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Conservation Ecology: An Education from American Forests
Posted on April 20, 2015

Dramatic fall vista over the Superior National Forest, MN, a forest that was established in 1909 and is known for its boreal forest ecosystem, numerous clean lakes, and a colorful cultural history. Photo: Paul Weimer

Wednesday is Earth Day, a holiday that needs no introduction for folks who live lives of outdoor recreation—or who have been following along this past week on the Live Your Adventure blog. All week, we highlighted our two-decade partnership with American Forests, the longest-standing conservation nonprofit in America, through the conservation projects we are backing for 2015. We launched a microsite Friday to highlight the efforts, but tomorrow and Wednesday, all purchases made at Eddie Bauer will generate an additional tree planted as a part of our 2015 conservation, reforestation, and restoration effort. We know conservation is good, but we had a few questions on what it all meant on an ecological scale. So to increase our focus on what this effort means, we tracked down Jami Westerhold, senior director of forest restoration programs for American Forests.

Jami is responsible for the strategic development and management of American Forests’ forest restoration programs, including Global ReLeaf and Endangered Western Forests. She has worked in the environmental and conservation arena for more than a decade. Prior to joining American Forests, Jami served in U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ office, working on environmental issues. Previously, she worked for U.S. Senator John Barrasso, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and also developed a pilot program for the Bureau of Land Management that identified and located environmental features and has since been implemented agency-wide. Jami earned a master’s degree in Environmental Law and Policy and a juris doctor degree from Vermont Law School, and holds a bachelor of arts degree in Environmental Studies from Green Mountain College. She knows her trees and this is what she had to say. —LYA Editor

Images and Background courtesy of American Forests

A wildfire rages in Utah, a state hit by fires that ravaged more than 30,000 acres in 2014 alone.

“Our work now reflects the realities of our environment today. Development continues to threaten forests, as do natural disasters, but now storms and wildfires have become much more violent and there is greater destruction to entire ecosystems.” 

 

Describe the mission of both American Forests and Global ReLeaf and the difference between the two.

American Forests’ mission is to restore threatened forest ecosystems and inspire people to value and protect urban and wildland forests. Global ReLeaf is a program of American Forests that focuses on planting trees in wildland forests in support of our mission. Global ReLeaf’s mission is to identify forests that have been damaged by a myriad of threats—pests, disease, fire, development—and help restore them to health. These are often high-impact forests supporting threatened and endangered wildlife and watersheds.

How has the mission of American Forests shifted since its founding? How has it remained true to its roots?

In the words of historian Henry Clepper, the group of concerned citizens who founded American Forests in 1875 “inaugurated the conservation movement.” American Forests is the oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the U.S., and helped change popular thought at the time to gain increased appreciation of forests as important natural resources, not just for our utilitarian purposes. Our work also helped forge the modern standards for arboriculture in the early 20th century, pioneering the broader field of urban forestry beginning in the 1970s, and spearheading creation of the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry program in 1990.

Our work now reflects the realities of our environment today. Development continues to threaten forests, as do natural disasters, but now storms and wildfires have become much more violent and there is greater destruction to entire ecosystems. Also, insects, disease and invasive plants threaten the health of forests, just at a time when we are realizing how closely human health and that of all living creatures on the planet depend on the health of forests.

What are the most impressive stats for the Global ReLeaf program? Why has it been such a successful program?

The Global ReLeaf program is 25 years old this year, and is on track to plant its 50 millionth tree and complete its 1,000th forest restoration project. American Forests has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service for 25 years, ensuring our public forests are healthy and thriving. Global ReLeaf has been working to restore healthy forests on land that was cleared for agriculture in a wildlife refuge in the Lower Rio Grande since 1997.

Towering old-growth stands in Cathedral Pines DNR lands in northern Wisconsin, one of the finest old growth pine-hemlock stands on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Photo: Elvis Kennedy

“When people use our public lands, they create a lasting bond to the land which brings a sense of responsibility for the forests.”  

