From Forest to Faucet – the importance of trees in helping to keep your drinking water safe and clean

Did you know that well managed natural forests help provide cleaner drinking water to urban communities? A report by the USDA Forest Service states nearly 80 percent of the nation’s freshwater originates from forestland. That crisp taste of fresh water is made possible by healthy forests, and when forests are neglected or destroyed it tampers with the quality of our water supply.

glassBecause forests account for such a healthy portion of drinking water, it’s important to understand the science of how water is collected and dispensed. Forests absorb rainfall and use that water to refill underground aquifers, cleansing and cooling water along the way. Certain tree species even break down pollutants commonly found in urban soils, groundwater, and runoff, such as metals, pesticides and solvents (Watershed Forestry Resource Guide). By recycling rain water we’re not only producing higher quality water, but the impacts of such methods are valued at $3.7 billion per year.

Watersheds are a function of topography and carry water runoff downhill from land into a body of water, whether it is a lake, river, or stream. Freshwater springs in forests are an example of forestland watersheds.  In urban settings watersheds serve as a key source of drinking water and can cut costs for water treatment systems. In addition, the presence of trees can retain stormwater runoff by absorbing excess water through its leaves and roots that would normally surge through gutters and pipes.According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there are more than 2,110 watersheds in the continental United States.

Maintaining our nation’s forests is critical both ecologically for natural wildlife and habitat and economically in saving money for cities and residents. When forests are destroyed as a result of natural disasters such as wildfire, it has a profound impact on cities. In 2002 Pike National Forest experienced the largest wildfire in Colorado history, burning approximately 137,000 acres including the upper South Platte watershed—the primary source of water for the City of Denver and its residents.

5473897573_498a390849_n[1]The Arbor Day Foundation is replanting in Pike National Forest in efforts to restore it back to its natural state. Other forests linked to important watersheds that the Arbor Day Foundation is replanting on include Payette National Forest in Idaho, Manchester State Forest in South Carolina, and the North Carolina Sandhills. You can help replant our critical forests, and help to keep our water clean, by making a donation today.

Celebrating Forests Today and Every Day

Did you know that today is the International Day of Forests, as proclaimed by the United Nations?

We may think we grasp the importance of rain forests throughout the world and temperate SONY DSCdeciduous forests in our country, but forests play a much larger role than many of us realize. Today marks the global celebration of forests. International Day of Forests sets to raise awareness on the importance of all types of forests and trees outside of forests.

In the words of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “As we deliberate on the post-2015 development agenda, let us acknowledge the vital role of forests and pledge to work together to protect and sustainably manage these vital ecosystems.”

Consider these facts from the United Nations:

  • Forests cover 1/3 of the Earth’s land mass.
  • Approximately 1.6 billion people – including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures –depend on forests for their livelihood. JaguarForests also provide shelter, jobs and security for forest dependent communities.
  • Forests are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than 80% of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects.
  • Forests play a key role in our attempt to adapt to and mitigating climate change. For example, they protect watersheds, which supply 75% of freshwater worldwide.

Muir Woods, Mill Valley, CAYet, despite the vital role forests play in the ecological, economic and social realms of human and planetary existence, we continue to witness global deforestation at an alarming rate. According to the United Nations, deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Learn more about what the Arbor Day Foundation is doing to protect and replant our nation’s forests as well as forests throughout the world at www.arborday.org/replanting and www.arborday.org/programs/rainforest.

All Eyes soon to be on Groundhog Celebrity Punxsutawney Phil, near forest treasure Cook Forest State Park

February 2 marks Groundhog Day, a Pennsylvania tradition to predict the arrival of spring. According to folklore, if the groundhog spots his shadow after coming out of winter hibernation, then winter will go on for another six weeks. If he comes out of his hole and doesn’t spot it, then it’s a sign that spring is on the horizon. The town of Punxsutawney, PA—where Groundhog Day originated—celebrates the tradition with an annual festival, awaiting the prediction of Punxsutawney Phil, the towns’ groundhog.

hillside_parkinfo[1]Pennsylvania boasts more than just Groundhog Day; it is also home to Cook Forest State Park—one of America’s top 50 state parks according to National Geographic Traveler. More than 8,500 acres of its breathtaking terrain stretch across northwestern Pennsylvania, sheltering some of America’s finest White Pine and Eastern Hemlock timber strands. Cook Forest State Park is also the first Pennsylvania State Park to be recognized as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

Bordered by the Clarion River, Cook Forest State Park encompasses a mixture of natural landscapes including rivers, rolling hills, and mountains.

