Why I’m Here: Shaping the Connection between Policy and Forests

by American Forests

By Keelin Arseneault, Policy Intern

Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire.

Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire.

Even though it’s the coldest time of year and the trees around us aren’t looking full and green, I am still excited to begin working at American Forests as a spring policy intern in 2016. I moved from New England to Washington, D.C. for the semester, and one might wonder how I ended up here at American Forests. To sum up the answer to that question in simplest form, I must refer to a quotation from the main character of a beloved Dr. Seuss children’s book, The Lorax, who famously said, “I speak for the trees.” To me, this allusion is a personal goal and means being a part of the voice that speaks for the forests because they truly cannot speak for themselves. Becoming involved and making a difference in this mission of not only working to protect and restore forests, but also inspiring others to be part of the voice on their behalf, is what I hope to help accomplish as an intern at American Forests.

I grew up in a small farm town in New Hampshire, and this beautiful state is truly where my passion for nature began. With teeming forests full of evergreen and red maple trees surrounding me, I have always felt most at home in the woods, breathing in the pristine air and listening to birds chirping to see how many I can identify just by sound. I was the type of child who preferred climbing any tree I could manage rather than watching television. School field trips to local conservation areas were always my favorite, and traveling north to see the majestic White Mountains and Flume Gorge was an experience that made me feel genuinely connected with the environment around me. All of these factors contributing to my love of nature motivated me to study conservation biology.

It is through my collegiate studies that I learned about the in-depth science behind the threats of climate change and how significantly they impact life on Earth. The concepts sounded so grim that I began wondering if there was any positive light to be shed on the subject. During lectures on deforestation or the endangerment to our native orchids, I would start imagining the world without trees and forests. What would my home be without the beauty of trees, the birds singing cheerily in their forest homes, the irreplaceable landmarks we visit and the overall tranquility that comes from appreciating our planet’s natural wonders? For me, home would simply not be home anymore.

I am fascinated by the biological effects of climate change, but as those lectures continued to grow bleaker, I started feeling an itch to do more than just sit there listening to the dismal prospects. I wanted to do something to change them, and from this moment on, I realized it was time for me to focus more on environmental policy.

Through my biology classes, I quickly learned that forests were not only an incredible resource for those seeking a place to feel peaceful, but also for the health of our planet. I gained knowledge about the scientific research behind the many benefits forests provide, but wanted to get more involved in the policy process of actually ensuring their survival. This is why I sought out the opportunity to intern at American Forests. I am looking forward to learning more about the crucial connection between the health of forests and the policies that help protect and restore them. I hope to learn extensively about the conservation of rural wildland forests, some of them far away from the center of federal policy in Washington, D.C.

My journey has led me to intern at American Forests, and this is how I was inspired to join the amazing mission here. I hope to contribute as much as I can to speaking for the forests across our country, and if you want this path to be a part of your story, too, I encourage you to sit outside among the trees, even for a few moments, and be inspired to take action.

Forest Digest – Week of January 25, 2016

by American Forests
George Washington National Forest

A proposed pipeline would have cleared a swath through George Washington (pictured above) and Monongahela national forests. Photo credit: Aneta Kaluzna.

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

2016 Marks National Park Service Centennial

by American Forests

By Etienne Laffargue, Policy Intern

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park. Credit: Chuck Fazio, our Artist-in-Residence.

Over the last century, the National Park Service (NPS) has played an essential role in forest preservation and outdoor recreation in the United States. Lately, it has been reaching out to the public through a variety of ways, but as it moves into its second century, the Service still faces important maintenance backlog and budget issues.

The “Find Your Park” initiative was adopted by the National Park Service to attract a new generation of visitors to the outdoors. It was promoted by Bill Nye the Science Guy by means of a short video in which he picks up two surprised New Yorkers from a taxi cab and treats them to an exclusive tour of the city’s parks and monuments — click here to watch it! This past year, the president’s administration has also been encouraging kids and families to explore the outdoors though a program called “Every Kid in a Park.” All fourth graders are now entitled to a free pass to the National Parks for the entirety of a year!

