By Robyn Gillum, American Forests

Hello from the newest intern addition to the American Forests’ team! I’m very excited to begin my work as a policy intern here, but first, a little bit about myself.

I feel so lucky to call California, the land of the endless forests from the inland Sierra Nevada to the coastal redwood forests, my home. Growing up at the base of the foothills only an hour outside of Tahoe meant that the forest was always within reach. But I’ll be honest, as a child I took advantage of these opportunities and never realized just how good I had it.

Almost every summer of my childhood, my family would pack all of our stuff into our car, load up the boat, and head to the sparkling Huntington Lake in the Sierra Nevada, where we would spend the weekend sailing and soaking up the mountain sunshine. At night we would camp under the canopy of trees and gaze up at the stars peeking through the branches. To this day, we still make the same trip as a family every summer, but the trip has recently started to become a worrying one.

Most of you are probably aware of the drought that California has recently faced, but what many are not aware of is the damage it has caused to our forests. Weakened trees, thirsty for water, have succumbed to the pine beetle epidemic that has swept throughout California. The U.S. Forest Service has estimated that since 2010, over 102 million trees have died across California’s forests alone. Each year while making the drive up through the mountains, I have noticed larger swaths of the beautiful forests turning from the typical green to a sickly red color.

In a state that is no stranger to devastating wildfires that sweep through the state each summer, the red forests serve as a warning of what is to come. And though it breaks my heart that these childhood forests may end up decimated by fire to clear away the infestation of beetles, it is uplifting to know that American Forests has successfully helped restore forests also burdened by pine beetles and wildfire through the American ReLeaf program, to create healthy new forests for future generations to enjoy.

When I started taking classes at the University of California, San Diego three years ago, I knew that I wanted to learn the science behind the forest ecosystems that surrounded me as a child, but I had no idea how I could go about helping them. By chance, I took a policy course and realized this was my opportunity to contribute to the fight to conserve our forests.

I’m honored have the opportunity to share the important role that forests play in the future of our nation. It is not enough to simply know the facts to understand the need to conserve our forests, which is why I urge you to experience the allure of forests for yourself: Wse your lunch break to relax in an urban oasis or take a spontaneous weekend trip to your nearest state or national park. However you choose to do so, get involved!