Forest Digest – Week of August 3, 2015

by American Forests

Here’s the past week of all things forest, it’s your Forest Digest.

Trinity Forest in Dallas, Texas

The Great Trinity Forest has over 6000 acres of trees.

  • US Raises Concerns About Pipeline Through ForestsABC News
    The U.S. Forest Service, along with environmental groups, are opposing the placement of a natural gas pipeline from Ohio to North Carolina by several large energy conglomerates as it is currently planned, arguing that it will disrupt critical national forest lands.
  • Charter Forests Could Bring Innovation to Land ManagementHeartland News
    A new method for forest management has been proposed based on the charter school system, in which forests on federal land could be managed outside of the forest service and would be free from some of the requirements of national forest lands.

GR25: Giving Back to Celebrated Stewards of the Earth in 2000

by Megan Higgs
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo credit: Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan,

During the turn of the millennium, a lot of uncertainty abounded across America.  Many of us can remember holding our breath the evening of December 31, 1999 in anticipation of the notorious Y2K computer bug – a catastrophe that would result if early computers could not recognize the “00” of the year “2000,” resulting in predicted rampant errors or complete shutdown. Of course, this blog is a living testament to the fact that these scares never came to fruition!

Long before potential computer problems became an issue, however, there was another group of Americans that know all-too-well what longstanding uncertainty is like – Native Americans.  Our Global ReLeaf journey in 2000 sought to give back to those that originally called America home, particularly with our Cherokee Indian Reforestation project. This project, which planted 3,500 trees of mixed species, including white oak, red spruce, and American chestnut, worked to reforest an area of the Qualla Boundary, a 57,000-acre property next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park of North Carolina.  This parcel of land, purchased from the federal government by the Native Americans in the 1800s, is owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

As it turns out, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have a fascinating history filled with stories of resilience. In 1838, the federal government worked to forcefully remove southeastern Cherokee Indians to acquire additional land, resources, and gold, resulting in the banishment of over 16,000 individuals through the Indian Removal Act. This removal required the many thousands of natives to march to their relocation site in Oklahoma, with a substantial portion of the Cherokee tribe (between 25 to 50 percent) perishing before reaching their destination.  As a result, this infamous move has historically become known as the Trail of Tears.

Most of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, however, did not march west to Indian Territory.  A small group of approximately 800 Cherokee remained in the southeast U.S. by evading removal.  Additionally, several members that participated in the march allegedly returned to the Qualla Boundary later, and the Eastern Band was composed of 1,000 members by 1850. The descendants of these combined groups compose the current Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a sovereign nation of over 14,000 members.

Working with the Resource Institute of Social Education, American Forests planted the aforementioned trees within and near the Qualla Boundary to allow the members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to retain many aspects of their culture and livelihoods. The Cherokee are often renowned for their arts and crafts, including pottery, beadworking, and woodcarving. In addition, the Cherokee, like many Native American tribes, are celebrated stewards of the earth and often have stringent programs to restore and conserve many natural resources used by artisans – including, of course, forests.

American Forests did not stop there, however – we also worked with the Ohkay Owingeh tribe of New Mexico in 2008, a band of Mohican Indians in Wisconsin in 2003, and many other diverse people and projects throughout our 25-year history.

It’s a Bug-Eat-Bug World

by American Forests

David May, Communications Intern

Part 3 of the 3-part series Insects and Our Forests. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

It’s an incredible time to be alive. With a credit card and an internet connection, you can have just about anything from just about anywhere shipped to your doorstep, most of the time in 2 days. Every now and then, however, you can get a little more than what was in your cart. Nearly 50 years ago, the Japan-native hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) slipped through the regulatory cracks of the shipping industry and found its way to the eastern US; since then, the pest has grown to epidemic proportions.

As the name implies, the HWA preys upon hemlock trees, various species of which are found on both coasts of America as well as eastern Asia. Although they are typically no bigger than one millimeter, their presence is easily detectable by the small tufts of what appears to be cotton along the branches of hemlocks. This “cotton” protects the bug as it sucks vital phloem from the young branches of hemlocks, causing needle loss and, eventually, death.

