Forest Digest — Week of July 18, 2016

by American Forests

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

How Much are Forests Worth?

by American Forests

By Lindsay Seventko, Communications Intern

ForestAs forest lovers, we know that forests are worth more than the sum of their timber price or the income that the recreation industry receives. But, how do you convey the importance of protecting and restoring our forests to the millions of Americans who have no interest in walking among ancient trees, discovering rare wildlife deep within wilderness, or leaving valuable urban spaces green? Part of the answer is in quantifying the economic value of our forests, a large undertaking that will likely not be completed for many years. In the meantime, here are some ways to talk to those who don’t share the appreciation for all the wonderful ways that forests benefit our lives.

Take a small urban forest of 100 deciduous trees. Sure, there are aesthetic and recreational values associated with that area which, in most people’s minds, justifies spending about $142,000 on planting and maintaining them over the course of a normal 40-year lifetime. However, when broken down by all the benefits of that small forest, the return on investment is significant.

That small plot of trees will remove 53 tons of carbon dioxide each year and 430 pounds of air pollutants, decreasing medical bills relating to asthma and lung issues. They will collect about 139,000 gallons of rainwater every year, increasing water security and decreasing costs associated with run-off damage and storm water pollution problems. Shoppers in the city will spend more time in the area, pay more for parking and be willing to spend about 12 percent more for their products. The houses in the immediate area will save up to 56 percent on air conditioning costs every year, and marginally (1 percent) on heat in the winter, when the trees are strategically placed around their house. Even domestic violence rates may decrease. All of these benefits combined will add at least $232,000 net profit (as a most conservative estimate) on the investment of this small urban forest.[1]

Magnified out to the state level, in Tennessee alone, complete deforestation would result in an $80 billion loss of assets.[2] In New York, a $1 billion investment in improving land management practices and replanting trees was effective enough to avoid having to build a new water treatment facility that would have cost six to eight times that price. Taxpayers saw a 9 percent increase in bills, as opposed to the doubling that otherwise would have occurred.[3] In California, researchers found that urban trees removed the carbon dioxide equivalent of 120,000 cars’ emissions, and valued the trees at $2.49 billion in assets. For every $1 spent on a tree, $5.82 in benefits were returned.[4]

Just for a moment, imagine how much the value of vast, untouched forests will exponentially increase beyond these isolated examples. It’s been estimated that simply cutting deforestation rates in half over the next 15 years would save about $3.7 trillion in climate change related costs alone, because of the amount of carbon sequestered.[5] The actual value of the forests is much higher when all the other ecosystem and social benefits are taken into account.

Our forests will always have intrinsic and spiritual value that has not yet been able to be fully accounted for in monetary terms. Nevertheless, assigning a comprehensive economic value to our forests is a way of ensuring that they are universally recognized for the benefits that they bring to all of humanity — from carbon storage to water and air purification, wildlife habitat, mental health improvements and countless other services. With these efforts, even those who wouldn’t dream of traipsing through a dense forest, could help ensure that they are valued, protected and restored as the necessary assets they are.

[1] “Trees Pay Us Back” USDA Forest Service and NY State Department of Environmental Conservation: n.d.

[2] Berg, Nate. “The High Cost of Losing Urban Trees.” CityLab: April 9, 2012.

[3] “New York City” Watershed Case Studies, Information Center for the Environment. UC Davis: n.d.

[4] McPherson et al. “Structure, function and value of street trees in California, USA.” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 17:104-115.

[5] “Ecosystem Restoration for Climate Change Mitigation” Dead Planet, Living Planet. GRIDA: n.d.

Top 5 Summer Swimming Holes in National Forests

by American Forests

By Lindsay Seventko, Communications Intern

This summer, forget the pool membership and take a dip in nature’s swimming holes preserved within our National Forests. These locations are shaded by massive trees, fed by mountain springs and cut out of the hillside by rushing waterfalls. Pack your swim suit and get ready for a day of summer fun by one of these incredible swimming spots.

Juniper Springs, Ocala National Forest, Florida

Ocala National Forest boasts the southernmost forest in the continental U.S., with four wilderness areas that are home to extraordinary amounts of wildlife. At Juniper Springs, massive springs gush out of the earth, feeding crystal clear streams that catch in fresh pools. Navigating the area offers countless streams to wade in and pools to dive in, with crisp water perfect for snorkeling. Big, desert-like shrub, palms and oaks shade the pools. The area is uniquely open year-round for swimming, since the water temperature barely changes through the seasons.

Juniper Springs

Credit: Sara via Flickr.

Looking Glass Falls, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Pisgah National Forest are the dramatic Looking Glass Falls that plunge 60 feet into a deep swimming hole. With steps leading down to the water and large flat rocks for picnicking, it’s easy to spend all day relaxing by the water, being showered by the falls or exploring the nearby trails through the forest.

