Forest Digest — Week of August 22, 2016

by American Forests

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

Dead sequioa

Credit: JayD Photography via Flickr.

  • Report: EU Policies Put Biodiversity, U.S. Forests at Risk NRDC
    Some of North America’s most biodiverse ecosystems are being threatened by Europe’s demand for wood pellets. Due to a policy loophole that designates biomass as a carbon neutral energy source, the southeastern United States’ most diverse forests may be converted into plantations.
  • Reversing deforestation, restoring landscapes CIFOR
    Findings from the 2016 Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit address how to restore rainforests while still encouraging economic development in local regions. The countries represented at the summit pledged to restore millions of acres of rainforest by 2020.
  • Persistent Drought Kills Millions Of Trees In California Forests NPR
    As California’s drought persists, temperatures continue to rise and wildfires increase in size and ferocity, teams of scientists are climbing trees to assess the damage. This interview with a biologist in Sequoia National Park discusses the health of California’s forests.
  • Logged forests are havens for endangered species in Southeast Asia —
    New research reveals that selectively logged forests can still support diverse wildlife. The study in Borneo found just as many animals in the selectively logged forests as in protected old-growth forests, including rare species like cloud leopards and civets.

Why I’m Here: The Story of The Senator

by American Forests

By Jessie Goodkind, American Forests

The Senator

The Senator pictured in American Forests’ July 1929 magazine issue.

Greetings from American Forests’ newest policy intern! Following in the footsteps of a previous intern, I want to tell you a story to help explain a motivator in my pursuit of a position protecting America’s natural bounties.

My story begins 3,500 years ago, when a bald cypress sprout first made its way out of rich, moist swampland in the middle of a wild peninsula jetting out from the bottom of North America. It would be named Florida about 3,000 years later.

As a sapling, the cypress spent his formative years growing slowly but surely in peace and isolation, with only occasional visitation from an alligator swimming near his ever-expanding knees, or a migrating bird perching in his branches. His closest friend began growing 1,500 years after him just 40 feet away. Their friendship would last longer than the Roman Empire, and her beauty and his strength were unparalleled.

After few thousand years, his branches reached higher and his trunk stood wider than any other bald cypress in the entire swamp, and unbeknownst to him, the world. In fact, his massive size and strong presence became a landmark to native people as they meandered through the swamp’s watery maze, boughs pointing the way. By the 1800s, Florida visitors began navigating the wetlands to marvel at the magnificent tree and his lovely companion.

In the 1920s, after thousands of nameless years the tree was christened “The Senator,” a regal name bestowed upon him honoring a Florida state senator who donated his land, on which the tree grew, to become a public park. Over the next nearly 100 years, thousands of Floridians, and even a U.S. president, flocked to Big Tree Park to see The Senator standing proudly by his friend who came to be called Lady Liberty.

As a girl, I visited them. I was transported to a different time while gazing at their natural beauty. I remember how small they made me feel, and yet simultaneously so connected to nature. Many people probably think of the swamp as an undesirable place, but to a true Floridian, there is nowhere more special. They give us our wildlife, fresh water and a secret retreat from tourist-packed beaches and theme parks. The Senator and Lady Liberty were local treasures and very beloved.

The Senator, even in old age, was a sturdy fellow. He withstood lightning, hurricanes and all Mother Nature’s trials. Only one thing was able to overpower him: the carelessness of humans. In a moment of selfish thoughtlessness a young woman decided to use the safe haven The Senator created in the swamp for all the wrong reasons. She lit a fire at his base to light the night while she indulged in drug use, and although it was not her intent, she brought The Senator to his cypress knees in January 2012. He was the fifth oldest tree in the world.

By the time the firemen came, Lady Liberty had watched her companion burn down from the inside out. I remember hearing the news, which spread through central Florida as fast as the fire had.  Our community was heartbroken to learn of the loss of one of our most iconic members.

I was already nearing the end of my undergraduate career. It was too late to suddenly change majors and become an environmental scientist (I was studying political science), but The Senator’s story had lit a different kind of fire in me, a passion for making preservation and conservation of our nation’s forests and ecosystems a priority in my life. When, as a graduate student, I saw an opening for an internship blending politics and environmentalism at American Forests, I jumped on the opportunity.

