumed 25 percent of the national forest, damaging many of the picnic areas. These areas are a popular site for relaxation, as they are less than hour away from a majority of the L.A. Basin’s 17 million residents.

To help restore the Wildwood Picnic Site, Stoneyvale Picnic Site, Hidden Springs Picnic Site and Delta Flats Day Use Area in Angeles National Forest, American Forests is partnering with Alcoa Foundation to plant a combination of coast live oak, canyon live oak, Douglas-fir, arroyo willows and cottonwoods.

Working alongside Alcoa employees and the National Forest Foundation, this project is strengthening more than just recreation areas. It’s also restoring riparian areas to help maintain a healthy local watershed and is fostering forest stewardship through four volunteer tree planting days. This project, like so many of our Global ReLeaf projects, illustrates how much can be achieved when we join together to help the environment.

Urban Forests and Ecosystem Services Research

by Melinda Housholder, Urban Forests Program Director
The Einstein Memorial on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.

The Einstein Memorial on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. Credit: Wally Gobetz

Last week, I participated in a workshop titled “Urban Forestry: Toward an Ecosystem Services Research Agenda” at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. The workshop brought together more than 100 participants, and many more tuned-in via webinar. What a great turn out!

With interesting presentations, discussions and networking opportunities, I was excited to participate and hone in on the workshop’s key objectives to:

  • Explore the role of trees within the greater urban ecosystem and the linkages/trade-offs among different types of ecosystem services within this larger context.
  • Review our current understanding of the different types of ecosystem services provided by urban forestry, and discuss research needs for improving this understanding.
  • Highlight key tools available to track and quantify ecosystem services, and identify gaps in our ability to model, measure and monitor such services.
  • Identify effective management strategies and key challenges in implementing successful urban forestry programs.
Eco-Health Relationship Health Science Browser

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Eco-Health Relationship Health Science Browser”: http://www.epa.gov/research/healthscience/browser/

One main outcome that I enjoyed from this workshop was the update on all sorts of cool tools that are out there to help us talk about the ecosystem services provided by urban forests. For example:

  • Laura Jackson, a research biologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development, presented the “Eco-Health Relationship Health Science Browser.” This tool highlights the urban ecosystem and all the related public health benefits. Take a stroll around this interactive tool and see what you can learn.
  • Dave Nowak, a project leader for the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and an American Forests Science Advisory Board Member, discussed some of the new features of the recently launched i-Tree v5.0. The i-Tree suite provides urban forestry analysis and benefits assessment tools. The new i-Tree v5.0 features lots of great things, including a web-based data collection system (you can now use your smart phones to collect data with i-Tree!), pest risk analysis and updated ecosystem services pollution and carbon valuations. Check out all the new things!

In addition to the talk about tools for ecosystem service evaluation, there were also great discussions about improving the management of urban forests. One especially interesting presentation was from Morgan Grove, a social ecologist and team leader of the U.S. Forest Service’s Baltimore Field Station, who pointed out that “there is more woody biomass coming out of urban forests than natural areas.” With much of this due to trees being removed in communities due to severe weather events or damage from invasive pests, we need to find a way to better manage those results. Offering suggestions and a framework to maximize the biomass from our urban forests, he has been working to develop an interesting project in Baltimore for “Rethinking Wood in the City.”

I look forward to catching up on all the presentations that I missed the first day of the workshop that discussed current research on topics such as the role of urban forestry in public health, in sustaining biodiversity, in stormwater management and in air quality. So many great topics and important research underway!

Stay tuned for the final report that will be produced by the National Academy of Sciences based on the results of this workshop and the state of the urban forests ecosystem services research agenda. As an urban forest practitioner, tree planter, environmentalist or just interested community member, what type of research would you like to see prioritized to help enhance and improve our urban forests?

The Fungus Eating the West

by Susan Laszewski

It’s National Invasive Species Awareness Week, and here at American Forests, we’re all-too-aware of the havoc that invasive species can wreak on our native ecosystems.


Kudzu, the plant that ate the South. Credit: SoftCore Studios/Flickr

Some invasive species really make a name for themselves. Kudzu, a vine native to Japan and China, grew over trees in parts of America so quickly that it’s been called “the plant that ate the South” and has became a poster child for invasive species.

