Forest Digest – Week of December 14, 2015

by American Forests

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

Forest and river

Credit: Chuck Fazio

New COP21 Climate Agreement Provides Progress, Values Role of Forests

by American Forests

By Etienne Laffargue, Policy Intern

Looking up at trees

Credit: Chuck Fazio

“This is truly a historic moment,” said ban-Ki-moon regarding last Saturday, when negotiators of 195 nations agreed to a deal aiming to keep average temperature increases “well below 2 degrees Celsius,” in an effort to avoid catastrophic consequences of climate change. The Secretary General of the United Nations applauded the deal for being the first of its kind concerning climate change, referring to it as “one of the most crucial problems on Earth.”

Agreement Provides Positive Progress

The results of 13 days of intense negotiations in the suburb of Paris are promising. The deal brokered seeks to dramatically reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, and, for the first time, both developing and developed nations are expected to cut emissions. The deal is a framework aimed at keeping average temperature rise “well below” the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, above which scientist predict strong and dangerous weather disturbances. It also expresses the ambition of restricting temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, past which we could witness the disappearance of low-lying islands.

The core of the deal is made of non-binding individual national pledges to reduce emissions. It was the United States that pushed for non-binding rather than binding targets. This approach may seem counter intuitive, but previous agreements largely failed due to their restrictive nature. As political scientist David Victor, from University of California – San Diego, points out, the newfound flexibility is exactly what is needed to build an increasing impactful agreement. This voluntary basis reflects a bottom-up approach where each nation can decide the rate of its cuts in emissions. What is legally binding is that countries must ratchet up their targets every five years and are subject to a transparency mechanism called “monitoring, reporting and verification.” That means, they must submit reports on emissions and emission cuts using a universal accounting system to be reviewed by expert panels. This is extremely positive because it provides a much needed framework for the civil society and the international community to pressure for stronger emission cuts regularly.

While current pledges will only keep temperature rise below 2.7-3.5 degrees Celsius, it is encouraging to see that so many countries have agreed to make pledges, to have their progress monitored and to make stronger pledges regularly. In striking this agreement, governments have made clear their intention to mitigate climate change and have taken the important first step of cooperation, which can only gather momentum as trust continues to be built between parties.

Forests’ Role in Combating Climate Change

The agreement indicates the role forests play in climate mitigation. It encourages parties to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, recognizes the role of conservation and sustainable management of forests and suggests using result-based payments for forest protection. Though the text on forests is succinct, American Forests will keep pushing for smart policy that protects forests and will continue implementing reforestation programs throughout the world so our trees remain valuable carbon sinks.

It is up to all of us to face the climate challenge with determination. This deal established a basis for the work to come, and now, our country must do its part to keep climate change to a minimum. We, at American Forests, are optimistic about the opportunities offered by this deal and hope that you will join us in our steady effort to raise awareness about the importance of forests in climate change mitigation.

GR25: Planting along the Anacostia in 1991

by Megan Higgs
Sunset over the Anacostia River

Sunset over the Anacostia River. Credit: Joseph Gruber via Flickr.

Welcome back, ReLeaf enthusiasts! While it’s been a long road and we’re entering the home stretch, this week’s journey certainly isn’t too far from home for us here at American Forests. In fact, we’re venturing just across D.C. borders to replant with our northern neighbor, Maryland, at the Anacostia River Park!

During this 1991 venture, we partnered with the Prince George’s Departments of Environmental Resources and Public Works, Maryland Forest Park and Wildlife Services, Maryland National Capital Parks and more to plant more than 760 trees within 1,000 feet of the tidal waters of the Anacostia River, which flows from Prince George’s County, through D.C. and into the Potomac River. If there was any river that needed the help, the Anacostia is a worthy contender. Undoubtedly, the Anacostia is both ecologically and historically valuable: John Smith once recorded in his journal that he sailed up the “Eastern Branch” of the river in 1608 while searching for the Potomac, lending it to be called the “Eastern Branch of the Potomac River” in primitive U.S. maps.