The Senator in 2011

The Senator in 2011. Credit: Anthony Scotti via Flickr.

American Forests even has a Big Tree program, which began in 1940 with a call to Americans to locate, measure and protect the biggest of a hundred different species of trees. Joseph L. Stearns was inspired to appeal for this project due to a very similar story to The Senator; a giant yellow poplar near Asheville, N.C. was burned down from two hunters’ careless mistake. Today, the registry boasts 705 champion and co-champion trees, the largest of which is General Sherman in Sequoia National Park, and is updated annually; 2016 will be released soon!

One of the first mentions of The Senator by American Forests is in the magazine from July, 1929 in The Sovereign Cypress, a piece praising the tree’s “marvelous size and antiquity.” The Senator is mentioned again by a reader’s letter in the 1940 journal and was listed in the first official registry of big trees the following year along with scores of other impressive trees around the country, some of which are still on the registry today.

The Big Tree program allows other Americans to experience the majesty of some of our land’s largest wonders. I couldn’t be more excited to get to work to ensure that future Americans have the same chance to feel inspired by and connected to our forests as I did when I first saw The Senator.

If you’re interested in learning more about American Forests and big trees, visit our Big Tree Program page. You can also read more about the fire that killed the Senator in an earlier blog post, Saying Goodbye to the Senator or in our magazine at Death of the Senator.

Tree-SMART Trade: Combating Invasive Species

by American Forests

By Megan Feeney, American Forests

Tree-SMART Trade is a series of policy initiatives that are currently being developed in order to combat the perilous effects of invasive species on native trees. These suggestions have originated from the work of a group of scientists within the field of forestry in an attempt to address threats to tree health.



Studies have shown that there is a direct link between the increase of trade and the expanding impact of various invasive species. This has been a continuous element associated with trade in the United States, dating back to the nation’s founding. With spikes in international trade over the past several decades, specifically trade with Asia, wood borer insects, such as the Asian Long-Horned Beetle, have been on the rise.

While trade is often accepted as a positive element to global relations, cultural exchange and economic opportunity, trade is having an increasingly negative impact on forest health. As native trees to North American did not co-evolve with these imported pests, they lack the necessary defense to combat these new species. Local governments and homeowners are then forced to accept the tremendous economic burden associated with invasive pests. From aspects of tree removal, decline in property levels and loss of health benefits, the troubling impact of imported species impacts all levels of society.

Invasive species, such as the Emerald Ash Borer and White Pine Blister Rust, continue to devastate the health of forests in their respective regions. The Emerald Ash Borer, which is unintentionally imported through solid-wood packaging, has wreaked havoc on cities, such as Cincinnati, causing a tremendous reduction in the area’s tree canopies. Blister Rust, an imported fungus, has proven to be quite damaging to the health of the white bark pine, which is the first tree eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act. It is important to note that blister rust has been an ongoing issue, one which American Forests has been attempting to address for more than a century.

Tree-SMART Trade attempts to address a variety of forestry concerns by building upon current programs that target invasive species. These area’s consist of rethinking how commodities are packaged, addressing species outbreaks quickly, working with trading partners to address the issue, limiting the number of live woody plants allowed into the country and instituting penalties for companies that fail to comply.

While American Forests does not concentrate on aspects of international or domestic trade, it is important to recognize the impact that these practices have on our nation’s forests, urban greenspaces and communities. Tree-SMART Trade’s initiative to reduce the spread of new pests through methods of early detection and programs focusing on rapid response measures coincide with American Forests’ mission in forest conservation.

Lovett, Gary M., et. al. “Nonnative Forest Insects and Pathogens in the United States: Impacts and Policy Options.” Ecological Applications, 26.5 (2016): 1437-455.

Forest Digest — Week of August 15, 2016

by American Forests

Find out the latest in forest news in this week’s Forest Digest!Trees on residential property

American ReLeaf Highlight: Restoring Riverside Habitat at Skagit Wild and Scenic River, Wash.

by American Forests

By Lindsay Seventko, Communications Intern

Kaaland Planting February, 2016.

Skagit River Planting February, 2016. Credit: Tim Gohrke.

