Cliff Hanger

by Amanda Tai
Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr

Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr

As most people celebrated the New Year with confetti and champagne, Congress was on Capitol Hill trying to reach a last-minute agreement. The New Year’s negotiations finally ended when House Republicans agreed to a deal passed in the Senate, which was pulled together by Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). But even though Congress reached an agreement, there is still a long road ahead.

The compromise extends unemployment benefits and Bush-era tax cuts for middle and lower-income Americans, while increasing taxes for the top income bracket, meaning individuals earning more than $400,000 or households earning more than $450,000. This change will bring in around $600 billion in new tax revenue from the wealthiest taxpayers, which may sound like good news to the majority of Americans, but the Congressional Committee on Taxation has estimated that extending tax cuts will actually cost the Treasury about $4 trillion over the next 10 years.

So what does that mean for reducing the federal deficit? Well, like I said, the agreement isn’t perfect, but it did help avoid a hasty shift towards big spending cuts. These cuts would have had a huge impact on government agency programs, including the U.S. Forest Service and other conservation programs. In December, American Forests worked with groups like America’s Voice for Conservation, Recreation, and Preservation (AVCRP) to meet with staffers and advocate for these programs. Although the agreement temporarily spared cuts, it still left a lot to be determined in 2013.

The decision on budget sequestration has been rescheduled for two months from now. Congress will also face the big question about whether or not to raise the debt ceiling in February or March. Such measures may provide short-term answers and relief for the economy, but there’s still the underlying issue Congress needs to address: how to shrink the gap between revenues and expenditures.

Perhaps a new year will provide a fresh outlook for Congress, especially with the newly elected members arriving on Capitol Hill this week. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months, as the new Congress begins to tackle these big decisions on the national debt and economy.

Our Most Popular Facebook Posts of 2012

by Susan Laszewski

We’ve loved sharing our milestones and our love of forests with our friends in 2012. Before the year ends, let’s take a look back at some of the stories people loved most:

10. Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park. Credit: RedwoodCoaster/Flickr

People like what we do here at American Forests because they love the forests we protect. It’s no surprise that a photo paying tribute to one of America’s most iconic forests — the coastal redwood forest of Redwood National Park — attracted so much attention. Colossal beauties like these are a BIG part of why we do what we do.

9. Partnering With Fike

Coming in at number nine is a story of environmental responsibility from the corporate world. The announcement that industrial manufacturer Fike would be partnering with American Forests to plant trees to offset carbon emissions from discharges of their clean agent fire suppression system — and then some — was welcome news to many.

8. Winter Wonderland

We can’t resist sharing some of the many beautiful photographs we stumble upon. This shot of an urban forest in Szczecin, Poland, reminded some of a forest near their own neighborhood, and many took a moment to visit our donations page and support our work for forests like these.

7. Subaru Share the Love

In August, we asked friends and fans to vote for us to be part of the Subaru “Share the Love” event. In the end, we didn’t win, but we sure did feel the love. Thanks for all your support!

6. Urban Forests Video

We could go on and on about the benefits of urban forests, but much like science class back in middle school, sometimes a video is more fun.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Blue Ridge Mountains. Photo: Jeffrey Pott/Flickr

5. Blue Ridge Mountains

Our 2012 Global ReLeaf projects ranged far and wide, but Facebook friends were especially taken by Jeffrey Pott’s gorgeous shot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the story of the longleaf pine we’re working with the National Wild Turkey Federation to restore there.

4. Olympic National Park’s Anniversary

As one reader put it, “Olympic National Park is beautiful and for anyone who wants to feel as though they are the only person on Earth, a sojourn in the rainforest will give you that rare, precious feeling.”

3. Smokey Bear’s Birthday

You joined us in wishing Smokey Bear a very happy birthday as he turned 68 on August 9. Smokey — and the U.S. Forest Service — have certainly learned a lot about how to best protect our forests since the character made his first appearance back in 1944. But one thing that’s remained the same is the lovable bear’s commitment to teaching us all how to responsibly enjoy our time in the forest.

At American Forests, we feel a special affinity for dear Smokey as we’ve been fighting similar battles against intense forest fire ourselves. We think the bear would approve of our appeal to Secretary Vilsack to use the FLAME Act to fight wildfires as intended, for example.

2. Seven Sisters Oak

People love big trees! You proved it again in September as you joined us in our countdown to the release of the fall National Register of Big Trees. We speculated whether the Patrick Henry osage-orange would keep its crown (it did) and marveled at the Cincinnati shingle oak, but the tree that really captured peoples’ hearts this year was the Seven Sisters champion live oak in Louisiana.

