AMERICA HAS NEVER HAD more power or more promise, and yet we live in a time when our ties as a nation feel frayed and many people struggle to feel hopeful for our future. As a newcomer to American Forests, I have immediately been uplifted by the potential for the work of restoring forests to also restore our hope and our unity as a nation.
All across the United States, we are having difficult, and often politically partisan, debates about issues like health care and the future of our economy. These are real and important issues for our country, and sometimes necessitate hard conversations where we won’t always easily agree.
Yet, bring up the topic of America’s trees and forests, and our deep common bonds as a country become immediately apparent. Our country was literally built with timber from our forests like white pine and white oak. Our forests were an early source of national power. Even today, if you like to sip a glass of bourbon or wine, you are drinking from American white oak barrels that flavor these beverages. Many of our fellow Americans — 2.4 million in total — still make a living from forestry work like creating whiskey and wine barrels and other forest products. Our forests unite and enrich us.
Speaking of drinking, our forests also collect and filter more than half of the drinking water that Americans consume each day. Red states and blue states alike, our country was developed around certain water-rich forests that provide for the cities down below. In fact, our 193 million acres of national forests owned together by every American were situated in certain locations precisely so that they could assure permanent protection for our most important water supplies.
During this “crazy busy” age when we have never more urgently needed restorative time outdoors, our forests also stand ready to rejuvenate Americans one and all. Whether you are a fan of contemplative “forest bathing” and wildlife viewing or prefer high-energy activities, like mountain biking and hiking, forests offer us all refuge — and even a chance to reconnect with each other.
But, as we all share in bounty of our forests, we all share in the obligation to care for this critical resource. This, too, can and must bring us together.
Our forests face incredible pressures. Raging “super fires” in the West and rapidly growing pest infestations, like emerald ash borer, create unprecedented restoration challenges such as replanting vast areas devastated by wildfire and replacing entire city tree canopies that will be lost to pests. Climate change is already creating its own stress on forests, including worsened drought and widespread tree mortality in some areas. We also have many “former forests” that remain a challenge to our nation’s resolve — like abandoned mine lands in the Central Appalachians and Heartland states where American Forests has begun to rip and replant desolate mining hardscapes that will once again become soaring native forests.
While taking care of our forests requires shared investment of time, money and commitment, this challenge actually offers one last gift to our country — shared purpose. American Forests long ago adopted an organizational commitment to working in partnership everywhere we go. This means replanting trees on vacant city lots with passionate neighborhood groups that create employment and educational opportunities for local residents. It means partnering with community-based forest restoration groups in rural areas to help empower local people and employment. And, it means engaging volunteers everywhere we can, so as many people as possible can participate in the healing act of planting trees and caring for our forests.
It was Teddy Roosevelt who said, “When you help to plant trees and preserve forests, you are acting the part of good citizens.” Right now, that kind of shared sense of citizenship is especially important for our country. So, as we push our forest restoration work to an unprecedented scale of ambition, in cities and landscapes alike, American Forests is going to work harder than ever to create opportunities for Americans of all backgrounds to play a part in this work, planting hope together. Surely this is a vision we can all agree on.