Looking Glass Falls

Credit: Stevbach1 via Flickr.

Aztec Falls, San Bernardino National Forest, California

Off the Pacific Crest Trial in San Bernardino National Forest lies the adrenaline junkie’s ultimate swimming hole. Cliffs overlooking the water range from 5-60 feet offering plenty of opportunities to test your daring spirit and jump into the pool below. Always be sure to test the water for depth and debris before jumping. For the less adventurous, plenty of flat rocks and sand bars line the pool, offering the perfect place to sunbathe, picnic and relax.

Aztec Falls

Credit: Russell Brennan via Flickr.

Opal Pool, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

Opal Pool truly lives up to its name. Crystal water rushes down the stream to collect in a calm, gem-colored wading pool. Located down an old scenic road, the trail to the pool winds through breathtaking old-growth forest, crossing the mountain stream via a footbridge to look down on the crystal-clear pool, reflecting the green of the trees, blue of the sky and shine of the sunlight. Wade the clear waters and venture downstream to see the waterfalls tumbling out of it.

Opal Pool

Credit: Szapucki via Flickr.

Devil’s Punchbowl, White River National Forest, Colorado

The Devil’s Punchbowl is one of Colorado’s best kept secrets, despite having a more well-known namesake. Framed by vertical granite cliffs, the swimming hole is fed by an ice-cold mountain river that plunges into the pool on one side and cascades out on the other. The crisp water is a refreshing wakeup after the steep hike up from the road. Be sure to check out the layout of submerged rocks before attempting any jumps from the edges!

The Devil's Punchbowl

Credit: Mark Donoher via Flickr.

Forest Digest — Week of July 11, 2016

by American Forests

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


Tips for Staying Connected to Nature in a Busy World

by American Forests

Credit: Martin Borgman via Flickr.

By Lindsay Seventko, Communications Intern

“Deviation from nature is deviation from happiness.”—Samuel Johnson

As we rush through our ever increasingly busy lives, we wait for the rare weekend that we can spend time reconnecting with nature and ourselves. For some, these opportunities come only once or twice a year, but time spent in nature is so essential to human well-being — it restores us psychologically, emotionally and even physically. For those of us who can’t regularly spend days or weekends reconnecting with the wild, we can still incorporate aspects and reminders of natural life within our daily routines. Use these tips to stay connected with nature right in the middle of your everyday, busy life.

Visualize Every Morning

It’s no secret that many of the world’s most effective leaders, businessmen and innovative thinkers credit their success in part to meditation. The physical benefits have been well-documented — it helps lower high blood pressure, improves mood and clarity and strengthens immune systems. But, how can meditation help you connect to nature? Simple visualization exercises of nature, done for only a few minutes every morning, can center, focus and ready you for the day around the calming visualization of experiencing nature.

Workout Outside

Even in today’s busy world, many people still find time to fit in exercise, albeit usually in a crowded, antiseptic-smelling gym under fluorescent lighting while music blares through our headphones. Whatever your standard preferred workout is, consider switching it up by running on a forested trail, practicing yoga in a quiet park or doing an at-home routine in the light of your backyard sun. While you’re outside, allow a few minutes to fully relax and be present — soak in the sun, wiggle your toes in the dirt or stare at the clouds or stars. Allow your mind to focus, even for just a few minutes, on only the elements of nature surrounding you.

Be Present and Observe

As we go about our daily lives, we experience a lot more time outdoors than we realize or take advantage of. Whenever you’re out and about, try to stay focused on the present. Let go of the thoughts about what you have to do once you arrive at your destination, ignore the urge to check your phone and simply notice the nature surrounding you. Admire the flowers lining the sidewalk, take in the trees and discover that bird’s nest near your office. Focusing on the little elements of nature that you experience throughout the day, instead of listening to music or worrying about what’s coming up next, will clear your mind, calm and refresh you throughout the day, without taking up any additional time.

Nurture a Plant

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! Many people don’t have the green thumb, time or space it takes to grow an entire garden, but nurturing a small plant can be very easy, inexpensive and a great way to connect with nature. Whether you choose to grow fresh herbs for your kitchen, shape a small bonsai tree or nurture an orchid on your desk at work, caring for a plant will be a small daily reminder of nature’s life.

5 Must-See Locations in National Forests

by American Forests

By Lindsay Seventko, Communications Intern

National Forests are often synonymous with a long walk in the woods under canopied skies, but here’s a collection of five must see locations in our forests that offer much more than their thick trees or dense foliage alone. From a cliff-top lookout to a giant glacier waterfall and herds of wild bighorn sheep, these exciting destinations are sure to keep you entertained.