Thinking Outside the Box

A researcher putting bugs in a bag.

These enclosures, called “Bug Dorms” by Kimberly Wallin, will be monitored for evidence of reproduction and HWA predation for the next few years. Photo credit: Bud Mayfield, USFS

For the forests of the eastern United States, the insect’s presence is unwelcome to say the least. Hemlocks are keystone species in many ecosystems of the 17 states they are found in, which means they’re fundamental to their ecosystem’s health. It also means that their devastation is a big deal.

As the HWA continues to spread from the Carolinas to New England, researchers are looking away from costly pesticides and towards something a little more natural: the silver fly.

Earlier this year, the silver fly, found in the Pacific Northwest, was introduced into hemlock forests in Tennessee and New York as a predator for the HWA, and the early results are promising. Entomologists Kimberly Wallin, from the University of Vermont, and Darrell Ross, from Oregon State University, are working with the Forest Service to see if the fly could be the answer to the eastern hemlock’s troubles.

“This is the first time this has been done with these flies; it’s a brand-new idea,” says Wallin. “We’re hopeful.”

The strategy of introducing biological control agents is not new, however. In fact, an attempt at controlling the HWA began in 2008 with the Laricobius nigrinus beetle. The tests are ongoing, but the results have not been very promising. There are many considerations when introducing any species into a new habitat, but the silver fly seems to fit the bill much better so far.

The Road to Success

Varying amounts of flies have been released in bags enclosed around infected branches in the two test areas; they were introduced near Grandview, Tenn. on May 12th, and around Skaneateles Lake in New York on June 5th. They have reproduced successfully and seem to be feeding on the HWA as of now, which is great news.

A hemlock branch covered in HWA cotton

The “cotton” secreted by the Hemlock Woody Adelgid also improves its mobility, allowing it to be pulled by the wind to other areas.

Getting this far hasn’t been easy. An experimental release such as this takes a concerted effort between regulatory organizations and researchers. It took Wallin and Ross 10 years of research and planning to get to this point, and it seems to have paid off so far.

“It remains to be seen whether they will survive and if their populations will grow to densities that significantly impact the hemlock woolly adelgid populations and, ultimately, the survival of hemlocks,” says Ross. “We probably won’t have answers to those questions for a year or two.”

This seems to be the Hemlock’s best chance at survival as of now. All that’s left to do is hope for the best and see how hungry the silver flies really are.

Forest Digest – Week of July 27, 2015

by American Forests

The latest on all things forest, it’s this week’s forest digest.

A drone flying

Helicopters and planes carrying vital wildfire fighting equipment are forced to land when an unauthorized drone is in the area for concerns of a potential collision.


Request for Proposals to Select Three New Community ReLeaf Cities

by Ian Leahy
Community ReLeaf planting in New Jersey.

Community ReLeaf planting in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

American Forests has recently released a request for proposals to select at least three new cities or metropolitan areas to participate in its award-winning Community ReLeaf program.

Community ReLeaf launched in 2013 to provide a suite of technical and financial resources, all told averaging $100,000 in the initial phase. With primary support from the U.S. Forest Service and Bank of America Charitable Foundation, our overarching goal is to make strategic inputs that help improve both the near-term green infrastructure locally while also helping to expand capacity for managing the urban forest over the long-term.

Phase 1

The first phase establishes a scientific foundation to guide this process. We usually provide an urban tree canopy assessment. However, some cities already have an up-to-date assessment, so we may also support, as we did in Austin, a community survey to gather data on residents’ relationship to the urban forest. In Washington, DC, we are helping to create a dynamic three-acre green space with agriculture, a tree nursery, art installations, nature-based play area, community gardens and space for a marketplace. In partnership with public health professionals, we are studying the impact this site has on the surrounding community.