 

How does American Forests select the reforestation projects to work on?

American Forests selects a variety of projects in a range of locations that address different ecological challenges, such as forests threatened by pests, disease, drought or development. We replant areas burned by wildfires that are damaged beyond their ability to reseed themselves, or ravaged by storms, such as Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. We look for projects that also restore wildlife habitat, particularly for threatened and endangered species, and riparian plantings that help return clean water to communities.

What protects the Global ReLeaf projects from future timber harvesting or development?

American Forests works on public lands that are managed as public resources for recreation, wildlife habitat and protection of water quality. We plant mostly on land that is not available for high-impact development. American Forests also plants many high-value native tree species that are not high-value in the timber industry, such as whitebark pine. Internationally, we support a lot of public education on the importance of keeping forests healthy. We also try to plant only in protected areas. In these areas, we will also plant species that are worth most to the community when alive, such as fruit trees.

Why is monoculture bad for the forest ecology, and how has American Forests worked to promote ecological diversity in our forests?

Forests have evolved over hundreds of millions of years. They co-evolved with a complex community of creatures, from the tiniest microorganisms up to the plants and animals that live in and around them, such as ferns, moss, understory trees, woodland flowers, insects, birds and animals—that all play a role in sustaining the health of the forest as the forest sustains them. When a natural forest is cut down and replaced with one kind of tree, countless species perish or are pushed out. A single species of tree, even one that is native to the area, cannot support or be supported by the community of diverse life that once lived in it.

American Forests promotes the planting of a variety of native species and works hard to educate the public on why that is important, such as a variety of species that offers different food options for wildlife.

A variety of tree species also protects an entire forest from being killed by a single pest or disease. One of the largest problems when a disease/pest hits a monoculture forest is that all the trees are susceptible, versus the disease/pest only impacting some of the trees (e.g., Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, ash trees by the emerald ash borer).

It should be noted that monocultures are even more problematic when the trees are planted at the same time. For example, bark beetles only attack adult trees of a certain size. If the forests are managed properly, only a portion of the trees would be susceptible.

Aerial assault on the Stafford Fire, CA, which burned 4,400 acres in Trinity County. Photo: Gampopa 101

“Fire is traumatic not just to people but to all species that live in and around it, as is the loss of the haven of a beautiful forest. It is heartbreaking to see a familiar landscape devastated, and even more so knowing that it may take many, many decades before it returns to its former majesty.”  

 

Many of the 2015 reforestation projects in the American West are connected to beetle kills or fire damage or both. Describe what is happening with the pine beetle in Western forests. How is the infestation connected to forest fires and climate change?

In brief, in recent decades there has been an alarming surge in pine bark beetle populations in the West, in large part due to a long-term trend of warmer winters and longer summers that allowed more beetles to survive the winter, and for beetles to have a longer season to feed on trees. The trend is exacerbated by an invasive fungus—blister rust—which also attacks the trees, weakening them and making them more easily overcome by the beetle damage.

On top of those factors, drought has parched millions of acres of these forests, tied to the effects of climate change. Added together, you have a hazardous combination that can lead to catastrophic fires. Forests in the West are meant to burn. Long-standing policies of putting out fires has led to dense forests, making them susceptible to both severe fires and pests.

We’ve heard more recently that fire is an important part of the cycle of the forest ecosystem. Why is it important to replant after a forest fire rather than let the forest regenerate on its own?

Fire has long been one of nature’s tools to thin forests and create areas that can generate new trees. It works best when allowed free rein to burn the parts of the forest that are most flammable, such as dry undergrowth, and sick or dead trees. Healthy trees are able to survive it, and some seeds, in fact, require fire to be released, such as the serotinous cones of lodgepole pines.

But these days, we control fires because of development—people live in and around forests—and we control undergrowth because it can burn easily. Those areas are called WUIs—Wildland Urban Interfaces.

