Happy National Forest Products Week!

In the United States, our forests hold so much value, tangible and intangible. They’re beacons of biodiversity, brimming with life. They give us oxygen, help clean our water, boost soil health, grow food, store carbon that would otherwise contribute to global warming, help regulate temperatures, offer beauty and recreation, and help support the livelihoods of at least 1 million families. They also provide us with renewable and often recyclable essentials like lumber and paper. 

This week, the U.S. celebrates everything forests have to offer with National Forest Products Week. The White House gave this designation to the third week of October (18-24, 2020) to recognize the value of what forests produce and commit to conservation practices that help responsibly manage them all over the country. 

So, in the spirit of National Forest Products Week, we’re revisiting some of our posts about the value of forests, and the importance of caring for them with future generations in mind.

There are more trees in the U.S. than there were 100 years ago

From a report by the North American Forest Commission:

  • After two centuries of decline, the area of US forestland stabilized in about 1920 and has since increased slightly. The forest area of the US is about two-thirds what it was in 1600.
  • The area consumed by wildfire each year has fallen 90 percent; it was between eight and twenty million hectares (20-50 million acres) in the early 1900s and is between one and two million hectares (2-5 million acres) today.
  • Forest growth nationally has exceeded harvest since the 1940s. By 1997 forest growth exceeded harvest by 42 percent and the volume of forest growth was 380 percent greater than it had been in 1920.
  • Nationally, the average standing wood volume per acre in US forests is about one-third greater today than in 1952; in the East, average volume per acre has almost doubled. About three-quarters of the volume increase is in broad leaved or deciduous trees.
  • Populations of many wildlife species have increased dramatically since 1900. But some species, especially some having specialized habitat conditions, remain the cause for concern.
  • Tree planting on all forestland rose dramatically after World War II, reaching record levels in the 1980s. Many private forestlands are now actively managed for tree growing and other values and uses.
  • Recreational use on national forests and other public and private forest lands has increased manyfold .
  • American society in the 20th century has changed from rural and agrarian to urban and industrialized. This has caused a shift in the mix of uses and values the public seeks from its forests (particularly its pubic forests). Increased demands for recreation and protection of biodiversity are driving forest management. This has caused timber harvest from federal lands to decline by more than 60 percent since 1990. In spite of this shift, today’s urbanized nation is also placing record demands on its forests for timber production.

Working forests can help slow the pace of climate change

“ According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, sustainably managed forests have the potential to absorb one-tenth of the projected global carbon emissions during the first half of the 21st century. Maintaining the forests needed to combat climate change could help make up for weak global emissions reduction targets.”

Cutting down trees isn’t (always) a bad thing

“The perception that cutting down trees is always bad just isn’t true. In fact, when properly managed, the process of growing and harvesting trees is an important part of a sustainable future for humans, wildlife and the environment. The most important reason for this is very simple: trees are a renewable resource, and provide essential raw material for thousands of products, including wood, paper and even lumber byproducts that can be burned for energy.”

Sustainable forestry is diversifying the economy in rural areas

“Sustainable forestry is helping to create and preserve jobs and diversify economies in rural communities that have been hit hard by the recession, or have a high concentration of poverty. In forested areas all over the nation, tax credits combined with 21st-century methods of harvesting, moving and processing timber are improving the quality of life for local residents.”

Modern forestry techniques help boost carbon storage in forests

“The techniques harvest timber in a way that mimics natural disturbances of old forests, like wind storms, releasing the crowns of large older trees by cutting less vigorous trees around them. That gives those older trees lots of sunlight so they grow new wood and leaves faster than usual, and in turn, store more carbon dioxide so it isn’t released into the atmosphere.”

What makes Eastern White Pine a better choice than plantation-grown pine

“Growing among hardwoods in mixed forests, white pine trees are allowed to reach an age of 80 to 100 years before they’re cut down, making them an important part of these forest ecosystems. In contrast, other types of pine, including radiata, are planted on single-species pine plantations.”

