Saying Goodbye to the Senator

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

This week, Florida said goodbye to an old friend. A very, very old friend, in fact. The cypress tree — dubbed “The Senator” after Florida State Senator M. O. Overstreet, who donated the property around it to Seminole County in 1927 — was estimated to be around 3,500 years old, making it one of the oldest known trees in the country.

The Senator before the fire. (Credit: the Florida Big Tree Program)

At about 118 feet tall and more than 35 feet around, The Senator fell short of being a national champion tree, but easily claimed the state crown in Florida — no small feat in a state so full of champion trees; it currently boasts 106 of them.

The Senator spent thousands of years quietly watching the land around it warp and change and fill with people. It saw civilizations spring up, wars lost and won, and cities sprout out of the ground. But on Monday, the ancient tree succumbed to an intense fire that burned it from the inside out. Firefighters did their best, but it took 800 feet of hose just to reach the tree, which was nestled deep inside a park. Though arson was suspected at first, authorities could find no evidence to support it and now think the blaze may have started when the tree was struck by lightning earlier in the week.

The massive cypress tree grew in the aptly named Big Tree Park and was a chief attraction in Florida’s Seminole County for the better part of a century. In 1929, President Coolidge designated the remarkable tree a national historic landmark. All this before its astonishing age was even known. In 1946, the American Forestry Association (that was us, at the time!) took a core sample and estimated the tree’s age at 3,500 years old. In 2005, when the park was rededicated, officials found a companion tree: a nearby bald cypress, now named Lady Liberty, estimated to be 2,000 years old. Thankfully, this tree was saved from the fire and has inherited The Senator’s title of the oldest tree in the park.

For many Florida natives, losing The Senator is like losing an old friend. I have to admit that for me, it is difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that something that stood for 3,500 years could simply vanish in the course of a day. Losses like this give us all the more reason to recognize and protect our most remarkable trees; they may seem ageless, but even they won’t be around forever.

Planting Trees With Lemurs

by Amanda Tai

I’ve loved lemurs ever since I saw the movie Madagascar in 2005. Two years later, I did a summer internship in Madagascar, working for a nonprofit organization in a remote village on the southern coast. One of the highlights of my summer was when we visited Berenty Reserve, a small private forest along the Mandrake River, where we actually got to hold lemurs and feed them bananas!

(Credit: Amanda Tai)

Madagascar is a hotspot for lemurs — there are more than 100 species and subspecies of lemurs alone. But the lemurs also have a unique role in Madagascar’s ecosystem: they help trees grow. Kara Moses, a biologist and nature writer, has been studying the furry primates and their link to trees and forests. One species in particular, the black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata), plays a key role in dispersing and germinating large-tree seeds. Fruit from trees is a primary source of food for ruffed lemurs and their digestive juices actually help germinate the seeds. From the lemur droppings, these seeds then grow into trees that have a large carbon-storing capacity. Without these lemurs, Madagascar’s forests could look completely different and have far lower carbon-storing potential.

I knew I liked lemurs for a reason. They’re cute and useful! However, ruffed lemurs are becoming increasingly threatened due to habitat loss and hunting. Much of Madagascar’s agricultural economy has turned to logging and slash-and-burning of forests. This clear-cutting process involves cutting and burning forests to create fields for agriculture. Ninety percent of the island’s forests have already been cleared for logging and agriculture. “The forest then becomes one composed mainly of trees with low carbon-storage potential, and the carbon-storage capacity of the whole forest is affected,” explained Moses. “This may have obvious global implications with respect to climate change, for example.”

When I was in Madagascar, I saw several forests that had been slash-and-burned and replaced with quick-growing trees like eucalyptus. Moses says that if there more alternative agriculture options were readily available, many people would stop implementing slash-and-burn. “[They] are aware of how destructive practices like slash-and-burn agriculture are, but have no alternatives — so alternatives need to be provided.” She says that a two-fronted approach of conservation education and community development is necessary to protect the lemur’s habitat. With this approach, the people of Madagascar can start improving their lives as well as their environment.