Other invasives may lack catchy nicknames, but are no less harmful. American Forests has been working to spread awareness of one invasive with a lower profile: the fungus Cronartium ribicola — cause of the deadly white pine blister rust affecting the American West. Mountain pine beetles often take all the credit for the devastation in Western high-elevation forests in recent years, but they haven’t done it alone. Could blister rust one day be known as the fungus that ate the West?

white pine blister rust

White pine blister rust, the fungus that’s eating the West. Credit: Grav Skeldon/U.S. Forest Service

The rust, which arrived from Asia at the turn of the 20th century, moves from its alternate host — usually a plant of the Ribes genus like gooseberry — to a white pine. While the alternate host will shed its leaves in the fall, and the rust along with them, the pine will be facing a slow death. Although it may take years for the tree to die, in the meantime, the disease prevents the tree from dispersing nutrients and water, limiting its production of cones and, consequently, its ability to reproduce.

One of the white pine species susceptible to blister rust is whitebark pine, the sometimes-scraggly, other-worldly, high-elevation pines that are a keystone species in the Mountain West. The death of these pines has cascading effects throughout the ecosystem, from the biggest grizzly bear to the smallest Clark’s nutcracker, both of whom rely on the pine seeds for food. What’s more, without whitebark pine to shade snowpack, snow melts faster and sooner, causing flooding at lower elevations and even affecting the winter outdoor recreation industry.

whitebark pine seedlings

Blister rust-resistant whitebark pine seedlings planted by American Forests and the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee.

But there’s hope. About 27 percent of all whitebark pine is naturally resistant to blister rust. American Forests has been working with the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee to plant seedlings of these resistant plants. Generous donations from our supporters enabled the planting of seedlings like those shown at right, as well as our activities testing adult trees for resistance and protecting the cones of resistant trees. But we’re not done yet. Please help us continue to increase our native whitebark pines’ resistance to this ambitious invasive before it devours our Mountain West.

Urban Trees on the Hill

by Amanda Tai

It’s been a busy week for those in the urban forest community. To start the week, the National Academy of Sciences held a workshop on urban forestry. Experts from around the country gathered to discuss the benefits of urban forests and how to best leverage them to move research and policies forward.

On Wednesday, the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition (SUFC), of which American Forests is a member of the steering committee, held its annual Advocacy Day where participants from across the country met with their members of Congress to talk about urban forests. Once gathered, we got a quick rundown of the political environment on the Hill and what to expect meeting with staffers. With sequestration and budget cuts on everyone’s mind, the coalition’s objective was to make sure that Congress got the connection between federal funding for urban forest programs and the benefits to their local communities.

The U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program and Forest Health Management Program are essential for technical and financial assistance to more than 7,000 communities in all 50 states. Other programs like Urban Natural Resources Research and Early Plant Pest Detection and Surveillance found in the Farm Bill help urban forest management by making sure communities have the most up-to-date information to best care for trees in their areas.

I was the team lead for a group of folks from the Midwest, accompanying them to their various meetings on the Hill. They were quite knowledgeable about these programs. Not in the same way I learned about them in D.C., but because they received federal funding to do urban forest work in their local communities. One of my team members, Lydia Scott from Lisle, Ill., works at the Morton Arboretum. The Morton Arboretum is one of the best tree research centers in the country that helps inform everyone from landscape architects to public officials. Lydia brought brochures that were created through U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) funding to inform citizens and communities in the greater Chicago area about emerald ash borer (EAB), which is a huge problem in the Midwest. (For more on emerald ash borer, see the American Forests magazine feature “Will We Kiss Our Ash Goodbye?”) With the help of USDA funding, these brochures help people identify affected trees and provide them with information and options for how to treat their trees.

Daniella Pereira from Openlands was also part of my group. I learned that the Openlands TreeKeeper program (partly funded by the U.S. Forest Service) helps train volunteers in the Chicago area to take care of trees, especially those affected by EAB. Not only does this program help trees, but it also gives citizens knowledge and skills that they can use later in life. It also provides them the opportunity to engage with their community while building a sense of land stewardship.

It was amazing to see how federal funding really does trickle down to local communities, and I felt appreciative and humbled to actually meet folks doing this great work on the ground.

My Midwest SUFC group in front of the Capitol Building before their first meeting.