The role of working forests in protecting wildlife

“Forestry companies are increasingly integrating conservation work into their operations, hiring wildlife biologists and other specialists, and working with government and non-profit organizations to protect and increase biodiversity.”

Top image by Maurice Huang, Flickr Creative Commons v 2.0

5 Hidden Benefits of Forests

Forests are commonly known as the lungs of the planet, providing much of the oxygen we breathe. Covering about a third of total land area on Earth, they host millions of species of trees, plants, animals and fungi. These benefits are obvious, but the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is pointing out a few more you may not have realized.

Did you know, for instance, that forests are natural aqueducts? Most of the world’s population lives downstream of forested watersheds. A 2003 survey of 100 of the world’s most populous cities revealed a clear link between forests and the quality of water provided by catchments. They reduce the number of pollutants entering headwaters, reducing the need for treatment and reducing the supply cost. There’s also evidence that forests help maintain water flow. Many forests are managed to prioritize water supply. 

Forests also help provide a livelihood for 86 million people around the world. Often, that’s through jobs related to recreation, conservation or the forest products industry – foresters, geologists, biologists, technicians, equipment operators and even high tech jobs like drone pilots. But sometimes it’s as simple as a nearby forest providing shelter for a farmer’s free range flock.

Of course, they give us material things, too: shelter, furniture, paper, fuel and byproducts that go into everyday items like medicine and detergents. More than 1 billion people around the world also rely on wild foods like meat, insects, plants and mushrooms foraged from forests. 

FOA notes that forests nurture the soil. They’re host to vast unseen worlds of microorganisms involved in the cycling of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, helping in the decomposition of dead plant mass and animals, and supporting the incredible biodiversity of forest species. Forest soil also traps and stores 1.4 billion tonnes of CO2 every year, keeping it out of the atmosphere. 

You may associate all of these benefits with nature preserves where trees go untouched for many decades or even centuries, but they apply to working forests, too. As commercial timberlands cycle through different phases of growth and re-growth, they play different roles in the local ecosystem. 

An estimated 420 million hectares (about 1.6 million square miles) of forest have been lost through conversion to other land uses since 1990, even though the rate of deforestation has decreased. Large-scale agricultural expansion, mostly for cattle ranching and the cultivation of mono crops like soybeans and oil palm, is responsible for 40 percent of tropical deforestation. In other places, smaller forests are often lost incrementally to development. Once a forest is turned into a neighborhood, it’s unlikely to ever return to its original state.

Learn more about how sustainably managed working forests support rural families, keep our water sources healthy and play a crucial role in the fight against climate change.

Related topics to check out:

How Well-Managed Forests Help Keep Our Water Sources Healthy

newport news forest

The benefits of maintaining large tracts of forest lands can sometimes come in unexpected forms. Few people would guess it, but an interesting story from down in Virginia illustrates how working forests contribute to higher groundwater quality even better than older forests that are left primarily untouched.

A team of foresters on the Newport News Waterworks crew spend a lot of time checking on the health of trees in the heart of the Virginia Peninsula, which is bounded by the York River, James River, Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay. Within these 8,100 acres, trees are performing an essential function that can’t be seen: filtering contaminants out of water before it makes its way into the utility’s reservoirs. The watershed forest is currently the oldest and largest certified tree farm under the American Tree Farm System.

The foresters work to maintain species diversity among the trees to keep the forests healthy, noting that single-species forests are highly susceptible to being wiped out by a single disaster like a storm or pest. Loggers bid to be able to harvest the wood when trees need to come down. The utility brings in classes or scout troops from local schools to reseed and plant new trees, teaching them about conservation in the process.

Forests require maintenance and forests make for clean water, said Eddie Harrah, Waterworks’ director of forest resources. “An old forest isn’t necessarily a healthy forest.”

Harrah and James McCabe, the other forester in Newport News Waterworks, spend much of their time on the clock making observations about the trees — looking for crowding, signs of bad health or unwanted infestation. They make decisions about clear-cutting an area and whether to replant or just let nature bring in new trees.