Nine old growth forest areas are situated within Cook Forest State Park. The most popular are Swamp, Seneca, Cathedral, and Cook Trails. The old growth forests are remnants of ancient trees that appeared after a drought and fire back in 1644. Cook Forest State Park has some of the oldest White Pine and Eastern Hemlock tree, dating back 370 years.dcnr_008364[1]

The Forest Cathedral Natural Area is one of the largest old growth forests of White Pine and Eastern Hemlock trees in Pennsylvania. Several of the pines exceed three feet in diameter and rise 200 feet. Trees that grand are nicknamed “William Penn Trees” because they’re more likely to be 300 or more years old, and date back to the era of William Penn, the first governor of “Penn’s Woods.” The name Pennsylvania, which translates roughly as “Penn’s Woods,” was created by combining the Penn surname (in honor of William’s father, Admiral Sir William Penn) with the Latin word sylvania, meaning “forest land.”  The Forest Cathedral has been designated for protection as a state park natural area.

Some other ancient tree species hidden in the forest include strands of Red and White Oaks, Red Maple, and Black Cherry trees.

Icreek-620x300[1]n addition to the remarkable trees Cook Forest State Park boasts, the forest garners another treasure. Nestled within the Seneca old growth forest area are the remains of a natural mineral spring that produced waters with white sulfur and iron. The spring was believed to possess healing powers and was so popular in the 1900s that a boardwalk encased by gaslights was lit 24 hours a day so visitors could bathe and drink from the spring.

Cook Forest State Park is one marvel worth visiting. If you should ever find yourself in northwestern Pennsylvania, go explore the towering trees that adorn the area and allow yourself to be mesmerized by the daunting beauty of this National Natural Landmark.

What to do about Wildfires: Prevention vs. Combat

As the 2013 fire season continues, the costs of fighting wildfires have continued to increase. In 2012, fires consumed 40 percent of the Forest Service’s annual budget, compared to only 13 percent in 1991. Many factors have created these rising costs through the years, including worsened drought conditions, continued climate change, and an increased number of homes built near forested areas. These escalating expenses are proving to be so costly, that they are leaving less money for wildfire prevention.

 

Forest Fires

Drought conditions, climate change, and homes in traditionally forested areas have all contributed to the rising costs of fighting wildfires.

Due to these heightened factors, for fiscal 2014, the federal administration has proposed drastic spending cuts to hazardous fuels reduction, or clearing smaller trees and underbrush through controlled cutting and burns. The idea behind hazardous fuels reduction is that by removing this underbrush, fires will have less fuel to spread rapidly and can then be controlled faster. Donald Smurthwaite, spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center states, “In a recent study by the Bureau of Land Management, when wildfires burned into fuels treatment areas, they were slowed or stopped about 90 percent of the time. With the decline in fuels funding, we’re worried that saving money today will mean larger and more destructive fires tomorrow.” Limited funding has decreased fire prevention for several years. In 2009, 4.5 million acres were treated to prevent wildfires, and under the proposed budgetary cuts, fewer than 2 million acres would be treated in 2014.While the proposed budget for fiscal 2014 would increase overall funding for wildfires, it would largely cut the hazardous fuels budgets for several agencies. In all, 41 percent of these budgets would fall, reducing the current funds of $502 million to $297 million.  This will be the third consecutive year the administration’s proposed budget includes spending cuts to forest treatment to prevent wildfires. Many of these cuts will greatly affect our tree partners — the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service.

As an organization of people that cares deeply about our nation’s forests and trees, the Arbor Day Foundation continues to challenge ourselves to better understand how to collaborate with our partners on the ground as they overcome these budgetary hurdles.  There simply isn’t funding available as there has been in decades past, and that is where our valued members, supporters, corporate donors and partners can help us to heighten our efforts to do more with less. They can help us to see new ways to partner with these groups, to create even more relevant programs, and to provide trees to those areas most in need. As we address each new challenge, we search for ways to better engage our loyal members and tree advocates to keep them involved in the good work our partners accomplish each year with our support.

With the help and generosity of our vast network of tree advocates, we will continue to foster our enduring 25-year partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. With their help, the Arbor Day Foundation will continue to bring new ideas surrounding education, conservation, and tree planting in wildfire-stricken areas.

Two ways you can take action now:
The Backyard Woods Program: Managing Forests Can Save Forests
Donate now to replant trees where they’re needed most

Data cited in this post sourced from NBC News.
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Abbie Eisenhart is a Community Tree Recovery Manager for the Arbor Day Foundation.

Automatic federal budget cuts could increase risk of wildfires

Absent resolution this week from Congress, across-the-board spending cuts are slated to hit just about everything the federal government does beginning March 1.