Seven Sisters Oak

The champion live oak in Louisiana known as the Seven Sisters.

And, finally: our most popular Facebook post of 2012:

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The list ends as it began — as a testament to everyone’s love for our nation’s forests. We wished the National Park Service a happy birthday with some photo albums of some of the many amazing parks, including the most visited national park — Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

What stories from the forest await us in 2013?

From Tinsel to Mulch

by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

From the “most wonderful time of the year” to maybe the most dreaded: holiday clean up.

It’s estimated that each year, more than 25 million live Christmas trees decorate people’s homes, businesses and other establishments during the holiday season. That’s a lot of pine needles! These trees represent just a fraction — seven percent — of the 350 million Christmas trees growing on farms throughout the U.S., and more trees are planted by farmers than are used each year: The University of Illinois reports that one to three seedlings are planted for every tree harvested.

Mulching Christmas trees

Mulching Christmas trees. Credit: Gwydion M. Williams/Flickr

But what happens to the harvested trees once their yuletide job is done? In many communities across the country, they get put to work again — just in a different form.

For instance, in New York City, the Department of Sanitation has already instituted its annual curbside pickup program, which simply requires residents to remove all ornamentation from the tree (tinsel, stands, ornaments, etc.) and place it on the curb for pickup. The non-bagged trees are then collected by the city, chipped and made into compost, which is used to provide nutrients to the Big Apple’s many parks, gardens and sports fields. This is a fairly common practice in municipalities across the country, but some other places get even more creative.

In Gadsden, Alabama, residents can once again drop their live trees at the Aquaculture Center of Gadsden State Community College, which plans to drop the trees in its campus’ ponds to create habitat and spawning grounds for yellow perch. The Missouri Department of Conservation has a similar goal in mind, as it’s collecting trees to create fish habitat in multiple St. Louis-area lakes.

A quick internet search should be able to help you find the tree-cycling program in your area.

And while you’re thinking about trees, think about heading over to our Donate page to help us continue to protect and plant forests and trees. You have a few more days to get those tax-deductible gifts in before we welcome 2013.

Creativity in the Wild

by Susan Laszewski

Have you ever been strolling through the park and suddenly been hit by with a sense of clarity or the solution to a problem you didn’t even know you were thinking about? Or said to yourself, “I need some fresh air,” just as you were on the verge of throwing in the towel on a difficult task?

Yesterday, we shared a video with you about how trees help create a sense of calm and reduce stress. Director of our Urban Forests program Melinda Housholder has also written on the positive effects of urban forests on our health — both mental and physical. Now, a study published earlier this month in PLOS One addresses the effect of time spent in nature on the creative intellect as well.

Thinking and creating in nature

Some of the best thinking and creating takes place in nature. NPS photo by Michael Quinn.

Past research has shown that exposure to nature helps with attention — an effect known as the Attention Restoration Theory — making outdoor playtime important for development. David Strayer, a cognitive scientist at the University of Utah, wanted to test whether exposure to nature had similar effects on higher-level cognitive tasks, specifically creative problem solving. Based on personal experience, he hypothesized an emphatic “yes” answer to his question and teamed up with outdoor leadership program provider Outward Bound to test his theory. Their tool was the Remote Associates Test — an established test of creative problem solving that will seem familiar to anyone who’s played the game Taboo. (Wilderness adventure and Taboo? I’m starting to wish I’d been a participant in this study!) Half of the 56 participants took the test before heading out into the great outdoors and the other half took it four days into their trip, with the wilds of Alaska, Colorado and Maine as the setting.

Not surprisingly, those who took the test four days into the trip did better, but what may surprise you is just how much better they were able to problem solve: Those four days of immersion in the natural environment increased problem-solving success by 50 percent!

While it’s true that such research could have far-reaching implications for our education system, work structure and other institutions, it also suggests a much more easy-to-enact change: get outside more. You don’t have to be heading out on a three-week trek into the wilderness to take time out from your electronic devices and take a walk outdoors — whether outdoors means the Alaskan wilderness or a nearby city park. The science just keeps piling up: Nature is good for you.

Grand canyon

Painting at the Grand Canyon. NPS photo by Michael Quinn.