Phase 2

The second phase provides resources for a high-impact tree canopy restoration project. This project can range from maximizing the number of trees installed in an area to designing and installing an open space that improves both the green infrastructure and livability of a community. In Hartford, we are planting trees to help address high respiratory illness rates in a low-income area. In Detroit, we are helping to turn a vacant lot where abandoned homes were recently deconstructed into an outdoor education green space for nearby schools and a library.

Phase 3

The final phase supports engagement with the public to build local support for the urban forest, as well as addresses specific policy needs, such as helping implement a new ordinance to protect tree canopy or identifying funding sources that can increase local urban forest management capacities.

We have reached 11 cities or metropolitan areas from coast to coast and ranging in size from metropolitan Chicago to the one-square-mile Asbury Park, New Jersey. We seek partnering jurisdictions who see potential transformation of their urban forest by integrating us into their ongoing efforts.

This program is open to cities in the United States. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Ian Leahy at Please fill out the online application and submit by Friday, August 21st.

Submit a proposal to become a Community ReLeaf city

Forest Digest – Week of July 20, 2015

by American Forests
Portland street trees

Portland street trees. Credit: City of Portland, Oregon Bureau of Environmental Services

Keeping a pulse on forest news around the world, it’s your weekly Forest Digest.

  • Regional haze and questionable efforts to save the forestsThe Jakarta Post
    As Indonesia’s dry season continues, many are worried that it will continue past August, thanks to an impending El Niño weather pattern. Forest fires are a huge problem, and there is little desire to repeat the pollution crisis of two years ago that resulted from forest fires.
  • How Trees Calm Us DownNew Yorker
    More evidence from a study published in the Scientific Report shows the connection between trees and better health. An additional 10 trees in an area corresponded to a one-percent increase in how healthy participants felt!

American Forests Policy Interns Reflect on Hill Day Experience

by Loose Leaf Contributor

Policy Interns, Sarah Davidson and Conrad Kabbaz, participated in the Hill Day for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. Here are their views on the day.

American Forests Policy Interns Sarah Davidson and Conrad Kabbaz

American Forests Policy Interns Sarah Davidson and Conrad Kabbaz

It’s quite rare that National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club agree on an issue. Yet, both have joined American Forests, and over 250 other organizations representing a wide variety of interests, to urge Congress to stop fire borrowing and pass the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 167)!

This past June, we joined over 40 participants from the Partner Caucus on Fire Suppression Funding Solutions on Capitol Hill to advocate for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA). H.R. 167 will recognize the most extreme wildfires as natural disasters and fund them, like other natural disasters, through the Disaster Relief Fund.

Currently, wildfire suppression is funded at the 10-year average. When suppression costs exceed the budget, the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are forced to borrow from other accounts to pay for fire suppression. This prevents the implementation of critical programs, including programs that would reduce the risk of fires, such as hazardous waste removal.

Our day on the Hill began with a visit from Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), responsible for the bill’s introduction in January. He thanked the group for our advocacy efforts and reminded us of the importance of addressing this issue as soon as possible. We then split up to attend over 60 meetings in House offices to galvanize support for WDFA (H.R. 167). We aimed to secure more sponsorships from representatives and to encourage them to speak out in support of the bill on the House floor and with colleagues.


Danielle Watson, Assistant Policy Director at the Society of American Foresters, led my group of advocates, nicknamed the Forest Loyalists, to meetings with staff members for five Republican representatives from Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and New Mexico. Each office had different questions and concerns, but we made sure that the staff understood the importance of addressing this issue. Overall, we were pleased with how our meetings went. Though none of the representatives we met with have joined as cosponsors yet, we are hopeful that we will see their support in the future.

American Forests Policy Intern Conrad Kabbaz

American Forests Policy Intern Conrad Kabbaz (Right) with Peter Olsen, Vice President for Programs and Government Relations at the American Hiking Society (Left), and Jordan Giaconia, Legislative Advocate for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (Center).


