Dying With the Trees

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

In the Winter 2013 issue of American Forests, American Forests Science Advisory Board member Dr. Deborah McCullough reveals how tens of millions of ash trees have been lost since 2002 due to the invasive insect, emerald ash borer. In new research released earlier this month, scientists report that the loss of those ash trees may be affecting more than just the health of rural and urban forests — their loss may be affecting human health.

Dead ash trees in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Dead ash trees in Ann Arbor, Mich. Credit: Steven Katovich, U.S. Forest Service, Bugwood.org

In the February 2013 issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine, a team of U.S. Forest Service researchers led by Dr. Geoffrey Donovan published a study showing an association between tree loss and increases in deaths related to cardiovascular disease and lower respiratory disease. Dr. Donovan and his team used the “natural” deaths of 100 million ash trees to see if a major change in the natural environment had a correlation to mortality.

Studying data from 1,296 counties across 15 states affected by emerald ash borer-caused tree loss over a span of 17 years (1990-2007), the researchers discovered an additional 15,080 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,113 additional deaths from lower respiratory disease in counties infested with emerald ash borer after accounting for the influence of factors like income, race and education.

Dr. Donovan told Science Daily, “There’s a natural tendency to see our findings and conclude that, surely, the higher mortality rates are because of some confounding variable, like income or education, and not the loss of trees, but we saw the same pattern repeated over and over in counties with very different demographic makeups.”

The researchers are quick to point out, though, that while their study shows a correlation between human mortality and tree loss, it’s not a direct causal relationship. However, it is clear that there is a connection of some kind between loss of trees and a decline in human health. So remember that those trees you see around aren’t just helping four-legged critters stay safe, healthy and happy, they’re helping us, too.

Kids Place Spotlight on Local Trees

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

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

Can’t get enough of last week’s inspiring TREES ROCK! videos? Neither can we!

This week, we’re featuring three more finalists of Scotties TREES ROCK! Video Contest. Kids from across the country submitted videos explaining why they think trees are important and how their school could use $10,000 to improve its outdoor spaces.

Watch what makes these kids passionate about the trees in their communities, and be sure to vote for your favorite entry!

Kaylee L. from Arco, Idaho, explains through signs and illustrations how wildfires in the Rocky Mountains destroyed thousands of trees and threatened her community. Kaylee wants to make a difference and replace some of the trees that were lost in the fires.

Kyle P. from Rochester, Minn., and his Trees Rock News Team report on the amazing ways that trees can absorb pollution from the environment and provide resources like food and paper. Kyle would like to have more benches and trees around his school to create outdoor classrooms.

McCoy P. from San Antonio, Texas, likes to climb trees and appreciates the shade they provide on hot days. McCoy would love for his school to build an outdoor learning environment for kids to learn about different ecosystems and plants.

Now, it’s your turn to make a difference! Go vote for your favorite video at www.scottiestreesrock.com, and vote every day until February 15. (You can even be entered to win a Scotties Care Package just for voting!) Be sure to check back next Monday to see the profiles of three more finalists.

Did you miss our profiles last week? Check them out here.

A Changing Climate

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

President Obama during his second inaugural address

President Obama during his second inaugural address, January 21, 2013. Credit: WhiteHouse.gov

Two weeks before President Obama took the oath of office for his second term, American Forests joined a broad coalition of environmental and conservation organizations that signed a letter encouraging the president to make climate change part of the national discussion during his second term. We asked him to “lead the public discussion of what we need to do as a nation to both prepare for the changes in climate that are no longer avoidable and avoid changes in climate that are unacceptable.”

Earlier this week, President Obama pledged to do just that in his second inaugural address, stating:

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries; we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

As referenced, America’s forests are an integral part of the climate change discussion. Our forests can help mitigate its effects by sequestering carbon, but our forests are also under threat because of a changing climate. For instance, our Endangered Western Forests initiative is conducting research and developing management strategies to save high-altitude ecosystems that are being adversely affected by climate change’s impacts.

If we want our forests to help us combat climate change, we need to help our forests — through policy, research, reforestation and other activities. We are committed to doing this. Commit to help us.

For more information on American Forests’ forest policy priorities — actions we are encouraging Congress to take — in 2013, check out the “Washington Outlook” column in the newest issue of our American Forests magazine.