These programs are a prelude to the day the National Park Service celebrates its centennial, August 25, 2016, and folks are excited about it.

Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska said in a recent hearing concerning the administration’s proposed National Park Service Centennial Act that this anniversary “offers us a chance to ensure the national park systems’ sustainability for the next 100 years to come is in place.” She also added, “I think it will take a serious effort to achieve that goal.”

And, rightly so. The conversation during the two hearings on the Centennial Act (S. 2257 and H.R. 3556) centered on the enormity of the maintenance backlog and how much of it can to be addressed. The current backlog of all NPS units has a price tag of $11.5 billion due to facility construction dating back to the ‘60s, the increase in visitations and the lack of allocated funding to restore the infrastructure. In the previous federal funding requests, the administration has asked for appropriations at the level of the hundreds of millions which would only make a small dent in the maintenance backlog. Still, Congress is not convinced that money alone will resolve the issue. NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis says monuments are being destroyed because there is no money to maintain them and insists that the money that is appropriated goes first to maintenance to protect the health and safety of visitors and workers.

As a French citizen, I consider myself lucky to have explored a wide range of diverse National Parks both in the East and the West of the United States. I have wonderful memories in parks such as Shenandoah National Park close to Washington, D.C. and Yosemite in California. These landscapes are natural wonders. As I reflect on my internship at American Forests, I am happy to have done my part to raise awareness about the issues these parks face. The experience of America’s national parks, and their diverse wildlife, is one of the greatest gifts America gave to me during my visits, and I will ever be grateful to the men and women taking care of these treasures. I hope Congress will have the courage to invest in much needed renovation and maintenance on the National Parks and other units, which are really international treasures.

If you also are grateful for the natural wonders that the Park Service protects, stay passionate, share your experiences, stay tuned on the Centennial Act and celebrations and find out about exciting projects that celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park service, such as this one around Lake Jenny, Grand Teton National Park’s most visited destination!

Why I’m Here: The Necessity of Policy for Environmental Protection and Conservation

by American Forests

By Andy Logan, Policy Intern

Andy hiking in western North Carolina with his golden retriever, Jake.

Andy hiking in western North Carolina with his golden retriever, Jake.

It is safe to say that my surroundings have had the greatest impact on my interests and how I ended up working as a policy intern at American Forests. I was born and raised in the mountains of western North Carolina, and this is where I call home. Living in the mountains has provided me with amazing opportunities, as breathtaking views, endless miles of trails and waterfalls are never more than a short drive away.

My childhood was centered on the outdoors, and being in the woods was second nature to me. Family vacations were always weekend camping trips with plenty of hiking, biking and canoeing during the day. While most kids wanted to go to an amusement park, my brother and I preferred a weekend out at Davidson River Campground finding swimming holes and trails to roam. However, I didn’t need a big weekend camping trip to get outdoors. The woods right in my own backyard were a playground where all the neighborhood kids played until the very last minute of daylight.

Nature is what I associate with friends and family.

Nature also played a role in other aspects of my childhood. I joined the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) at an early age, and it furthered my love of the outdoors through week-long summer camps and weekend backpacking trips. The BSA taught us how to plan and prepare for the unpredictability of nature, as well as how to treat the environment with respect and live with it, not just in it — Leave No Trace! As you can see, much of my free time has been spent in the forests of North Carolina, and I feel connected to that land more than anything.

It wasn’t until my environmental science classes in high school when I began to realize how many threats there are to the environment. It was overwhelming. Pollution, natural resource usage, land usage, fossil fuels, population growth, climate change, deforestation, urban sprawl and the list goes on. To think of how to solve these problems all at once is enough in itself to give someone a headache. Learning about these issues made me fearful for not only the future of the mountains I call home but for the environment, in general.

Andy in 7th grade backpacking with the BSA.

