The First Cut Is Unexpected

by Loose Leaf Contributor

By Luo Yang, Guest Blogger

Last week, I mentioned we did four months of classroom work when we arrived in the U.S. We conducted our classroom training in New York, living on Long Island.

Oak tree in West Park, New York. Credit: Randy OHC/Flickr

There are many oak trees in that area, and the house where we were staying had a large backyard, where I witnessed something unexpected. Just two or three days after we moved into the house, the landowner hired some people to cut down the oak trees in the backyard and left several high stumps. The trees they cut down — more than 15 inches in dbh (diameter breast height — the measurement of the tree trunk’s outside bark diameter at breast height) and more than 50 feet tall — were healthy and were not densely distributed. I checked the surfaces of the roots left and found that most of the trees were more than 50 years old and were in a stable growing stage. These trees were big and strong enough to protect the house from hurricanes and keep it cool in hot summers. We didn’t know why the landowner would cut them down.

What’s more, the landowner turned the trees’ trunks into small pieces, ignoring the fact that the trees would have a greater commercial value if they were cut a certain way and sold to a wood buyer. I asked him about this and got a shocking answer, “They are just trash and are usually thrown away.”

In China, old or big trees like the New York oaks are often found where farmers live, especially in the southern rural areas. These trees are well protected because they have helped to form a pleasant habitat for the farmers. Generally speaking, it is a big decision to cut such trees. Even if it is needed, people will try their best to make full use of the tree. For example, with the permission of the local government, the tree owner may cut down a tree leaving a very short stump in the ground, maximizing the cut timber to convert it into sections of certain length to meet the needs of his own utility or the market.

What is behind this difference in tree cutting on private land in the U.S. versus China? The following may be one of the reasons: the United States has abundant forest resources, holding nearly 10 percent of forestland in the world with only 5 percent of the world’s population. The U.S. provides about 25 percent of the timber production for industrial products for the world. China, with almost the same land area as the U.S., has about 20 percent of the world’s population, but holds only 7 percent of the earth’s forestland. China is also one of the main round wood importers in the world.


Don’t Take a Deep Breath

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

I’m going to let you in on a secret: air pollution is bad for you. Okay, so it isn’t much of a secret at all, but it also isn’t something people often think about. Short of Los Angeles-type clouds of smog, it isn’t something that the average person can always see — or even smell. Out of sight, out of mind, so to speak.

Dori@merr.info

What’s becoming harder to ignore is the threat to our health. A new study, recently published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, has come out with a sobering fact: air pollution is the sixth leading cause of cancer in the U.S.

We no longer live in an era where not smoking can mean that you probably won’t get lung cancer; now, one in 10 cases of lung cancer occurs in someone who has never smoked. In fact, a person living in an area with higher pollution is about 20 percent more likely to die from lung cancer than someone breathing cleaner air.

It doesn’t stop there. According to the World Health Organization’s data from 2004-2008, lung cancer accounts for only 20 percent of air-pollution-related deaths in the U.S., with tens of thousands more attributed to other cardiopulmonary diseases. Take a look at the data on their interactive map of air pollution mortality rates.

What’s most disturbing about these findings? To me, it is the fact that, although there are many actions we can take as individuals to minimize the amount of pollution we put into the air, some of it is simply outside of our control. Many companies and corporations are contributing a great deal to these health-threatening levels of pollution, and they may or may not be particularly concerned with my health or yours.

In 2010, it is estimated that the Clean Air Act saved 164,000 lives and prevented thousands of cases of bronchitis, asthma attacks and other related conditions. There’s been a lot of talk about overregulation this year, complaints that the EPA’s guidelines are too much of a burden on businesses and scoffs at the environmental organizations suing the EPA for failing to tighten its regulations. While some thought does need to be given to the economic impact of such regulations, I wonder how much “overregulation” can really be taking place when we’re seeing increasing proof that the air we’re breathing is literally toxic.

What’s the pollution like in your hometown? You can see on NPR’s new Poisoned Places map.


