Farm Bill Passes House

by Loose Leaf Team

By John-Miguel Dalbey

The Farm Bill, approved on January 29 by the House of Representatives, appeals to both conservationists and timber harvesters. Bill Imbergamo, executive director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, a Washington D.C. trade group lobbying for logging companies, states that the bill “is certainly biased towards increased management, rather than restricting it.” (E&ENews)

In particular, reforms to the Forest Service’s fire prevention policies and timber harvesting contracts — implemented due to an increase in wildfires as well as a loss of forests due to beetle infestation — have brought benefits to both groups. The bill proposes using Healthy Forest Restoration Act procedures already in place in order to “reduce the risk or extent of, or increase the resilience to, insect or disease infestation.” Additionally, the bill allows for the Forest Service to lease as many as five modernized air tankers to fight the drastic increase of wildfire in recent years; this is seen as a major victory for the Forest Service given its aging firefighting equipment.

Senate Hearing on Farm Bill

American Forests, as a member of the Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition (FIFB) and the Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition, supports the Farm Bill, as it allows for key revisions of forest policy. As the bill provides a massive amount of funding, to the tune of $939 billion, it allows for a host of federal programs which benefit forests, the Forest Service and the EPA. The bill’s passing will allow for greatly improved forests across the nation, while allowing for bipartisan support of the issues.

American Forests is also supportive of the bill’s addition of “stewardship contracting,” a side program allowing the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management to assign 10-year timber harvesting contracts. This would raise revenue for forest management options such as stream rebuilding, hazardous brush or wood removal and road repairs. This program marks a strong step forward for both conservationists and the timber industry, as well as cooperation between the two.


The Importance of Core Forests

by Loose Leaf Team

By John-Miguel Dalbey

A bill has been introduced in the Pennsylvania House which would make it easier for industries such as gas to drill and develop in forests that could possibly be home to endangered plants or animals or other sensitive species.

The ecological significance of “core forests” — forests surrounded by other forests — cannot be overstated. Compared to “fringe” forests or habitats —those surrounded by human development such as towns or roads — core forests provide a much more stable home for species, protecting biodiversity. The continuity of the ecosystem allows individual members of a species to have a wider range in which to search for food and shelter. Habitat fragmentation is seen as one of the leading causes of species decline and prevents the recovery of endangered or threatened species, such as the spotted owl in the Angeles National Forest or the jaguarondi and ocelot in the Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge — both areas which American Forests has worked to help restore to an unfragmented state.

A series of dune habitats in Indiana have been fragmented by roadways

A series of dune habitats in Indiana have been fragmented by roadways

However, this protected biodiversity often attracts the attention of industries such as timber, natural gas and mineral extraction, as these untouched areas are often heavy with natural resources. In the case of the new bill introduced in Pennsylvania, the State Representative sponsoring the bill, Jeff Pyle, sees a conflict between the missions of the industry and the Pennsylvania State agencies like the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Game Commission. He tells NPR, “Their mission is to protect the game species of Pennsylvania. And me as a legislator, part of my mission is to make sure my people don’t see widespread unemployment.”

Yet, core forests are not only important habitats for endangered species. They are also important habitat to the game species that bring jobs and money to communities near such outdoor recreational areas. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation found that hunting and fishing brought over $1.2 billion in revenue to the state of Pennsylvania that year in trip and equipment expenditures alone.


Izembek Revisited: An Alaska Road to Somewhere

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

King Cove, Alaska. Credit: Kitaro & Kawauso/Flickr

Last March, we discussed the burgeoning conflict between Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and the Department of the Interior over a proposed 20-mile gravel road in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The road would be used to link the local King Cove community to an all-weather airport. Currently, residents must use hovercrafts and boats to access the airport. When we last left the situation, the Department of Interior agreed to revisit the environmental reviews on the project in exchange for Sen. Murkowski lifting her hold over the nomination of Sally Jewell to be the next Secretary of the Interior Department. Fast-forward nine months.

Sunrise at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Alaska Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This past December, the now-Secretary Jewell rejected the proposal that would exchange 206 acres of land within the Izembek Refuge to use for the road while adding an additional 56,000 acres of state and tribal lands to the refuge from neighboring acreage. Secretary Jewell stated that the project would cause “irreversible damage” to the wildlife and wilderness within the refuge. Prior to the rejection of the road, the Department of Interior held more than 130 meetings with stakeholders to get a full picture of the competing interests. But like so many other policy decisions, the result has left some very unhappy people, including Alaska’s senate delegation.

Red fox at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Alaska Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo by Kristine Sowl, USFWS.

Brant in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Alaska Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo by Kristine Sowl, USFWS.

