By Scott Steen

Scott Steen Chief Executive Officer

This summer, our board of directors approved a new strategic plan for American Forests. While I realize that most strategic plans are hardly earth shattering stuff, this one is different. Our new plan continues to sharpen our focus in some very exciting ways.

The new plan establishes American Forests even more firmly as a conservation organization focused on forests as vital ecosystems that provide important benefits for the health of the planet and its inhabitants. While we will continue the critical work of planting millions of trees each year, our activities will also expand to more fully encompass issues like water (more than half of our drinking water comes from forests), wildlife habit, the effects of invasive plants and insects, managing the impacts of climate change, and caring for the urban forest ecosystems where most of us live.

We plan to increase our focus on environmental science and forest ecology. This underscores the importance of grounding our work in sound science, as well as supporting, advocating for, and spotlighting important research that helps all of us better understand the many roles forests play in the health of our planet.

One new section of the plan addresses our goals. The goals described in these five statements will, in effect, become a guide for all our work, ensuring that our efforts are always focused on what we believe are the most important outcomes and that our donors’ money is spent in ways that achieve the maximum impact.

Mountain pine beetle damage at Dillion Reservoir, Colorado. Credit: Joe McDaniel/iStockphoto

GOAL 1: Threatened forests restored to health.
Today, many forests are in danger. Major threats include climate change, invasive plant species, insects, disease, significant increases in wildfire, and conversion of forested land to non-forest uses. While we will be addressing these threats generally, we will also focus on specific ecosystems that are profoundly threatened right now. For example, in 2012, we will launch a major campaign to address the devastation in the forests of the Western Mountains, a result of the mountain pine beetle and a disease called blister rust. Our work will include restoring damaged areas, as well as working with partners to bring attention to the issue and to support research to strengthen keystone species like whitebark pine.

GOAL 2: Healthy and expanding forest cover in both urban and rural areas.
Forest health is closely related to the health of the planet. To this end, we will be planting an additional 25 million trees over the next five years, adding to the 37 million we have already planted. We will also expand our efforts in urban forests, working with the U.S. Forest Service and partners across the country to spotlight cities and towns that are nurturing and expanding their tree canopy and educating citizens and policymakers alike about the remarkable benefits of urban trees and forests.

GOAL 3: High priority for environmental benefits in the management of public and private forests.
Forests provide a host of services for humans and all other living things. They produce oxygen, strip pollutants from the air, provide animal habitat, filter drinking water, and remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Quite simply, we can’t live without them. Yet forests are typically valued more for wood and pulp than for the remarkable environmental benefits they provide when they are cared for and left standing. Maximizing these environmental benefits will become a key criterion in our selection of forest restoration projects. We will also be working with universities to further research related to measuring and enhancing the environmental benefits of forests and trees.

GOAL 4: Recognition that healthy forests are vital to life.
While most people probably realize that trees are good for the environment, many do not have a full understanding of just how important forests are for the health of our planet and for all living things. To achieve progress toward this goal, we will be ramping up our public education activities to young people, adults, communities, and policymakers alike.

GOAL 5: Policymakers address major threats to forests proactively.
Our final goal is to create a climate in which policymakers are not merely knowledgeable about the threats to our forests but take timely action to address them. For American Forests, this means mobilizing like-minded people to take action, educating and communicating with policymakers, and working collaboratively to evolve practical, long-term solutions.

Taken together, the plan to achieve these five goals is a bold declaration of what we stand for and where we are headed. We are glad to have you with us on this journey.