5 Wildlife Species That Need Forests and Earth

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

Earth is the foundation upon which any forest thrives. Without earth, seeds would not be able to receive the vital nutrients in order to grow. But, the soils of the Earth depend on forests, too — plants and decaying matter play an important role in the creation of new soil and addition of nutrients. Forests also help the earth by preventing erosion — using their roots to stabilize the ground and prevent landslides on cliffs and ridges.

The earth and forests share a vital and mutually beneficial relationship. But, there are also many wildlife species who play a role in that relationship, too and benefit from both earth and forests. Here are some of our favorites!

The Gray Fox

The gray fox builds its dens in rock formations, hollow logs and trees, burrows and brush piles. Their dens are often lined with grass and leaves. Gray fox pups are born blind and don’t venture out of their dens for about 5 weeks. During this period, the father provides food for the entire fox family.

The female (also called a vixen) may dig her den into the soil or use the burrow of another animal. This den may be up to 75 feet long, with numerous chambers used for food storage and the transfer of her young. Gray foxes are unique creatures, being the only member of the canine family with the ability to climb trees. They do so by grabbing the trunk of the tree with their forepaws and scrambling up with its claws and hind feet, in order to escape its enemies.

gray fox

Credit: regexman via Flickr.

The Gopher Tortoise

Gopher tortoises are a perfect example of an animal whose survival depends on both the earth and forests. They are dry-land turtles that live in well-drained, sandy soils in longleaf pine habitats and dry oak sandhills. Gopher tortoises are extraordinary diggers, and each tortoise will dig and use multiple burrows that can vary from 3 to 52 feet long, and 9 to 23 feet deep. Their burrows provide a home and refuge for more than 360 other species, such as black pine snakes, gopher frogs, foxes, skunks, opossums and many species of amphibians and invertebrates.

Unfortunately, gopher tortoises are threatened by significant habitat loss due to the clear-cutting of longleaf pine forests across the United States. Other threats to the gopher tortoise include habitat fragmentation and degradation. Gopher tortoises are considered a keystone species because so many other animals rely on their awesome burrowing abilities for a place to live — which makes it even more important to conserve forested land inhabited by the gopher tortoise.

gopher tortoise

Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr.

The River Otter

Another unique animal that depends on the forest and earth is the playful North American river otter. The river otter makes its den in abandoned burrows near the water’s edge and can thrive in a variety of ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, swamps and estuaries. Their burrows feature numerous tunnels and usually feature a tunnel with easy water access. Den sites include hollow logs, log jams, piles of driftwood or boulders and abandoned lodges and bank dens made by nutria or beaver. Otter pups rely on their mother to learn swimming and survival skills. Although much of their lives are spent in the water, river otters can also bound and run quite well on land.

river otter

Credit: Josh More via Flickr.

The Spruce Grouse

The spruce grouse is a funny bird with an extraordinarily nonchalant demeanor. Found commonly in the coniferous forests of the northern United States and Canada, this dark-colored, stocky bird may sit motionless while observers pass by just a few short feet away — making them easy to overlook. They are nicknamed the “Fool Hen” because of this unconcerned behavior, and on numerous occasions have been captured and, upon release, wander only several feet away before beginning to forage.

The female spruce grouse is paler than the male and is superbly camouflaged against the forest floor, where it forages for food. Spruce grouses feed mainly on the needles of pines, spruce and other coniferous trees. Their diet is comprised almost entirely of conifer needs in the winter, but at other times they also eat fresh green shoots and leaves of other plants, as well as berries, flowers, insects, snails and fungi.

spruce grouse

Credit: J.H. via Flickr.

The Gray Tree Frog

The gray tree frog needs aquatic ecosystems for breeding and inhabits all elevations of forested areas that are in, or near, permanent water such as swamps, ponds, lakes and mixed and deciduous forests. Gray tree frogs are both arboreal (tree dwelling) and terrestrial (earth dwelling). They hide in tree holes, under bark, in rotten logs, under leaves and under tree roots when inactive.

The gray tree frog plays a critical role in the food web of their ecosystems. As tadpoles, they can graze enough algae to change the community of algal species in a pond, and, as mature frogs, they can reduce local pest populations such as mosquitoes, gnats and flies. Larger animals that depend upon them as a food source include larger frogs, carnivorous birds and small mammals.

gray tree frog

Credit: Tony Falola via Flickr.