As a result, when a fire catches in an area that has not seen a recent burn, the forest burns much, much hotter and often entirely destroys the seeds that would be shed in a normal fire, which would regrow on their own. That is when proactive replanting is needed if the forest is to recover. Severe droughts can also impact the natural regeneration of these areas.

The Carlton Complex fire hit very close to home last summer. Describe the Global ReLeaf project to replant in the Methow Valley, and why it is so important for the Pacific Northwest, both ecologically and emotionally?

This is the first year of reforestation on national forest lands burned in the Carlton Fire Complex of 2014, the largest wildfire on record in the state of Washington. Estimated tree mortality exceeded 95 percent within the high-severity fire area, and a reliable seed source for natural forest regeneration has been eliminated.

American Forests will be planting 112,600 ponderosa pine and western larch across 1,000 acres, restoring areas damaged by wildfire and improving watershed conditions from severe runoff and soil erosion.

Extensive flooding and soil erosion occurred following the Carlton Fire. On August 21, 2014, a thunderstorm with high levels of precipitation impacted the South Summit area, causing major flooding in Frazer Creek and Benson Creek. These waterways connect to the Methow River, which provides habitat for three federally listed fish species: the Upper Columbia River steelhead, spring chinook salmon, and Columbia River bull trout.

Fire is traumatic not just to people but to all species that live in and around it, as is the loss of the haven of a beautiful forest. It is heartbreaking to see a familiar landscape devastated, and even more so knowing that it may take many, many decades before it returns to its former majesty.

The elusive Northern pike swimming free. Photo: Travis S./Flickr

“American Forests is the oldest nonprofit conservation organization in the United States, and over our 140-year history, Eddie Bauer has been our single largest supporter, corporate or otherwise.”

 

Why is outdoor recreation important for forest conservation in the greater picture?

People who enjoy outdoor recreation appreciate forests. Whether walking, hiking, running, skiing, kayaking, fishing, camping, biking, birding, or any other sport or avocation related to the outdoors, people who enjoy playing outside seem to have a special understanding of how important forests are to their health and the health of the world, feel better when they’re out in a forest, and care for and about forests.

When people use our public lands, they create a lasting bond to the land which brings a sense of responsibility for the forests. Many people who enjoy outdoor recreation started as kids, with family or friends. Through their lifetimes they bring their children and their friends into those sports and pastimes with them, spreading the appreciation and respect for all aspects of nature.

What conservation project are you most excited about in the next year, and what conservation project are you most proud of in your career with American Forests?

This year we are reforesting 2,000 acres of Deschutes National Forest in Oregon with more than 350,000 ponderosa pine and Douglas fir to restore an ecosystem heavily damaged by the 2012 Pole Creek Fire. More than 10,000 acres burned at high severity, leaving little or no surviving forest cover. We have planted in this national forest since 2007 and I have never visited it, but I am visiting next week and am really excited. The replanting will work to control erosion, maintain wildlife habitat, and restore a highly utilized recreational area. In addition, this project will involve working with youth and volunteer groups, including an alternative high school program that provides opportunities for kids to learn and work in the outdoors while restoring and caring for our forests.

Another project this year that I like is a restoration planting in Vermont that targets an eroding riverbank along the Missisquoi River, within a wildlife refuge. It will reduce erosion impacting water quality and state-listed mussel species, as well as improve the riparian forest cover for migratory birds and other wildlife. Trees protecting mussels? I love it.

In Indonesia, we are working in habitats for the critically endangered orangutans. It is great they have a place where these incredibly humanlike species can live safely. We have been working in Indonesia since 2006 and have planted nearly 260,000 trees in this orangutan habitat.

I am proud of our surface mining projects. We had two last year, one in Ohio and one in West Virginia. I love the idea of taking areas that have been scarred and abandoned and returning them to health.

