Restoring Critical Habitat

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Eighty percent of land-dwelling species rely on forests in order to survive. Kirtland’s warblers nest in jack pine forests, primarily in Michigan. Grizzly bears in Montana eat seeds from pine trees in alpine forests. Ocelots in Texas find their mates while traversing thornforests.

Even species that live in the water rely on forests. Fish and sea turtles, for example, benefit from the work forests do to keep their habitat — rivers, streams and lakes — clean. Forests act like a filter. They keep water clean by preventing the runoff of chemicals and soil into waterways.

All are species that people love for many reasons, one which is the opportunity to see and hear them when we are on vacation or hiking and kayaking near our homes.

But many forest-dwelling animals are threatened, largely because of deforestation and forest degradation caused by climate change-induced insects and diseases, droughts and severe wildfires, as well as sprawling development.

  • The climate change-induced spread of invasive, non-native species is crowding out native plants and animals from their preferred habitat.
  • Populations of forest-dependent wildlife species worldwide declined 53 percent between 1970 and 2014, on average.
  • Wildlife species are now going extinct at a rate 1,000 times higher than they would from natural factors.

American Forests has been working on-the-ground for nearly three decades to restore and expand wildlife habitat that supports hundreds of threatened species of wildlife.

How are we protecting wildlife?

Our approach related to wildlife is three-pronged. In our Innovation Lab, we incubate new tools and scientific research to help solve complicated puzzles and empower the forestry field. We create place-based partnerships in cities and large, rural landscapes so we can work with others to develop and implement enduring, science-based data and plans that relate to planting trees and taking care of the trees we already have. And we build movements that inspire and empower actions—such as the creation of new reforestation policies—at a large scale. Following are several examples of projects related to our approach.

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Place-based Partnership: Lower Rio Grande Valley

Nearly 90 percent of the forest that used to span the Lower Rio Grande Valley, a river delta along the eastern border of Texas and Mexico, is gone. Most of it has been replaced by roads and buildings. American Forests recently worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners to create a plan for restoring the thornforest that used to dominate the Valley’s natural landscape. We are starting to implement the plan which, among other things, calls for planting more trees that will provide habitat for wildlife — such as burrowing owls, butterflies and critically endangered ocelots. We are building off of more than 20 years of work in the Valley, during which we have planted 2 million trees.

Place-based Partnership: Northern Rockies

Whitebark pine is a foundational species in the high-elevation forests of the western U.S. That means more than 100 animals, including grizzly bears, depend on this tree for food. And other tree species can’t grow to full height if the whitebark pine is not there to block the fierce alpine winds. But most whitebark pine trees have fallen victim to a non-native fungus, white pine blister rust, that prevents the flow of nutrients within the tree. To address this, American Forests is helping to grow and plant rust-resistant whitebark pines.

Movement Building: Reforestation

Iconic national forests in America are being devastated by drought, pests, disease and wildfire. Climate change super charges all of this. The REPLANT Act of 2021 would bring damaged areas in these forests back to life by providing the U.S. Forest Service with the tools and resources its foresters need to plant an additional 300 million trees annually over the next 10 years. More forests mean more habitat for wildlife, as well as additional jobs, clean drinking water and less carbon dioxide in the air. Read how you can support this legislation.

red-naped sapsucker

Innovation Lab: Natural Regeneration

In eastern Oregon, quaking aspen stands are biodiversity hotspots, with more bird, mammal, plant and insect species than any other type of forest. They make especially cozy homes for cavity-nesting woodpeckers that find the aspen’s soft wood ideal for chiseling out holes for themselves and other small species. But aspen ecosystems have decreased substantially. And even though their root systems produce ample sprouts that can grow into trees, their longterm chances are slim. That’s because elk like to browse on the sprouts. We are working with the U.S. Forest Service to build fences around aspen stands in Malheur National Forest, to keep the elk out and allow for the natural regeneration of this critical species.



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