I GREW UP spending my summers on MacMahan Island in Maine, a glorious piece of nature only accessible by boat. There was a wealth of undisturbed forests and coastline to explore. Wandering this island was the defining experience of my childhood, alternately providing peaceful moments of quiet and thrilling new discoveries, such as a surprising wetland hidden in the forest or an osprey nest above a remote cove.
I think back to those memories a lot these days. We have never needed forests more to calm our minds and bring fun into our lives. It feels like American life is spiraling upward in productivity and achievement, but with a cost to our work-life balance. This fast pace seems to touch Americans of all ages — from children in school to executives in the work force.
Many people are so busy that they forget to take a walk in a forest or sit under a tree to read a book. Even many outdoor enthusiasts seem to have increasing difficulty finding time for camping, climbing, skiing, hunting and angling. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has prevented many people from being able to freely go outdoors, has both reminded us of how much we need these experiences and the increasingly diverse ways in which this is becoming more difficult.
We cannot remove all of these barriers, but I have always yearned for everyone to have maximum possible access to enjoy the outdoors, just as I was privileged to experience on MacMahan Island. I am proud that American Forests is helping to make this possible, particularly our work to protect and restore public lands that, during normal times, are open to all. Here are some great examples of this work in action:
1. Restore Recreation Areas. We recently did an analysis to see how American Forests’ reforestation work in the Sierras, Rockies, Great Lakes, Appalachia and other large forest landscapes aligns with the National Scenic Trail system. Why? When forests along these trails are damaged by wildfire, pests, disease, ice storms and more, recreation experiences also suffer. The analysis confirmed that our tree planting work with partners, such as the U.S. Forest Service, is systematically repairing the National Scenic Trails system and other priority recreation landscapes, especially where we are restoring vulnerable high-elevation forests that are easily lost and slow to recover.
2. Bring Habitats Back to Life. Our reforestation of rural landscapes, such as the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, brings forests back where they have been lost to human actions, such as clearing forests for In the Valley, much of this effort is on land purchased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create national wildlife refuges. That helps people enjoy these renewed forests and gives wildlife the freedom to roam. The annual birding festival in the Valley, for example, draws in thousands of birders and wildlife lovers from around the world to explore restored thorn forests we have helped to replant on these refuges.
3. Create Tree. If you live in a leafy neighborhood or a more rural community, you can take for granted the small dose of nature that you experience every time you pass under a tree. You can also take for granted trees’ role in cooling recreation areas, like parks and bike paths, and improving air quality in them. But in cities across America, lower income neighborhoods and some communities of color consistently have less tree cover to provide these benefits. That’s why we see our Tree Equity work in cities as advancing nature equity and recreation equity along with public health, climate resilience and other goals.
4. Create More Public Land. American Forests advocates for increased public funding to purchase forestland for public ownership and Purchasing more forestland for public ownership means there are more public forests to enjoy closer to more people. Our work includes advocating for the Great American Outdoors Act, legislation to ensure the Land and Water Conservation Fund gets the full $900 million each year it was promised when the fund was originally established by Congress decades ago. This is approximately double the actual funding levels Congress has provided in recent years. We are also advocating for states and local governments to increase their investment in public land acquisition. Success in these public policy efforts will lead to more public forestland for people to enjoy.
Thank you for making it possible for American Forests to expand and improve forest-based recreation opportunities across the nation. Hopefully, this column has you primed for your next adventure in the woods!