Andy in 7th grade backpacking with the BSA.

Protecting forests is essential in many aspects of environmental conservation efforts as trees provide ecological services that make life possible. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and polluted air and, in turn, release oxygen, as well as their role in naturally filtering water. By taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, trees are critical in combating climate change and its effects. The destruction of forests hinders their natural ability to help keep the environmental healthy.

I believe that smart policy is one of the most effective ways to ensure a sustainable future and healthy environment. With the right policy in place and proper implementation, we can work to protect the forests that provide the invaluable resources necessary for life. By representing U.S. forests conservation interests, American Forests makes efficient and practical environmental legislation a primary concern. I am excited about my opportunity to work with American Forests as a policy intern this spring and the contributions I will be able to make to this organization and its numerous programs.

With more than 80 percent of Americans living in urban areas, society is becoming increasingly urbanized. So, more trees within our communities is becoming increasingly important. American Forests defines urban forests as “ecosystems of trees and other vegetation in and around communities that may consist of street and yard trees, vegetation within parks and along public rights of way and water systems.” Additionally, urban forests “provide communities with environmental, economic and social benefits and habitat for fish and wildlife.” American Forests’ Urban Forests and Community ReLeaf programs aim to raise awareness about the necessity of urban forests and provide resources to help cities understand and develop their urban forests.

As I start my semester of working with American Forests, I welcome you to get involved with this wonderful organization as we pursue the protection and conservation of the forests that provide the ecological services necessary for life.

Forest Digest – Week of January 18, 2016

by American Forests
Dense forest

Credit: Chuck Fazio, Artist-in-Residence.

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

American Forests Named Official Green Partner of 22nd Annual SAG Awards

by American Forests

By Lea Sloan, Vice President of Communications

Attendees of the SAG Awards American Forests press event.

American Forests’ President & CEO, Scott Steen, with actress Katie Lowes and Kathy Connell, executive producer of the SAG Awards.

This morning, the stars literally aligned for American Forests, thanks to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. A little more than a week before the 22nd annual presentation of the SAG Awards and live television broadcast (Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. ET on TBS and TNT), American Forests was announced as their environmental partner for 2016, at a media conference and tree planting ceremony beside the Los Angeles River.

American Forests will be planting one tree in Angeles National Forest for every SAG Awards guest. What does Angeles National Forest have to do with the Los Angeles River, you ask?  Actually, quite a bit! The forest is the source of the river, and it’s an 800-plus square-mile watershed.

The SAG Awards’ commitment to environmental causes is noteworthy. It has been honored with the Green Seal by the Environmental Media Association for each of the last seven years, the only television special event to have achieved that stature.

The site chosen for the media conference is a pocket park in Sherman Oaks, part of the massive LA Riverworks project, a remarkable, ambitious, billion-dollar project aiming to reclaim and transform the LA River over the next 20-50 years. The tree planted this morning was a Fremont cottonwood, chosen as it is a native tree suited for a riverside environment in LA’s rare Mediterranean climate.

As the East Coast braces for a major snowstorm and the West coast dodges the fickle weather delivered by El Niño, the day dawned blessedly bright and mild.

Dozens of media members gathered to see and hear Katie Lowes, star on ABC’s hit show “Scandal” and SAG Awards’ social media ambassador; Kathy Connell, SAG Awards Executive Producer; JoBeth Williams, Chair, SAG Awards Committee and President of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Board; Woody Schultz, known for his work on Avatar, American Pie and Beowulf and SAG Awards Committee member; Kevin James, Board of Public Works Commission President and LA’s Chief Film Liaison; and our own Scott Steen, American Forests’ President and CEO.

Even the German Shepherd next door stopped barking to listen.

American Forests was also excited to announce our new Text-to-Give number, allowing SAG Awards guests and viewers (just like you!) to plant 10 trees for $10. To join in the fun and help plant a tree in Angeles National Forest, text FORESTS to 80077. You can make a difference!

