Year in Review 2020

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Special thanks to our partners for helping to reforest America in 2020.

Corporate Partners
Sequoia Circle
Annual Fund Donors
Public Agencies
Evergreen Society

In August, the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law, fully and permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Forests Score Major Win in Congress

Large forested landscapes received more love from Congress this year than they have in decades.

In August, the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law. The legislation fully and permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the nation’s most important tool for providing access to our national forests and other public land. American Forests and its partners have been advocating for this legislation since the fund was created in 1965. 

The law doubles, to $900 million annually, the money allocated to LWCF. Governments can use the money to maintain forests and expand the amount of protected forests, both on private and public land 

The REPLANT Act was also introduced in the House and Senate and focuses on conserving the national forests we have, largely by planting trees.  

These wins are a testament to the fact that large forest landscapes are a lifeline for many people. Among other things, forests help create needed jobs and are essential to our clean water supply.   

Grants Take Jobs Program to New Level

In cities across the United States, demand for trees is on the rise. But without enough people to properly plant and maintain trees, we can’t meet this demand. That’s why, in 2018, American Forests launched the Tree Equity: Career Pathways Initiative. The focus of the initiative is training people in low-income urban neighborhoods (where there are fewer jobs and trees) and placing them in urban forestry jobs.  

This year, American Forests took the program to a new level by awarding grants to five cities: Providence, R.I., Syracuse, N.Y., Milwaukee, Minneapolis and DetroitThe funding, combined with technical resources created by American Forests, was used by the cities to make their training programs bigger and better, placing more people in urban forestry jobs. 

The grants program was a win for people who need jobs. And a win for people who benefit from everything else that trees give us  like shade, clean air and lower utility bills. 

This year, American Forests took its Tree Equity: Career Pathways Initiative to a new level by awarding grants to five cities to allow their training programs to place more people in urban forestry jobs.

This year, American Forests planted 11,000 seedlings in burned forests near Paradise, Calif., and 70,000 thornforest tree seedlings on 70 acres of former farmland in Texas.

Restoring Landscapes through Climate-Smart Techniques

This summer laid bare the toll the climate crisis is taking on the United States. Death Valley sweltered under earth’s hottest recorded temperature — 130 degrees — while unprecedented wildfires engulfed millions of acres in the West. Urgent measures are needed to restore resilient forests that can better withstand the “new abnormal,” and American Forests is stepping up to the plate. 

This spring, American Forests planted 11,000 seedlings in burned forests near Paradise, Calif., where the state’s deadliest wildfire raged in 2018. This planting was part of a pilot to trial a range of climate-smart reforestation techniques. 

And in Texas, American Forests planted 70,000 thornforest tree seedlings on 70 acres of former farmland in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This project is the first to use our drought resilience strategy, which aims to grow native forests adapted to the area’s increasingly dry climate.  

Planting Trees to Combat Extreme Heat in Desert Cities

Extreme heat is a growing problem for cities nationwide, and it’s been made worse by climate change. For desert cities, figuring out the best way to plant and care for trees is critical to saving lives.  

This is why people in the Phoenix metro region are coming together to create and bring to life a plan for planting treesAmerican Forests is helping lead the Phoenix Metro Urban Forestry Round Table, which includes members of academia and local organizations as well as city, county and state government.We’re also assessing which tree species can tolerate the area’s high temperatures and developing best practices for keeping trees alive in desert climates 

This comprehensive approach will ensure trees thrive, especially in places that need them the most, reducing temperatures, improving air quality and advancing environmental and social equity. That’s what we call Tree Equity. And when trees thrive in Phoenix, we can share and replicate what worked there with other cities.

People in the Phoenix metro region are coming together to create and bring to life a plan for planting trees.

TREE Act Could Help Create Tree Equity in Cities Across the Country

Trees can help prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths by absorbing pollutants and providing shade that cools neighborhoods down.

Congress took several big steps this year toward creating the largest federal urban forestry program in decades. The program would result in 300,000 more trees being planted every year in cities and towns across the country, with an emphasis on the many low-income neighborhoods that have few, if any, trees 

The main impetus behind the program is to reduce energy bills. Trees cool homes in the summer and block wind during the winter, which means the air conditioning and heat likely do not have to be blasted those times of the year. Across the country, trees already help reduce residential energy costs by $7.8 billion annually. 

Another motivating factor is public health. As climate change-induced heat waves nationwide become more frequent, more people are susceptible to heat-related illnesses and deaths. High temperatures also intensify air pollution by creating smog, a dangerous pollutant that can make it difficult to breathe, which in turn triggers asthma attacks and spiking emergency room visits. Trees can help prevent this from happening by absorbing pollutants and providing shade that cools neighborhoods down. For example, the temperature in the shade below a tree can be 20 to 45 degrees cooler than unshaded areas. 

Over the summer, federal legislation for this program was approved in the House of Representatives and introduced in the Senate. The aptly named TREE Act has bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. The $50 million annual program, run by the U.S. Department of Energy, would be one way to help create Tree Equity which, simply put, is about ensuring all people benefit from what trees have to offer.  

Billions More Seedlings Are Needed to Reforest America. Promising Funding Opportunities Are on the Horizon

Each year, nurseries in the United States ship out 1.2 billion tree seedlings to planting sitesenough to reforest 2.2 million acres. But a whopping 131 million acres in the U.S. can potentially be replanted with trees — a tally that will no doubt balloon after this year’s unprecedented fire season in the West.  

