Our American ReLeaf program conserves and restores forests across North America. We work throughout the United States, and in parts of Canada and Mexico.
Our work conserves the forests we already have, and restores damaged forests to a healthy state. We use a variety of techniques to restore forest health. One of our main techniques is reforestation, or planting trees. We’ve planted 60 million trees in the last 30 years alone.
To accomplish our goals, we work with local partners on reforestation projects across the country. We lead movements to help conserve and restore our forests on a giant scale. And we carry out new research to find the best ways to help forests withstand climate change and other threats.
Our Forests Face Unprecedented Threats
New and existing threats are changing America’s forests rapidly. Deforestation—whether from severe wildfire or suburban sprawl—is one of the biggest dangers to our forests. Threats like deforestation make it harder for people and wildlife to rely on forests for their basic needs.
- Climate change is fueling extreme droughts, violent storms and severe wildfires. Trees that aren’t killed by these threats are weakened. This leaves them vulnerable to disease and pests.
- A century of suppression of natural fires has left many forests overgrown and unhealthy. In some places fire-dependent forests have been replaced by entirely different ecosystems.
- Introduced diseases, which come from other parts of the country or world, are decimating trees like whitebark pines, beeches and oaks.
- Across the country, urban and suburban sprawl continues to take over forests. Low-density development takes up a lot of land, and means an excessive number of trees get cut down.
Why Forest Restoration Is Important
Forests help us fight climate change
Forests are the best nature-based solution to climate change. Annually, our forests and forest products capture almost 15 percent of U.S. fossil fuel carbon emissions. They have the potential to capture nearly twice as much if we plant trees and take other actions. Climate change, though, makes it harder than ever to harness the full potential of forests.
Forests provide clean, steady water
Forests act like a sponge. They absorb rainfall, which eventually flows into rivers and streams that provide us with a steady supply of water. More than half of America’s drinking water comes from these waterways. But scientists predict that, by 2071, nearly half of the freshwater basins in the U.S. may not be able to meet the monthly demand for water. Forests also keep water clean, as they help prevent the runoff of chemicals and soil into waterways.
Forests provide wildlife habitat
Forests are key to addressing our global biodiversity crisis. They provide habitat for 80 percent of land animals. But as forests suffer, so does wildlife. Worldwide, populations of forest-dependent wildlife species declined 53 percent between 1970 and 2014.
Forests support 3 million jobs
Forests are life-and-death infrastructure because of the many benefits they provide to people. One of those benefits is jobs. Nearly 3 million jobs in America, such as restoring damaged forests and producing sustainable timber, are tied to forests.
By 2030, our American ReLeaf program will help accomplish the following by working with a diverse group of partners:
- At least 4 billion trees are planted across 16 million acres of North America; climate-smart practices are used to determine what trees to plant, where to plant them and how to manage them.
- At least 100,000 people, particularly those from under-resourced communities, have entered jobs in forestry.
How We Are Restoring America’s Forests
We lead research and test new strategies to help forests withstand climate change
In our Innovation Lab, we lead scientific research to restore forest health. This research informs new tools and techniques to help forests cope with climate change. These techniques can boost forest growth after wildfires, for example, or trap more carbon in forest soil.
Some of our “climate smart” reforestation methods include:
- Planting genetically diverse collections of native species
- Planting trees that are better able to thrive under future climate conditions
- Screening seedlings for disease resistance
- Spacing seedlings to mimic natural tree regrowth after wildfire. Wider, natural spacing reduces the risk of future fires.
- Planting seedlings in plastic shelter tubes that dramatically increase plant survival in drought-prone areas
We build movements to restore and conserve America’s forests
American Forests builds movements that empower actions—such as the creation of new reforestation policies—at a large scale. The Forest-Climate Working Group, staffed and led by American Forests, is one of our key partners in doing so. It is the nation’s only forest sector coalition on climate change. We also inspire our members to support key conservation legislation, such as the Reforestation Act of 2019 and the Great American Outdoors Act.