My group, the Forest Patriots, was led by advocacy veterans Rebecca Turner of American Forests and Cecilia Clavet of The Nature Conservancy. Meeting with a mix of Democratic and Republican staff members, I had the opportunity to witness different approaches to advocacy. It was interesting to see how these policy stalwarts adapted their communication strategy based on a prospective representative’s state, party, and other factors. Of the seven meetings we attended, three resulted in cosponsorship. The representatives who signed on were Colorado Democrats Rep. Diane DeGette and Rep. Jared Polis, and New Hampshire Republican, Rep. Frank Guinta, acknowledging that the effects of wildfire borrowing impact eastern states as well.

Our day on the Hill gave us a unique glimpse into the world of Congress and policy advocacy. The work of a forest advocate is not always glamorous, with much time spent waiting in hallways and reception areas. On the other hand, these lulls allowed us to truly take in our surroundings, the ornate state seals and eclectic office decorations. We both had instances of mistaken identities which allowed us to meet the Congressmen with whom we were meeting their staff. Sarah’s Forest Loyalists were mistaken for a high school field trip, allowing them to meet Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM). Conrad’s Forest Patriots were mistaken for members of a gardening association, leading to a firm round of handshakes from Rep. Polis (D-CO). Besides the inherent awkwardness of these interactions, they illuminated the hectic life of a public representative, the perpetual deluge of competing interests vying for attention.

Thanks to the hard work of the Partner Caucus, our advocacy day led to over 20 representatives to cosponsor H.R. 167. American Forests is encouraged by this progress and will continue to advocate for a wildfire funding solution in both the House and the Senate. Join American Forests in our advocacy efforts and urge your Congressional members to support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act!

GR25: Reforesting for Turkeys in 2001

by Megan Higgs

As our journey continues, 2001 marks widespread reforestation utilized for an unlikely hero, a bird most associated with its ubiquitous fall staples (did we mention we’re done with the summer humidity?): the wild turkey.

Though mistakenly named for the country Turkey by domesticated imports to Britain, the wild turkey is as American as a bird can possibly get – its native range actually spans across much of North America, particularly among hardwood and mixed-conifer forests. Beyond its geographic distribution, the turkey also has a famed history with none other than Benjamin Franklin, who allegedly preferred the turkey to the bald eagle as the national bird of the United States. This allegation, while never publicly orated, originated in a letter to his daughter, Sarah Bache. An excerpt in this letter from 1784 states:

“…I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage…”

Wild turkey at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum.

Wild turkeys can fly quite well, unlike their domestic cousins. Photo credit: John Benson

Beyond its short-lived political history, the wild turkey also is a prominent figure among Native American tribes. It is a favored meal among many eastern tribes, and its feathers have been used for rituals and headdresses, particularly among several tribal chiefs.

Like many American icons, the wild turkey has its own tale of resilience. As an endemic species, the turkey was a prominent symbol across forests nationwide — until the 20th century. As hunting and habitat loss increased dramatically, the wild turkey dropped to numbers as low as 30,000. As protection and breeding promotion replaced rampant hunting, the wild turkey rapidly rebounded in numbers — to over 1 million by the early 1970’s, and an estimated 7 million individuals today.

American Forests teamed up with the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) to continue reforesting lost habitat and food sources for this bird with three distinct ventures: Operation Appleseed, Operation Oak and Operation Heartland. Operation Appleseed, aptly named for its planting of Sargent crabapple trees, restored 6,000 of these trees as fall and winter food sources across several states in the northeastern U.S., including Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Vermont, and more.

Operation Oak, on the other hand, worked on restoring the bird’s habitat front by restoring 12,000 sawtooth oaks with shelters, which replaced several oak groves lost through the conversion of southeastern forests to pine plantation. As such, we worked with NWTF to restore areas in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia.  Likewise, Operation Heartland restored bottomland hardwoods, riparian corridors and farm woodlots overtaken by agriculture with several species of oak, sycamore and eastern cottonwood across America’s heartland: Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Missouri.

