Naturally, American Forests predominantly works to protect and restore urban and wildland forests within the United States. However, what happens when there is critical need across the entire globe or when migrating wildlife species continue to make their journey for thousands of miles, regardless of political borders?

American Forests’ Global ReLeaf was partially founded on this exact notion. There are a variety of factors that can contribute to an international country’s project selection — including a recent disaster, endangered, exotic wildlife, or perhaps a combination of the two. Indeed, this exact phenomenon can be seen in our 2006 Sumatran Orangutan Society Reforestation Project, where American Forests planted over 36,000 trees, including 20,000 mangroves, to reforest degraded terrestrial and coastal areas. While much of this degradation had developed from habitat loss, illegal logging and other anthropogenic influences, there was another force that created the necessity of immediate action: the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which was the focus of our last blog, many temporarily forgot about the devastating implications of 2004’s deadly earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which killed more 170,000 Indonesian citizens. Indeed, this disaster was known to be one of the top 10 deadliest disasters of all time.

The endangered Sumatran orangutan, a species whose habitat is being restored through a many Global ReLeaf projects over the years. Credit: TomD./Flickr
The endangered Sumatran orangutan, a species whose habitat is being restored through a many Global ReLeaf projects over the years. Credit: TomD./Flickr

To directly address some of the wreckage left behind and to rebuild with Indonesia, American Forests teamed up with Sumatran Orangutan Society to plant mangroves — known for their coastal resiliency and ability to protect local coastlines from wind damage — across several areas in northern Indonesia. In addition, over 16,000 native terrestrial trees were planted to address a very different, but ecologically critical issue: endangered Sumatran Orangutan habitat loss, which was only exacerbated further by the momentous disaster as hundreds of human refugees wandered deep into Sumatran rainforests to establish new farmland, crops, and homes in an attempt for economic revival.

Sumatran Orangutans that call these deep forests home are known for their exemplary intelligence, as they utilize a variety of sophisticated tools, are the masters of quick learning, and have even developed unique cultures within individual populations. As such, they have been aptly called the “humans of the forest.”

Of course, our work on maintaining coastlines and boosting local habitats for wildlife that desperately needs it hasn’t ended there. We’ve teamed up with China Mangrove Protection Project for several years to provide a similar robust coastal barrier of mangroves in China. And, of course, we’ve continued working to save our incredibly intelligent Sumatran animal friends in Indonesia for several years since the 2004 disaster, including this year.