Known in some circles as the “sequester,” the policy – enacted in 2011 as part of a deal to address the nation’s debt payments – will take 5.3 percent from domestic discretionary spending, including the U.S. Forest Service portion of the Department of Agriculture budget.

In Nebraska, the across-the-board agency cuts would result in a $1.3 million reduction in clean air and water programs, among other impacts, wrote the Lincoln Journal Star’s Don Walton.

“The sequester does not target or prioritize,” he added.

As a result of this absence of priorities, programs that support preventive steps against wildfires in our nation’s forests will be affected, with $134 million taken out of the U.S. Forest Service’s Wildland Fire Management Program.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, warned of “increased risk to communities from wildfires, with as much as 200,000 fewer acres treated for hazardous fuels.”

Added Sandra Postel of the National Geographic Society: “That means dead trees, dry brush and other fire-starting materials will not be removed.

“That would be worrisome even in a normal year, but in a severe drought it could prove calamitous,” she continued.

Officials have already struggled to keep up with prevention in Colorado and the Mountain West. Abrupt budget cuts would likely make matters worse.

Here’s hoping for a timely solution that gives our hard-working forest professionals the budget certainty they need to do their jobs.

Fighting the pine beetle will help in the next fight against forest fires

The pine trees that populate our national forests – particularly in the Mountain West – are in continued need of protection. Critical to the ecosystem, their decline would be felt in a number of areas, starting with the very real threat to safe and secure drinking water.

The U.S. Forest Service and state and local partners are series about the preservation of pine trees. Some of their strategies were the focus of a Washington Post article last month.

We know how important this work is for the long-term. What we are seeing this week is how much these steps can save lives and property in the short-term as well.

The pine beetle is arguably “enemy no. 1″ of pines trees. For years, the pest has been quick and resilient, and forest professionals have struggled to keep up. As firefighters in Colorado continue to tackle what has become one of the largest forest fires in state history, the Associated Press reports that beetle-stricken trees – many of them dead or dying – have become an increasing safety concern. The challenge was particularly apparent in the foothills about 15 miles from Fort Collins:

Fire managers said the blaze’s west side was a concern because 70 percent of the trees had been killed by pine beetles, leaving drying wooden poles with branches and red pine needles that pose a hazard for firefighters.

The pine beetle is a pest that must be contained, for our own safety and security. Through comprehensive forest management, that looks possible. An honest discussion about the role of climate change – warmer winters make it easier for the pine beetle to survive and breed – will also be critical.

Pine beetle devastation in Wyoming. Courtesy of the University of Wyoming.

The issue is starting to receive more attention in Washington, DC, where Colorado Senator Mark Udall (nephew of Arbor Day Award winner and former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall) has been leading the charge for additional resources to fight the pine beetle. His effort is attracting bipartisan support, including from South Dakota Senator John Thune.

The Associated Press has more information on the latest developments in Colorado.

Washington Post surveys efforts to preserve pine trees and the ecosystem they support

One of last month’s recipients of a 2012 Arbor Day Award was the Greater Yellowstone Whitebark Pine Committee, a multi-agency partnership to alleviate threats to the critically endangered whitebark pine tree in America’s mountain west.

The stakes are high. Without sufficient action to keep pine trees vital, a major source of our nation’s fresh water is at risk.

Earlier this week, Washington Post environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin wrote about a variety of strategies the U.S. Forest Service has pursued to protect pine trees and the critical habitat they support. The challenge has been heightened by an increase in beetle infestation brought on by a warming climate

Drought, whitebark blister rust and competition with other tree species are related threats facing both the whitebark and several other species of pine.

The whitebark pine tree was recently determined to be warranted for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. A number of groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, are working toward getting the species officially added to that list.

According to Eilperin, federal officials are in a race against the climate to figure out how to best protect and preserve vital benefits.

Scientists know that global warming will reshape these forests, which provide crucial habitat and food for key species, curb soil erosion and slow melting snow destined for local water supplies. What they don’t yet understand is which trees are best poised to survive under these changed conditions and how they can help them adapt in the decades to come.

One strategy currently being pursued is the deployment of pheromones to send insects a false signal that a tree has already been mass-attacked, prompting the beetle to move on. “It’s like we draw them in and we tell them, ‘The hotel’s full,’” Jeff Witcosky, a Forest Service official, told Eilperin.

Another strategy Eilperin discusses is the collection and storage of seeds from high-elevation pine trees, one of the areas in which the Greater Whitebark Pine Committee has participated. The seeds are an insurance policy in case direct combat against infestation is unsuccessful.

Read the whole story here. And, check out our short video about the Greater Yellowstone Whitebark Pine Committee below.