Exploring the Everglades

by Amanda Tai

Credit: http2007/Flickr

What do alligators and pine trees have in common? They’re both found in the Everglades ecosystem, along with hundreds of other plant and animal species. In fact, this ecosystem has one of the highest concentrations of threatened or endangered species in the country. Although the Everglades is known for its natural beauty and abundance of wildlife, this uniquely American ecosystem is becoming increasingly stressed from threats like climate change and habitat fragmentation. Wildlife habitat is coming up against human development as urban areas continue to expand. Animals like the Florida panther, the Florida black bear and the red-cockaded woodpecker are threatened and endangered as a result of their habitat loss.

To address this issue, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has developed a proposal to restore and protect the Everglades for generations to come and help reconnect habitats in the Everglades that have been fragmented. The plan, entitled the Everglades Headwaters Proposal, will work with landowners to use scientific modeling and careful progress monitoring to develop a long-term conservation management strategy. In other words, the agency will actually work with the people that know the land to determine a workplan. The plan would also continuously look for updates in technology to lower costs. This proposal is the first step in a larger conservation plan to help recover key species and habitat for all of south-central Florida.

Protecting and restoring wildlife habitat is a great idea, but getting the work done requires lots of people working together. That’s why restoration efforts like the Everglades Headwaters work best as a collaborative process — bringing all parties to the table, from Congress to the general public. The proposal came up at a House hearing last week to discuss restoration priorities for the Everglades. The FWS also wants to hear what you have to think. They will be accepting public comment on the proposal through November 25th. American Forests has also submitted comments on the proposal.


Where Did the Sun Go?

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

I don’t get daylight saving time (DST). For 18 blissful years, my clocks never had to be changed thanks to Indiana’s abstinence from DST. Then, I went to college out of state and received a rude awakening.

I love the extra hours of sunlight in my summer evenings … which is why I equally detest changing my clock in the fall. In the winter, I miss strolling home in the sun. When I leave work tonight, darkness will have already settled over the city. And the UK’s Tourism Alliance says that this is a key detriment to moving back to standard time each winter.

Sunset in New South Wales, Australia. Credit: NeilsPhotography/Flickr

The Tourism Alliance argues that if we remained on DST year round — in essence changing our time zones permanently and no longer changing the clocks twice a year — the fall and spring fringe periods for outdoor activities would be expanded. Outdoor venues, like parks and historic sites, would be more attractive for more weeks in the year with the increased evening sunlight, boosting revenue and the economy. As National Geographic indicates, though, it must not be forgotten that indoor recreation activities, like theater-going, might suffer with more people outdoors.

Year round DST action isn’t limited to our British brethren, though. Earlier this year, The California Energy Commission released a study claiming that moving to year round DST and then creating double daylight saving time (Basically, our time zones would change year round to the time prescribed by DST, but then, as we do now, we’d change our clocks an hour every spring and fall, so in the summer we’d have even more sunshine than we do now.) for the summer months could save the state millions of dollars.

And, at its core, DST has always been about energy savings. Benjamin Franklin indicated it would save candle usage. The U.S. Congress extended DST by a month as part of a 2005 energy bill. But, does it really save energy?

According to some studies, no.

Remember my home state of Indiana? Well, we finally succumbed to DST in 2006, and while this move put us in step with the rest of the country — although sadly making an episode of “The West Wing” no longer relevant — it may have dearly affected our pocketbooks. University of California, Santa Barbara professor Matthew Kotchen released a study in 2008 showing that when Indiana uniformly went to DST, electricity consumption actually rose by one to four percent on average, which equals a few dollars per household per year and totals millions of dollars for the state at large.

According to another 2008 study — this time by University of Washington’s Hendrik Wolff — while energy may be saved in the evening thanks to DST, that gain is lost by extra energy use in the mornings.

So is DST saving us energy? The verdict appears to still be out. Would year round DST boost local economies? Maybe. What I do know for sure is that I’ll be pouting on my walk home in the dark for the next few days, as I ready myself for the long winter months to come.


The Not-So-Friendly Skies

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

Credit: Herry Lawford

There’s a bit of a power struggle going on in Europe. Well, not in Europe exactly — more like several thousand feet above it.

You see, next year, the European Union will be adding aviation to its Emissions Trading System (ETS). Created in 2005, the ETS works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using a cap and trade system. Similar programs are being developed around the world, including in California. But this will be the first time aviation has entered the mix on such a wide-reaching scale.