Last week, Sen. Murkowski pushed the Department of Interior to reconsider the denial of the road. And here we take a brief foray into the world of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). As the cornerstone of agency law, the APA lays out the procedures for agencies to draft and finalize the rules that carry out the intent expressed in legislation. In her letter to Interior, Sen. Murkowski stated that the agency failed to take a “hard look” at the proposal as NEPA requires and its actions were “arbitrary and capricious.” These are APA buzzwords, intended specifically to alert Interior that their decision may be challenged in court. One administrative law pillar is Chevron deference, so-called based on the 1984 Supreme Court case Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council. Without dragging you too much into the weeds, Chevron deference, at its most non-nuanced base, states that if “Congress has explicitly left a gap [in legislation] for the agency to fill, there is an express delegation of authority to the agency to elucidate a specific provision of the statute by regulation.” These regulations are entitled to deference by a court unless they are “arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to the statute.”

Sen. Murkowski’s letter is warning Interior that she believes the rejected land swap was improper and not appropriate for Chevron deference by a court. Whether it actually gets to that point, we shall see. But when you read about the phrase “arbitrary and capricious” referenced by policymakers, you know there is a specific reason beyond someone’s love of a thesaurus.

In the meantime, Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) has introduced a bill, S. 1929, specifically approving the road and mandating the current proposed land swap. The road would be lined with barriers and limited to use for health and safety purposes, not commercial travel. There is no current action on the bill and, for the time being, Sen. Murkowski has declined to co-sponsor it. Regardless of the outcome of the Izembek land swap, relations between the Interior Department and the Alaskan delegation have cooled as a result of Sec. Jewell’s denial. Not an ideal circumstance for an agency that oversees hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands and a state that alone contains 222 million acres of it.


Respect for Elders

by Susan Laszewski
Large, old tree.

Large, old tree. Credit: Guyon Morée

Our elders offer a lot to society that younger generations may not as readily provide. They have more years of experience and wisdom to impart and rich histories to share. But our species is not the only one in which older individuals provide benefits that the young can’t always make up for.

We already know that old growth provides benefits and plays roles in forests that younger trees can’t always fulfill. Dr. Jerry Franklin, American Forests Science Advisory Board member and forest ecologist at the University of Washington spoke with us last August about what a few of these benefits are. Large, old trees provide the large, deep cavities where animals like owls and opossums like to make their cozy homes, for example. Younger trees have often not weathered the same wear and tear of life that leads to the formation of these cavities, especially in ecosystems that lack cavity-creating species like woodpeckers.

Now, though, a recent study published in Nature has found that something long believed about older trees — that trees’ growth slows as they age — isn’t so. On the contrary, older trees speed up growth. Though similar trends have been studied before in certain species, the new study analyzed more than 600,000 trees of 403 species and found growth acceleration with age across the board.

Lead author Dr. Nathan Stephenson, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, explains in a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute press release: “If human growth would accelerate at the same rate, we would weigh half a ton by middle age and well over a ton at retirement.”

That’s a lot of growth!

And it has some important implications for climate change mitigation. As the older trees continue to grow, they are rate of carbon sequestration also increases, meaning the part they play in forests’ role as carbon sinks may be even more significant than previously thought.

So, if the wise owl couldn’t convince you and the adorable opossum couldn’t melt your heart, then perhaps our climate can warm you up to the importance of old growth in our forests. We must respect our elders.

American Forests has worked to protect old growth forests in areas such as Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Join us in protecting and restoring forests of all ages.


Thank you, Jim Moran

by Loose Leaf Team

By John-Miguel Dalbey

Representative Jim Moran.

Representative Jim Moran.

Representative Jim Moran announced his retirement recently, following more than 20 years of service. As senior Democrat on the Interior Appropriations Committee, Representative Moran did much to protect green infrastructure and urban forestry throughout the nation by ensuring adequate funding for both research and programs supporting such causes. His campaign and office have been vocal about the benefits of urban forests, placing importance on a wide range of environmental issues, such as carbon sequestration, decreased reliance upon fossil fuels and reduction of energy usage.

Furthermore, Representative Moran has worked diligently in order to keep provisions that seek to weaken protections for our national forests and national parks out of spending bills. In particular, Moran supported strong funding for the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program, a broad, wide reaching program throughout the nation.