In addition to the historical significance of the river’s ties with John Smith and the native Anacostan tribe, the waterway provides crucial habitat source for dozens of species — including Great Egret, Eastern Red-backed Salamander, White perch, Blackburnian warbler, Greater yellowlegs and more.

Despite the waterway’s heritage and refuge for wildlife, rampant pollution and deforestation of areas flanking the river have given it an undesirable name in the last several hundred years — D.C.’s “Forgotten River.” Raw sewage from antiquated sewer systems has spewed billions of gallons of pollution into the river. Coupled with deforestation — approximately 70 percent of the original forest coverage around the river has been removed — and we have a massive problem on our hands.

However, efforts have been made to help clean the river in the last two decades or so — and American Forests is proud to have been part of that effort. By planting more than 760 trees directly by the river, we helped provide additional wildlife habitat and provided an area of buffer for the river, as trees are excellent pollution interceptors and natural filters. In addition, pump station rehabilitation, stormwater management and the Bandalong Litter Trap have all been implemented since our planting to further remove floatable litter, urban runoff, sewage and other contaminants from the river.

Undoubtedly, there’s still work to be done to help the Anacostia. That’s why now — 24 years and nearly 1,000 restoration projects later — we’re still replanting in our own backyard with Anacostia watershed tributaries. In fact, we partnered with the Anacostia Watershed Society and Alcoa Foundation just this year to plant 110 trees along Wells Run, a tributary of the Anacostia. Such efforts will further reduce stormwater volume and contaminant levels, helping to return the Anacostia to more habitable, swimmable and cleaner conditions.

Forest Digest – Week of December 7, 2015

by American Forests

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

COP21: Where Forests Fit in at the Paris Climate Talks

by American Forests

By Andrew Bell, Policy Intern

Eiffel TowerBefore the sun even had its chance to rise on Monday morning, November 30, 2015, speculative chatter of what was to come at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the U.N. climate convention (COP 21) had escalated to a roar. Reports of the Bill Gates-spearheaded billionaire climate club surfaced and breathed new life into negotiations on the gathering’s eve. For some, this was still overshadowed by Congress’ explicit refusal to provide federal funding for whatever the White House pledged in Paris. All the while, resolutions are working their way through the congressional chambers to block landmark achievements of President Obama’s climate agenda, including the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule.

Countries all over the world are facing challenges of their own, both at home and directly at the negotiating table. But, amidst all of the hype and controversy surrounding these monumental talks, forests have largely managed to fly under-the-radar. Given their crucial capacity to store greenhouse gas emissions (currently storing 25 percent of the world’s annual emissions), it may come as a surprise that forest conservation isn’t front and center in this global push for reform. So far, however, this has proved to be fruitful. While lens and pen are concerned with tepid handshakes, tangible progress is being made on the sidelines.

This year happens to mark the 10th anniversary of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), a program designed to help curb GHG emissions through proper forest management introduced at the conference’s 11th meeting in 2005. Unfortunately, its mechanics have been debated significantly since then, and substantial funding has been elusive. In this sense, it’s fitting that the 21st conference kicked off on November 30th with a boost to the program. Norway announced the renewal of its funding partnership with Brazil through 2020 — a country boasting the second largest acreage of forest in the world and a 70 percent reduction in deforestation over the last decade. Joining Norway, the United Kingdom and Germany pledged a collective 5 billion dollars to tropical forests over the next five years. Seventeen countries joined the same day to announce their forest conservation pledges and to discuss just how imperative the world’s forests are to the future of carbon sequestration.

Island Nations

President Obama took the opportunity to proclaim himself an “island boy,” referencing his home state of Hawaii, and voice strong support for building climate resiliency in island nations. When considering rising sea levels and amplified impacts from worsening natural disasters, climate change stands to threaten islands’ already vulnerable forested ecosystems. With their rich biodiversity, economy and livelihood at stake, island nations are looking for leadership in protecting these critical ecosystems for the long haul. In this regard, President Obama got the ball rolling in the right direction with a confident push.