Beetle vs. Bear

by Susan Laszewski

Picture a creature weighing as much as 720 lbs., roaming vast expanses of the American West — top of the food chain and king of the Rocky Mountains, embodying freedom and the spirit of the West. If you were picturing the grizzly bear, then, we’re on the same page. This is how many people picture this iconic animal of the West. But just three decades ago the actual picture was quite a bit different. Grizzlies were in dire straits. The population in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) had shrunk to only 136 bears, roaming a measly (by grizzly bear standards) five million acres. After decades of teetering on the brink, in 1975, the grizzly bear was listed as endangered in the lower 48 states.

Grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park

Grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Don DeBold/Flickr

A mountain pine beetle excavating a tunnel in a ponderosa pine

A mountain pine beetle excavating a tunnel in a ponderosa pine. Credit: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Today, the GYA population has grown. In 2010, there were 602 bears, including 51 mothers with 101 cubs — a future generation looking strong. The bears now roam 14 million acres in the GYA and have begun to reoccupy areas outside of the recovery zone. For around a decade, grizzles have met criteria for delisting. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition has called their story “one of the great conservation success stories of our time.”

So why is the grizzly still listed as threatened? The answer lies with another creature of the American West.

In 2007, the grizzly bear was, in fact, delisted. The decision was challenged and two years later a federal judge’s ruling reinstated their status as threatened. One of the primary reasons for the judge’s ruling was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) lack of due consideration in their decision of a new threat to the grizzly — the mountain pine beetle.

Yes, that’s right. Beetle vs. grizzly bear. It may not sound like the most interesting National Geographic video clip, but the mountain pine beetle has emerged in recent years as one of the grizzly’s biggest indirect threats due to the devastation it’s been causing a major grizzly food source.

Packing more calories than chocolate, the seeds of the whitebark pine are a favorite among the bears. But as the changing climate allows the beetles to move into higher and higher elevations and to live longer and longer without the cold winter days needed to regulate their life cycle, the high-elevation whitebark pine — less accustomed to the beetles than some lower elevation pines — is paying the price. And as the pines suffer, the grizzlies suffer.

And once again, the bear’s status is being examined. 2014 could very well be the year of their delisting. FWS is closely evaluating the whitebark pine situation to assess how it may affect the grizzly’s conservation status. Will the grizzly bear fall before the mighty pine beetle? Unless we can mitigate some of the problems facing our endangered western forests, the grizzly bear’s inspiring comeback may be short lived.

So, what can be done? Through our Endangered Western Forests initiative, American Forests is taking a six-pronged approach to combating these threats to the grizzly bear’s ecosystem through restoration, research, local engagement, policy promotion, funding and education. In addition to advocating for continued protection of the grizzly bear, our strategies include applying pheromone patches to discourage beetles from infesting high-impact trees. Learn more about our strategies and how you can help.

Urban Forests on a National Stage

by Amanda Tai
Credit: Bill Holmes/Flickr

Credit: Bill Holmes/Flickr

According to the U.S. Forest Service, Washington D.C., is often referred to as the “city of trees” because of its unique layout and landscapes. A huge component of the city’s urban forest is the National Mall. Millions of people visit the National Mall and its surrounding memorials and museums each year. On January 20, 2009, a whopping 1.8 million people flooded the National Mall to attend President Obama’s first inauguration, the largest attendance of any event ever in Washington, D.C. For President Obama’s second inauguration this past Monday, the crowd only totaled about 800,000. Even though that’s less than half the people from four years ago, it’s still a significant figure as far as people being in one place at the same time!

Over the years, the National Mall has seen its fair share of visitors, rallies, renovation and presidential inaugurations. The National Mall is a happening urban forest! This past summer, American Forests’ staff got to experience the National Mall with National Park Service retiree with Dr. James Sherald. We got a rundown of the history of the National Mall and how it started as part of Pierre L’Enfant’s 18th century vision for a “grand avenue” in the middle of the city. But the National Mall wasn’t always a tourist destination. Over the years, it has served as a cow pasture, a railway path and an open market. Today, it’s a tourist hot spot, where visitors can find a shady spot to rest in the sweltering D.C. summer and a shelter for urban wildlife. Over the centuries, trees have played a significant role in the National Mall’s aesthetic and appeal.