American Forests Partners with Verizon, NFL to Make Super Bowl 50 “Green”

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

Chips Forest fire scar.

Chips Forest fire scar.

American Forests is excited to announce a partnership with the National Football League (NFL), the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee and Verizon to plant trees on behalf of Super Bowl 50. Our partnership goes beyond February 7th’s big game as we work in 2016 to plant 28,500 trees as part of our Chips Forest Restoration project in Lassen National Forest, where Verizon has committed to planting 21,000 trees — enough to restore a forest equivalent to the footprint of Levi’s Stadium, the Super Bowl 50 venue — and the NFL also added an additional 7,500 trees.

The Chips Forest Restoration Project seeks to restore a large portion of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which was severely damaged by a fire in 2012. The fire raged on for more than a month and destroyed more than 75,000 acres along the mountain range. By planting a mixture of conifers in the area, vegetation species diversity will be improved, which will consequently improve watershed and soil conditions and aid in carbon sequestration. The importance of healthy California watersheds cannot be stressed enough — the upper watersheds of Lassen National Forest flow into streams that support the federally-listed threatened species Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. The same watersheds ultimately flow into the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay Delta Watershed, which is the primary source of drinking water for 25 million California residents.

The restoration project is also set to include a summer camp program, catering to elementary school-age children, with the purpose of introducing them to what makes the forest unique. The children will be guided by camp staff, as well as natural resource professionals, on educational hiking and climbing activities on the eastern shore of Eagle Lake, Calif.

In addition, as part of a wider effort to illustrate their dedication to the welfare of our environment, the NFL, the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee and Verizon have teamed up to develop a series of initiatives, including their Urban Forestry Project. They intend for these initiatives to reduce the environmental impacts of this year’s Super Bowl activities in order to create a “green legacy” for the San Francisco Bay Area and to offset emissions both created by travel-related pollution and when renewable power is not feasible during the Super Bowl.

The Urban Forestry Project will consist of several tree plantings that will take place in the Bay area this January. These include a planting in Palo Alto at the MLK Jr. Park on the 18th in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a Celebration of Trees Event at Everett Middle School in San Francisco on the 22nd. The Celebration of Trees Event invites representatives from all of the local participating urban forestry organizations in the Bay Area to attend, along with representatives from the NFL, the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, American Forests and Verizon — to celebrate 10 local urban forestry projects, and two large-scale reforestation projects, including the Chips Forest Restoration project.

Forest Digest – Week of January 11, 2016

by American Forests
Trees with heavy snow

Credit: Chuck Burgess via Flickr

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

And the award goes to…Best Trees in Film History

by Christopher Horn

With movie awards season in full swing, we wanted to take a look at some of the biggest and best tree performances over the course of film history. And, as the official green partner of the 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards (Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. ET on TBS and TNT), these are a few award winners we’re confident in selecting!

Best Action Performance

Groot from “Guardians of the Galaxy”


Though he’s not from Earth, Marvel Comic’s Groot has arboreal features that were brought to the silver screen in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” His speaking skills are limited — he pretty much only says “I am Groot” — his fighting abilities are not!

Best Horror Scene

The Gnarled Tree from “Poltergeist”

poltergeist tree

Credit: PhillyTrees.

While ghosts, ax murderers and vampires get a lot of horror film credits, trees have played in a couple noteworthy roles — remember the creepy Tree of the Dead from “Sleepy Hollow” that houses the heads of the Horseman’s victims? Despite this, 1982’s horror gem “Poltergeist” takes the crown for trees in the genre. Amid an array of supernatural phenomena plaguing a family, a possessed tree in the backyard scoops a kid out of his bed and attempts to eat him. Now, that’s freaky!

Best Actor

The Apple Tree from “The Wizard of Oz”

Tree from Wizard of Oz

Credit: oz.wikia.com.