However, our work with restoring food and habitat sources for the wild turkey has not stopped there. We have continued working with the NWTF to ensure wild turkey populations can remain thriving, including a habitat restoration initiative across Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Illinois in 2012.

Forest Digest – Week of July 13, 2015

by American Forests

Stay in the know on our changing world with this week’s Forest Digest:

Peter Defazio is one of the few Democrats who voted for HR 2647, saying that “you can choose between doing nothing and moving forward with something that has some good provisions and some that are not good.” Photo credit: Associated Press

  • Forestry Bill In Congress Fires Up Debate – Eugene Weekly
    The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, which recently passed in the House, is now being debated in the senate, especially on the topic of acquiring funds to combat wildfires.

The Good, Besides the Bad and the Ugly

by American Forests

David May, Communications Intern

Part 2 of the 3-part series Insects and Our Forests. Read part 1 here and part 3 here.

Butterfly on a flower

Pollination is a great example of coevolution, where pollinators and plants rely on each other for survival. Photo credit: T. Barnes, University of Kentucky

For many of us, it is rare to think positively of insects. They typically cross our minds as a nuisance when we reach for something to swat them with, or with terror when we discover them somewhere they shouldn’t be. Especially in the context of forests, we tend to think of insects as dangerous pests, and sometimes rightly so; infestations of various defoliating insects and bark beetles, such as the mountain pine beetle, have devastated America’s forests over the past few decades.

It is easy to forget how vital insects are to ecosystems of all kinds, especially our treasured forests. From pollination to decomposition, bugs play many roles that our forests could not do without. Everything in nature exists for a reason, and remembering those reasons can help us to make smarter decisions relating to our environment.

Breaking It Down

In forests, all things rely on the soil. This means, having a constant influx of nutrients in an easily broken down form is crucial to maintaining a healthy forest. Insects are integral to the decomposition process that makes this possible. The excrement from needle- and leaf-eating bugs is quickly colonized by microorganisms, which makes the nutrients from the organic material much more readily available. A much larger process is the decomposition of wood. Trees are very hardy organisms and are much harder to break down than other plants and organic material. When a tree dies, it is firstly colonized by insects that feed on the bark and sap. This makes the body of the tree accessible to the various fungi and bacteria that would otherwise be stopped by the bark. From there, the decomposition process continues as the tree matter is continuously broken down. Without wood-eating insects, trees would take twice as long to decompose!1

Spreading the Love

Tree reproduction couldn’t happen without pollination, and many trees rely on insects to spread their pollen. In fact, roughly 80% of all trees and bushes are pollinated by insects.1 Flies, butterflies, beetles, and other winged insects spread pollen amongst flowers in their search for nectar. Amongst well-known pollinators, bees especially have been in the spotlight over the past decade with the spread of colony collapse disorder, and rightly so. This astounding problem shows the economic disaster that such a disruption can cause within our environment, and the necessity of our natural pollinators for agriculture, as well as nature as a whole.

Keeping in Check

Spider in a web

Spiders are extremely important in many food chains.

Just like all other organisms, insects have a crucial role in the food chain as well. They are the major food source for birds, lizards, mice, and a myriad of other forest dwellers, including other insects. Spiders help to control populations of flies and other bugs that we dislike, and are very helpful to have in your garden.

Even the bark beetles that are now causing us so much trouble are important. Wood-boring insects, such as the mountain pine beetle, have helped our forests for a very long time by killing the oldest and sickest of trees, creating less competition for young growth. This is very important for maintaining a thriving forest.

So, although they may seem gross, scary, or just plain annoying, remember that we couldn’t have our natural world without bugs. And, although battles with exploding populations of species in certain areas may prompt us to use extreme measures, resorting to mass use of pesticides can have many unintended consequences. So, next time, think before you squish that little guy!

Works Cited

  1. Wermilinger, Beat, and Peter Duelli. “Insects in the Forest Ecosystem.” net. Wald Wissen, 2002. Web. 13 July 2015.