Mapping Forest Threats

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Last week, NASA Earth Observatory released as series of maps showing the world’s forests, as mapped from three dimensions: area, density and height. Through the work of researchers, we have one of the largest, highest-resolution forest biomass maps ever.

US Forest Cover

Map by Robert Simmon, based on data from Woods Hole Research Center

Pretty nifty, huh? It is, in terms of the research and technology that went into creating the map. Not so nifty are the stories underlying the pretty green patches.

On first glance, you might think, “Wow, 33 percent of the U.S. is covered by forest. That’s a pretty impressive number.” It might be until you remember that when the first permanent European settlers arrived in America more than 400 years ago, more than half of the U.S. was covered in woodlands. Imagine how green that U.S. map would be.

And while the map gives us a view of where the forests are, it fails to show us in what condition the forests are.

For instance, take a look at the red circled area in this close-up of the Northwest:

Wyoming forest cover

A nice, healthy amount of forest in the northwest corner of Wyoming/southeast Idaho, yes? Not really, because while there is forest there, that forest looks like this:

Caribou-Targhee National Forest

Green spaces intercut with hulking, dead masses of trees. Devastated by beetles and disease. The USDA Forest Service estimates that about 100,000 trees fall to the ground every day in Wyoming and Colorado thanks to beetles.

Or how about this lovely area in Texas:

Texas forest coverLast year, much of it looked like this:

Possum Kingdom Lake Fire in Texas

Possum Kingdom Lake Fire in Texas. Credit: SSG Malcolm McClendon

Wildfires destroyed more than eight million acres of forest across the country in 2011, hitting Texas especially hard. With the drought conditions expected to continue for parts of the South and Southwest into the summer, 2012 may very well follow in 2011’s footsteps.

And these two examples are just tip of the iceberg of threats and difficulties facing America’s forests, which means in order to protect and restore the green on that map, we all need to work extra hard to care for our forests.

What Price for Power?

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

Coal power plant in Utah (Credit: Flickr/lowjumpingfrog)

I try to be pretty green in all I do, but I’ll admit that when it comes to power usage, I’m about as guilty as anyone else. I love my TV, sometimes leave lights on and am on my computer for a good chunk of the day. Since I can’t avoid using power, it’s good to know that something is being done to make sure that the places creating the power I use are cleaning up their acts — and the air.

First up, mercury: turns out, it isn’t just something you have to worry about in tuna fish. Factories and power plants produce mercury emissions, just as they produce carbon dioxide and other substances. Despite the dangers that mercury can represent, it wasn’t until very recently — about a month ago — that the EPA created strict regulations for it. The new regulations, dubbed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), place specific limits on some of the more dangerous pollutants generated by coal or oil-burning power plants, such as mercury, arsenic and cyanide.

Then, there’s carbon dioxide. With this nasty gas, the EPA is taking new steps to keep us informed. The agency recently released its first comprehensive database identifying the nation’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The data shows that power plants were by far the biggest culprits nationwide, and with 45 percent of power plants in the U.S. powered by coal, I can’t say that I’m all that surprised. But you can go a step further and use the tool to find which facilities in your town are serious polluters, exactly how much pollution they emit and what kind. The hope is that once the public is better informed, businesses, individuals and nonprofits will be able to put pressure on the those companies and facilities to clean up their operations.

The pollutants are measured in CO2 equivalents, which takes into account both the amount of the pollutant emitted and its global warming potential. The information for your own hometown will of course be worth looking up, but here are just a few tidbits from the database in general:

  • The three largest stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. are a set of three power plants in Georgia and Alabama. And they are all owned by the same company: Southern Company.
  • The state of Texas has by far the highest rate of emissions with 294 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent pushed into the atmosphere in just one year. Second place goes to Pennsylvania with 129 million metric tons.
  • The states with the lowest levels of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources are Idaho and Rhode Island (not a surprise for the smallest state in the union), but Alaska can lay claim to the lowest amounts of GHGs from power plants, with only two metric tons produced in 2010.

Go! Fight! Recycle!

