Roses: Sour Instead of Sweet?

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts


Roses. Credit: Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

For years, we’ve been told that nothing says “I love you” quite like a red rose — except maybe a diamond ring. But does that red rose love the environment? Survey says: Relationship complicated.

The Society of American Florists reports that more than 85 percent of fresh-cut flowers in the U.S. are imported every year. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is responsible for inspecting all imported flowers, says that in 2011, it processed 5.1 billion cut flowers, 802.5 million of which were processed during the Valentine’s season. Breaking down the figures even further, imported fresh-cut roses in 2011 were valued at $365.4 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau. What does all of this tell us? A humongous amount of flowers are traveling a long way to surprise your sweetheart. And travel means carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas production.

A 2007 comparative study by England’s Cranfield University revealed that 12,000 cut roses emitted almost 5,000 pounds of CO2 during their production in Kenya and delivery to the U.K. The same number of roses from the Netherlands emitted more than 77,000 pounds of CO2. It’s figures like these that result in calls for going local, right? Not so fast.

Roses in Edwards, Miss.

Roses in Edwards, Miss. Credit: Natalie Maynor/Flickr

One thing that accounted for the major difference in the CO2 production in Kenya and the Netherlands was growing conditions. In Kenya, it’s hot pretty much year round, which means less energy consumption in the growing process. In the Netherlands, greenhouses are needed, which equals a whole lot of additional energy demands. As you can imagine, buying local roses in snow-covered regions of the U.S. for Valentine’s Day might be tricky. As Vince Butera, a florist in York, Penn., tells the York Daily Record, “I believe in buying locally when I can, but there are no growers in York County, so I bring in a lot of flowers from California …”

For many people, though, carbon isn’t the only concern when it comes to imported flowers. Most U.S.-imported flowers come from Ecuador and Columbia, where Audubon reported in 2008 that 20 percent of the chemicals applied in flower production are restricted or banned in the United States and Europe. Not to mention concerns over worker health related to pesticide use and other labor rights concerns.

So, going local it is, yes? A qualified yes. Qualified? Going local is good, but going local creatively is better. Are cut roses that wither and die really the best way to say you care? Maybe a potted, local plant instead. Or a handmade treat or craft — not necessarily made by you if you lack the skills. Perhaps a gift of trees through a certain forest-loving nonprofit. For Valentine’s Day, and other gift-giving holidays, remember that there are lots of ways to show you care, but not all ways are green.

State of the Climate

by Susan Laszewski
President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address on Feb. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

We’ve written before about the Obama administration’s rhetoric on climate change. Last month, in his inaugural address, Obama pledged to address climate change, saying “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” Last night, in his State of the Union Address, the president renewed that commitment, but he also provided us with a glimpse of what that “more” might be.

The president proposed an energy security trust, to be funded by revenues from oil and gas on public lands, which would work to wean us off our dependence on fossil fuels through research and development of renewable energy technology. In urging Congress to work together on a solution to climate change, he also invoked the example of the bipartisan Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, a collaboration of Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Ten years ago, that bill was rejected 43 to 55, but Obama implied that now is the right time for a similar bill.

But Congress is not the only branch of government that can take action. A month ago, we joined 69 other organizations in urging the president to use his executive authority to reduce carbon pollution. Last night, Obama responded, saying that “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”

These proposals and declarations of commitment are welcome news here at American Forests, where we’ve planted more than 43 million trees around the world as part of our commitment to mitigating climate change. As Obama said, “We were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent to make what difference we can.” At American Forests, we’ll keep trying to make what difference we can, too.

Cooking for Human and Forest Health

by American Forests

By Tacy Lambiase

In developing nations, personal health and well-being are not just dependent on what you cook to eat every day. It’s how you cook it that can have the most impact. And not just on human health, but on the environment as well.