It makes sense; air travel produces a lot of carbon. A single flight from Phoenix, Arizona, to London, England (a flight of about 5,200 miles), for instance, will produce around 1,700 pounds of CO2. Since the institution of the EU ETS, carbon emissions from many other sectors have declined, but those from the aviation industry have doubled.

The new rules will impose a cap on the CO2 emissions from all domestic and international flights to or from any airport in the European Union. Airlines that exceed the cap will have to buy permits for their emissions. Those that adopt methods to keep their emissions below the cap (switching to more efficient fuel, for instance) will be able to sell their remaining allowances. In fairness, the cap is not particularly low. According to Forbes, it will be set at 97 percent of the average aviation emissions from 2004 to 2006.

What would this mean for passengers? That depends on how much of the cost the individual airlines decide to pass on to us. The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) numbers don’t look particularly frightening, estimating an increase from $2 to $20. Personally, I’m fine with paying a bit more to offset the emissions my flight will produce. A great deal of information and research is available on the ETS site itself, so feel free to learn more about it here.

The EU says it is within its right to establish such a system because there have been no successful efforts to create an effective system for decreasing global CO2 emissions despite the UN’s resolution to do so back in 1997. Unfortunately, a number of airlines don’t see it that way. Companies from 26 countries are supporting a resolution to exempt all non-European airlines from the system. Of course, this would defeat the entire purpose of the program and do nothing to address the continued rise in air travel emissions, but those don’t seem to be among the companies’ main concerns.

I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see where the controversy leads, but so far it looks like the EU is sticking to its guns.


East Meets West

by Loose Leaf Contributor

By Luo Yang, Guest Blogger

For the last month, American Forests’ policy team has played host to a distinguished visitor, Luo Yang, from China, who was here to learn more about America’s business practices, our forestry work and other cultural differences. We have greatly enjoyed Luo’s presence and wanted to give our Loose Leaf readers a chance to experience America’s forests through his eyes. For the next three Fridays, we’ll be featuring blog posts written for us by Luo.~K&M

Hello, I am Luo Yang from People’s Republic of China, and I care deeply about forests.

When I was a college student, I had an unforgettable experience, which cemented my love of forestry. As an undergraduate at Nanjing Forestry University 1987, I took part in a two month forest inventory in the expansive primitive forest in northeastern China. Everything in the forest made me feel very happy — the fresh air, clean water, the wandering animals. I liked the feeling of being close to the water, to the soil and to the nature. This experience was a main reason I decided to take the test for graduate studies on forest management and eventually received my master’s degree in 1991.

Tongren, Guizhou, China. Credit: Quentin Scouflaire/Flickr

I worked for Guizhou Forest Inventory & Survey Institute from 1991 to 2006, progressing from an engineer assistant to a professor’s level engineer. During that period, I participated in two forest surveys in geographic areas beyond my province: one was in southern China and another in the Tibetan area. Both experiences were exciting and wonderful.

In 2006, I got my Ph.D. in forest management from Nanjing Forestry University. Since then, I have worked for Guizhou Forestry Academy. As a researcher, I mainly focus on studying public welfare forest restoration, forest biodiversity protection and forest sustainable development. I am also the president of the academy and am responsible for the management of scientific research and cooperation.

I am in the U.S. as a member of a training group sent by our government to improve our modern business management. We spent four months in Stony Brook, New York, where we took lessons on international business, government management, human resources, emerging technology and other topics. As scheduled, I needed to have fellowship in an American organization, and I was very happy to have an opportunity to spend a month at American Forests. Being attracted by the opening words on its web page — “We are people who care about — and for — forests.” — I come here hoping to know how many people there are in American Forests, what they do, how they inform policymakers and the public about forests’ benefits.


Move Faster, Forests!

by Loose Leaf Team

By Michelle Werts

Credit: DaniBelle2906/Flickr

Migration. For me, this word evokes an image of that magnificent flying “v” that birds (and certain hockey teams) employ to head to warmer waters in the fall and to head back north in the spring. But migration is not reserved for those of us with legs, wings, fins and flippers. Forests migrate, too! The big question, though, is will they outrun climate change?