The Important Relationship between Forests and Earth

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-ClausenCommunications Intern

earth and mushroomsSoil, a complex and variable medium made up of mineral particles, organic matter, water, air and living organisms, is one of the most important components of a forest ecosystem.

For millions of years, soils have provided the necessary foundation for trees and entire woodland ecosystems. It helps to regulate important ecosystem processes such as nutrient uptake, decomposition and water availability. The characteristics of different soils help determine the nature of the flora and fauna that sustain the world’s biodiversity.

The relationship between soil and forests is not one-sided though; trees and other plants play a vital role in the creation of new soil as leaves and other vegetation rot and decompose on the forest floor. The earth and forests have always been intrinsically linked. The interaction between forests and soil help to ensure that the soil is fertile enough for plant life to continue to grow and flourish and makes agricultural production possible.

As the human population grows, and food demand continues to rise, we must look for more and more agricultural land to meet that demand. Some of the most viable land has already been depleted by overuse, or has fallen victim to soil acidification or desertification. As more land continues to be deforested to make room for more agricultural production, more soil is drying out and eroding. Long-term forest management practices, including measures to introduce or maintain forest cover on erosion-prone soils, will help control or reduce the risk of soil erosion and the depletion of nutrients from healthy soil.

Forests stabilize soils

The management and restoration of forests is necessary not only for fertile soil, but also to prevent and control erosion. Forests aid in the problem of erosion in a multitude of ways. By intercepting rain, a forest canopy reduces the impact of heavy rainfall on the forest floor, reducing soil disturbance and slowing the rate of water runoff into nearby water systems or fields.

Coastal forests protect coastlines by absorbing the energy and impact of storm surges, which reduces erosion and in-shore impacts. Tree roots also stabilize ridges, hills and mountain slopes as well as provide soil with the necessary structural support to prevent shallow movements of land mass. It’s been shown that landslides rarely ever occur in areas with a high forest cover.

To learn more about the relationship between forests and earth, and to join in our Earth Month conversation, visit our Elements of Forests Earth Month homepage and use the hashtag #WeNeedForests on social media!


Forest Digest – Week of April 04, 2016

by American Forests
Smokey junior

Credit: http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/07/us/bear-cub-rescued-florida-irpt/

Find out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest! This week, each article corresponds to the element of fire as part of our Earth Month campaign and why #WeNeedForests.

Share your own stories with us and join our Earth Month conversation by using the hashtag #WeNeedForests on social media!


Big Tree Madness 2016: And the Winner Is…

by American Forests

By Shandra FurtadoCommunications Intern

White basswoodCongratulations to Missouri’s white basswood, our 2016 Big Tree Madness Champion! In a match-up with first-time finalist New Hampshire and its pitch pine, Missouri won with 59 percent of the votes — the closest championship margin ever! This is Missouri’s second year in a row — and third overall — to win the championship, in the one of the biggest turnouts we’ve seen yet!

The 87-foot-tall white basswood is a native species to Missouri and sits in the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. The tree gets its name from the whitish undersides of its leaves. White basswoods bloom in mid-summer, producing delicate, light-yellow flowers that hang in clusters, creating an atmosphere desirable for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Not only is this majestic tree a haven for wildlife, but it’s also a beautiful addition to any area.

The Missouri Big Tree program will be receiving a TruPulse 360B from LaserTech for their win. It’s a great tool that will ease the measurement process and help collect useful data for the program.

We would like to give a big thanks to LaserTech for supplying the grand prize and to our program’s premiere sponsor, The Davey Tree Expert Company.

Once again, congratulations to Missouri, and thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s Big Tree Madness tournament!

Big Tree Madness Bracket


The Important Relationship between Forests and Fire

by American Forests

By Shandra FurtadoCommunications Intern

Controlled burn

When done in small doses, controlled burns can be beneficial to forest growth. Credit: André Bessa via Flickr.

Fire: the ultimate debate between friend and foe. Our use of fire is what makes us human, while its power of destruction drives our fears.

Since the beginning, we have had a natural urge to control and dominate fire. In the past century, however, the suppression of low-intensity natural forest fire has disturbed natural systems and allowed high-intensity megafires to run rampant.