A traditional outdoor cookstove

A traditional outdoor cookstove. Credit: McKay Savage/Flickr

Deforestation on the slopes of Mount Kenya, Embu District, Kenya

Deforestation on the slopes of Mount Kenya, Embu District, Kenya. Credit: Trees For the Future/Flickr

Roughly three billion people around the world rely on open-fire cookstoves to prepare their food. However, these traditional stoves are not properly ventilated, releasing smoke and ash into people’s homes and ultimately into the atmosphere. This repeated exposure to smoke often leads to serious health problems, including breathing difficulties, respiratory diseases and even lung cancer. According to a recent global health study, the fumes from these stoves kill 3.5 million people per year. This shocking number of deaths is greater than the yearly number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

However, more energy-efficient and “clean” cookstoves have started to gain popularity in developing countries. Not only can these stoves improve human health through better smoke ventilation, but they can also positively affect forests, too.

Last month, an article in National Geographic focused on the positive effects that biochar cookstoves have had on communities in Kenya and Costa Rica, two places where American Forests Global ReLeaf has conducted reforestation projects. In a traditional open-fire cookstove, wood or charcoal is burned for fuel while carbon and soot is released into the air. But in a biochar cookstove, a dark residue (biochar) is produced when biomass is burned. The biochar can then be collected and used as a kind of fertilizer to improve the nutrient levels and overall quality of depleted soil. By replacing carbon emissions with biochar, these stoves can benefit the land and are less harmful to the atmosphere.

Biochar also reduces stress on local forests. Art Donnelly, the president of a biochar cookstove manufacturing company called SeaChar, told National Geographic that a biochar stove needs 40 percent less wood to operate than an open-fire stove. For many people, these cookstoves have greatly decreased the need to gather wood, reducing the amount of trees that need to be cut down for fuel. Although deforestation has already negatively impacted some countries like Kenya, biochar could be a new solution to this problem.

In Kenya, the demand for charcoal and hardwood has caused drastic changes to the landscape, eroding soil and decreasing biodiversity. But with new technology like biochar and a greater awareness about the benefits that cookstoves can have on human health and the environment, communities can take action and begin protecting the trees they depend on every day.

Creative Champions for Trees

by Loose Leaf Contributor
2011 American Forests and Scotties tree planting event

A 2011 American Forests and Scotties tree planting event in Miami. Credit: American Forests

We’ve reached the homestretch of the Scotties TREES ROCK! Video Contest. That means you only have one week left to vote for your favorite contestant!

Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard from our finalists about why trees are so important to their communities and schools. These kids have creatively expressed their love of nature and have big ideas for how they would use $10,000 to improve their schools’ outdoor environment.

Should Sarah, Sean or Vince win the prize money? You decide! Meet these last three finalists below, watch the other videos and cast your vote!

Sarah S. from Lone Oak, Texas, would like her school to plant more trees that will provide shade for her and her fellow classmates. Sarah explains how trees provide us with oxygen while ridding the atmosphere of harmful pollutants.

Sean S. from Cary, N.C., reports from the Trees Rock News Network about how trees provide suitable habitats for many animals. Sean hopes to plant at least 30 trees at his school to provide shade for a play area.

Vince G. from Santa Cruz, Calif., talks about how mighty redwood trees positively affect his community. He explains how trees prevent erosion and provide goods like paper and food. Vince would like his school to have more trees that will provide shade for concrete sidewalks and play areas.

If you enjoyed these videos, remember to vote for your favorite every day until February 15th at!

Did you miss our previous profiles? Meet Audrey K., Anuhar C. and Cate G. and Kaylee L., Kyle P. and McCoy P. and Oliver Z., Ryan C., and Ryan M.

We Love Our Western Public Lands

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Yesterday, Colorado College in Colorado Springs released its third annual “Conservation in the West” poll, which illuminates how much western residents value their public lands.

Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park. Credit: F. Delventhal/Flickr

Conducted as part of the college’s State of the Rockies project, the bipartisan poll of residents in six states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Montana) revealed that 91 percent of westerners agree that the region’s public lands — we’re talking national parks, forests, monuments, wildlife refuges and the like — are essential to the state’s economy. Drilling a bit deeper, 79 percent of respondents believe that public lands improve their quality of life and 74 percent think they attract high quality employers to the region. These percentages make it hardly surprising that when it comes to selling public lands to corporations for development, 71 percent of those surveyed oppose the idea. While this poll is based on the perceptions of those individuals living in the region, we’ve already discussed a 2012 research report that has the figures to back up how the West’s economy is growing rapidly thanks to public lands. So, it appears that the bottom line is that both people and the economy are recognizing how good public lands are for the West. Now, we just need to make sure those public lands stay healthy.

Colorado College’s State of the Rockies project was founded to help increase public understanding of the vital issues facing the Rocky Mountain region, which include water supply concerns — 27 million people rely on the Colorado River Basin, but climate projections indicate that the future may hold drier conditions for the famed river. Also hampering the West’s waterways is tree loss.

Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Grand Tetons, Wyoming. Credit: Frank Kovalcheck/Flickr

Almost 42 million acres of forest in 10 western states are considered to be dead or dying. Drilling down even further, a deadly disease and a beetle are killing swaths of high-elevation forests throughout the Rockies. And for anyone who has ever gazed at a beautiful mountaintop, you know that the high elevations are where the snow “lives.” The trees that live there, too, help regulate how quickly the snow melts and help filter the water coming from these high sources. In periods of drought or scarcity, their role becomes even more important. So what happens if they’re not there? That’s too scary to even contemplate, which is why we launched our Endangered Western Forests initiative last year.

The initiative has many goals, but ultimately, we’re searching for ways to protect our western forests and improve their health. And we’re doing it in some of the most famous public lands in the U.S.: the Greater Yellowstone Area. With more than three million people visiting Yellowstone National Park alone each summer to partake in its beauty, recreation and wonder, we think it’s an area worth saving — and hope you do to.

More Than a Paper Tiger

by Susan Laszewski
Sumatran tiger.

Sumatran tiger. Credit: Roger Smith/Flickr

Big news this week in the paper industry. Jakarta-based paper giant Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), the largest paper and pulp company in Indonesia and the third largest in the world, has agreed to stop clearing natural forests and use “only plantation forest,” as managing director of sustainability Aida Greenburg told Reuters. The news, announced on Tuesday, follows years of advocacy by groups such as the Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace and the Forest Trust, who will continue to monitor APP’s Indonesian operations.

Having worked in Indonesia with The Orangutan Information Centre (OIC), Gunung Leuser National Park and the Farmer Guardians of Leuser to restore areas of illegally converted protected forest, we’re happy to hear the news. According to Orangutan Foundation International, Indonesia is home to 10 percent of the world’s remaining rainforests and is one of the five most species-diverse countries in the world. Such a biodiversity hot-spot has global significance, yet Indonesia is also the country with the third highest number of threatened species.


Orangutan. Credit: Tony Hisgett/Flickr

Among the many endangered animals that have been further threatened by APP’s forest clearing activities are Sumatran orangutans — a more social species than their Bornean relatives, often gathering together at fig trees to enjoy a favorite fruit — and Sumatran tigers, the smallest and darkest tiger subspecies. The ramin tree, a protected genus, was also discovered among some of the trees at an APP paper mill.

These endangered species are not the only ones who will benefit from APP’s proposed new practices. A large percentage of the land the company had been operating in is forested peatland, storing high levels of carbon that are released as the forests are cleared. APP’s plan to rely on farmed trees will have a big effect on its contribution to atmospheric carbon levels.

A Dividing Issue

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Last month, I talked about the connection between climate change and forests in response to President Obama’s inaugural address, but there was another primary topic of that address that could have implications for our environment: immigration. On the surface, immigration and the environment don’t seem to be the likeliest of bedfellows, but they can be closely linked.