Our place-based partnerships restore forest health in a changing climate
We create place-based partnerships to develop science-based forest restoration plans and projects. Then, we bring these plans to life by advocating for local, state and federal policies and programs, as well as funding to support them. Last, we plant trees and care for forests. Some of our place-based partnerships, such as our reforestation work to bring back the Kirtland’s warbler, have been in continuous operation for three decades.
Our Forest Restoration Projects
American Forests works in large forest landscapes across the country, and in parts of Mexico and Canada. Our current main projects are in California, the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas and the northern Rockies.
California’s forests are home to iconic wildlife such as elk and cougars. They also supply more than 60 percent of the state’s water. But increasingly severe droughts and wildfires, coupled with a legacy of fire suppression, mean that California’s forests are in trouble.
American Forests works in the San Bernardino mountain range, national forests in the Sierra Nevada, the Eldorado National forest and the area burned in the 2018 Camp Fire. We are planting hundreds of thousands of trees in these areas using climate-smart reforestation plans. We also lead critical partnerships with scientists, government agencies and landowners to share knowledge and create legislation to conserve and restore forests.
Lower Rio Grande Valley
Thornforests in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas are home to more than 500 species of birds, 300 species of butterfly and 11 threatened and endangered species. But less than 10 percent of thornforests remain, victims of land clearing for agriculture and development.
Over the last 22 years, American Forests has planted more than 2 million thornscrub trees in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. We also launched the Thornforest Conservation Partnership to guide and unify work to protect the region’s wildlife and water.
The forests in the Northern Rockies boast gorgeous landscapes like Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. But as climate change dries out the region, it’s threatening these unique places with extreme wildfires and outbreaks of pests and disease.
American Forests is leading multi-state initiatives to conserve and restore these crucial forests. Our work currently concentrates on high elevation forests, where trees like the whitebark pine are rapidly disappearing due to blister rust fungus and other threats.
Each year, American Forests works with local partners on dozens of reforestation projects in the following regions:
- Ozark and Appalachian Mountains
- Northern Great Lakes region
- Lake Champlain Basin
- Southern Piedmont and Plains region
Our work in these areas serves a variety of purposes. Some projects reduce the threat of flooding, or help abandoned mine lands turn back into healthy oak forests. Others protect endangered animals like the gopher tortoise and red-cockaded woodpecker.
Forest Restoration Brings Back Kirtland’s Warbler from the Edge of Extinction
In November 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the Kirtland’s warbler from the federal list of endangered species — making it the first songbird to be delisted.
This win is in large part due to American Forests’ work over the last 30 years restoring young jack pine forests in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario — the required nesting habitat for the Kirtland’s warbler. Since 1990 American Forests has supported the planting of 6.8 million jack pine seedlings. In 2020, we are helping to plant an additional 1.8 million more.
Disease-Resistant Whitebark Pine Seedlings Offer the Best Hope for the Species’ Survival
Across the high slopes of western mountains like the Rockies and Cascades, forests are turning to cemeteries. Blister rust fungus, a non-native tree disease that was accidentally introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900s, is wiping out whitebark pines and other species in the five needle pine family.
Whitebark pines and their relatives are keystone species, offering food and habitat for hundreds of species of animals. To protect these pines, American Forests spearheaded a conservation initiative that brings together government agencies, tribes and nonprofits from across western states. We are responsible for half of all disease-resistant whitebark pines that have ever been planted in the U.S. and Canada.
Reforestation Restores Wildlife Habitat in the San Bernardino Mountains
American Forests has been restoring wildfire-ravaged forests across California’s San Bernardino Mountains for nearly two decades. Those years of work are paying off. Healthy pines and oaks, some of them now 15 feet tall, are beckoning back wildlife like mule deer and mountain lions.
In 2020 and 2021, American Forests will continue its winning work with local partners to plant 75,600 seedlings in the San Bernardinos. This adds to the half-million trees the project has planted there since 2004.
The Fight to Protect High Mountain Forests
Discover how two cats from very different habitats share an unlikely connection through the Rio Grande River and their need for forest restoration.
Years of catastrophic wildfires have brought California to the brink — so how are its people responding?