Forgetting she wasn’t in Kansas anymore, a very hungry Dorothy attempts to take an apple from a well-spoken tree and immediately regrets it. Combining a sharp tongue and husky growl, the Apple Tree vividly captured the essence of rotten fruit in this movie classic. The role required some athletic skill, too — after the Scarecrow fires an insult about worms in his apples, the Apple Tree winds up and throws at fastball, knocking the Scarecrow over.

Best Actress

Grandmother Willow from “Pocahontas”

Grandmother Willow

Credit: Disney.

Speaking of sharp tongues, no other tree in film history could crack a one-liner like Grandmother Willow in Disney’s “Pocahontas.” With a quirky charm and centuries-old wisdom, Grandmother Willow blended humor with sage advice to help Pocahontas paint with all the colors of the wind. She also showed off her singing chops in the song “Listen with Your Heart.”

Best Ensemble Cast

The Ents from “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”


There’s no better ensemble cast than the Ents of Middle-earth in the second film of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Led by long-winded Treebeard, the group of forest guardians attack Isengard, home to the wizard Saruman who has decimated the surrounding forest. With rocks and stone and a pair of hobbits, Treebeard and the Ents attack the tower, avenge the loss of their tree friends and end Saruman’s assault on the forest they call home.

Have other favorites? Please share with us in the comments!

Restoring the Longleaf Pine on Tyndall Air Force Base

by American Forests

By Sydney Mucha, Communications Intern

longleaf pine

Longleaf pine stands provide vital habitat and food for many organisms by helping feed the fire regime. Photo credit: US F&W Service/Flickr

Now that the weather is getting colder and colder in so many parts of the country, many of us have fantasized of moving to Florida. Well, many tree and animal species are lucky enough to call the sunshine state home. And, thanks to American Forests’ partnership with the Longleaf Alliance in 2015 as part of our Global Releaf program, their home at the Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City got a major upgrade! In fact, 68,000 longleaf pine, a keystone species, were planted across 100 acres.

The Longleaf Alliance was created to ease communication between private landowners, forest industries, state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, scientists and tree huggers alike and provide them with the education needed to help the longleaf pine thrive from Virginia to Florida. With their help, the longleaf pine is being restored and managed all along the southeast, where ecosystems are beginning to thrive!

The longleaf pine is considered extremely important in the south since it has the ability to grow in sandy, dry, infertile soil as well as on steep or mountainous slopes. This enables the pine to prevent soil erosion, which can be damaging to coastal and freshwater ecosystems. They are also extremely resistant to pine beetles, forest diseases, fire and strong storms, making them ideal for coastal areas and forests. All these qualities make the longleaf pine an amazing tree that provides habitat for a wide range of species, such as the endangered gopher tortoise and the Bachmann’s sparrow.

gopher tortoise

Fires are fueled by longleaf pine needles, which help keep shrubs small enough for gopher tortoises to eat. Photo credit: vladeb/Flickr

Gopher tortoises are long-lived, threatened reptiles that frequent longleaf pine stands and eat the low-growing vegetation. These land-dwelling creatures build borrows in the sand, and once they migrate to a different area, another creature will continue to use the abandon borrow. Bachmann’s sparrows live in the understory of old-growth longleaf pine stands, but as habitat destruction has increased due to urbanization, they are becoming a rare site. What is even more interesting is that longleaf pine ecosystems also provide habitat for at least 27 other endangered species in the southeast. This tree is vital to their prosperity, making restoration and management the key to their success.

While this site may not be different from other longleaf restoration project sites, Robert Abernethy, President of the Longleaf Association did say, “that the site will be beneficial to the wildlife that use the longleaf habitat and will provide military personnel, as well as the public, with improved recreational opportunities such as hunting, camping, hiking and bicycling.”

The longleaf is also extremely long lived — 450 plus years — which will make this site last for “nearly half a millennium,” and go on to provide habitat and recreation for generations to come. American Forests is happy to help support projects such as this, and we hope all of you take the time to visit this site or other longleaf pine forests!