But trees on the National Mall don’t stay healthy and beautiful all on their own, especially since it’s such a high foot-traffic area. In addition to the National Park Service’s Center for Urban Ecology, several other agencies and organizations help take care of the trees on the National Mall, like the U.S. Forest Service, the District of Columbia’s Tree and Landscape Division and the Casey Trees Endowment. Together, these groups help protect the trees from pests and disease, monitor soil condition and pull together comprehensive urban forest health assessments. Whether it’s cleaning the air or hosting a presidential inauguration, urban forests sure do a lot for the community around it.

Two Bedrock Laws Put Under Scrutiny

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

The 113th Congress is sworn in and both legislation and roadmaps of legislative initiatives have started rolling forward. While both the talk and much of the media networks’ air time surround gun control, immigration, the debt ceiling and other large initiatives, environmental focus has not been lost in all quarters. And no, I’m not talking about potential action on climate change, at least not today. Instead, I turn your attention to the newly developed House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation and its chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop from Utah.

Chimney Rock in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado

President Obama designated Chimney Rock in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado as a national monument on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. The area holds great spiritual and historical significance for many tribes, as it was an ancestral home to the Pueblo people. Credit: USDA

The subcommittee website states that it is “responsible for all matters related to the National Park System, U.S. forests, public lands and national monuments.” This responsibility includes “ensuring [our public lands] are available for recreational opportunities and economic development.” As this new subcommittee begins its work laying out the Republican majority’s legislative agenda, it is important to discuss an early focus: review of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Antiquities Act.

Subcommittee Chairman Bishop’s desire to spotlight these two laws is not unduly surprising, as both laws have faced extensive criticism from Republicans in the past. NEPA especially has been pushed and pulled since President Nixon signed it into law on January 1, 1970. In a previous post, I outlined the basics of NEPA, including environmental assessments and environmental impact statements, as well as the exclusion of specific activities from these requirements (cleverly titled categorical exclusions). There are ways around NEPA, but it tends to require an administration’s participation. Remember the stimulus from the beginning of President Obama’s first term? The administration granted more than 179,000 categorical exclusions to specific stimulus-funded projects, with the express purpose of streamlining the approval process.

For developers working on federal lands or using federal money, NEPA can be a nightmare of delay, with potentially extensive and expensive environmental studies to be completed before the project ever breaks ground. But for environmental and community groups, it is a law that forces those same developers to stop and examine the potential environmental impacts of a project. While the “stop and examine” can sometimes turn into litigation, NEPA regulations are intended to provide an honest and thorough assessment of a project.

Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia

Fort Monroe in Virginia was designated as a national monument by President Obama on November 1, 2011. The fort, completed in 1834 and named after President Monroe, was a key and symbolic refuge for former slaves during the Civil War. Credit: dbking/Flickr

While a push to reform NEPA may receive more attention, the Antiquities Act is potentially the bigger fight. Currently, under this 1906 law, a president may designate, on federally-controlled lands, any “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest … to be national monuments.” These designations do not require congressional approval, lying instead within the executive power of a president. Since 1906, 16 presidents (eight from each party) have declared 132 national monuments using the Antiquities Act, encompassing more than 70 million acres of land. These monuments have included the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and Devils Tower. The recently introduced H.R. 250, however, would amend the Antiquities Act to require congressional approval for any national monument designation. Rep. Bishop has stated that one of his top goals is to reform the Antiquities Act, and such a bill would effectively remove the original intent of the law.

Because both NEPA and the Antiquities Act play a large role in the conservation of our nation’s national forests, it is important that we keep our eyes focused on potential legislative changes to these protective laws.

Voices for Change

by Loose Leaf Contributor
A 2011 TREES ROCK planting event in Miami. Credit: American Forests

A 2011 TREES ROCK planting event in Miami. Credit: American Forests

While many today are tuning into the presidential inauguration, we want to direct your attention to three young people trying to make a change in their communities.

Last week, we told you about Scotties TREES ROCK! Video Contest, where students around the country were invited to share videos of how trees are important to them, their school and their communities in hopes of winning prizes to help beautify their schools.

Today, we want to shine a spotlight on three of the finalists hoping to win the grand prize to make grand, green changes to their schools.

Audrey K. from Carmel, Indiana, shares how the open field next to her school is being developed for a new subdivision and retail area, with trees being removed in the process. She wants to help her school plant trees to create a screen from the construction and this new development.