My Midwest group took a quick photo op in front of the Capitol Building before their first meeting. From left to right: David Forsell from Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Scott Jamieson from Bartlett Tree Experts, Daniella Pereira from Openlands, and Lydia Scott from Morton Arboretum.

The Green Budget and Advocacy

by American Forests

By Josh DeLacey

The Green Budget — a document published every year to illustrate the effect of federal conservation funding and programs on our public lands and ecosystems — debuts today, and I’m out getting it in senators’ and representatives’ hands. Well, to be more accurate, I get to help put it into their staffers’ hands. Still, this will be my first time advocating on my own, and I’m excited.

Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. Credit: Michael Colburn

I started interning at American Forests less than a month ago, and through a whirlwind of meetings, research, writing and assisted advocating, I’m getting a handle on the conservation world. Today, I get to find out if I’ve learned enough to avoid embarrassing myself on the Hill.

The Green Budget that I’ll be distributing is the product of more than 30 environmental organizations, including American Forests, National Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society. American Forests’ senior director of programs and policy, Rebecca Turner, Esq., penned a majority of the Green Budget section related to U.S. Forest Service programs. It serves as a guide to the conservation programs that exist throughout the federal government and is meant for members of Congress, as well as for any organization or individual interested in environmental issues. The Green Budget shows the impacts of federal conservation funding on the nation’s lands, waters, natural resources and clean energy resources. It showcases the programs those of us in conservation care about, and it reveals how much those programs depend upon their already reduced, federal funding.

With the threat of sequestration looming, the Green Budget is more important than ever. And that’s why, although I’m excited for today’s advocating, I’m also nervous. There’s something about talking with a guy who reports directly to a representative who votes in the U.S. Congress that makes your work feel important. I mean, policy is (or isn’t) happening here — and either way, that has some significant effects. I expect to leave Capitol Hill exhausted and satisfied at the end of today. With a full schedule, a stack of Green Budgets and rampant excitement and nervousness, I am ready for a day of advocating.

Appreciating Our Western National Parks

by American Forests

By Tacy Lambiase

Grand Teton National Park. Credit: Florin Chelaru/Flickr.

Grand Teton National Park. Credit: Florin Chelaru/Flickr.

This week, we’re celebrating some of the most important anniversaries in the history of the National Park Service. Grand Teton National Park, founded on February 26, 1929, and Yellowstone National Park, founded on March 1, 1872, are two of the most iconic and beloved national parks in the United States. Every year, thousands of people visit these parks to experience the beauty and majesty of our natural environment. The establishment of these two protected areas continues to be a testament to our country’s recognition of how important national parks are to preserving wilderness habitats.

Stretching across Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, Yellowstone National Park draws millions of visitors every year to see its impressive mountain ranges, canyons and wildlife. But while Yellowstone has become famous for its plethora of geysers and bubbly hot springs, this national park is also known for beginning a worldwide effort to protect and preserve natural environments. Founded by Congress through the Act of March 1,1872, Yellowstone became the world’s first national park. According to the National Park Service, the creation of Yellowstone sparked a “worldwide national park movement” that has so far led to the establishment of 1,200 national parks and preserves in more than 100 countries. Since 1872, the United States alone has protected enough land to warrant the creation of 59 national parks to preserve beautiful landscapes and natural resources for future generations.

Upper Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia Commons.

Upper Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Daniel Mayer/Wikimedia Commons.

The next-door neighbor of Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park was established in 1929 through an executive order signed by President Calvin Coolidge. Almost an extension of Yellowstone (the parks are only 10 miles apart from each other), Grand Teton National Park encompasses the Teton Range and several lakes at its base. Home to hundreds of plant and animal species, Grand Teton provides visitors and residents of Wyoming with a pristine environment perfect for outdoor recreation and exploration.

Although more than 84 million acres of land are protected in national parks across the country, Americans must continue advocating for the well-being of their public lands. While Grand Teton and Yellowstone remain protected under federal law, the health of their forests remains in jeopardy. In recent years, the forests in these iconic parks have become threatened by mountain pine beetles, white pine blister rust and a warming climate. Through our Endangered Western Forests program, American Forests has developed a six-point plan to protect and restore forests in the Greater Yellowstone Area. With initiatives to plant blister rust-resistant seedlings and partner with local organizations, American Forests hopes to ensure that these national parks can continue celebrating their anniversaries for many years to come. Join us in protecting these treasured national parks.

