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,

    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,

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.

Kids Show How TREES ROCK!

by Loose Leaf Contributor

Want to see some of the cutest things ever? No, we’re not talking about yawning pandas or kitties. We’re talking about some enthusiastic, creative kids sharing why they love forests and trees.

Trees Rock logo - Newsroom January 2013For the last few years, American Forests has been teaming with Scotties Facial Tissue on TREES ROCK!, an educational program aimed at kids and schools. This year’s partnership encouraged kids to create videos up to three minutes in length in which they share the importance of trees to themselves, their school and their community. Today, Scotties announced the 12 finalists, who are eligible for cash and prizes for both themselves and for beautification of their schools.

Voting is open today through February 15, so go watch, smile at the kids and vote for your fave. Don’t think you can or have time to watch all 12 in one sitting? We have you covered, as starting this Monday, we’ll be featuring three videos each week in order to share all of the great work of these kids with you, our loyal readers.

Scotties Trees Rock VideosThe Finalists:
Anuhar C., Charlotte, NC
Audrey K., Carmel, IN
Cate G., Hensley, AR
Kaylee L., Arco, ID
Kyle P., Rochester, MN
McCoy P., San Antonio, TX
Oliver Z., Tampa, FL
Ryan C., Hoboken, NJ
Ryan M., Wesley Chapel, FL
Sarah S., Lone Oak, TX
Sean S., Cary, NC
Vince G., Santa Cruz, CA



Undiscovered Potential

by Susan Laszewski

Being sick is no fun. But, as a glass-half-full kind of girl, I have always appreciated the reality check, reminding me not to take my health — or our growing knowledge of how to combat disease — for granted.

I was recently prescribed some antibiotics by my doctor for strep throat, bringing pharmaceuticals onto my radar. Maybe that’s why I was so tuned in to a study about the antimicrobial properties recently discovered in giant panda blood.

Giant panda.

Giant panda. Credit: George Lu/Flickr

The study — published by a group of Chinese scientists in the journal Gene — found an antimicrobial compound, cathelicidin-AM, in the panda genome that killed both standard and drug-resistant strains of many microorganisms. (Before you wonder how one would go about organizing a giant panda blood drive, the compound was synthetically reproduced in a lab.)

This exciting news was quickly reported in many major media outlets, from the Telegraph to The Huffington Post. I read excitedly about the panda’s amazing medicinal blood as I sat in bed taking amoxicillin. Could this be the answer to the increasing resistance of bacteria to our current library of antibiotics? Some urge caution before getting too excited.

Cathelicidin-AM is not the first antimicrobial compound to get people’s attention recently. A 2012 study examined similar compounds in the skin of the Russian brown frog. Science writer Ed Yong writes in National Geographic magazine, “Scientists have discovered a new antibiotic, hundreds of new antibiotics, thousands of new antibiotics … All are billed as potential sources of bold new treatments that will solve our antibiotic crisis … And yet, despite decades of such claims, none of these sources has yielded a single marketable drug.”

So perhaps we should not get our hopes up for “panda-cillin.” But I’m still a glass-half-full kind of girl. Much like being sick, the appeal of this story is the reality check, reminding us not to take the animals and plants we share this planet with for granted. If there is still much to learn from — and about — known species like the panda and the Russian brown frog, what about those species still undiscovered?

According to the IUCN, it’s estimated that species today are becoming extinct at a rate between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the expected natural extinction rate. One of the major causes is habitat loss. Forests are home to 80 percent of our planet’s terrestrial biodiversity. This is a big part of why we at American Forests do what we do. Please help us. And the next time you take some medicine, take a minute to think about how it was discovered and what other healing properties we could be destroying before we even realize they’re there.

Beat the Heat

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that 2012 was the warmest and second most extreme weather year on record for the lower 48 states. The agency reports that the average temperature in 2012 was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 3.3 degrees above the 20th century yearly average and 1.0 degrees above the previous record holder for warmest year. Now, one and three degrees may not sound like a big deal, but in reality, that kind of rise is huge in climate terms.

2012 NOAA Heat Report - Loose Leaf January 20132012 was also one of the driest years on record, with the average precipitation at 26.57 inches. The year also bore witness to 11 natural disasters the each reached $1 billion in losses or more.

As the heat continues to rise, healthy forests become more important than ever.

Greenhouse gas emissions are a major contributing factor to climate change. In its latest inventory of greenhouse gases in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the U.S. emissions totaled 6,821.8 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2010, an increase of 3.2 percent over the previous year. Combine this with the news that global emissions grew by an estimated 3.1 percent in 2011, and there is increasing cause for concern. Our forests, though, can help.