Naturally, periodic forest fires help to clear away old brush and allow for new growth. They recycle nutrients back into the soil, disperse seeds of fire-adapted plants and burn ground cover to give seedlings a chance at light.

When allowed to burn naturally, forest fires tend to create a mosaic of old growth and new growth, which act as a barrier to the extent of future fires. When a fire hits the border between stages of growth, it is likely to smolder out.

Many trees have adaptations that allow them to survive easier in natural fire. Jack pines and giant sequoias have very thick, fire resistant bark. Most eucalyptus species and pine species utilize tall crowns in order to keep flammable leaves and dead branches high from the ground and away from fire.

Some trees are even fire dependent — such as many pine and eucalyptus trees — and only seed after a fire event when the soil is rich and there are no obstructions to sunlight in the lower canopy. During the blaze, pine cone spines act as a fire-resistant shell to protect seeds. The heat dries out the shell, causing the spines to open easily after a burn, allowing for better dispersal. Serotinous cone species, such as the Jack Pine, will only release their seeds after a fire, rather than at maturation.

These cycles of destruction and regrowth can last hundreds of year and reset after each forest fire.

The occurrence of high-intensity megafires can begin in our attempts to tame the forest through taming its fire. It continues with worsened droughts and other conditions due to climate change. An increase in severe burns tops it off, with areas of severe burns expected to increase 50 to 100 percent by 2050.

Controlled burning, or prescribed burns, can be used as a management tool for forests, helping to restore the mosaic of new and old growth, preventing future destructive megafires. Controlled burning can also help reset a sick forest, giving new seedlings opportunity to take root. While fire can be menacing, it can also be helpful to forests in unexpected ways.

To learn more about the relationship between forests and fire, and to join in our Earth Month conversation, visit our Elements of Forests Earth Month homepage and use the hastag #WeNeedForests on social media!


Forest Digest – Week of March 28, 2016

by American Forests

Elements of ForestsFind out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest! Each article corresponds to one of the elements —Earth, air, fire and water — in our “Elements of Forests” Earth Month campaign and why #WeNeedForests.

Share your own stories with us and join our Earth Month conversation by using the hashtag #WeNeedForests on social media.


Earth Month 2016: The Elements of Forests

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

Forest Canopy

Credit: Chuck Fazio, our artist-in-Residence.

There are four elements believed by many cultures to be fundamental to life: earth, air, fire and water. Though these four fundamental elements have not changed — they are constantly evolving, building and shaping the environment around us, including our world’s forests. Without a sufficient supply of water, our forests wouldn’t have the sustenance to grow. Without clean air, our forests can’t breathe. Without nutritious earth, our forests would never be able to take root. And, even without fire, many of our forests don’t have a chance at rebirth.

But, this Earth Month (the best month of the year), American Forests will not only be looking at what the elements do for our forests and the wildlife that call them home, but also what forest ecosystems contribute to the elements, to our earth and to our individual health via the elements. Without forests, millions of people wouldn’t have access to palatable drinking water. Without forests, Earth’s largest carbon sink, our air wouldn’t be nearly as clean. Without forests, the earth would erode. And, without the plant matter from forests, fire can’t contribute to the nutrition of the soil.

Air and forests fact graphic

With these facts in mind, we’ve created a hashtag that we’ll be using on all of our social media platforms this month in order to promote the importance of our forests and all that they do for us: #WeNeedForests.

Each week during Earth Month, we will be focusing on one of the four elements and how both that element, and forests, benefit from one another (and ultimately benefit you as well). We’ll be sharing some fun and surprising statistics, talking about notable restoration projects and posting educational blog posts about each element. You can join in on the conversation by following us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and by checking out our Loose Leaf blog.

We’d also love if you shared with us your favorite forest photos, just use the hashtag #WeNeedForests!

Man looking up giant sequoias

Credit: Yinghai Lu.

Another way to get involved this Earth Month is by helping us plant trees. Each year, we lose between 46,000 and 58,000 square miles of forest — which is equivalent to about 48 football fields every minute. Forests can use all the help they can get, and you can do your part by donating to American Forests to help us plant trees and restore ecosystems!

To learn more about our Earth Month campaign, visit our Elements of Forests homepage.


Bees and Cherry Blossoms in D.C.: A Mutually Beneficial Relationship

by American Forests

By Shandra FurtadoCommunications Intern

Tidal Basin

Credit: ehpien-via-Flickr.