For his continued support of environmental causes and his “green” voting record, Representative Moran has consistently received high marks from the League of Conservation Voters. The Sustainable Urban Forest Coalition, including the policy working group co-chaired by American Forests, has worked closely with Representative Moran over the years, advocating for increased funding for federal programs that support urban forests and green infrastructure. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, he has often been the sole supporter of forestry-related causes; in a New York Times interview, Moran states, “I’m strongly opposed to clear-cutting, but I’m a big fan of thinning. I really think in terms of Forest Service that we ought to let some of our trees grow stronger and taller. We’ve had a rash of forest fires, and I think one of the things that that indicates is we’re not doing a good enough job in thinning and clearing our forests.” At American Forests, we appreciate the Congressman’s understanding that healthy forests sometimes require management actions like thinning.

In Congressman Moran’s words, “If we have the ability to take action to preserve our environment, on which the cornerstone of all life on Earth depends, and refuse to do so, we have failed our moral obligation to strive for equity and justice.”

Thank you, Congressman Moran for your work on behalf of forests, urban and rural.

Read our official statement of Representative Moran’s retirement in our newsroom.


Top Dogs in Decline

by Susan Laszewski
Gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

Gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Jeremy Weber

Last week, in honor of the birthday of one of the greats of conservation history, Aldo Leopold, I found myself drawn into his correspondence with Ovid Butler, editor here at American Forests (then known as the American Forestry Association) throughout much of the mid-20th century. The two wrote many letters back and forth about the needs and future of wildlife management, but one topic caught my eye. In the 40s, large predators were in decline. Sound familiar? I’d like to share two quotes I recently came across:

“The reason for [deer’s] over-abundance is basically the removal of native predators and the fact that game laws and guns are too crude an instrument for the control of deer without the help of native predators.”

“Large carnivores are necessary for the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem function. Human actions cannot fully replace the role of large carnivores.”

Awfully similar, aren’t they? Yet, the first is from a letter Leopold wrote to Butler 74 years ago. The second is from a study published just this month in Science.

We’ve made many strides over the past several decades in protecting large predators. Species like the gray wolf and the grizzly bear have made inspiring comebacks thanks largely to their protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1967 and 1975, respectively. But, the study makes clear that our work is not done. Analyzing 31 large carnivores, the researchers found that 75 percent are in decline. The reasons include habitat loss, human persecution and loss of prey.

These majestic animals have gained many an admirer for their beauty, but the reasons to protect large predatory species like wolves go far beyond their charm. When ecosystems lose their top dogs, it has cascading effects. In North America, the loss of wolves and cougars leads to increased populations of browsers like deer. Over-browsing affects all the smaller animals that depend on those plants. It can even affect the course of a stream when riparian plant life declines, leading to erosion of the stream bed.

In fact, the benefits of these large carnivores range from carbon sequestration and biodiversity to disease control and riparian restoration.

As Leopold wisely saw 74 years ago, human hunting can only go so far in mimicking the role of these predators. Our understanding of the ways these species affect their ecosystems is improving, but we still have a lot to learn. As research ecologist Rolf Peterson tells NPR, “We’re dealing with the most complicated systems in the universe, and we hardly even know what the moving parts are.”


The Fruit of Insects’ Labor

by Loose Leaf Team

By John-Miguel Dalbey

Orchard mason bee on an apple blossom

Orchard mason bee on an apple blossom. Credit: Red58bill/Wikimedia Commons

The recent crisis of “colony collapse,” in which bee colonies have been dying off due to disease, pesticides and other man-made causes, has already begun to have detrimental effects on both fruit farmers and the pollination of natural tree species.

It is possible to artificially pollinate both wild and farmed trees, or allow for wind or birds to do so; however, a recent study published in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment  shows that apple trees pollinated specifically by insects produce much larger fruit than trees pollinated by other means. In order to conduct this experiment, farmers placed a fine mesh over certain blooming trees, which were then pollinated by hand or wind, leaving others open to insect pollination. In each of the six farms tested, the insect-pollinated trees fared better. Perhaps in the wild, where trees are not pollinated by hand, leaving only dwindling insect populations as sole pollinators, the difference could be even greater.

Artificial pollination with two apple blossoms

Artificial pollination with two apple blossoms. Credit: Abrahami/Wikimedia Commons

As this increase in crop output produces an economic incentive for the protection of pollinator species, it may soon be that more intensive protection measures are undertaken. The study’s lead author, Dr. Mike Garratt of the University of Reading, tells the Environmental News Network that he suggests aiding “pollinators [in orchards] by planting wildflower strips, maintaining hedgerows, and keeping a proper understory layer to the trees,” while “at the landscape level, what the insects really need are more native grass-lands and woodlands.”

At American Forests, projects have been undertaken to protect and restore habitats for  pollinator species such as the monarch butterfly and ruby-throated hummingbird. A strong diversity of pollinator species (insects such as bees and butterflies, bats or birds) will allow for other species to “pick up the slack” should another become threatened.