In a recent study, the U.S. Forest Service reports that America’s forests removed 745 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2006, which offsets 11 percent of all U.S. CO2 emissions. Our forests also store an additional 204 million metric tons of CO2. There is no question that forests can play a big role in mitigating the effects of climate change, but only if they’re healthy.

Yet, our forests are increasingly threatened:

  • Credit: American Forests

    Credit: American Forests

    Intense wildfires, drought, invasive species, disease, insect outbreaks and deforestation are significantly threatening the health of forests from coast to coast. American Forests is addressed these threats with more than 60 Global ReLeaf projects and more than two million new trees planted in 2012.

  • America’s high-elevation forests are dying due to a combination of threats — some of which are due to climate change. This is why we’ve launched our multi-year Endangered Western Forests initiative to study and protect these important forest ecosystems from the threats they face.
  • 2012 marked the third largest number of acres burned in wildfire, and wildfires lead to carbon emissions instead of sequestration, hence, our public policy efforts on the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program and the FLAME Act.
  • The U.S. Forest Service reports that our urban forests in 2006 were estimated to sequester about 95 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, but urban trees are often threatened by development. Combine their CO2 sequestration with the other benefits of urban forests, like energy savings, water management and quality of life, and the work of our Urban Forests program to help cities with their urban forests is critical.

Last year’s record breaking highlighted the negative implications of climate change.. With your help, American Forests hopes to make 2013 a record-breaking year for other reasons. Help us help the planet. Please support this important work today!

Fighting for the Farm Bill

by Amanda Tai
Credit: A family farm in Harlan County, KY enrolled in CSP. USDAgov/Flickr

Credit: A family farm in Harlan County, Kentucky that’s enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program. USDAgov/Flickr

Last week’s fiscal cliff deal included a nine-month extension for the Farm Bill. While the deal doesn’t provide mandatory funding to energy programs in the Farm Bill, it does extend most conservation provisions that are already (or set to be) expired, like the Wetlands Reserve Program and Healthy Forests Reserve Program. Other programs like EQIP, WHIP and CSP were already authorized through 2014 in a continuing resolution and were not set to expire. Even though these programs will continue to manage existing projects, they will not be able to enroll new participants due to lack of additional funding. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), for example, is currently working on projects across the country on approximately 50 million acres of land and was authorized to enroll an additional 12.8 million acres in 2013 under the 2008 Farm Bill. The program was established to help farmers and ranchers carry out conservation plans on their land, but without additional funding in the fiscal cliff deal, enrollment has been reduced to only one million acres in 2013.

Representative Tim Waltz (D-MN) expressed disappointment with the Farm Bill extension in the fiscal cliff deal to news outlet E&E News. A long-time champion for farmland conservation programs, Waltz commented that conservation programs need long-term planning to be successful, unlike the short-term solutions currently being offered by Congress.

Federal agencies are also disappointed. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack stated that he is pleased to see an extension included in the deal, but frustrated that Congress was unable to pass a multi-year Farm Bill. Vilsack remains committed to working with Congress to pass a reauthorized five-year bill. Waltz and Vilsack’s stance is shared by many in the conservation community who understand the importance of a five-year bill. Last year, the Senate and the House Agriculture Committees passed a five-year measure that would have streamlined conservation programs and cut back funding, but for the most part, conservation groups were on board. Even though overall spending would have been cut, conservation leaders were pleased to see bipartisan support on a measure that would extend the conservation programs tools that are so important to landowners. The fiscal cliff deal ignored these efforts and created an extension that did not help conservation programs.

American Forests has been a strong advocate for funding forest and conservation programs in the Farm Bill as part of the Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition (FIFB). The coalition will continue to push for a five-year Farm Bill. As far as next steps for Congress, the House has tentatively set a Farm Bill mark-up hearing for February 27th. I hope that with the new session (and new members) of Congress comes change and progress for the Farm Bill and its conservation programs.

Voyage Through the Ages

by Susan Laszewski

A national park that speaks to the thrill of exploration celebrates its birthday today.

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park. Credit: tommigodwin/Flickr

Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota became the nation’s 36th national park when Richard Nixon signed it into creation in 1971, but don’t plan on taking in its sites in your car. This “Land of Lakes” is more than a third water and has a rich history of exploration by boat.

Named after the French-Canadian explorers who left Montreal for the promised riches of the fur trade, Voyageurs National Park has seen its fair share of treasure and adventure seekers. The area was so well travelled by the voyageurs and the Ojibew Indians they traded with that their route became the U.S.-Canadian border. The area did a brief stint as a destination for gold seekers in the 1890s, then several decades as a loggers’ paradise before settling into its current life as a national park. But the spirit of exploration never died.