The annual cherry blossoms attract a very important group of visitors to the D.C. area each spring. No, these guests are not foreign diplomats or government officials, but instead a group that has more control of global food production than most: the local honeybee.

These little guys have no remorse when it comes to invading personal space, stealing stealthy sips of smoothies and scaring children. Although many see them as a nuisance, they are far from that. Bees play an integral role in the bloom of our beloved cherry blossoms and are vital for urban ecosystems to thrive.

When a bee collects nectar from a flower, pollen on the stamen — the male reproductive part of the flower — sticks to tiny hairs on the bee’s body. When the bee visits another flower, that pollen is rubbed off on the female reproductive organ of the flower, the stigma. From this process fertilization is possible, and seeds and fruits can develop from the flower.

Although the cherry blossoms do not produce fruits, bees are still an important factor in their pollination. Bees also help to pollinate local gardens and plants, contributing to the flowers and greenery we enjoy in city parks and squares during the warmer months.

Urban beekeeping

Credit: Despi-Ross-via-Flickr.

Since beekeeping in D.C. has been legalized, the influx of new local beekeeping groups has been incredibly beneficial to the local environment.

Bee hives can be found at several government agencies as well as in rooftop gardens in Georgetown and at The George Washington University.

The growing bee population in D.C. is a step forward after years of bees suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon that wipes out entire bee colonies for unknown reasons. CCD occurs when the worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind only the queen, and usually honey and immature bees are still present, according to the USDA.

It’s speculated that pesticides play a large role in CCD, especially those containing neonicotinoids, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation[1]. Neonicotinoids are especially dangerous to bees because they can be absorbed into plant tissue, making them present in pollen and nectar. Chronic exposure to these chemicals can harm bees’ natural foraging behavior and increases worker bee mortality.

A study done in England last year[2] found there to be a higher bee diversity in urban and suburban areas. Another study done in 2007[3] actually found that bee populations in New Jersey were higher in urban areas than in natural forests, suggesting that mild anthropogenic disturbance can benefit many bee species.

With the right planning, bees and humans can sustain a mutually beneficial relationship in urban areas. Noah Wilson-Rich, founder of Best Bees Company, said in a TEDxBoston talk[4] that urban bees actually have a higher winter survival rate than their rural counterparts.

Bee on cherry blossom

Credit: KSTZA via Flickr.

According to Wilson-Rich, not only do bees survive better in cities, but on average produce a larger amount of honey. “[They] are going to all of the local community gardens and making delicious, healthy honey that just taste like the flowers in our city,” he said.

There are many possible reasons bees thrive in city environments. There may be fewer pesticides in urban environments, cities are warmer during the winter and human gardening activities bring a wider array of flower species into the area for bees to collect nectar from.

The biggest problem bees’ face in an urban environment — and possibly the easiest to fix — is social aversion from their human neighbors. Bees have a nasty reputation of being dangerous and scary, which is the reason urban beekeeping has been banned for so long in many cities. But, bees are not naturally aggressive creatures and only will sting if provoked.

This is the year to change our attitudes to embrace and welcome the company of the bee community at the tidal basin. If we’re lucky, our VIP guests may just leave us with a delicious cherry blossom-honey parting gift.

 

[1] http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Are-Neonicotinoids-Killing-Bees_Xerces-Society1.pdf

[2] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10841-015-9769-2/fulltext.html#CR78

[3] http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-102710-145042

[4] http://www.ted.com/talks/noah_wilson_rich_every_city_needs_healthy_honey_bees#t-79609


Forest Digest – Week of March 21, 2016

by American Forests

Find out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest!

Rocky Mountains.

Rocky Mountains. Credit: Yinghai Lu.


Forest-Friendly NCAA Mascots

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

In honor of March Madness consuming the minds and time of sports fans across the country, we wanted to highlight some of our favorite NCAA mascots that have a flair for forests!

The Stanford Cardinal

A deceiving name, Stanford University’s mascot isn’t actually a cardinal — it’s a tree! Well, the Stanford Tree is not the University’s official mascot (it doesn’t have an official one), but it is the mascot for the Stanford Band. The tree costume is redesigned each year and has been called one of America’s most bizarre mascots.