Black bear

Black bear. Credit: Jitze Couperus/Flickr

As reported by E&E News, more than 600 miles of fencing have been erected along the U.S.-Mexico border in the last six years, cutting through swaths of diverse ecosystems. While designed to keep people from crossing between countries, nature doesn’t recognize political boundaries — and many wildlife species could find themselves on the wrong side of the fence. Wildlife ecologist Clint Epps, who completed a study in 2009 on the potential effect of a U.S.-Mexico border, tells E&E News, “The porous nature of that border has been really important for wildlife. The only reason we have black bears [in the Southwest] is because they came up from Mexico. They had been exterminated here, but they colonized Big Bend National Park in the 1990s. And the only reason we have jaguars is because they come up from Mexico.”

Sulphur butterfly

A sulphur butterfly. Many subspecies of sulphur butterflies make their home in Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Michael Khor/Flickr

Over the years, research has shown how fragmented forests — those with roads, agricultural fields, cities, houses, fences, etc. between different stands of trees — can adversely impact wildlife migration. For more than 15 years, American Forests has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to repair fragmented forest for the benefit of threatened and endangered species, like ocelot, that make their home along the U.S.-Mexico border. We’ve helped plant more than 1.5 million trees in our efforts to preserve this area that is also home to plant, butterfly, bird and wildlife species that cumulatively number in the thousands.

We’ve worked in Veracruz, Mexico, to restore critically important migratory bird habitat that had been fragmented by urbanization. We’ve supported and advocated for policy changes to protect the threatened northern spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest from fragmentation threats — not to mention Global ReLeaf projects to restore spotted owl habitat.

And I’ve only listed a few of our forest fragmentation activities: Forest fragmentation is a big deal for forests and wildlife. Now, with climate change, many species will likely be adapting their migration patterns. This means that protecting wildlife habitat ranges, which could be a few miles to hundreds of miles, will become increasingly tricky. But it’s a puzzle worth solving.

The Best Urban Forests

by Melinda Housholder, Urban Forests Program Director

Top 10 graphic - 10 Best CitiesWe are excited today to announce the 10 best U.S. cities for urban forests. In alphabetical order, those cities are Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Portland, Sacramento, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

American Forests took on this project to help people (and city leaders) better understand the critical value of urban forests in their cities — to their own lives, health, economies and well-being of their communities. And to, therefore, invest in their urban forests. We see proactive individuals as a key to maintaining urban forests. These people recognize that trees around them are not just pretty shade providers, but are essential elements of the natural fabric of the planet that we depend upon for survival.

The 10 best cities that we are recognizing today have made prolonged and profound investments in the health of their urban forest, and they’ve benefited from active nonprofit and community participation in improving and maintaining the city’s environmental resources. We extol these cities’ efforts and dedication to urban forests to elevate the quality of life for citizens and visitors alike and hope that other cities will be inspired by their success.

Minneapolis' urban forest

A view of central Minneapolis, one of American Forests 10 best cities for urban forests, from across the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls. Credit: Ron Reiring

I’d like to thank our expert panel, which included technical advisors from the U.S. Forest Service, who devoted hours of time to look at independent data and American Forests’ survey responses from local urban forest professionals and community forestry nonprofits in order to help determine our 10 best cities. And, of course, the Forest Service itself, which provided grant funding to support this project.

What did we learn? We thought we knew a lot about what urban forests do for people. What we learned was how innovative people are in working for the forests in their cities. Each one with similar and different problems, similar and different solutions. We hope the shared takeaways will create a basis for better understanding as to how to address the new challenges we face each day as climate change alters the timing of seasons, the frequency and severity of storms and the threats of disease and insect infestations that were previously checked by colder winters.

Over the years, science has increasingly shown that urban forests are so much more than a beautification strategy. Yet, we sometimes forget that these environments that do so much for us — removing carbon dioxide, controlling stormwater and flooding and providing restful, stress-reducing oases in the middle of urban life — cannot exist without our help. With 80 percent of the U.S. population currently living in urban areas and the urban land area in the U.S. expected to more than double by 2050, now is the time to plan, plant and foster our urban forests. Trees don’t grow up overnight, but a healthy urban forests’ benefits can be enjoyed by generations.