Developing Countries

Given the fevered frenzy of the summit’s opening, these developments made for an admirable step forward. But, in these two weeks of unparalleled momentum, there’s still much to be done to secure the place of forests in a globally sustainable future. Some of the world’s largest and most valuable expanses of forest exist within countries with the highest rates of deforestation. These developing countries often lack the resources to combat illegal timber trade or fund restoration projects, and their forests have suffered in consequence. Through REDD+, and similar mechanisms, the world’s leaders in climate change mitigation can make this tragedy a priority.

What next?

With President Obama’s return, American Forests and the Forest Climate Working Group (FCWG) are ready to present a state toolkit for fully taking advantage of the climate change mitigating benefits that the United States’ domestic forests have to offer. The FCWG’s proposal encourages conservation partnership between public and private entities, working together to ensure American forests’ carbon sequestering capabilities are fully realized. With our forests offsetting 13% of U.S. carbon emissions, more needs to be done in protecting and restoring this valuable resource. In this manner, the United States can lead by action in ensuring our forests are functioning at their fullest potential.

Parcelization, net deforestation and negligence have put forests’ future around the world in jeopardy. But, this weakness can become an overwhelming strength and serve as one of the most effective tools that the earth has to offer in combatting catastrophic climate change. For this reason and innumerable more reasons, we can expect to see forests playing a larger role in climate policy negotiations in COP 21 and beyond.


Wildfires Extend Beyond the Wild in Bastrop, Tex.

by American Forests

By Amelia Loeb, Communications Intern

Bastrop Complex Fire

Taken Sept. 5, 2011 in Bastrop, TX of the Bastrop Complex Fire. Credit: Michael Rose via Flickr.

Wildfires scorch more than just wild vegetation. They extend beyond the forest, where one might go hiking over the weekend, and impact the lives of thousands of people. Climate change and severe weather patterns create conditions favorable for wildfires of increased severity. These fires spread more easily and burn at a higher temperature, with a net result of increased damage to property and ecosystems. Often, they are so hot that they destroy the seed sources, squelching any chance at natural regeneration for the forest. Though wildfires can be beneficial to forests by clearing areas for regrowth and increasing sunlight, wildfires in conditions of high heat, high winds and high drought, are not.

For thousands of years, this cycle of forest fires has been happening naturally to help cleanse forests, with lightning serving as the natural catalyst for the cleanse, says Matt Mears, Reforestation Manager at TreeFolks, an urban forest conservation group based in Austin.

“It’s kind of a complicated issue because fire in this part of the world, is a natural thing, that happens on sort of a regular basis in these kind of systems,” says Mears. “It’s the same in the rest of the Eastern Loblolly pine forest.  They evolved with really frequent fires.”

However, since 1970, annual temperatures in the Western part of the U.S. have risen 1.9°F on average, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Though this may not seem like a large difference to Texas’ arid climate, high temperatures cause forests to become dry and easier to ignite by an errant spark.

This has been the case with the recent wildfires consuming Bastrop, Texas.

“While fire is a natural thing in ecology, when it happens on that scale, it’s just really devastating,” says Mears.

However, increased annual temperatures also cause snow to melt earlier, so that the hottest part of the year coincides with the driest. The dead organic matter accumulates and becomes a huge source of fuel for wildfires, and wildfires are able to spread quicker and burn longer. In comparing 1970 to today, the U.S. Forest Service reports that wildfire seasons are 78 days longer.

Climate change is turning wildfires from a natural cleanse to a dangerous natural disaster.

Bastrop, Texas has experienced two wildfires of this variety in the last five years. In September 2011, a downed power line sparked a wildfire that burned across 34,000 acres, taking the lives of two people and reducing more than 1,600 homes and businesses to ash. The fire burned for 24 days and came to be known as the Bastrop Complex Fire. This past October, a fire known as the Hidden Pines Fire burned 4,582 acres of land and destroyed 64 homes.