The Skagit Wild and Scenic River winds through dense hemlock, massive spruce and stately red cedar forests, feeding lush farmland and providing rich marshland habitat all the way from the North Cascade Mountains to the Puget Sound. All five native species of Pacific salmon push up the clear waters to spawn. Wild elk roam the more remote banks while black bears, mountain goats and cougars traverse their wilderness territory. The watershed is home to the largest population of over-wintering bald eagles which perch their nests high up in the firs, as well as trumpeter swans which float in the flat water and black swifts, one of the most elusive birds in the world, which hide behind waterfalls and in the crevices of riverside cliffs.

Deforestation and Habitat Loss

While the Skagit River Basin may sound like a marvel of plentiful wildlife and beautiful forests, this incredible area is at a dangerous time of uncertainty. Agriculture cleared much of the river’s banks, industrial forestry leveled important habitat and damming disrupted the natural flow of the river. As a result, there is less habitat to support the rare wildlife, and invasive species are creeping in. Salmon populations, which Native Americans in the region historically relied on as a primary food source, are dwindling to alarming lows, and less than two dozen grizzly bears roam the North Cascades region of the watershed.

ReLeaf Planting

Realizing how important the incredible Skagit River area is, American Forests set out this spring to restore this essential riparian habitat through our American ReLeaf program by partnering with government agencies and local conservation organizations — the U.S. Forest Service, the Skagit River System Cooperative and Washington State’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board. Together with these partners, we planted 13,000 saplings from locally collected seeds of western red cedar, Douglas-fir, Sitka spruce and cottonwood, which are all native species. Skagit River System Cooperative staff planted the trees in the ground across 24 acres of U.S. Forest Service land, strategically planting the small seedlings within protective tubes and braced by bamboo stakes.

Habitat Recovery

Over the coming decades, these sections of gangly saplings will transform from cleared pasture overrun with invasive grasses into forested riparian habitat filled with native tree species that shelter some of the most extraordinary wildlife on earth. As the newly planted trees mature, their debris will provide shade and shelter along the banks of the river, enhancing salmon habitat in eddies and backwater marshes. As the salmon populations replenish, so will the black bear, bald eagles and all the wildlife that rely on the salmon’s proliferation.

Forest Fossils: Exploring America’s Petrified Forests

by American Forests

By Lindsay Seventko, American Forests

When thinking about our forests, thoughts of rich earth, lush foliage and intriguing wildlife typically come to mind. But, any true forest lover should, at least once, visit a forest that isn’t alive at all — America’s beautiful petrified forests. These preserved antiquities offer fascinating insights into the makeup of forests stretching back millions of years and are often breathtakingly beautiful. Take a peek at some of the petrified forests in the U.S., and be sure to add them to your next sightseeing destinations.

1. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

The fossilized forest of Petrified Forest National Park was formed more than 200 million years ago, before the area was transformed into the more barren conditions of today. Long ago, the forest was quickly buried under the sediment of an old river, depriving the logs of oxygen and stopping the decaying process. As the minerals were absorbed into the trunks, crystals slowly formed into beautiful formations of sparkling quartz, amethyst and jasper. Many of the logs appear to be cleanly sliced into sections, as if done on purpose. But, these cuts were made long before chainsaws, when the Colorado Plateau began lifting nearly 60 million years ago, and the stress cleanly shattered the quartz. The anciently preserved logs, stumps and foliage are a brilliant array of sparkling, rainbow-colored crystals that give a glimpse into how radically different the area looked millennia ago.

Recently, new sections of the park have been opened to exploration, and among them, human-like petroglyphs that point to what some of the oldest forest-dwellers looked like. More recently, Puebloan people used the fossilized wood to make tools and build structures. Some of their old homes (circa 1050-1300) have been excavated and restored, offering a fascinating look into these historic peoples’ lives.

Petrified Forest National Park

Credit: Col Ford and Natasha de Vere via Flickr.

2. Yellowstone National Park,Wyoming

Millions of tourists flock to Yellowstone National Park, typically to witness Old Faithful or test of the hot springs’ temperature firsthand. But, one of the lesser known, yet fascinating, parts of this park are the sections of petrified forest. After a volcanic eruption smothered the living forest about 50 million years ago, the lava and ash instantly stopped the decay process and preserved the upright replicas of the ancient trees, some with up to 1,000 tree rings. The forest also has the ancient fossilized wildlife to match — fossils of dinosaurs and a wooly mammoth can be found at nearby museums!