In a 2005 report, scientists predicted that the rate of climate change would outpace the migration rate of most plant species. Unfortunately for the trees, it appears that they were right.

According to a new study published this week by Duke University and the USDA Forest Service, only 21 percent of forests are migrating northward, which is bad news in the face of climate change. Experts predict that as temperatures rise, the soil that forests are currently rooted in will become too hot and dry for seedlings to take hold and prosper — they need the moister, cooler soil that will be found at increasingly higher elevations and in northern climates. What to do, what to do? Enter AMAT.

AM-what? AMAT, or the Assisted Migration Adaptation Trial created by British Columbia Forest Service researchers with the USDA Forest Service, is taking 48 seed sources from 15 tree species and planting them at 48 field locations from northern California to central Yukon. The plan is to discover which species and seeds will be best equipped to survive temperature increases and, therefore, climate change. The project began in 2009 and is expected to complete in 2013. Scientists hope to use the results to better pick and plan tree planting projects in the future.

As Katrina mentioned earlier this week, climate change is a scary proposition, so I’m thrilled to see us working with our North American brethren to help our forests survive. Weather doesn’t recognize countries or their boundaries, so if we’re going to protect our land and resources, we have to work together. Plus, it’s good to get on the Canadians good side because one day, we might all have to follow through on those jokes about moving to Canada.


Pipe Dreams

by Amanda Tai

Credit: tarsandsaction

American energy independence continues to be a hot political topic as the 2012 presidential debates heat up and protests continue to make front page news. Over the past few months, I’ve witnessed the streets of D.C. transform into a protester’s paradise — from the Occupy D.C. folks to the tar sands rallies in front of the White House. While I’m not sure about camping out for weeks in the middle of a city, I’m probably wondering the same thing they are: what’s in America’s future?

We’d all like to hear that everything will be okay, but political decisions can be complex and take a long time to make. As an example, it looks like the demand for energy in the U.S. will continue to rise, but it hasn’t been determined where all this new energy supply will come from. There’s a lot to consider.

Renewable energy sources are becoming more popular and increasingly more available, but the production is not currently at a level that can support the nation’s rising demands. That’s why people are continuing to look for drilling opportunities like the Keystone Pipeline XL project and areas like Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). ANWR is the largest national wildlife refuge in the country, consisting of 19,286,722 acres. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would run through the middle of the U.S. to connect oil reserves, also known as “tar sands” for the hard formations where the oil is found, in Canada to Texas refineries. The Keystone XL is also set to run through the largest freshwater resource in the country. Many environmental advocates oppose these efforts because they are concerned about the disturbance to wildlife habitat and wilderness areas. Although the administration has yet to comment on the measure, there is a decision deadline set for the end of this year.

People have gathered outside the White House in the hopes of grabbing the administration’s attention through peaceful protest. They’ve certainly grabbed the media’s attention through spokespeople, like activist Bill McKibben and Environmental Film Festival film Pipe Dreams by Leslie Iwerks. I don’t oppose people protesting this issue. I want to see the government back away from oil dependency and move towards renewable sources too. However, I’m starting to wonder about the return on their time and effort. What kind of impact will these protests actually make on political decisions?

UPDATE (11/3/11)
Since the Keystone XL issue will continue to make headlines in the coming weeks, I just wanted to reiterate that this project represents important environmental concerns and that it deserves attention and debate. Many people throughout North America are working to make their voices heard on this issue, and I appreciate their passion. I think it’s important that everyone has forums in which to express their views and opinions. I’m interested to see how the discussions, protests and policy work around the Keystone Pipeline XL project evolve in the future.

For more background and information on the Keystone Pipeline XL project and the tar sands, visit these links:


The Forest Is Closer Than You Think

by Scott Steen, CEO

Given that this is my first blog post for Loose Leaf, let me introduce myself. My name is Scott Steen, and I am the CEO at American Forests, a job I have had for about 11 months now. Prior to joining American Forests, I spent most of my career as a nonprofit executive, mostly serving in professional societies. As a transplanted New Englander, I have long had a deep love of forests and a strong appreciation of the environmental benefits they provide us. This job, for me, has been a chance to combine passion and vocation more fully than any job I have ever had.