1. Round Island Lighthouse, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are the treacherous Straights of Mackinac, full of rocky shoals and shallows that tore apart many ships in centuries past. In 1895, Round Island Lighthouse was built to help warn of these dangerous areas. Long since decommissioned, the lighthouse has been added to Hiawatha National Forest and restored into a breathtaking historical landmark on the tip of a protected wilderness island.

Round Island Lighthouse

Credit: Mark via Flickr.

2. Nugget Falls, Tongass National Forest, Alaska

Nugget Falls rushes out of the melting Mendenhall glacier and into the mountain-framed lake below. This area of Tongass National Forest is home to dense forest which has aged more than 200 years, but the forest also welcomes new life. The melting and moving glacier has revealed new land that has only been without ice in the last 50 years. The result is beautiful young-growth — patches of lush moss and colorful lichens, tiny fungi and sapling spruce.

Nugget Falls

Credit: Trent Roche via Flickr.

3. Sheep Mountain, Angeles National Forest, California

When people think of Southern California, lush forests and abounding wildlife don’t typically come to mind. But, with Sheep Mountain Wilderness in Angeles National Forest, breathtaking vistas and unique animals are the norm. Many hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail cite this section as their favorite, and it’s easy to see why. Home to peaks of more than 10,000 feet in elevation, the wilderness is a wildlife corridor home to three large groups of bighorn sheep that roam the highlands.

Sheep Mountain Wilderness

Credit: Rennett Stowe via Flickr.

4. High Rock Lookout, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington

You can view both Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens from the shelter of this lookout in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Teetering on the brink of sheer cliffs that drop 600 feet vertically and then careen further to the valley below, High Rock Lookout is an exhilarating hiker’s resting place. Built in 1930, pack mules were needed to carry the necessary timber up the precarious ridgeline. While no longer in official use, the lookout is still the perfect destination for sheltered snacking while looking thousands of miles in all directions, over jagged mountain peaks and gem blue lakes.

High Rock Lookout

Credit: Nick Cramer via Flickr.

5. Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino National Forest, Arizona

Countless photographers have been unjustly accused of photoshopping the rich colors and dramatic contrasts of the Red Rocks Ranger District in Coconino National Forest. Reminiscent of old western movies, this wilderness area is a drastic change from its historic status as wetlands. Now, sharply carved cliffs jut out of Ponderosa pines and rugged desert terrain, their unique geological formations laced in rainbows of red, orange and yellow.

Coconino National Forest

Credit: U.S. Forest Service via Flickr.

Forest Digest — Week of July 4, 2016

by American Forests

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

Tips to Establishing a Forest-Friendly Garden

by American Forests

By Lindsay Seventko, Communications Intern

backyard gardenMany forest lovers also enjoy nurturing a summer garden, but the two interests often remain distinctly separate. Establishing a sizeable garden typically requires large open areas, which sometimes means clearing the backyard trees to make room. If you’ve been wanting to start or expand your garden without cutting down any trees, use these tips to begin growing luscious ferns, colorful perennials and delicious fresh veggies and herbs, all under the shade of your forested backyard.

Getting Started

Growing close to or under a large, established tree requires hardy plants that do well in shade, that won’t overly compete with the tree for water or nutrients. Most trees, despite how deep their roots may stretch into the earth, still have feeder roots that spread out within the top 1 ½ feet of soil. Thus, digging a deep hole may disturb them. Conversely, spreading thick, additional layers of topsoil, compost or mulch may smother the tree’s roots, not allowing them to receive sufficient amounts of oxygen. Therefore, the section closest to the trunk of the tree should consist of the most shade-tolerant plants that grow in your zone, that ideally are planted while still seedlings.

Be sure to note if your backyard contains black walnut trees and avoid planting under them altogether, as they contain compounds that will poison your plants.

Creating a Barrier

Find the most ornamental and shade-tolerant plants that grow in your zone — think decorative evergreen ferns, shade-tolerant hostas, rhododendrons, ivies and other ground covers — and plant them while still young and small in shallow, lightly compost-lined holes. The number of barrier plants needed will vary based on the species of tree you’re planting under. As a general rule of thumb, the thicker the shade, the wider the section of hardy plants should be between the trunk and more sun-loving flowers or vegetables. Mature pine trees will require very drought-, shade- and acid-tolerant plants under a wide radius of their cover, while oaks will offer more speckled areas of sunshine and absorb less water from the soil, allowing for perennials and vegetables to be planted nearly up to their trunk.