Petrified trunk in Yellowstone National Park

Petrified trunk in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Greg Willis via Flickr.

3. Gilboa Fossil Forest, New York

Miraculously, the appearance of the first forests on earth have been preserved through fossils at Gilboa Fossil Forest. Dating back an astonishing 380 million years to the Devonian Period of transitioning from a marine to a terrestrial world, the fossils depict the developing stage of the earth’s first forests. Now in present-day New York, the fossils show how dramatically different the area is now. For starters, it was 20-degrees south of the equator in a tropical zone, and the forest was made up of trees resembling large, fern-like palms.

Fossils of the branches of some of the first trees in Gilboa

Fossils of the branches of some of the first trees in Gilboa. Credit: James St. John via Flickr.

From rainbow streaked crystal logs to the fossils of the world’s first trees and insights into some of the earliest humans, these ancient forests deserve a visit. Check out these petrified forests or find one near you, and appreciate the history of how we came to enjoy the beautiful, living forests we have today.

Forest Digest — Week of August 8, 2016

by American Forests

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


Credit: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr.

7 Ways to Explore Forests beyond a Walk in the Woods

by American Forests

By Lindsay Seventko, American Forests

America’s forests are popular destinations for hikers, joggers and outdoor enthusiasts to get outside and enjoy nature’s beauty. If your standard forest expedition of choice is getting boring, take a walk on the wild side and use one of these ways to explore forests from a completely different perspective.

1. On the Water

There’s something incredibly refreshing about exploring a forest by water. Rivers are the lifeblood of forests, and paddling down a remote waterway is a sure way to see the unique habitat and wildlife of the river’s banks. Whether you’re looking to rest and replenish or get a wild adrenaline rush, there’s the perfect river waiting to be explored. A gently moving current will soothe you and do most of the work in moving your canoe or kayak along, so you can relax and take in the beauty of the forest and water. Conversely, picking a rushing whitewater location will immerse you in the immense power of the natural world as you ride the waves.


Credit: OakleyOriginals via Flickr.

2. Under the Stars

Many of the country’s most wild and beautiful forests offer remote campsites, where you can experience sleeping under the night sky with views of the stars unobstructed by city lights, and the sounds of the forest unmasked by the noise of your neighbors. The next time you want to take an extended trip in the great outdoors, avoid the typical campgrounds and head deep within the forest to a remote campsite. The deep stillness of a forest at night, with the smell of the trees and soft sounds of nature, are an unparalleled experience.

Camping under stars

Credit: Zach Dischner via Flickr.

3. Zip over Canopy

When you hear about ziplining over a forest canopy, many people think of tropical rainforest expeditions in South America or African safaris, but amazing zip line adventures can be had in forests across the United States. If the thought of human-made structures in the forest bother you, don’t worry! There are many zip lines now that used sustainable construction tactics that don’t harm the existing trees or forest! Zipping through an exciting course is bound to offer a new and exciting perspective on the forest from the air.


Credit: Sergio_Leenen via Flickr.

4. Go Underground

While people typically traverse no lower than the forest floor, in some places there’s a whole world waiting to be discovered beneath the trees. At Timpanogos Cave National Monument in Utah, mountain lion prints leading through the forest gave away the hidden entrance to a breathtaking cave. Slowly carved over time into massive rooms filled with incredible geological formations, the cave is home to bats and other rare wildlife. Many popular national forest destinations boast similar trails through the forest to well hidden caves and caverns that are filled with fascinating formations, rare geodes and unique wildlife.


Credit: Kaija O. via Flickr.

5. Ride a Gondola

Some U.S. forests offer a uniquely relaxing way to view the foliage from the seated comfort of a gondola ride. Typically reserved for ski vacations, many locations offer scenic rides year round, allowing you to see the spring blooms and fall foliage from the convenience of an effortless, seated ride up the mountainside.


Credit: kris krug via Flickr.