Video Break: Urban Forests

by Loose Leaf Contributor

For today’s post, we’d like to give our readers a fun three-minute break. If you enjoy these short videos about the benefits of urban forests, please share them with your friends and tell your city council how much your neighborhood trees mean to you!

  1. Urban Forests Cool Our Cities

    Trees and greenspaces in cities cool our cities, reducing heating and cooling costs and making time outdoors more pleasant, but often this benefit is forgotten in the midst of other municipal concerns. Contact your city council or mayor’s office to tell them how important trees are in your city.
  2. Urban Forests Clean Our Air

    Trees and greenspaces in cities clean our air, reducing smog and pollution, but often this benefit is forgotten in the midst of other municipal concerns. Contact your city council or mayor’s office to tell them how important trees are in your city.
  3. Urban Forests Create Happy Cities

    Trees and greenspaces in cities create a sense of calm and community, reducing stress, but often this benefit is forgotten in the midst of other municipal concerns. Contact your city council or mayor’s office to tell them how important trees are in your city.

Happy Holidays!

by Loose Leaf Contributor

Wishing all of our readers and their loved ones safe and happy holidays.

Winter Wonderland

Credit: Marc Samsom/Flickr

Analyzing Our Forests

by American Forests

By Gerry Gray, Ph.D., Senior Vice President

On Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service released its major, long-term assessment of the current conditions, trends and future projections for our nation’s forests and rangelands. Known as the 2010 Resources Planning Act Assessment, or simply the RPA assessment, this document — and the many technical reports on which it is based — contains a wealth of information for anyone interested in our forests and rangelands and the services and benefits they provide to society. In 1974, Congress mandated the preparation of an RPA assessment every 10 years, and each report’s job is to make projections looking out 50 years as an early warning system on emerging issues for managers and policymakers.

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, California

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, California. Credit: Miguel Vieira/Flickr

The 2010 report is the 5th RPA assessment published by the agency, and it has taken an innovative, technically-sophisticated and, I might say, bold approach to its mandate. While there are many issues and findings that I could discuss, I will focus on three items that caught my attention in my initial review of the report.

  • A new future scenarios approach to the report: The 2010 report takes a fundamentally different approach than earlier reports to help address climate change and provide a coherent framework for assessing future outcomes across various resources, such as forests, water, wildlife and carbon. The report selected a set of comprehensive global scenarios that had been developed and used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide global context and quantitative linkages between American and global trends. The various scenarios include projections for population, economic activity, climate and bioenergy.
  • New tree canopy cover data and analysis in the forest resources section of the report: While I’ve been very aware of tree canopy cover data for urban forest inventories and analysis, I have not been aware of its growing acceptance as a major set of data for discussion within the RPA assessment. The inclusion of this data enriches and expands the discussion about forests and allows the use of new technology tools to develop and present important spatial information, such as how forests in certain places might be affected by heat and drought.
  • Grand Junction, Colorado

    Grand Junction, Colorado. Credit: Ethan Lofton (ELeaf)/Flickr

    A significantly expanded analysis and discussion of urban forests: The 2010 report provides greater information about urban forests, including a thoughtful discussion about the dynamics of urban growth. As urban areas expand into rural forest areas, traditional forests will be diminished, but urban forests — or the potential for establishing and managing urban forests — will increase. The report also highlights a new — or at least quite recent — perspective from the Forest Service on urban forests that reflects their significance for our growing urban populations: “Urban forests will become increasingly important for providing a range of ecosystem service to urban populations.”

This is a perspective American Forests heartily agrees with, which is why we’ve spent the last year studying various cities in the U.S. and how they are using their urban forests to the benefit of the city and its residents — thanks in part to a grant from the U.S. Forest Service. Over the next year, we plan on expanding our Urban Forests program even more and look forward to continuing to discuss the importance that urban forests will play in our lives.


by American Forests

By Michelle Werts

Is anyone else feeling a little overwhelmed these days between tragedies in the news and the hustle and bustle of the holiday season? I know I am, so instead of delving into another new report on the direness that climate change could bring, I thought we would take a moment to just appreciate the beauty of forests and nature to the tune of a quote from artist, poet and writer Kahlil Gibran.


Credit: mf.lane/Flickr


Credit: Bill Weaver (g'pa bill)/Flickr


Credit: Tom Check (tombothetominator)/Flickr


Credit: Jodi Womack/Flickr

I hope everyone is able to take a moment this holiday season and appreciate the beauty in the little and big things around us everyday.