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Stadium trash

Credit: Sun Brockie (newyork808)/Flickr

I love sports. All kinds, from the insanely popular — college football and basketball — to the fanatical — hi, MLS and NHL — to the not-for-everyone, but awesome — I’m looking at you tennis and cycling. Basically, if it’s a sporting event, especially live, I’m there. Also, there is lots and lots of waste, hardly shocking considering sports venues hold tens of thousands of people, which is why the EPA decided some incentives were needed to combat the trash.

Enter the third year of the EPA’s Game Day Challenge. Last fall, 78 universities and colleges across the country generated waste reduction plans for one of their 2011 football home games in hopes of winning EPA bragging rights. As announced earlier this week by the EPA, the schools and their combined 2.7 million fans diverted more than 500,000 pounds of waste from landfills in the challenge, preventing nearly 810 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Which schools reigned supreme?

  • Central Connecticut State University (least amount of waste generated per attendee)
  • University of California, Davis (highest combined recycling and composting rate)
  • University of Virginia (greatest greenhouse gas reductions from diverting waste AND highest recycling rate)
  • Marist College (highest organics reduction rate)

Kudos to the winners and all participants because recycling is a big deal and equals a big environmental impact. As reported by the EPA, recycling one ton of paper saves more than three cubic yards of landfill space and reduces energy and water consumption, saving 7,000 gallons of water and enough energy to power an average American home for six months.

And luckily for the environment, many of the participating schools don’t see this as a one-time project: they’re busy with zero-waste plans. In 2006, Colorado University at Boulder voted to become a carbon-neutral campus. The first place for overhaul was the stadium, where they now divert 80 percent of waste on average. A few of the ways that they’ve found success include replacing all trash cans with recycling and composting containers, converting concession food and beverage containers into recyclable and compostable materials and creating a valet bike parking service. The University of California, Davis implemented a zero-waste plan when its stadium opened in 2007 and at a game in 2010 diverted a whopping 89-plus percent of waste. Last year, Big Ten-powerhouse Ohio State joined the zero waste party, with a 2011 goal to divert 75 percent of waste and 90 percent in 2012. Go teams for saving the environment one composting and one recycling bin at a time!

A Forest Hero

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

Last year, the United Nations designated 2011 as the International Year of Forests. Now, with the year over, the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat is working to determine the winners of its first-ever Forest Heroes Awards. The UN received 90 nominations for the award from 41 countries around the world. Ultimately, there will be only five winners: one for each geographic region (Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America). So far they’ve narrowed the field down to 15 finalists across those regions, and one of them is a friend of ours.

A tree nursery in Nkor Village, Cameroon, funded by a project through American Forests and ANCO.

For each project that American Forests takes on, we partner with a local group. Paul Mzeka is the founder of one of these groups: Apiculture and Nature Conservation Organization (ANCO). In Mzeka’s home country of Cameroon, unsustainable land management has led to deforestation and land degradation. This group promotes conservation and sustainable land management in a way that will also reduce rural poverty. Many of their projects focus particularly on beekeeping as an environmentally sustainable way to generate an income for rural families. They reach out to rural farmers to provide training and equipment and have dozens of successful projects to their name, with more than 6,000 bee farmers trained.

In recent years, ANCO has broadened the scope of its work to include tree planting. These projects help to protect local watersheds, conserve the rural community forests that so many rely on and provide a new area of income through tree nurseries and training in agroforestry. In partnership with ANCO, we have planted thousands of trees to restore forests to several rural communities in Cameroon. Our most recent project with them planted 50,000 trees to reforest almost 250 acres of the community forest for the Nkor Village to improve local watershed health. Before the planting, deforestation had led to severe water shortages. The project also taught local villagers how to create and maintain a nursery, giving them a source of income as well as a self-sufficient way to manage their own forests. Including the projects they have undertaken with us, ANCO, under Mzeka’s guidance, has planted 685,000 trees! Whether the UN awards him the title or not, in my book that achievement makes Mzeka a true forest hero.

Winners of the Forest Heroes Awards will be announced on February 9 at the closing ceremony for the International Year of Forests. Click here to learn more about the other remarkable men and women who have been nominated.