Voyageurs was recently the site of an expedition of Teen Ambassadors to the National Park Service. The group of teens from the Twin Cities and International Falls was selected to help determine how the National Park Service could better reach out to youth. They were full of ideas, from a teen-focused website and classroom visits to youth expeditions. Last summer, they got to live some of their own suggestions, as they canoed in the footsteps of the voyageurs’ birch bark canoes, camped out under the stars and even had an encounter with a wolf.

As one ambassador told the National Park Service, “I think it’s important for our national parks to have Teen Ambassadors … Considering that young people are the future caretakers of every aspect of the country, you want to get them to care more about our national parks so they will always be around.” Another said, “The outdoor experience was incredible. We got to see a beautiful natural environment that I never saw before, and I’m so thankful for this great opportunity.”

The fur trade, gold rush and pulpwood logging in Voyageurs National Park may have ended, but as these Teen Ambassadors’ words show, there are even more valuable treasures waiting to be discovered there.

Meet a man who had a heavy hand in protecting the land that would become Voyageurs in our American Forests magazine feature, “A Man Saved by Wilderness.”

The Evils of Arson

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Nature can be hard on trees. There are floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. Then, there are bugs and disease. Basically, trees are fighting a lot of forces to survive, which is why it’s so disheartening when trees are lost deliberately to human folly. While there can be a lot of human folly to discuss, I want to talk specifically about arson.

A year ago, Florida lost its famed 3,500-year-old big tree, The Senator, when police report that a local woman lit a fire to “see better,” which promptly spiraled out of control and claimed the bald cypress.

Watercolor painting by Albert Namatjira

Watercolor painting by Albert Namatjira

Now, Australia is suffering a similar loss. Last week, police in Alice Springs discovered that two famed ghost gum trees had died in a December 30th fire … and they suspect arson. The ghost gums gained attention when they became the focal point for a series of watercolors by Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira. As related to the BBC by the Northern Territory’s Minister for Indigenous Advancement, Alison Anderson, “It’s the two trees that brought this man to prominence and brought the Northern Territory and Central Australia to prominence and put us on the world map.”

The trees were so special to the Northern Territory, not to mention its indigenous people, that the government had just finished work to protect the trees from natural bush fires and were preparing to put the trees on a national heritage register. A tribal elder, Baydon Williams, told the BBC that “Those two trees symbolized a lot of sacred areas and songlines and marking of boundaries of different skin groups and different clans.”

While American Forests first and foremost looks to protect and restore forests as a whole, we have a long connection to special, individual trees through our Big Tree program, and stories like this break our heart.

The Flycatcher Catches a Break

by Susan Laszewski
A Southwestern willow flycatcher

A Southwestern willow flycatcher brings food to her nest. Photo by S&D Maslowski.

Yesterday brought more good news for the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

Back in October, I wrote about New Mexico’s two newly designated national wildlife refuges — areas that in addition to creating great outdoor recreational opportunities for New Mexico communities, protect valuable habitat for the willow flycatcher. Well, the flycatcher is on a roll. Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated more than 200 thousand acres along 1,227 miles of river as protected critical habitat for this endangered bird. The newly protected acres — in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada —  expand upon the existing 730 miles of river that were designated as protected for this endangered bird in 2005.

Jemez River

Jemez River, New Mexico. Credit: spotzilla/Flickr

The Southwestern willow flycatcher is a small brown and gray bird that eats berries, seeds and — true to its name — flying insects. The flycatcher winters in Central America, but come April or May, it returns home to breed in the riparian forests of Arizona, New Mexico and southern California, Utah and Nevada. These streamside forest ecosystems are essential to the flycatcher’s successful breeding, but the bird has lost more than 90 percent of its historical habitat due to dams, livestock grazing and urban sprawl, among other causes. Listed as endangered in 1995, the bird’s prospects have faced another blow as severe drought of the past two years has left its habitat even more vulnerable.

One of the best ways to help with the latter problem is to reforest streams’ banks. American Forests has been working with WildEarth Guardians to plant 100,000 willows, aspen and other trees along streams in the headwaters of the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico, restoring areas damaged by grazing, improving water quality and restoring nesting habitat for the flycatcher.

The flycatcher had some victories in 2012 and is off to a good start in 2013. Let’s hope that with these improvements to its habitat, we start seeing recovered populations of this little bird in the years ahead.