As I do many weeks, this past Friday I drove the 100 miles from D.C. to my place near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, on Sleepy Creek Mountain. It was a strange weekend.

Damage to my pear tree from an unexpected late-October snowstorm. Credit: Scott Steen

On Friday, my dog Max and I took a walk through the woods, which was teeming with activity. Winter preparations had begun in earnest. Squirrels, birds and other animals all seemed to have things to do and places to be. The deer were wearing their winter coats and moving fast — and not just because it is bow-hunting season. In just one week, it seemed that we had moved from the lazy, beautiful days of High Autumn to the forlorn and frantic late fall.

The next morning, it became clear why things had moved into overdrive. Eight inches of snow had fallen over night. According to my neighbors, our part of West Virginia hasn’t had an appreciable October snow fall in 30 years. A 20-year-old pear tree in our backyard looked like it imploded overnight, with many of its central branches on the ground beneath it. This early snow is a warning to me that I still have a lot to do before the weather changes, the temperature drops and predictions of snow become more the norm than the exception.

Back in the city on Monday, I noticed that, while Washington was spared the snow, the birds, squirrels and trees were equally busy in their preparations for the impending winter. Everywhere, nature readies itself for the change of season — and people do, too.

I go out to the country so that I can be surrounded by nature, but this job has made me increasingly aware that nature is not something you drive to or see on weekends. Humans are not separate from nature; we are part of it and utterly dependent on the gifts it provides. Even here in downtown Washington, we are part of a forest ecosystem. The city itself teems with wildlife, often unnoticed, that depend on a vast number of trees for food and shelter. The health of forests — both urban and rural — is intimately linked to the well being of humans and the overall health of the planet. From an ecosystem perspective, the drive between the city and the country isn’t really that far. Our job at American Forests is to help people connect the dots between point A and point B.

Scott Steen will be guest blogging here on the first Tuesday of each month. ~K&M


Chocolate: Trick or Treat?

by Loose Leaf Team

By Katrina Marland

Credit: John Loo

Trick or treat? Well today, it’s a little of both. Since it’s Halloween, I thought we could talk about something really scary. In fact, this may be one of the more frightening things I have read in a very long time: chocolate could become a thing of the past.

A recent study by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) predicts that as soon as 2030, we could start to see a decline in cocoa crops because many of the areas that now grow them will be too warm to continue doing so. View the full study from CIAT here. (And yes, 2030 may not seem like “soon,” but I don’t want to think that I’ll be without chocolate in 18 years – do you?)

Right now, Ghana and the Ivory Coast produce about half of the world’s cocoa supply. Their climates and landscapes are ideal for the crop, which has become a common livelihood for farmers in the region. But if temperatures increase, as they are predicted to do in West Africa, the heat-sensitive plants will fail to produce.

By 2050, a change of 2.3 degrees Celsius could completely cripple the productivity of most of West Africa’s cocoa crops. With half the supply line out of play, cocoa will become rarer and more expensive, and prices of its products will spike. We’ll have to bid goodbye to the days of the $1 chocolate bar and get used to a new reality where chocolate is a luxury item and, like truffles or caviar, no longer affordable for the average Joe.

Is there a way to keep the cocoa-producing regions cool enough to keep churning out their chocolatey goodness? Experts advocate increasing the shade trees that protect the crops, developing new types of irrigation systems and even creating new, more heat-tolerant variations of cocoa plants. Others are less optimistic and suggest that farmers in the region start looking for alternative cash crops now, so that they will be able to maintain their livelihood when the heat really sets in.

So enjoy your candy bars and chocolate-peanut butter cups while you can because in the next couple decades, they may get a lot harder to find.

Not spooky enough for you?

Climate change may take away another precious item: coffee. Already, the effects of climate change have caused some coffee prices to increase by 25 percent over just the last year, giving even coffee giants like Starbucks something to worry about (see their warnings on climate change). If you’re like me, the idea of facing a workday (especially Mondays) without at least one morning cup of coffee is truly terrifying.

Happy Halloween, everyone! Have a safe & fun time celebrating this evening.