Forest Digest – Week of February 29, 2016

by American Forests

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

Escape to Alaska: A Glass Train Ride through the Alaskan Wilderness

by American Forests

By Shandra Furtado, Communications Intern

DenaliThis summer American Forests and its partners will be hosting a six-day Alaskan excursion in Denali National Park. The trip offers a great juxtaposition of adventurous and relaxing activities, from backcountry hikes to lounging in the lodge’s exclusive spa.

Even the last day of the trip doesn’t denote the end of the adventure, as we will be embarking on a glass train ride back to Anchorage with stunning views along the way.

On the Alaska Railroad Deluxe Dome Car service, large curved glass windows that run the length of the car give passengers 360-degree views of the surrounding wildlife. There is also a second level outdoor viewing platform, which is said to be the only one of its kind in the world. This is a great place to enjoy a cocktail and revel in the fresh air and scenery. Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife throughout the trip, especially for commonly spotted animals such as dall sheep, bears, moose, eagles, beavers, wolves and swans. An on-train tour narration is provided over a PA system by host guides.

glass train ride

Credit: oklanica via Flickr.

Right after leaving Denali National Park, we will go through Broad Pass, the highest point on the Alaskan railroad. You will be surrounded by a beautiful panoramic view of the Alaska Range Mountains and the evergreen forests that surround the pass. The summer deciduous trees will be in full bloom, giving a colorful contrast to the snowcapped mountains in the background.

Before approaching Talkeetna, we’ll cross the 918-foot Hurricane Gulch Bridge, which towers almost 300 feet above the creek below. The view of the bridge alone is breathtaking, but the view from the bridge is even better. It’s considered one of the route’s best photo opportunities, so be sure to have your camera ready.

On a clear day, you are able to see Mt. Denali, North America’s tallest mountain, for most of the train ride. Recently changed back from being Mt. McKinley by efforts to preserve the native name, the original name “Denali” is based on a native Koyukon Athabascan verb meaning “high” or “tall.” Around three hours from the end of the trip, we will be approaching some of the most spectacular views of Mt. Denali. If the weather is good, the train will slow to allow passengers to take photos. Once we arrive in Anchorage a few hours later, you will be able to get transportation to the airport or your hotel for the evening.

Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to experience Alaska’s wildlife and learn about the native history of the area. Sign up for the trip today!

7 Everyday Items Made from Trees

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

We all know that trees supply us with some amazing resources, from the material resources — like wood which we use to create anything from furniture and wooden cabins, to printer paper and coffee cup sleeves — to the health, both mental and physical, and environmental resources and benefits provided by forests. But, trees actually provide us with many more useful everyday items than what you may realize. Some of these are products most people wouldn’t think originated from trees, which only further exemplifies the value of preserving our trees and forests!

1. Wine Corks

While opening up a bottle of pinot grigio or cabernet, have you ever stopped to think about where the cork comes from? Well, wine corks are actually made from the bark of the cork oak tree, which can be found mainly in Portugal and Spain. The tree bark is harvested every nine years as to not harm the tree since the cork bark regrows.

The cork bark planks are then boiled to soften and clean them. Next, the planks are cut into workable pieces, and then corks are punched out either by hand, or by machine. These are considered high-grade corks, and the remainder of the plank will be ground up to make granules which can then be glued together to make agglomerate cork.

Cork oak bark.

Cork oak bark.

2. Natural Aspirin and Acne Medication

Willow bark, also known as “nature’s aspirin,” contains a precursor to aspirin, which essentially provides the same benefits as the tablet. Early incarnations of aspirin were made by boiling the bark of the white willow tree. Medicines made from the willow tree and other salicylate-rich plants appear in Egyptian pharonic pharmacology papyri as early as the second millennium BC.

Willow bark extract can also be found in cosmetics and personal care products due to its astringent, anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. It contains salicylic acid, a BHA that is a natural exfoliant used in acne treatments because of its abilities to help the skin shed dead cells while clearing pores.


Aspirin tablets.

3. Sponges

There are now sponges made from renewable plant-based materials such as cotton fiber and wood pulp. These sponges are fully biodegradable and the manufacturing process to make them releases fewer environmental toxins than their plastic counterparts.

Sponges made from trees.

Sponges made from trees.

4. Chewing Gum

For centuries, the ancient Greeks chewed on mastic gum, or the resin contained in the bark of the mastic tree. Grecian women especially liked chewing on the gum to clean their teeth and sweeten their breath.

The gum that we chew on nowadays evolved from a chicle-based gum introduced to the United States in the early 1860s. Chicle is derived from the juice of the sapodilla tree that grows in the rain forests of Central America.

Sapodilla gum.

Sapodilla tree.

5. Carnauba Wax

Carnauba wax comes from the leaves of the palm Copernicia prunifera, a plant that is native to, and grown only in, parts of northeastern Brazil. The wax is obtained from the leaves of the palm by collecting and drying them and then beating them in order to loosen the wax.

Most people know that carnauba wax is used regularly in automobile waxes, but it is also commonly used to produce shoe polishes, dental floss, food products — such as candy coating — and floor and furniture waxes and polishes. Carnauba wax is hypoallergenic and, therefore, also used in cosmetics like lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, eyeshadow, foundation, deodorant and many more.

Carnauba trees.

Copernicia prunifera.

6. Henna Dye

The leaves from the henna tree have been used for thousands of year to create beauty products such as hair dye and henna paste, which is used to create beautiful henna tattoos. The leaves are dried, crushed and then mixed with liquids, like water, lemon juice or tea, to create a paste before being applied to the skin to create a temporary tattoo.

These tattoos have adorned women’s bodies as a part of social and holiday celebrations since the late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean. Bridal Mehndi is also a common practice in Pakistan, Northern Libya and India.

Henna tattoo.

Henna tattoo.

7. Rubber

Many people don’t realize that commonly used materials, such as rubber, come from trees. Rubber is sourced from the rubber tree through tapping the tree for its sap, which is known as latex. The rubber tree, which is native to the rainforests of the Amazon, can be tapped for latex once it reaches approximately six years of age.

Tapping into trees for rubber.

Tapping into trees for rubber.


Forest Digest – Week of February 22, 2016

by American Forests

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

Tropical Forest

Credit: Mathias Rodriguez via Flickr.

  • 3D ‘cyberforests’ created to predict effects of climate changeEconomic Times
    A new study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science reveals a 3D-model computer simulation of forests that will help scientists predict the effects of climate change and other related concerns, including drought and wildfires, on actual living forests.
  • New insights into the seasonality of Amazon’s evergreen forests — National Science Foundation
    In this Q&A learn about new research being conducted into the individual details of tropical evergreen forests, revealing the seasonality of the Amazon rain forest.
  • House Republicans seek to open up national forests to mining and loggingThe Guardian
    Just following the recent takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge, Congress is considering two different bills which would potentially loosen federal authority and allow states to release tracts of public land for mining, logging and other commercial operations.
  • How Forest Loss Is Leading To a Rise in Human DiseaseYale Environment 360
    Additional research provides evidence of the impact of the felling of tropical forests on the increase and spread of diseases, such as malaria and dengue, via mosquitos as well as diseases spread by primates and other animals due to forest clearing.

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]
  • [2]
  • [3]
  • [4]

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!