Escape to Alaska: Sprucing Things Up in the Backcountry

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

White spruce trees lining wonder lake.

White spruce trees lining wonder lake.

This July, American Forests is gearing up for an adventurous trip into the heart of Denali National Park in Alaska. Before we embark on our journey, let’s take some time to get to know some of the native vegetation that those traveling with us will get the chance to see, such as the white spruce (Picea glauca). The white spruce is native to the northern temperate and boreal forests in North America. It grows abundantly in Denali National Park, and we’ll get the chance to see a generous amount of these beautiful trees because they line Wonder Lake — a secluded Alaskan gem hidden deep in the park and revered for its views of Mount Denali and excellent wildlife spotting.

The white spruce is a member of the pine family that found its roots in central Alaska and across to east and southern Canada. It has now spread its limbs southward into the northernmost U.S. border states such as Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. It is an extremely durable tree species and has been described as a “plastic” species because of its ability to repopulate areas at the end of glaciation. The white spruce can live under highly variable conditions; it grows on a wide variety of soils and has well-developed moss layers that significantly affect the mineral soil.

Known by a variety of names, such as the Canadian spruce, skunk spruce, cat spruce, Black Hills spruce, western white spruce, Alberta white spruce and Porsild spruce, the white spruce gained some of its nicknames because of the strong odor given off by broken needles. If you’re trying to spot one while in Denali, they can be identified by their needles which are a beautiful blue-green color, with white lines lining all sides, and gray-brown bark with white inner bark. White spruces usually live around an impressive 250-300 years and can grow to over three feet in diameter and sometimes more than 100 feet tall.

white spruce foliage.Many useful products can be created from white spruce trees, such as wood fiber and lumber products, and it is known for being one of the most important commercial species in the boreal forest. Historically, the white spruce tree was useful in providing shelter for Native American and white settlers of the northern forest and was the most important species utilized by natives of interior Alaska. Alaskan natives used the wood for fuel and other parts of the tree for uses such as covering summer dwellings, lashing birchbark baskets and canoes and even collecting the resin and extracts from boiled needles for medicinal purposes.

White spruce trees aren’t just helpful to people though — they are eaten occasionally by moose and hares, provide housing for red squirrels and spruce grouse which also consume parts of the tree. They also help our environment by playing a pivotal role in maintaining soil stability and watershed values for recreation. Not only will the white spruce be a beautiful addition to the vast array of plants and animals we will encounter on our trip to Alaska, but it’s also invaluable to the ecosystems that we will be visiting there. Want to experience the white spruce yourself? Join us on this exclusive adventure by registering online!


Meet Our New Manager of Urban Forest Programs

by American Forests

Joe DuckworthJoe Duckworth recently came to American Forests as our new manager of urban forest programs. We’re excited for the experience, perspective and enthusiasm he’s bringing to the position and the organization — and we think you should be excited, too! From his favorite stories in the field to why he chose to work in conservation, read more about Joe.

  • Why did you choose to go into conservation?
    I believe that having a connection to the natural world is very important to a fulfilling life. But, as the world becomes more urbanized and developed, this connection can be harder to achieve. I chose to go in to the conservation field to help build, or maintain, this connection for all people regardless of where they live.
  • What aspects of American Forests’ work are you most excited to be a part of?
    I’m excited to work with our local partners to improve urban forests throughout the country. I’m looking forward to learning about the specific issues that are in their communities and working with them to figure out solutions to difficult problems. I’m also excited to work with them to inspire members of the community to play an active role in their local urban forest.
  • What do you think are the most significant challenges facing forests today?
    One of the greatest challenges in forestry is getting communities to realize the value of trees. The benefits of trees go far beyond aesthetics and can really improve the health, economy and overall quality of life of a community. If we can inspire more people to value and care about trees and forests, the easier it will be to put sound and sustainable management practices in to place.
  • Do you have a favorite story from your years in the field?
    It’s hard to single out just one story. I’ve been fortunate to have some great experiences in amazing places across the country. I’ve gotten to do a wide variety of forest conservation work- from non-native invasive species removal on the Mendocino Coast of California, to fighting fire in the Sierra Nevada, to doing an urban tree inventory in my native Prince George’s County, Md. All of these experiences — and everything in between — have given me great stories, and I look forward to collecting many more.
  • What is your favorite tree and why?
    This may be kind of cliché, but in the front yard of the house where I grew up there was a red maple that I was particularly fond of. It wasn’t the most exciting or unusual tree, but I spent plenty of time around and in it as a kid. I didn’t realize how much it meant to me until it was taken down.

Forest Digest – Week of February 15, 2016

by American Forests

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

Stand of Trees

Credit: Chuck Fazio.