Working Together Creates Results

by Scott Steen, President & CEO

A few years ago, American Forests started working on a program that we believed would benefit wildfire-threatened forests and their communities across the country. Along with a number of partners, we fought to make sure this program got the support and funding it deserved. Just a few years into it, we’re already seeing encouraging results, as the threat of mega-fires has been reduced on 612,000 acres.

Ouachita National Forest

Ouachita National Forest, which borders Oklahoma and Arkansas, is the site of a CFLR project. Credit: Abhishek Chinchalkar (jaxx2kde)/Flickr

The U.S. Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program (CFLR) was created to encourage collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes. American Forests was a founding member of the CFLR Coalition, which exists for two reasons: first, to ensure that the program is fully funded by Congress and, second, to ensure CFLR’s program goals are successful achieved. With today’s release of the 2012 CFLR report, it’s clear that both of these goals are now being met.

The Kootenai River

The Kootenai River. The Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative is a CFLR project focused on the lower Kootenai River watershed of north Idaho. Credit: Northwest Power and Conservation Council/Flickr

2012 marked the first year that CFLR has been fully funded since its inception in 2010. This means that this important program can support 20 CFLR-designated sites across the country. Plus, three additional collaborative project sites have been deemed as High Priority Restoration Projects.

Beyond the number of acres that have been better protected against mega-fires by the CFLR, the 23 project sites are also having an impact on the local economies. More than 4,500 part and full-time jobs were created or maintained through the program’s work in FY 2012, and the projects have generated nearly $320 million in labor income. There are also the environmental impacts: 537,000 acres of improved wildlife habitat and nearly 400 miles of restored fish habitat. All of these figures put the CFLR projects well on their way to meeting their 10-year goals and provide another prime example of what we can accomplish by working together.

A hallmark of CFLR’s success is the bi-partisan support from Congress that helped get the program created in 2009 and its first funding in 2010. It’s not just Congress that is working together on this program, though. The CFLR Coalition consists of more than 140 members representing 22 states. These members range from nonprofits to private businesses, from community members to county governments, from water suppliers to associations. This diverse collective represents our shared interest in making sure our forestlands are healthy, thriving and safe, which is something we at American Forests fight to create every day.

A New Kind of Cap and Trade

by Susan Laszewski

American Forests has closely followed developments in the carbon trade market. We celebrated when our Cuyamaca Rancho State Park reforestation project was recently accepted by the Climate Action Reserve as a project that can issue Carbon Reduction Tons in California’s carbon market. We’ve also taken a keen interest in the relationship between urban forests and the carbon market. In fact, last summer, we co-sponsored a workshop on “Carbon Offsets & the Urban Forests” at the University of California, Davis.

Aerial view of the Amazon

Aerial view of the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest. Credit: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture

So, naturally, I was excited to read about how the success of carbon markets has inspired a new environmental assets trading program — one with the potential to incentivize the conservation of the world’s largest rainforest. The Amazon is home to 10 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and produces 20 percent of Earth’s oxygen. Approximately 25 percent of modern pharmaceuticals are derived from Amazonian plant life, yet it’s estimated that only about one percent of that plant life has even been tested for pharmaceutical potential. In short, this rainforest is an important resource to all people, no matter their proximity to it. And now, it’s just become easier for landowners in Brazil to embrace its conservation.

Last Monday, BVRio — for Bolsa Verde, meaning “Green Stock,” Rio — launched in Brazil. A nonprofit with government input, BVRio facilitates the trade of many environmental assets, but the one that is garnering the most attention is the trade of native vegetation quotas.

Under Brazilian law, landowners must preserve a certain percentage of their land as native vegetation, also known as a “forest reserve.” The percentage varies depending upon the given ecosystem. Previously, a landowner who had cleared too much land was responsible for replanting areas to make sure he hit his forest reserve percentage, even though he may have no expertise in the skills needed to do so effectively. Under the new environmental assets trading program, the same landowner can meet the forest reserve requirement by going online and purchasing a corresponding amount of land of a similar ecosystem from a landowner with more than the required acres.

There are approximately five million private rural properties in Brazil, and it’s estimated that nearly four million of them do not currently meet the forest reserve requirements. It’s easy to see how this new market could soon be worth billions. Under the quota trading system, a tree’s monetary value while it’s standing could be higher than what it would be worth as timber or corresponding agricultural land.

BVRio has only a week of operation under its belt, but with so much potential to serve as a model for endangered forests around the world, I, for one, will be watching with interest to see how things unfold.