Pay to Play

by Amanda Tai

Trail in Rock Creek Park. Credit: kirybabe/Flickr

One of my favorite places in D.C. is Rock Creek Park. I frequently go there for hikes because I enjoy being outside and staying active. Want to know another reason why it’s so great? It costs absolutely nothing to get in! Washington, D.C. is a great city to find free things to do, and you can find lots of similar outdoor recreational opportunities all across the country. But this isn’t the case everywhere. I recently found out that some places charge people entrance fees to parks and wildlife areas. These places offer so many benefits to people that everyone should be able to visit them, regardless of their income.

Although many national parks never charge an entrance fee, there are still several that do. Effective on January 1st, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has implemented a Georgia Outdoor Recreational Pass (GORP) that is required for adults (age 16-64) to use 32 properties that are managed under its Wildlife Resources Division. While the annual cost of a pass is under $20, and cheaper three-day  and small-group package options exist, it’s less about the dollar amount and more about the principle behind the fee.

What are the costs for GORP  licenses?

  • GORP 3-Day: $3.50
  • GORP Plus 3-Day Fishing: $3.50
  • GORP Annual: $19
  • Small Group (up to eight people), 3-Day: $10 per vehicle
  • Small Group, Annual: $35 per vehicle

Georgia residents used to only need a pass for fishing or hunting. Now, they are required to buy a pass in advance of visiting the state’s 32 wildlife areas. Dan Forster, Director of Wildlife Resources Division, explains that with a tightening budget, the pass will help alleviate maintenance costs. Forster also notes that the 32 properties were chosen based on highest levels of public traffic.

For some, the fee may seem reasonable and affordable. But for many, they simply can’t afford it. While the fee promises to go towards maintenance in wildlife areas, it also places a clear dollar-amount limit as to who can afford to enjoy these areas. Affordability is just one of the many recreational access issues that determines who participates in outdoor recreation. Other issues include a lack of public knowledge and education, increasing demand with limited space and proximity to opportunities. Access issues, closely tied to health and environmental justice, tend to be most prevalent in lower income areas, where people may not be able to afford fees and there is less public awareness about recreational opportunities. It’s true that maintenance work is necessary in order to keep our parks and wildlife areas safe and enjoyable for everyone, but we also need to make sure that everyone can afford to use them.

Missing the Cold

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

As we experience what I’m affectionately dubbing the dog days of winter — aka the unseasonably warm temperatures that much of the country has been experiencing of late — the news that some cold-loving flora may not survive the coming decades because of warming temperatures is hardly surprising, but still mightily depressing.

Austrian Hochschwab Mountains plant research

Researchers collecting samples on the Austrian Hochschwab Mountains. Credit: Harald Pauli

According to researchers at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Vienna, cold-loving plants across Europe’s mountains are quickly losing ground to their warm-loving brethren. Biologists first took samples in 2001 at 60 summits across Europe. They returned seven years later for comparative samples and were surprised at what awaited them.

In a press release on the study, Dr. Michael Gottfried of the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments, which coordinated the study, says, “We expected to find a greater number of warm-loving plants at higher altitudes, but we did not expect to find such a significant change in such a short space of time. Many cold-loving species are literally running out of mountain. In some of the lower mountains in Europe, we could see alpine meadows disappearing and dwarf shrubs taking over within the next few decades.” Eep!

Regional studies have been supporting this theory for quite awhile, but this new research purports to be the first to examine the issue on a continental scale. One of the results that I found particularly interesting is that the invasion of warm-loving plants isn’t tied to altitude: plants along the treeline, as well as those along the high mountain peaks, are all being affected. Also, the effects were similar across the continent from the high north of Scotland to the Greek isles. Not good.

Someone needs to go tell the warm-loving plants to stop bullying their cold-loving friends. And if we could work on stopping the warming trend, I’m sure they’d be mighty appreciative. Good thing trees can help the climate by storing carbon, which helps reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the air. So helping protect our forests may help protect our plants. I like it!


Let It Snow!