 

 

More about pollinators on Loose Leaf:


The Beauties and Bounties of Nature

by Susan Laszewski
The John Aston Warder award, featuring his likeness.

The John Aston Warder award, featuring his likeness.

Sunday the birthday of John Aston Warder, founder and first president of the oldest conservation nonprofit in the country … You guessed it, American Forests.

Warder was born in 1812 near Philadelphia and enjoyed a childhood of wandering the woods observing the plants and animals there. As a young man, he enjoyed fulfilling careers in medicine and then horticulture before devoting himself to his passion for forests and forestry. He founded American Forests, then known as the American Forestry Association, in 1875.

In August 1883, following Warder’s death, the American Journal of Forestry had this to say in memoriam:

“It is proper that this journal should pay a fitting tribute to the memory of one who was among the earliest, most intelligent, and most active of the laborers on behalf of American Forestry. Of no one can it be more truthfully said, that his life was a blessing to mankind. From early childhood, his great object was to do all in his power to make others happy, by aiding them to find pleasure in the beauties and bounties of nature.”

Today, more than 130 years later, we’re still doing what’s in our power to protect and restore those beauties and bounties of nature for future generations — of people, plants and animals — to enjoy.

Happy Birthday, John!


A Beetle’s Northward March

by Loose Leaf Team

By Lisa Swann

Southern pine beetle damage.

Southern pine beetle damage. Credit: Ronald F. Billings, Texas Forest Service, Bugwood.org

You have no doubt heard by now the story of the mountain pine beetle devastating hundreds of thousands of acres of forests in the western U.S. A similar tale is playing out in the mid-Atlantic, as the southern pine bark beetle has taken hold in the vast and dense New Jersey pinelands. About the size of a grain of uncooked rice, the beetle destroys trees. Sub-zero temperatures used to control it, but now with global warming raising New Jersey’s average temperature by 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century, scientists believe climate change is to blame for the beetle’s northward march.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, loblolly, shortleaf, pitch, pond and Virginia pines are the beetle’s favored hosts. Its range covers states from Pennsylvania and New Jersey south to Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. The beetles burrow through the tree’s bark and attack tissue that provides nutrients and water to the tree, basically starving it and causing its green needles to turn brown. When under attack, some trees produce enough pitch to force the beetles out but this is not always the case. A massive beetle attack can easily overwhelm a tree.

The other issue with the southern pine bark beetle is fire suppression, which has caused more forest density — which the beetle thrives on. In the New Jersey pinelands, foresters are thinning stands, hoping to keep the beetles at bay. Controlled burns and selective harvesting are considered to be good ways to fight the infestation.

The concern now is that nothing will stop the beetle from continuing to move northward into coastal areas of New England.


Conservationist, Philosopher, Writer: Aldo Leopold

by Susan Laszewski

I’d like to take a moment to belatedly celebrate the anniversary of the birth of one of conservation’s most influential figures, Aldo Leopold, who would have turned 127 over the weekend.

Leopold was a conservationist, forester and philosopher. He was also a father of five and raised his children with the same values of wildlife-friendly land-use as he embraced himself. In fact, his oldest son, Starker Leopold, went on to use those principles in drafting a report for the National Park Service, widely known simply as “The Leopold Report,” using his father’s teachings to shape the future of land-management in a way still reverberating today.

Gila National Forest.

Gila National Forest. Photo by Brandon Oberhardt; Credit US Forest Service Gila National Forest

Aldo Leopold was a part of the early days of the U.S. Forest Service, where he went to work after his graduation from Yale Forest School in 1909. He was also instrumental in securing the first-ever designation of a “wilderness area” for the Gila National Forest in 1924, one year after he published The Last Stand of the Wilderness, an appeal in American Forests magazine entreating readers to recognize the need for such wilderness areas — and offering Gila as a prime example — before it was too late.

Yes, he was also a writer. His most famous work is A Sand County Almanac, a collection of essays published in 1949, a year after his death. He also published several works in American Forests in addition to The Last Stand of the Wilderness. He was a regular correspondent of the editor’s and served as a Vice President in the 1940s. We were then known as the American Forestry Association.

I encourage you to check out The Last Stand of the Wilderness here on americanforests.org or read more on how his son carried his legacy forward in our latest issue of American Forests. Yes, that’s the same American Forests that Leopold published in, now in its 119th year. You can become a member to have it delivered to your mailbox. Of course, things have changed a lot since then. Our magazine these days is in gorgeous full color, printed on Forest Stewardship Council-certified, responsibly-sourced paper. I suspect Leopold would have approved.