Escape to Alaska: Up Close & Personal with the Dall Sheep

by American Forests

By Shandra Furtado, Communications Intern

Dall Sheep

Dall sheep

Experiencing the vast grandeur of the Alaskan terrain and wildlife is a rejuvenating occasion, one which American Forests is giving individuals the opportunity to explore this July through our Escape to Alaska expedition in Denali National Park.

Across the slopes and ridges of Denali, it’s not uncommon to encounter a group of Dall sheep striding across the uneven surface with a grace that seems impossible for their stature. Groups of bachelor rams travel solo in the mating off-season, sporting hefty curled horns that can weigh up to 22 pounds. Rams with similar sized horns regularly butt heads for status validation. Horn size establishes social hierarchy and mating rights for the fall breeding season, the only time rams associate with the female ewes and young[1].

Ewes typically give birth to one lamb in the spring and select steep rocky habitats during the next few months to lower risk from predators. A balance of proximity between feeding areas and escape terrain is key for protecting the young lambs.

The Dall sheep may be hard-headed, but they are no match for climate change in alpine mountain areas. They have a limited range and specialized habitat and, thus, considered an indicator species by the National Park Service[2]. Dall sheep are remarkably sensitive to shifts in local environmental conditions, such as locations of plant communities and intensifying winter storms. They depend on snow-free areas to forage for food during winter months, and heavier wet snow in the winter months can make climbing high ridges dangerous for the sheep. Conversely, warmer temperatures in summer months are changing the alpine plant communities that the sheep thrive on.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s population estimate has dropped 21 percent in the last two decades[3]. Fortunately for now, the declining population has not pushed the Dall sheep over the edge to endangered species status. Monitoring efforts are currently being used to detect changes in population, sheep diets and climate change associated with the alpine environment[4].

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to see the Dall sheep in all of its mountain glory with us this summer by registering online!

 

  • [1] http://www.denverzoo.org/animals/dalls-sheep-0
  • [2] http://www.nps.gov/articles/sheep-climate-change.htm
  • [3] http://www.adn.com/article/20150213/alaska-dall-sheep-populations-shrink-guides-and-hunters-vie-bigger-share-harvest
  • [4] http://www.nps.gov/gaar/learn/nature/dalls-sheep.htm

American Forests, Eddie Bauer Launch The One Tree Initiative with Philanthropic Ambassador, Ryan Reynolds

by American Forests

Today, we launched The One Tree Initiative with longtime partner Eddie Bauer and their philanthropic ambassador, Ryan Reynolds. The One Tree Initiative focuses on Eddie Bauer’s continued support of our mission to protect and restore forests all over the world, one tree at a time. One person, one dollar and one tree can have an impact on the future of our forests.

We hope the following public service announcement inspires a united commitment to forest conservation.

Learn more about our partnership and how you can help with The One Tree Initiative.

 


How Trees React to Winter Extremes

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

Winter landscape.

Credit: Chuck Fazio, Artist-in-Residence.

In light of the recently dipping temperatures thanks to Winter Storm Jonas, have you ever thought about how certain trees are able to thrive in such extreme cold? While you’re cozying up on the couch this evening with a piping mug of hot chocolate, take a minute to read about the amazing processes trees go through to keep warm through the winter months.

What Happens When It Gets Cold?

Some trees are able to survive down to the temperatures of liquid nitrogen, or -196° C/-320° F! That leads to the question of: how? Trees go dormant in the winter and will acclimate in order to prevent death by ice crystals. See, living things can’t necessarily die from just temperature alone. What is really deadly is when water freezes inside of the cell. When water freezes, its molecules reorient themselves into expanded, geometric shapes that can then rip through the walls of the tree’s cells.

How Do They Do It?

As the days get shorter and temperatures start dropping, a chemical chain reaction occurs, telling the tree that it is time to stop growing in anticipation for winter. These hormones cause leaves to fall, growth to stop, stomata to close, sap to stop flowing, as well as causing physical changes to trees’ cells to allow them to withstand freezing temperatures. During the cell’s physical change, the plasma membrane becomes more flexible, and sometimes even permeable, and sometimes water molecules are swapped out with sugar molecules. Since the plasma membrane now has increased flexibility, it is better equipped to handle the pointiness of frozen water molecules if they happen to puncture through the cell wall. During acclimation, major changes are also happening to the contents of the cell itself. The large vacuole, which usually consists of mostly water, are replaced by smaller compartments of increasingly freeze-resistant starch, proteins and fats.

Super Trees

The last step is one that only certain trees sometimes take to survive through the harsh chill of winter. When temperatures are cold enough, we’re talking like -26° C, certain forms of sugar that fill up the cytoplasmic solution as a reaction to the cold can help water vitrify. Vitrification is a physical state of water that occurs when it freezes, but its cells don’t expand and realign — which leaves the plant cell in an unharmed state of suspended animation. This is how trees at the most extreme global latitudes attempt to handle the deep chill.