Billions more seedlings are needed, but where will they come from? In a first-of-its-kind survey from American Forests and The Nature Conservancy, nursery managers across the country reported that they can boost seedling production by just one-third, on average, using their existing infrastructure 

The respondents, who oversee a total of 40% of the country’s nursery capacity, reported a variety of barriers to increased output. Chief among these were money and labor. Expanding existing nurseries and getting new ones up and running takes time and investment. Nursery managers worry that if they boost production the markets for more seedlings might not materialize. On top of this, these businesses struggle to attract workers. Most nursery work is seasonal and relies on migrant workers who now face steep hurdles entering the country.  

Eric Sprague, American Forests’ vice president of forest restorationsaid initiatives like and the proposed REPLANT Act offer promising funding opportunities for nursery infrastructure and training. “With the right policy and market signals, nurseries will be able to ramp up production,” Sprague says. “This is the time for trees. If ever there was a moment to get people interested in a mass scaling-up of nursery capacity, now is it.” 

Initiatives like and the proposed REPLANT Act offer promising funding opportunities for nursery infrastructure and training. Credit: Chris Celentano / American Forests

Rhode Island Governor Receives Inaugural American Forests Tree Equity Champion Award

Raimondo volunteers at a tree planting event (pre-COVID-19) in Woonsocket, R.I. on Arbor Day 2019.

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At the heart of American Forests’ approach to restoring, planting and caring for trees in urban neighborhoods is ensuring trees are equitably distributed so all people can benefit from them. We call this creating Tree Equity. Doing so requires bold and exemplary leadership. That’s why American Forests honored Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo with its inaugural Tree Equity Champion Award in September.  

Rhode Island is the nation’s smallest state. But under the governor’s leadership, it has become an outsized influencer in promoting the value of trees in urban areas  mainly cities and small towns  in slowing climate change and improving public health. Her state’s Resilient Rhody strategy aims to do just that. The Rhode Island Urban Forests for Climate and Health Initiative was established in 2019 to implement parts of the strategy. One of the first projects done via the initiative was working with American Forests and partners in Rhode Island to create a first-ever tool to determine a Tree Equity Score. Each score is an indicator of whether a neighborhood has a sufficient number of trees so all people experience the health, economic and other benefits that trees provide. The intent of the Tree Equity Score is for city governments, urban foresters and allied professionals to use the scores to prioritize investment of trees in neighborhoods where low tree canopy overlaps with socioeconomic and environmental needs. This first-ever standardized method to measure Tree Equity will first be applied by American Forests in Rhode Island’s urbanized areas, the San Francisco Bay area of California and Maricopa County, AZ (home to Phoenix).  

The state is also piloting a suite of planning tools, policy initiatives and innovative financing mechanisms that cities, nonprofits and other groups can use to expand their tree canopy cover and maximize the benefits that urban forests provide. This will help alleviate health problems caused by rising temperatures in the urbanized portion of the state, including the Health Equity Zones. These geographies often represent low tree canopy neighborhoods with lower income families who lack access to air conditioning.  

Partnerships set the bar high in 2020

Our corporate partners didn’t let a pandemic and economic downturn dampen their enthusiasm for the work we’re doing. In fact, American Forests fielded more interest from corporate partners in 2020 than in any previous year. 

In fiscal 2020, we added 31 new corporate partners, expanded relationships with others and launched campaigns designed to support forest restoration and expanding tree cover in cities, while raising awareness about the importance of trees to the climate, wildlife and our health. 

“We love brainstorming with our partners around creative opportunities to reach our goals together,” says Lindsey Putz, director of corporate giving. “And we’ve been going deeper on our programmatic work with the launch of our Tree Equity: Career Pathways program and our climate-driven reforestation in large landscapes. These initiatives have really resonated with employers and employees alike.” 

Among the highlights of our corporate partnerships: 

New partner Timberland launched a program through which customers can donate $1 at checkout in-store and, if they choose ground shipping on, a tree will be planted with American Forests. The brand produced an IGTV video, “The Power of Trees,” featuring an interview with American Forests this year as well. 

Travelers, a partner we’ve worked with for four years, hit its million-tree goal in Earth Month (April) through its paperless billing program and decided to fund the planting of an additional 500,000 trees. 

Some partners ramped up their commitments through innovative campaigns. LightStream underwrote and co-produced the “Right Tree Right Place” campaign, including a video and graphics educating people about why trees matter and how to select the right tree for your home and the right place to plant it. 

And Clif Bar selected American Forests to benefit from its seasonals bar campaign. Through a witty “You Eat, We Plant” video, corresponding social media and a webpage about our partnership, Clif Bar encouraged its customers to purchase seasonal bars in order to help the company reach its goal of planting 1 million trees over the next five years 

All in all, a great year and a promising 2021.

In fiscal year 2020, we added 31 new corporate partners, expanded relationships with others and launched campaigns designed to support forest restoration and expanding tree cover in cities, while raising awareness about the importance of trees to the climate, wildlife and our health.

Looking Ahead

With all of our groundwork laid in 2020, we are positioned to advance forest solutions at unprecedented scale. In 2021, with your help, American Forests will: 

  • Reforest America’s forest landscapes for health and resilience, including the vast areas devastated by the wildfires of 2020. We will do this by deepening our climate-informed reforestation techniques, expanding our on-the-ground reforestation partnerships and increasing funding opportunities from government programs, corporate partnerships and carbon financing.  
  • Lead the national movement for Tree Equity so people in all neighborhoods reap the benefits of trees, regardless of income or race. We will launch a national Tree Equity Score, gain national media attention and secure major new public funding for Tree Equity. And we will expand our partnerships with cities to achieve it. 
  • Grow the U.S. Chapter of by securing new trillion trees pledges from government, companies, nonprofits and civil society. We will also create avenues for people with shared interests  such as climate-smart urban forestry and carbon finance  to come together to share information and learn from each other. 

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