By Dorothy Hastings, American Forests

From a young age, my parents instilled in me the importance of spending time outside and a respect for all plants and animals that lived there. Growing up, I spent summers in Maine, where I learned to kayak, hike, and rock climb in the mountains and along the pristine lakes. 

Credit: Tina Fowler

When I was 17, I left my home in Rockville, Md., to backpack 90 miles in the Northern Cascade Mountain Range in Washington and Oregon. I had never known such perilous beauty, from its rocky cliffs to its snowy peaks. I had never seen so many stars and had never walked through untouched wilderness. Everything I needed I carried on my back, and everywhere I walked I was careful to leave no trace. I knew my place as a guest along the 700-mile-long mountain range that abounds with stunning wildlife. The treacherous journey was life changing for me as I felt I had found the real beauties and dangers of the natural world and its inhabitants in a way I had never experienced, and in a way that left me wanting more. However, it was life changing in more ways than one. 

One cold night in July a lightning storm sparked around a dozen fires along the Northern Cascade Range. The fires eventually grew into a total of 1,480 wildfires burning 386,972 acres. During that summer in 2014, Washington State experienced the worst wildfires in its history and declared a state of emergency. Endless clouds of smoke could be seen from miles away and, as I walked through the dead trees left standing pale in the wake of the fires that had come before me, I felt a sense of disbelief. I had only ever read about wildfires; I had never seen their destruction firsthand. The mossy forests that hummed with life had become ghostly and barren.   

From that summer on, I became passionate about conservation. When I attended Barnard College in New York City, I helped lead and organize student protests against Barnard’s investment in fossil fuel companies. After transferring to American University, I was eager to find ways to continue advocating for our environment and its species. 

I became interested in American Forests after hearing about the organization’s efforts to restore native and urban forests, wildlife habitat and critical watersheds. American Forests Loose Leaf blog discusses important news in conservation and forestry in a simple way, which I believe is imperative to allowing people to easily understand environmental issues and search for ways they can help. I aspire to use my creativity and affection for writing to raise awareness of anthropogenic climate change and to offer solutions. I care about our forests not just because of their recreational use, but also the respite they offer us from a busy world. I care because of their importance in protecting and sustaining life so our planet and all its species have a future. As stated by one of American Forests core beliefs: “We are not separate from nature. By caring for nature, we care for ourselves.” I am grateful to be a part of an organization that is truly making a difference.