It is named after El Palo Alto, which is a landmark redwood and California Historical Landmark No. 2. It is currently 110 feet in height and was determined to be 1,015 years old in 1955.

Redwoods in California.

Redwoods in California.

The Cal Golden Bears

The California Golden Bear has been a symbol for the State of California since the raising of the first bear flag in 1846, during what was known as the “Bear Flag Revolt.” When the University of California – Berkley Track and Field team travelled to the east coast for a meet they brought a blue banner with a large golden bear and ended up winning. They then decided their mascot would become the “Golden bear.”

Their official mascot now is Oski the bear, named after the “Oski Yell,” which was recited at almost every football and basketball game in the early 1900s.

Unfortunately, the California grizzly bear, which was designated the official state animal of California in 1953, had actually gone extinct due to overhunting 30 years prior. Today, only about 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48 states of the U.S.

Oski

Oski. Credit: By BrokenSphere via Wikimedia Commons.

The Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State University’s official mascot is named Brutus Buckeye, whose head is meant to resemble an Ohio Buckeye nut. Brutus made his first appearance in 1965 after students convinced their athletic council that they needed a mascot. The buckeye was selected as the mascot because of its status of the official state tree of Ohio.

The Ohio buckeye is a slow-growing, round-headed tree that grows up to 50 feet high. Large, showy, upright flower clusters appear in early June. The flowers are creamy yellow and lack fragrance. Fruits become conspicuous on the tree in late summer and fall. Their husks have thick, knobby spines. Usually a single, rounded, shiny brown seed is produced in each fruit.

Brutus Buckeye.

Brutus Buckeye.

Oregon State Beavers

Benny Beaver is the official mascot of Oregon State University. In 1916 the school yearbook was named “The Beaver” and the name of the animal became associated with the school. The beaver mascot’s name, “Benny,” was officially adopted in 1945.

The university had two failed attempts to maintain a live beaver mascot, including Bevo Beaver, which was rescued from Mary’s River in 1921, and later stolen, and Billy Beaver who was made mascot in 1935, and later fell ill and died.

Beavers are primarily nocturnal, large, semiaquatic rodents — known for their natural trait of building dams on rivers and streams. They build their homes in the resulting pond. They use their powerful front teeth to cut trees and plants that they use for building and for food.

Benny Beaver.

Benny Beaver. Credit: No machine-readable author provided. VegaDark assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

University of Arizona Wildcats (and Kentucky, Weber State and Villanova)

Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat are the official mascots of the University of Arizona. The school’s first mascot, “Rufus Arizona” was a live desert bobcat named after the U-of-A president Rufus von KleinSmid. The practice of using live mascots was discontinued in the 1960s, but Rufus came on the scene in 1959. Wilma joined him in 1986, and they were “married.”

Other NCAA basketball teams that also have wildcats as their mascot include the University of Kentucky, Weber State University and Villanova University.

There are three recognized North American wildcats — the Cougar (or Mountain Lion or Puma), which ranges from the Yukon down the western part of the continent to the tip of South America. The Bobcat, which roams throughout much of North America and adapts well to such diverse habitats as forests, swamps, deserts and even suburban areas. In southern Texas there exists a small population of Ocelots.

Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat.

Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat. Credit: By Raquel Baranow via Wikimedia Commons.

Temple University Owls

Stella, Temple University’s live mascot, is a great horned owl and was brought to the school in 2013. According to Temple’s website, “during home games, Stella can be found cheering on the sidelines of Lincoln Financial Field alongside Temple’s official mascot, Hooter.”

The owl has been the symbol and mascot for Temple University since its founding in the 1880s. Temple was actually the first school in the United States to adopt the owl as its symbol or mascot. The owl, a nocturnal hunter, was initially adopted as a symbol because Temple University began as a night school for young people of limited means. Russel Conwell, Temple University’s founder, encouraged his students with the remark: “The owl of the night makes the eagle of the day.”

Owls live in a variety of habitats, including coniferous forests, mountains, deserts and plains. The snowy owl lives in the cold tundra of the north. They hunt mostly small mammals, insects and other birds. They are found in all regions of the Earth except Antarctica and some remote islands.

Stella

Stella. Credit: By Danny Karwoski via Wikimedia Commons.

Have another favorite? Share it with us in the comments! Plus, learn all about our OWN March Madness tournament, Big Tree Madness.