After the Bastrop Complex Fire in 2011, American Forests restored 350 acres of the private land that was damaged by planting 54,000 trees. Working with TreeFolks and Alcoa Foundation, loblolly pines were planted to help the Lost Pines ecosystem. A special coating on the needles of loblolly pines allows them to survive the dry climate of central Texas. Their presence creates a habitat for the endangered animals, like the Houston toad, the red-cockaded woodpecker and bachman’s warbler,while protecting the ecosystem.

A Texas National Guard Black Hawk helicopter heads back to battle the blaze after it refills its Bambi Bucket.

A Texas National Guard Black Hawk helicopter heads back to battle the blaze after it refills its Bambi Bucket. Bastrop, Texas, Sept. 6, 2011. Credit: DVIDSHUB via Flickr

One year after this 2011 fire, American Forests helped TreeFolks distribute 10,000 seedlings to landowners affected by the wildfires. Mears emphatically speaks to the importance of helping landowners.

“We try to accelerate the natural process of regeneration,” says Mears. “It’s important for land owners and helps with their healing process. Many of the people we work with lost everything. It’s really special to bring out a hundred volunteers to help land owners plant trees on their property.”

More than 11,360 acres in the burn scar were owned privately and most were moderately to severely burned, meaning that loblolly pine regeneration would not occur naturally. Without a root system, like that of loblolly pines, holding down soil, land is more vulnerable to future damage like erosion and soil loss.

A few months before the Hidden Pines Fire this year, American Forests and TreeFolks collaborated again to plant 2,000 loblolly pines to protect private lands. Alcoa Foundation funded five volunteer events and the planting of thousands of native trees by AmeriCorps members. Though it is unfortunate that much of the land that was replanted was burned again, American Forests and TreeFolks are still committed to reforesting high risk areas.

Studies have shown that reforesting helps to revive land after a forest fire as well as to help the environment. According to the U.S. Forest Service, “prompt reforestation is desirable to prevent soil erosion and protect water quality in streams and lakes.” In comparing wildfires in other parts of the world to those in grassland regions in Africa and Australia, grassland wildfires don’t add a substantial amount of CO2 to the environment. NASA attributes this find to the quick regrowth of vegetation which negates the input of carbon into the atmosphere from the fire.

In Bastrop, the work that American Forests, Alcoa Foundation and Treefolks have done has “allowed reforestation in areas where it might not have been possible. The area may have become established by oaks and other species, or not at all,” says Mears.

Wildfires are becoming more severe due to climate change and the associated erratic weather patterns. The U.S. Forest Service already reported that they spend more than half of their total budget on quenching wildfires. This is 16 percent higher spending than 20 years ago. In addition, urbanized sprawl puts communities at risk due to the close proximity to fuel for the fire.

Forest fires pose a higher risk to the peace between humans and the environment, now more than ever before.  Luckily, there are many ways to mitigate the risks, such as managing land in high risk areas, reducing human-induced sparks and prompt reforestation after a severe wildfire. American Forests, Alcoa Foundation and TreeFolks are working to heal ecosystems after these devastating ecological events.

Forest Digest – Week of November 30, 2015

by American Forests

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

  • Forests in spotlight at Paris climate talks — Nature. com
    With the climate talks taking place in Paris this week and next, forests are a particularly hot topic, both in terms of their importance to fighting climate change as well as the growing difficulty of protecting and expanding forests.
  • Forests Can Only Fight Climate Change if We Become Better Stewards The Tyee
    Because of forests’ important role in combatting climate change, this article provides a Canadian perspective on the essential role humans play in helping to better protect the forests of the world.
  • Growing forests, growing minds Wisconsin Dells Events
    A program in Wisconsin, known as the LEAF program, provides “school forests” to help children learn about the environment and conservation.
  • Biodiversity enhances carbon storage of tropical forests —
    Recent research reveals that the level of biodiversity in tropical forests, which harbor 96 percent of tree species, plays a critical role in tropical forests’ ability to store larger amounts of carbon — as they currently store 25 percent of global carbon.

5 Tips for the Perfect Christmas Tree

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Marketing and Communications Intern

Christmas Tree Tips

Here are some quick and easy tips to make sure you pick the best tree and keep it fresh all holiday season long!