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

When I learned I would be moving to Colorado, I went out and bought some warmer winter gear — boots, coat and everything in between. Two weeks after I moved here, my hometown in Maryland got a storm so unusually severe it was called the “snowpocalypse” (or “snowmageddon,” depending on who you talked to). Expecting to get a great deal more snow of my own, I didn’t think much about it. But here I am two years later, and the most snow I’ve seen at one time is a whopping five inches. In fact, 2011’s snow accumulation in this town was a measly 24.8 inches — far below the average of 42.4 inches a year. So when I saw the words “snow drought” in the news recently, I paid attention.

1/4/2011 snowpack (top) compared to 1/2/2012 snowpack (bottom) (Credit: NOHRSC/NOAA)

Yes, a snow drought is a real thing. It’s not always as easy to see, and its effects aren’t felt all at once, but its implications — especially out here in the Mountain West — can be just as serious as a severe lack of rain. And it isn’t only out west that the problem exists: recent analysis shows that the entire nation is seeing a record low amount of snow on the ground. From 2004 to 2011, each January 4th resulted in as much as 60 percent of the country covered in snow and rarely less than 33 percent. On January 4, 2012, only 22 percent of the country had snow on the ground.

One obvious effect is that ski slopes are taking a hit — a significant economic blow at what is usually their busiest time of year, not to mention rather disappointing to enthusiastic skiers and boarders. But snow in the mountains is good for more than recreation: it becomes the water reserve for much of the country for the rest of the year, feeding into rivers, lakes, agricultural fields, reservoirs and more. Without sufficient snowpack to sustain them throughout the year, a lot of water sources can run dry. California found its snowpack this week to be at only 19 percent of its yearly average, making it one of the driest years on record. Since the snowpack supplies a full one-third of the state’s water for homes, agricultural fields and industries, the current levels are anything but encouraging. Throughout the Midwest, the lack of snow means a lack of insulation for the dormant wheat crops, leaving them vulnerable to extremely low temperatures that could have serious consequences for those farmers and the local economy.

With a few months left in winter, there is still a chance for Mother Nature to catch up, but as to whether or not that will happen and whether we have more of these drastic fluctuations to look forward to from year to year, we’ll have to wait and see.

Forested Beauty

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

This week in history, five of our states officially joined the United States:

  • Georgia (1/2/1788)
  • Connecticut (1/9/1788)
  • Utah (1/4/1896)
  • New Mexico (1/6/1912)
  • Alaska (1/3/1959).

In celebration, I wanted to share some of the forested beauty that you can experience in each.

Our fourth state contains two national forests: Oconee and Chattahoochee National Forests, which includes the popular Anna Ruby Falls.

Dockery Lake in Chattahoochee National Forest

Dockery Lake in Chattahoochee National Forest. Credit: Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest

Our fifth state isn’t home to any national forests, but the famous Appalachian Trail crosses its boundaries, and dozens of state parks contain breathtaking vistas.

Kent Falls State Park

Kent Falls State Park. Credit: BillAndKent/Flickr

Our 45th state boasts five national forests — Ashley, Dixie, Fishlake, Manti-La Sal and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forests — in addition to its five national parks, which contrast the stark beauty of the state’s rock formations and desert climate with lush flora.

Manti-La Sal National Forest

Manti-La Sal National Forest. Credit: Dave Merrill (Utah~Dave AA7IZ)/Flickr


New Mexico
Our 47th state finds itself with five national forests — Carson, Cibola, Gila, Lincoln and Santa Fe National Forests — and three national grasslands, representing the state’s diverse landscape.

Santa Fe National Forest

Santa Fe National Forest. Credit: TaylorAndAyumi/Flickr

Our 49th state may only have two national forests in quantity — Chugach and Tongass National Forests — but when it comes to sheer land mass, they’re huge: Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the U.S. at 17 million acres.

Aerial view of the Mendenhall Glacier in Tongass National Forest

Aerial view of the Mendenhall Glacier in Tongass National Forest. Credit: Judy Malley (ShootsNikon)/Flickr

What are your favorite forestlands in each of these states?