6. Snowshoe a Winter Wonderland

As winter approaches, many people start spending less time in forests and switch from hiking and walking to more seasonally specific activities like skiing and sledding. But, forests in the cold months truly transform into winter wonderlands. Switch up your winter routine by going for a snowshoe hike. The stillness of the trees, cleanness of unbroken snow and evidence of winter wildlife are a truly unique experience from every other season. If you don’t want to invest in your own gear before you try it, many outdoor recreation and sporting stores offer inexpensive rentals!


7. Bike a Trail

If the thought of mountain biking brings to mind alarming adrenaline-filled races on treacherous paths, don’t worry. There are plenty of easy, well-maintained trails suitable for the beginning biker in local parks and national forests, offering a way to explore more parts of the forest than you could reasonably walk on foot. Forest bike rides offer a fun way for the whole family to get outside, exercise and explore, away from the bustle of suburban roads and with plenty of interesting landscapes to stop and check out as you come across them.


There are countless ways to traverse America’s forests, but whatever your method of choice, switch it up once in a while and see the forest from a whole new light. Share your favorite way to explore a beautiful forest in the comments!

Forests and the 2016 Olympic Games

by American Forests

By Lindsay Seventko, Communications Intern

Golden Lion TamarinsWith the 2016 Summer Olympic Games now in full swing, some horrific environmental problems plaguing Rio de Janeiro and the rest of Brazil have been brought to light. Aquatic athletes are swimming through raw sewage and being exposed to antibiotic-resistant super bacteria, competitors and visitors risk being exposed to Zika-carrying mosquitoes, rare forests have been cut down to create the golf course and an endangered jaguar was shot and killed during the torch passing ceremony.

The Olympics are just now shedding some international light on these issues, but deforestation and environmental degradation have plagued the country for decades. Last year alone, 50 environmental activists were confirmed to have been murdered in Brazil,[1] and illegal logging and intentional wildfires have rapidly destroyed its rare ecosystems.[2] Throughout the environmental damage and upheaval, American Forests has been working to restore forests and help mitigate some of the environmental damage in Brazil.

Back in 2003, American Forests began a partnership with Pro-Natura and the Carrapeta Farm Hotel to restore northern Rio de Janeiro watersheds and agricultural land back into rich Atlantic Forest, the same type of rare ecosystem that was deforested to create the Olympic golf course. This biodiverse area used to cover 120 million hectares (that’s twice the size of Texas!), but has now shrunk to 10 million hectares fragmented into sections, making it difficult for wildlife to find sufficient habitat.[3] The reforestation project in northern Rio de Janeiro sought to replant valuable sections of this forest that would improve watersheds, mitigate erosion and improve wildlife habitats.

Then in 2014, American Forests returned to the Rio area to further address the loss of Atlantic forest habitat in partnership with Associacao Mico-Leao-Dourado. Strategically replanting areas that would reconnect fragmented areas, 5,000 trees were planted to create wildlife corridors for the unique Golden Lion Tamarin and the 60 percent of Brazil’s threatened species that live in the Atlantic Forest.

While American Forests’ reforestation projects are only a small-step towards mitigating Rio’s extensive environmental issues, there is still hope for Brazil. Restoring forest land would not only provide more habitat for rare and endangered wildlife, but would also improve Rio’s water quality and help combat climate change, which would discourage the spread of Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses.[4]

As you enjoy the 2016 Olympic Games, be reminded of how much forests impact our daily lives. While the Rio games came at a price for forests, the attention that the Olympics have brought to Brazil’s environmental issues may inspire more conservation work throughout the country. To read more about American Forests’ projects in Rio de Janeiro or other areas throughout Brazil, visit our Global ReLeaf page.


[1] Gertz, Emily J. “187 Environmental Activists Across 16 Countries were killed in 2015.” EcoWatch: June 20, 2016.

[2] Wallace, Scott. “Illegal Loggers Wage War on Indigenous People in Brazil.” National Geographic: January 21, 2016.

[3] Peel, Chris. “The Buried History of Golf’s Return to the Olympics.” Paste Magazine: July 13, 2016.

[4] Mercer, Greg. “The Link Between Zika and Climate Change.” The Atlantic: February 24, 2016.

Forest Digest — Week of August 1, 2016

by American Forests

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

Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountains.

Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountains. Credit: Yinghai Lu.