The Sequester and Our National Parks

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

That didn’t take too long. Last month, I wrote about the renewed, and concerning, focus on both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Antiquities Act by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation and its chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop. Well folks, action has come quickly.

Boating down the Colorado River below Havasu Creek in Grand Canyon National Park

Boating down the Colorado River below Havasu Creek in Grand Canyon National Park. Credit: Mark Lellouch/NPS

On February 5, Rep. Bishop sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a study on the financial and time costs, associated litigation and delays due to NEPA that the Departments of Defense, Interior, Transportation and Energy and the U.S. Forest Service incurred over the last five years. The GAO request was co-signed by the chairmen of the House Committees on Natural Resources, Energy and Commerce, Armed Services, and Transportation and Infrastructure. And while the natural reaction might be “it’s only a study,” remember that in the world of politics, very rarely is anything as simple as it may seem. My instincts are telling me this study is just the tip of a long-smoldering volcano (yes, I mixed my metaphors) and is merely the lead-in to a strong push for a reformed or scaled-back NEPA process. We shall see.

The push for potential NEPA reform, however, is far from the front burner of policy news this week. That dubious honor goes to the sequester. You have no doubt been inundated with all manner of news about the effects of this crisis. As the deadline draws closer for Congress to act before the $85 billion in cuts goes into effect, more details emerge as to what this means for us all.

Looking westward from a part of Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road called Big Bend, just west of Logan Pass

Looking westward from a part of Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road called Big Bend, just west of Logan Pass. Credit: David Restivo/NPS

The National Park Service issued a memo at the end of January outlining the “priority” of cuts that it needs to make if the sequester takes place. The Park Service is responsible for about $110 million in cuts. While nominally, this is a five percent cut, due to its timing, the effect would be more along the lines of an eight or nine percent cut. For better or worse, it appears that personnel costs, including hiring and furloughs, are first in line to be cut by the Park Service. These cuts will, in turn, impact the operation of the parks themselves.

According to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the personnel cuts required under the sequester, along with additional budgetary cuts that must be made, will delay the openings of the entrance roads to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Parks by up to a month. Grand Teton National Park will see the closure of visitor centers and a nature preserve for the entire season while Great Smoky Mountains National Park will suffer the shutdown of five campgrounds and picnic areas. The opening of Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road will be delayed two weeks while Grand Canyon National Park will delay opening the East and West Rim drives. Yet, these are perhaps just the most tangible impacts. Reduced numbers of park personnel means limited operating hours for visitor centers; less maintenance on roads, buildings and trails; and other limitations that may not yet be known.

Whatever your personal feelings on the sequester, these are real cuts to access to America’s most beautiful spaces. While Congress sits idle, this sad and preventable outcome for the millions of visitors to our national parks will resonate for the seasons to come.

One Generation’s Trash, Another’s Treasure

by Susan Laszewski
City trees in Samara, Russia

City trees in Samara, Russia. Credit: abrigenn/Flickr

Through our multi-year Partnership for Trees collaboration with Alcoa Foundation, hundreds of thousands of trees are being planted on damaged and degraded sites throughout the world, but one project in particular represents the epitome of “degraded”: a garbage dump.

In Samara, Russia, American Forests and Alcoa employees are working with the Training Center for Ecology and Safety on Trees in the City — planting 180 trees in the city’s Kirovskiy District, including the spot that has served as the area’s household waste dump for a decade.

It may sound like a stinky job, but around 60 local students and Alcoa volunteers are willing to get their hands dirty to reclaim this site as greenspace for future recreation. In all, the project will plant about 180 ashberry, linden, maple, pine and birch, whose leaves are said to shimmer in the wind.

But the real shimmering stars of this project are the students. In addition to volunteering their time for the planting, they also kicked the project off with an educational seminar, “The Environmental Characteristics of Urban Trees,” to gain a better understanding of the importance of their work. Urban trees not only provide wildlife habitat and help clean air and water, they also bring residents closer to nature, reducing stress and imparting a sense of well-being. So, what was one generation’s trash will become the next generation’s treasure as the local students continue to monitor and maintain the site in the future.

Samara is a city with a record of investing in trees for youth. Last year, American Forests and Alcoa Foundation partnered with the Training Center on a schoolyard landscaping project called “On a Visit to the Forest.” We’re delighted to continue our partnership with them, helping to educate the next generation of urban tree huggers.