Sharing Their Love of Trees

by Loose Leaf Contributor
American Forests and Scotties tree planting event

An American Forests and Scotties tree planting event in Charlotte in 2009. Credit: American Forests

The competition is heating up!

With less than two weeks left in the Scotties TREES ROCK! Video Contest, we’re featuring three more finalists who want your votes. While kids from all over the United States submitted videos, 12 finalists stood out and presented compelling reasons for why trees are essential to the well-being of our environment.

Now, they each have a chance to win $10,000 to improve outdoor spaces at their schools. But they need your help! Learn about three of the contestants below, and watch the other videos. Then, show your support by voting for your favorite!
Oliver Z. from Tampa, Fla., and his classmates at Pepin Elementary demonstrate how trees produce oxygen and sugars from photosynthesis.

Ryan C. from Hoboken, N.J., explains how flood waters from Hurricane Sandy destroyed his school’s garden. Ryan hopes to rebuild the garden and replace the trees and plants lost during the storm.

Ryan M. from Wesley Chapel, Fla., talks about the important roles that trees have in maintaining a balanced environment, which include absorbing carbon dioxide and providing shade. Ryan would like to have an outdoor classroom and lunch area at his school.

Vote for your favorite videos every day until February 15th at Check back next Monday to see the profiles our last three finalists!

Did you miss our previous profiles? Meet Audrey K., Anuhar C. and Cate G. and Kaylee L., Kyle P. and McCoy P.

Three Cheers for Wetlands

by Susan Laszewski
Bald cypress

Bald cypress can live in deep water. Credit: Nietnagel/Flickr

Tomorrow is World Wetlands Day. Time to join the other 162 countries that are signatories of the Convention on Wetlands — brought into effect 42 years ago on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Ramsar, Iran — to celebrate these important ecosystems. The word “wetland” is often associated with marshes, but there are as many types of wetlands as there are colors in the rainbow. In the United States, some of the most common types are marshes, swamps, bogs and fens. Do you know what sets them apart?

A marsh is a wetland whose primary source of water is surface water, such as a lake, river or — in the case of tidal marshes — the sea. The marsh’s landscape is dominated by soft-stemmed plants like cattail or reed grass.

A swamp, on the other hand, is dominated by woody plants. The shrubs and trees that grow in a swamp are well-suited to water, like the cypress trees that we’re partnering with The Nature Conservancy to plant in South Carolina’s Washo Reserve or the several varieties of oak that we’re planting in Shawnee National Forest, Illinois, with the National Wild Turkey Federation.

sphagnum moss and pitcher plant

Sphagnum moss and pitcher plant. Credit: Sandy Richard/Flickr

A bog is my favorite kind of wetland, both because of how it forms and because of the rare species that live there. The main ingredient of a bog is sphagnum moss, which holds rain water to create the moist wetland environment. Bogs can form in one of two ways. Sometimes, the sphagnum moss slowly covers a patch of earth, where it then prevents rainwater from leaving the surface. Other times, the moss can actually grow over a pond or other body of water, eventually filling it in a process known as terrestrialization. The sphagnum moss performs magic, turning water into land! A bog is a very acidic environment, and it takes a certain kind of species to thrive there. Many carnivorous plants call the bog home, such as sundews and pitcher plants. They may seem out-of-this-world, but they’re all part of Earth’s incredible biodiversity.


Sundew. Credit: listentothemountains/Flickr

A fen is very similar to a bog, but it relies not just on precipitation as a water source, but also on groundwater, making it less acidic and more hospitable to a wider variety of plants, including colorful wildflowers.

One thing all these types of wetlands have in common is that they help prevent flooding, whether by absorbing precipitation or by slowing and storing water. In addition, many wetlands clean polluted water, acting as natural filters. In fact, many cities are now using wetlands as green infrastructure.

Which of these types of wetlands are found near you?