I think the work we are doing and have been doing in the Lower Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge in Texas is remarkable. We have been working there since 1997. We often focus on the restoration of habitat for the ocelot, a critically endangered (and also beautiful) animal, but there are hundreds of birds and butterflies and other animals that also call the area home. I had the chance to visit and saw more species of birds in one day there than I have seen maybe in my whole life. It was amazing!

What are the biggest highlights of the two-decade partnership between Eddie Bauer and American Forests?

As of 2015, Eddie Bauer and American Forests have planted 6.5 million trees, as well as partnering on special projects such as a Tree Project CD with Sony Music, the National Urban Forests Conference, and the Tree for Every Child initiative. We’ve partnered on distributing half a million seedlings through Eddie Bauer stores in 2000, planting 9/11 memorial groves in 2002, and on launching the Wildfire ReLeaf program. This year is the 20th anniversary of the partnership.

MethowValley

“The 6.5+ million trees Eddie Bauer has helped us plant in over 150 unique ecosystem restoration projects are helping to clean our air and water, provide critical habitat for thousands of species, and combat the effects of climate change by sequestering harmful greenhouse gases.”

 

Why are corporate partnerships critical to the mission of American Forests, and what role do they play in the broader conservation ethic?

It is largely through corporate partners that American Forests has been able to do such extensive work in all 50 states and in 45 countries. By supporting American Forests’ work, corporate partners demonstrate their core values to their customers and supporters, and serve as role models for stewardship of our environment. Corporate partners also help provide critically important education about the connection between healthy forests and a healthy planet.

What is the most lasting legacy of the Eddie Bauer/Global ReLeaf connection?

American Forests is the oldest nonprofit conservation organization in the United States, and over our 140-year history, Eddie Bauer has been our single largest supporter, corporate or otherwise. More importantly, the 6.5+ million trees Eddie Bauer has helped us plant in over 150 unique ecosystem restoration projects are helping to clean our air and water, provide critical habitat for thousands of species, and combat the effects of climate change by sequestering harmful greenhouse gases. Eddie Bauer’s commitment to healthy forests will leave a lasting legacy for generations to come.

Jami Westerhold, senior director of forest restoration programs for American Forests, and, of course, Smokey the Bear

Eddie Bauer kicked off its 20th-anniversary celebration of partnership with American Forests with an Earth Week campaign starting April 17, and invites all customers to join the cause. Customers can donate to American Forests directly through Eddie Bauer’s custom microsite, or “Add a Dollar, Plant a Tree” during checkout both online and in-store. To close out Earth Week, Eddie Bauer will plant a tree for every transaction made on April 21 and 22.

 

 

Author: - Monday, April 20th, 2015
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  1. Mountain Man

    There’s two sides to this story. How about selectively cutting down some trees to save our forests? We can never plant enough trees to replace the damage done by Mountain Pine Beetle in the Colorado Rockies, yet many of those millions of lost trees would be here today with a little forest management, selective thinning over the last hundred years. Let’s rev up our chainsaws before a few million more are lost!

  2. Eddie Bauer Social

    Hi Mountain Man. Thanks for your comment. You’re right- planting trees is only part of the solution toward responsible, sustainable forest management that ensures these precious resources will not be lost.

  3. Eddie Bauer Social

    Mountain Man – we asked Lee Sloan, VP of Communications w/ American Forests, for their thoughts on your comment:

    “Mountain Man – Your suggestion about thinning forests to maintain their
    health certainly follows protocol. If the Forest Service had the budgets
    that they for years have requested and not received, they would have been
    able to utilize this labor-intensive strategy. But the tactic of cutting
    down a lot of healthy trees in hopes that the beetles will stay away from
    the remaining healthy ones seems overly optimistic. American Forests is
    helping to grow disease-resistant trees as fast as we can, while also
    experimenting with treatments. Now if we could just focus on get rid of
    the dead ones, that at least would mediate the forest fire danger.

    Lea Sloan | Vice President, Communications | American Forests”


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