Anuhar C. from Charlotte, North Carolina, explains all of the cost-saving benefits trees provide to his school through their shading properties, and he reveals his plan to help beautify his school: a tree-filled courtyard that can serve as a lunchroom and outdoor class space.

Cate G. from Hensley, Arkansas, shows off her impressive drawing and painting skills and reveals that her school could use more trees to help prevent flooding and erosion on its playground, as well as a hope to use the prize money for more handicapped-accessible playground equipment and some new educational games.

If Audrey, Anuhar or Cate’s story touched you, go vote for them at www.scottiestreesrock.com. And come back next Monday for our profile of three more finalists.

ID the Tree!

by Melinda Housholder, Urban Forests Program Director
Great Falls Park in January 2013

Great Falls Park in January 2013. Credit: mebrett/Flickr

This last weekend, I went on a wonderful hike around Great Falls Park. As we started the hike, I was quickly reminded of the Winter Tree ID class that I took several years ago, where we went on a field trip to that exact same location at this time of year to identify the trees. As I looked around, I realized that this was perfect timing to continue testing out my knowledge, especially without many leaves around to help me out!

While leaves can make tree identification much easier, it is always a fun and exciting challenge to correctly identify trees in the winter — and it is often not really all that hard. So, for the next hike that you take or the next stroll around your urban forest, you can use these helpful tips to make the most of it and figure out what type of trees you are walking by. Note: These tips relate to deciduous trees, and the examples are often from the East Coast.

Branching out!
Observing the leaf and twig arrangement can tell you a lot about the kind of tree you are seeing. There are three main structures that you will look for:

  1. Trees with alternate leaf attachments have one unique leaf at each leaf node and usually alternate their direction along the stem.
  2. Red maple

    Red maple. Credit: Becca MacDonald, Sault College, Bugwood.org

    Trees with opposite leaf attachments have a pair of leaves at each node. The joy of opposite leaves is that only a few common tree families have these, and there is an easy acronym to remember: MADCap Horse.
    * Maples
    * Ash
    * Dogwood
    * Honeysuckle/Viburnum (aka. Caprifoliaceae)
    * Horse chestnut

  3. Trees with whorled leaf attachment often have three or more leaves attached at each node on the stem.

Be a Twig Detective!
Twigs can often be identified by observing the following:

  1. Buds – Buds are a useful ID because they are set in different ways and look different when you look up close, specifically at the shape, size and scales (which protect the buds).
  2. Bark – Look at the color and pattern (more to come on that).
  3. Leaf scars – These are below the buds and are left when the leaf falls off in autumn. The scar will look different for each kind of tree. Look at the shape, pattern and arrangement of scars.
  4. Pith – The soft center section of the twig is important for storage and transport of nutrients. Look at the color and chambers of the pith.

To help in this, find a good twig key, such as this one, to help you go step-by-step in determining where the twig came from.

Eastern redbud fruit

Eastern redbud fruit. Credit: Paul Wray, Iowa State University, Bugwood.org

Find the Fruits!
Often in the winter, you will see some conspicuous, persistent fruits on the trees or evidence of the fruits below the trees. In most good tree identification books, you will be able to search out different types of fruits. A few common fruit types that you may find in the winter include:

  1. Berry – a fleshy fruit (ex. paw paw)
  2. Nut – a hard, bony fruit with one seed (ex. acorns from an oak)
  3. Samara – one-seeded (ex. the winged fruit of maples)
  4. Achene – a small dry fruit with one seed inside (ex. sycamore)
  5. Legume – a fruit with several seeds that splits open at maturity (ex. redbud)

Learn the Bark!
Tree bark is an especially useful tool for tree ID in the winter. And, of course, there are various ways to describe what a bark might look like. Here are a few descriptions you might use when comparing tree bark:

  1. Smooth, like beech tree
  2. Shaggy, like shagbark hickory
  3. Blocky, like persimmon
  4. Ropey, like black walnut
  5. Warty, like hackberry
  6. Diamond, like green ash
  7. Peeling, like sycamore

Check out a recent article in the American Forest magazine that goes into much more detail about the importance of bark and the varieties that exist. Don’t have a copy of the magazine? Check back next week when we post the article online.

Happy winter tree ID’ing! Hope you are able to ID all sorts of trees in your winter urban wonderland!