Blankets vs. Bark

As you can see, trees have it pretty rough in the winter, but luckily they have developed some pretty unique and interesting adaptations to help them make it until the warmth of spring arrives. Learning about all that trees have to go through every winter makes us appreciate our fireplaces and fuzzy blankets even more! Although the worst of Storm Jonas is over, make sure to layer it on before going outside, and look out for slippery ice on sidewalks. Maybe while you’re on your daily commute, also take a minute to check out the trees in your neighborhood and find out even more about their individual adaptations!


Forest Digest – Week of February 8, 2016

by American Forests

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

Champion Florida Royalpalm.

Champion Florida Royalpalm.


Escape to Alaska: Join Us in July for an Exclusive Adventure

by Ashlan Bonnell

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

Mount Denali

Mount Denali

American Forests invites you to join us on the trip of a lifetime to the wilderness of picturesque Denali National Park in Alaska. From July 2-7, we will be headed to Alaska’s most well-known national park for a magical week of relaxation and re-connecting with nature. After beginning our trip in Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, we will continue our journey into the heart of Denali National Park. What better way is there to celebrate Independence Day than to spend it in one of the most beautiful and pristine places in the United States? Not to mention the fact that there are more bald eagles found in Alaska than in any other state, with a population of about 30,000 birds.

Denali National Park was originally established in 1917 after naturalist Charles Sheldon spent nine years lobbying for legislation to create the park. Not only is Denali the first national park to be created in Alaska, it was also the first national park created explicitly to protect wildlife. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the park’s sprawling 6 million acres of wilderness to catch glimpses of the abundance of wildlife that call Denali home. Ranging from mammals, such as bears, Dall sheep and caribou, to the more than 160 species of birds that call the park home during the summer months, Denali remains unrivaled as the best destination for seeing such diverse wildlife. The park also claims the tallest mountain in North America — Mount Denali stands at an impressive 20,320 feet and was also formerly known as Mount McKinley.

While in Denali we will be staying right at nature’s doorstep, at the remote Kantishna Road House. Here, you will be sure to find peace and serenity, taking in the sights and sounds of nature while participating in activities such as morning hikes or afternoon bike rides through the park. On our morning hikes, we will get the full experience of the Denali wilderness and are sure to come across wildlife that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world, the Dall sheep.

On our last day in the park, we have the unique opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful spots in the heart of Denali: Wonder Lake. Wonder Lake was created by retreating glaciers and offers visitors stunning views of Mount Denali and the Alaska Range. It’s also frequented by wildlife such as waterfowl and the occasional moose. Here, we will canoe across its waters and take in the views before returning to the lodge for cocktails.

With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder why Denali is called the Crown Jewel of the North. In the coming weeks, keep on the lookout for more posts about the native flora and fauna of Denali, as well as more information on one of the trip’s activities we’re most looking forward to: an incredible glass train ride from Denali back to Anchorage.

Sound exciting? Join us on this exclusive adventure by registering online!


Meet Our New Manager of Individual Giving

by American Forests

Ellie ParrishEllie Parrish recently came to American Forests as our new manager of individual giving. We’re excited for the enthusiasm, new ideas and helpful spirit she’s bringing to the position and the organization — and we think you should be excited, too! From her favorite tree to why she wanted to work in conservation, read more about Ellie.

  • Why did you choose to go into conservation?
    The outdoors have always been a big part of my life. My dad was a forester at Pennypack Park in Pennsylvania when I was a child, and he took us to forests all over the country and explained their importance. Today, he runs a tree farm outside of Lynchburg, Virginia, which we work on together. An interest in nature has always run in the family. I received a degree in Urban Planning, which studies the built environment; looking at how the built environment affects the natural environment was always one of my favorite topics. Being able to apply that interest to my career is the most exciting part of working at American Forests.
  • What aspects of American Forests’ work are you most excited to be a part of?
    I really enjoy looking up trees in the National Big Tree program. It’s amazing that a piece of American Forests’ work has been around, and continuously growing, for such a long time. I also look forward to the Global ReLeaf projects that American Forests will be a part of in 2016.
  • What do you think are the most significant challenges facing forests today?
    I think invasive species are one of the top concerns for not only forests but also a variety of ecosystems. I am very thankful that there are a growing number of initiatives addressing not only controlling invasive species, but also in educating all of us in being mindful of the species we introduce into gardens, public parks and rivers.
  • Do you have a favorite story from your years in the field?
    I worked at a small nursery in Richmond, VA before I moved to D.C. I greatly enjoyed engaging with customers about trees around Richmond, especially a large Dawn Redwood growing on the nursery property, old trees lining Monument Avenue and the growth around the James River. The growing community effort towards keeping the riparian area around the James River maintained is remarkable.
  • What is your favorite tree and why?
    The southern magnolia holds a special place in my heart. They were all over the place near my Grandmother’s home, and they’re a reminder of summers spent with my family.

Forest Digest – Week of February 1, 2016

by American Forests

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