  1. Trust your source
    When picking the perfect Christmas tree, make sure you go somewhere that you trust that provides top-quality trees. This year, American Forests is partnering with Whole Foods Market®, which sells only premium-quality trees, and, in addition, for each tree sold, they plant an evergreen tree with American Forests in a wildland forest in the U.S.
  2. Keep your eyes open
    Before choosing your tree, check the ground around the base of the trees to make sure there aren’t too many pine needles collected on the ground as this is the sign of a less-than-fresh Christmas tree.
  3. Feel it out
    Look for trees with sturdy branches for hanging your ornaments. Another way to check the freshness of a tree is to run your hand along the branches of a tree — if no needles fall off, then you’ve got a good one.
  4. Do you have a type?
    If you have kids (or rowdy pets!) and want to avoid trees with spiny needles, look for a flexible-needled white pine. If you have allergies, a Leyland cypress should do.
  5. Before you decorate
    Once you choose your perfect tree, keeping it watered is important! Just as you would keep the water in your flower vases fresh and filled, do the same for your Christmas tree. A freshly-cut tree can consume an entire gallon of water in just 24 hours!

Lastly, you should feel good about your Christmas tree purchase! Learn more about our partnership with Whole Foods Market, here.

You can also donate directly to American Forests to help plant even more trees! Trees also make the perfect gift for that someone special in your life who cares about protecting our environment. Give your loved ones the Gift of Trees this holiday season!

GR25: Restoring Tropical Forests in Hawaii in 1992

by Megan Higgs

ʻApapane is a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper, that is endemic to Hawaii. Credit: Caleb Slemmons via Flickr.

Lush tropical forests, brightly colored birds and pristine beaches: here in our D.C.-based office, these are all images that certainly evoke envy on a cold, misty December day. They also represent the next site of our 25-year Global ReLeaf journey: Hawaii, the incredibly biodiverse archipelago that comprises our 50th state.

But, with how naturally beautiful Hawaii is, why is there a need to plant more trees?

By essentially being formed as an incredibly isolated entity — an archipelago surrounded by ocean, and created by volcanic hot spots — Hawaii became one of the most uniquely biodiverse regions on the planet, with thousands of unique plant and animal species calling the islands home. In addition, the majority of these species — up to 90 percent — are only found in Hawaii.

Unfortunately, rampant land clearing, agriculture, urbanization and invasive threats have cleared up to 2/3 of the original dry and wet forests and have given Hawaii another nickname — the “extinction capital of the world.”  In fact, nearly 75 percent of all extinctions in the country have occurred in Hawaii, and the islands are still in trouble. While the islands comprise a mere 0.2 percent of the land mass within the entire U.S., they contain more than 30 percent of the nation’s federally listed endangered species due to habitat loss and competition from invasive insects, weeds, diseases, farm animals and more.  Colorful and exotic characters, including the Hawaiian crow, the Hawaiian monk seal, crested honeycreepers and O’ahu tree snails, all continue to suffer from habitat loss and degradation.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat this rampant loss. Biocontrol measures have successfully targeted invasive species removal. Ecotourism on the islands has brought attention and education to many about the importance of conserving this vital resource.  And, of course, forest restoration can be a crucial puzzle piece.

Way back in 1992, we ventured into completing our first landmark project in the islands by planting 32,300 native Acacia koa hardwood trees to provide habitat for several species of native Hawaiian birds, from the crimson ‘Apapane to the pudgy yellow ‘Akiapōlā‘au. This initiative, which marked the first of five years there, worked to restore habitat for these and other native species in Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge. Furthermore, they worked to combat another threat to Hawaii’s many native species: Koa helps create an overstory, which can allow native plants to recapture the site from non-native vegetative competition.

In addition, for those keeping up with American Forests trivia, we actually planted our 1 millionth tree within this project (have you heard about our 50 millionth?)!  As such, this project marked the beginning of a fantastic initiative showing that more work still did — and continues to — need to be done, and we will make sure to continue to do it!

Forest Digest – Week of November 23, 2015

by American Forests
pine cones

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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