Thanks, Secretary Salazar

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

As Washington hurriedly prepares for the glitz and glamour of swearing in President Obama on Monday for a second term, the president’s administration is dealing with a flurry of cabinet openings.

Greg Neudecker and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employee and 2011 Recovery Champion Award-winner Greg Neudecker (left) and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (right) in Montana’s Crown of the Continent. Credit: USFWS

Yesterday, U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar announced that he would be leaving his post by the end of March to “return to his home state of Colorado.” Many in the conservation community are sad to see him go, as he’s been a strong leader, dedicated to working with a broad coalition of parties on energy, conservation and other issues.

In honor of Secretary Salazar, let’s take a quick spin through some of the 10 wildlife refuges and seven national parks that came to life under his reign, preserving their ecosystems into the future.

Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois
Just last week, Hackmatack became Secretary Salazar’s 10th wildlife refuge. As stated by Governor Pat Quinn in the announcement of the new refuge, “The establishment of the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge will help keep open spaces, including wetlands and grasslands, within easy reach of millions of people living in largely urban areas of Chicagoland and northeast Illinois. … Hackmatack will provide a way to connect children, families and all urban and suburban residents to nature and wildlife.”

Pinnacles National Park, California
A national monument since 1908 thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt, Pinnacles is filled with monoliths, spires, caves and canyons, and earlier this month, it became the 59th national park. It is also home to 400 species of native bees and is a key release point for the endangered California condor. With the monument’s elevation to a national park also came the designation of 16,000 acres of the new park’s land as a wilderness area, Hain Wilderness.

Condor release site in Pinnacles National Park

Condor release site in Pinnacles National Park. Credit: dotpolka/Flickr

Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge and Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, New Mexico
This fall, Valle de Oro became the first urban wildlife refuge in the Southwest and one of only a handful of urban wildlife refuges in the country. Nearby, Rio Mora was created to preserve habitat for threatened and endangered species like the southwestern flycatcher and Mexican spotted owl. It also protects the Rio Mora watershed alongside another Secretary Salazar-overseen refuge, Sangre de Christo Conservation Area in Colorado. For more on these refuges, read our post on their establishment.

The Everglades, Florida
Yes, the Everglades have been a national park for a while now — since 1934 to be exact — but Secretary Salazar did a lot of significant work there during his time at the DOI. The Palm Beach Post reports that he once admitted “that of all the thousands of federal projects and programs, he spends the most time on Everglades restoration.” In 2011, this resulted in a new wildlife refuge, Everglades Headwater National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, which American Forests supported the creation of and submitted comments to the DOI on.

We wish Secretary Salazar well, as his positive contributions at DOI will be felt for years and — in terms of the refuges and parks created — generations to come.

Securing Rural Schools

by Amanda Tai
Credit:  Forest Service - Northern Region/Flickr

Credit: Forest Service – Northern Region/Flickr

Yesterday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that $323 million will be allocated to 41 states and Puerto Rico as part of a one-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS). For those of you who aren’t familiar with the SRS bill, it first passed in 2000 at a time when timber harvest sales on national forest land were sharply declining. The economic decline had a huge impact on rural communities that were dependent on timber sales. The SRS bill set up payment programs to help these communities, and to this day, these programs continue to support rural economies so they are able to continue to provide important public services like schools, health care and road maintenance. The bill’s reauthorization includes language that requires states to inform the U.S. Forest Service about how their payments will be allocated.

Credit: waitscm/Flickr

Credit: waitscm/Flickr

SRS has also been a long-time priority for community-based forestry groups. American Forests has been an advocate for SRS as part of the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC). RVCC has been advocating for conservation-based solutions in the West since 2000, the same year that SRS was first passed. In addition to restoring rural schools, roads and forests, SRS is also notable for restoration work that has protected critical habitat for endangered species like salmon and northern spotted owl.

This month, American Forests also signed onto letters to congressional leadership on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee. American Forests joined other conservation groups like the Wilderness Society and Natural Resources Defense Council to reach out to these Congressional committees and urge them to pass SRS.

Vilsack noted in his announcement that the bill is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service’s long-standing commitment to supporting rural communities, schools and youth. It’s encouraging to see the agency continue to help the people whose livelihoods are very much dependent on our nation’s forests.