Planting Your Veggies

Once you’ve established some ornamental hardy plants closest to the tree in the driest and most shaded areas, you can begin establishing a vegetable garden that will thrive in partial shade. Root and stalk veggies will do well, such as celery, leeks, onions, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, rutabagas and most herbs. Lettuces, kale, spinach and other leafy vegetables will also succeed. Remember to water more liberally than you would in a traditional garden, and regularly supplement the soil with thin layers of rich compost.

Any central patches of direct sunlight should be saved for vegetables that grow out of a flower, such as tomatoes, zucchini or eggplant. Intermix the veggies in different patterns; by not planting them in distinct rows, the soil quality will improve and the aesthetic will be of a bounteous wild forest.

Showing off your Garden!

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5 National Forest Road Trips to Add to Your Bucket List

by American Forests

By Lindsay Seventko, Communications Intern

Pack the car and make a new playlist for these five breathtaking drives through National Forests. With drastically diverse scenery from cacti and petroglyphs to Robert Frost’s mountainous muse, you’ll want to see more of these National Forests than you could by foot or by paddle. Get ready to explore these unique areas by car — but be sure to allow time to stop, relax and take in the beautiful scenery.

1. Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway — Gila National Forest, New Mexico
You won’t be bored driving through this National Forest in New Mexico, with dramatically varied terrain and ecosystems, and combining millennia of history with stark reminders of modern activity. The drive begins in an old mining town that boomed in the late 19th century with the discovery of silver, and later of gold. As the scenic drive begins, it climbs through the lush aspens and Douglas-firs before dropping to semi-arid lowlands full of junipers and cacti. Ponderosa pines and cottonwood dot the side of the road up to a breathtaking vista overlooking the Gila River canyon and wilderness. After taking in the sights, traverse back down along the road to explore Pueblo Indian cliff dwellings dating back to the 13th century. A brief break from driving to walk on a trail will reveal ancient petroglyphs, stunning scenery and possibly one of the 10 species of hummingbird that make the National Forest their home. Be sure to also explore the nearby overlook of one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world, as well as the City of Rocks State Park that boasts volcanic rocks dating back 34 million years.

Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Gila Cliff Dwellings. Credit: John Fowler via Flickr.

2. Highway 143 — Dixie National Forest, Utah
Known as the patchwork trail to historians, Highway 143 originated with early pioneers struggling to get food and supplies during a hard winter. The deep snow could only be walked on by laying a quilt down and walking on top of it. Today, this route traverses through six major life zones in an array of differing views. Known for its rainbow of colors experienced on the 51 mile route, the road climbs to 10,400 feet at the top of the “Grand Staircase” formation and dips back down through thick aspen forests and unique geological formations, with distant views of pink cliffs and ancient lava fields.

Dixie National Forest.

Dixie National Forest. Credit: RichieBpics via Flickr.

3. Mountain Waters Scenic Byway — Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina

In this national forest, dense canopies only allow sunlight to reach the ground at noonday, inspiring the forest’s Cherokee name, Nantahala, meaning “land of the noon day sun.” Winding up the Cullasaja River Gorge, the Mountain Waters scenic byway is laced with cascading waterfalls and tranquil pools that line the route, offering pristine places to stop and wander down forested trails, picnic beside rushing rivers and cast a line in the water for rainbow and brook trout.

Cullasaja River Gorge

Cullasaja River Gorge. Credit: Frank Kehren via Flickr.

4. White Mountain National Trail — White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

The White Mountains in New Hampshire are home to some of the most inspiring forests in the United States — they were Robert Frost’s muse, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s retreat and Thomas Cole’s favorite subject. Explore this National Forest via a 100-mile loop of scenic byway, traversing across 800,000 acres of rugged mountain scenery, over three historic notches, under seven covered bridges and along many roadside waterfalls.

White Mountain National Forest.

White Mountain National Forest. Credit: Mattia Panciroli via Flickr.

5. Crooked Creek Pass — White River National Forest, Colorado

If you want a solitary, windows down retreat, Crooked Creek Pass Road (and its side roads!) is the place to explore. Off the beaten path of paved, populated national byways, this road ventures across the heart of White River National Forest, revealing breathtaking vistas alongside rivers and climbing ridgelines shaded by towering pines. Unlike most scenic drives, the Crooked Creek Pass, and connecting roads, are mostly unpaved red dirt roads, offering an opportunity to get out and explore less traveled wilderness areas. Traversing the area presents a greater probability of seeing wildlife — bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk and possibly the elusive lynx.

Hat Creek Road, Crooked Creek Pass.

Hat Creek Road, Crooked Creek Pass. Credit: Bryce Bradford via Flickr.

Forest Digest — Week of June 27, 2016

by American Forests

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

Zhangjiajie National Forest.

Zhangjiajie National Forest. Credit: chensiyuan/Wikimedia Commons.