By Jad Daley

In 2015, when this aerial photo was taken, the Sierra National Forest had nearly 6 million dead trees; however, today, it is cumulatively at 35.5 million.
In 2015, when this aerial photo was taken, the Sierra National Forest had nearly 6 million dead trees; however, today, it is cumulatively at 35.5 million. Credit: Brittany Dyer.

I LOVE THAT AMERICAN FORESTS can take direct action for our vision and values through tree planting and other forest restoration. From expanding urban forests in places like Detroit and Miami to restoring mountain forests across landscapes like the Sierra Nevada and Central Appalachians, we are playing a key role in creating healthy and resilient forests across cities and landscapes alike. One perk of my job is participating in events around the country where I get to experience this important work firsthand and get some dirt under my fingernails.

With such tangible on-the- ground accomplishments, it might surprise you that I am equally proud of the way American Forests is using its voice to call on everyone — government leaders, the public, businesses and fellow nonprofits — to do much more for our forests. In fact, American Forests is making major new investments to build the power of our voice to match the power of our hands. Let me explain why and how.

Throughout our proud history, American Forests has played a key role as the pathfinder for the forest movement, identifying the key threats to our forests and bringing leaders and organizations together to find lasting solutions. One example is the passage of the National Forest Management Act of 1976, which still governs how we manage our national forests today. With intense pressures and conflicting interests on all sides of the issue, American Forests convened the interested parties and built the consensus that was the basis for the act.

Today, our country needs this kind of centrist, galvanizing leadership more urgently than ever. Building from recent successes, American Forests has positioned ourselves into our most powerful policy leadership role in decades. Consider:

  • Last year, we concluded a decade of work with partners to secure a desperately needed legislative fix for the U.S. Forest Service’s wildfire budget. This will deliver millions more each year to prevent and fight wildfire and preserve funding for other important Forest Service programs that had routinely been tapped for wildfire funding shortfalls.
  • As the lead forestry partner for the U.S. Climate Alliance, we are now guiding 25 U.S. states, as of August 2019, in developing new policies to protect forests from climate change impacts and increase natural carbon capture in forests and wood products.
  • American Forests is widely recognized as the lead advocacy organization working to secure federal funding for urban forests, and we just secured U.S. House approval of the most significant increase in the U.S Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forest Program since the program began in 1990.
  • This year, we helped to develop and introduce new federal legislation to permanently double the amount of funding allocated to replanting our national forests after wildfire, pest outbreaks and other events.

This vital leadership is supported by our largest policy staff in at least a decade, reflecting our renewed commitment to policy as the primary pathway to scale our mission by empowering the work of others.

While the ability to persuade policy-makers is one key aspect of finding our voice and creating change, another is the ability to change hearts and minds on a much more fundamental level. Too often it feels like the power and importance of forests is given short shrift, like trees are just scenery rather than fundamental infrastructure for our lives. If we can fundamentally change how America views its forests, we can advance our mission in many different ways.

Our success in this area has been most striking with our call for Tree Equity in America’s cities. American Forests has provided the clarion call to fix the unacceptable current reality that tree cover in cities regularly tracks income, and in many cases tracks race in ways that transcend income. That means the people who most need the benefits of trees in cities, like capturing air pollution and cooling homes that lack air conditioning, are least likely to have these vital benefits.

With our call for Tree Equity, American Forests is framing this serious shortcoming in stark language of moral imperative, clearly defining success, and bringing a new urgency to the work of urban forestry. Our success in changing the conversation is reflected in our policy progress and the rapidly growing universe of financial support and partners we are finding for our urban forest work. By naming the problem and solution with unusual clarity and impact, we are paving the way to actually achieving Tree Equity.

When you pull it all together, it comes down to how we define success. The easy road for American Forests would be to count our successes in trees planted, something we can easily control and measure. But we know that true success in achieving our mission must include actions across our nation that go beyond our direct control — leading by example as well as inspiring and empowering others to help carry this work forward. Thanks for your role in helping make this possible.

For more news and updates from Jad, follow him on Twitter @JadDaley