They know that about 15 years after trees are planted, about half will need to be cut down to let the others flourish. Another 20 years after that, the less-healthy trees will be thinned out, and in another three or four decades, those fully-grown trees will be cut down and the cycle starts over.

Check out the whole article at the Daily Press.

Top photo by Jim Rhodes/Flickr Creative Commons

Survival Ally: Eastern White Pine Offers Food, Medicine, Glue and Fire

pine needles

If you were ever lost in the forest for an extended amount of time, would you know how to survive using what you can find around you? Picking mushrooms, berries or even greens from the forest floor is a tricky proposition unless you’re an expert at avoiding poisonous species, including their lookalikes. But as long as you’re in an area in which the mighty Eastern White Pine (pinus strobus) grows, you’ll have a surprising number of resources at your disposal.

It’s easy to identify the Eastern White Pine. These tall trees boast gray bark, and their needles grow in bundles of five, with a pale stripe running down the center of each one (hence the name ‘white pine.’) At first glance, the tree doesn’t seem to have any edible components – there are no visible nuts, flowers, berries, tubers or large leaves on offer. But foragers will find nutrition and sustenance in addition to great firewood in this species if they look a little closer.

pine bark

Of course, you don’t have to be in a dire situation to enjoy all of the Eastern White Pine’s benefits. It’s a favorite edible among wild crafters, and all parts of it are non-toxic, though the resin may irritate sensitive skin. According to Hawthorne Hill Herbs, pinus strobes needles and resin have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, stimulating and relaxing, aromatic, pungent and stabilizing qualities, with particular benefits for the upper respiratory system, stomach, liver and kidneys. Many of the Eastern White Pine’s uses come from Native American knowledge and traditions.

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Here are some ways to enjoy this beneficial and beloved tree:

  • Pine needles from the pinus strobes tree contain high amounts of vitamin C – five times the amount found in a lemon when measured by weight! It contains vitamin A and reservatrol, which has anti-aging properties, too. Making a tea from the needles produces a powerful cold-fighting brew. The tea also has a mild diuretic property that can help flush kidney crystals from the body before they turn into stones. To get these benefits, steep the needles in hot but not boiling water for fifteen minutes or more.
  • In Japan, pine branches are often placed on top of the coals on a grill to infuse fish with the signature aroma of the needles.

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  • Thoroughly wash and dry fresh Eastern White Pine needles and infuse them in a jar of olive oil, which can be brushed on meat. Alternately, you could infuse the needles into homemade simple syrup and add it to cocktails.
  • The young, pale green shoots that appear in early spring are tender enough to eat. Like spruce, they can also be candied by preserving them in a jar of sugar, or blended with salt and garlic in a food processor for a tasty dry rub that pairs beautifully with chicken. Remove the brown husks from the buds to access them.

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  • Other edible parts of the tree include the soft, young green pine cones in spring, and the pine nuts are a crunchy source of fat and protein, though they’re relatively small and require a bit of effort to harvest. You can even make pine bark flour by shaving off the cream-colored inner layer of bark, drying it until it’s brittle and grinding it up.
  • The sticky resin that oozes out of the trunk and broken spots on the branches makes a great glue if you collect it in a metal container (or a sea shell), set the container on the coals of a dying fiber, let the volatile compounds bubble away and then remove it from the heat, as outlined at Outdoor Life. Mix it with plant fiber, sand, stone dust or powdered charcoal to bulk it up and make it stronger.
  • Because it’s a softwood, pine burns extraordinarily fast and hot, making it ideal for campfires. It’s much easier to get a fire started in a survival situation with dry pine branches than with hardwoods. Dry pine needles make a highly effective tinder, too.

Resources:

Foraged Flavor: All About Pine | Serious Eats

Pine Shoots: Edible 24 | The Foraging Family

Getting to Know White Pine | Hawthorne Hill Herbs

Eastern White Pine, an Effective Remedy for the Common Cold | Eat the Planet

Survival Skills: How to Use White Pine as Food, Medicine and Glue | Outdoor Life

Images via: Wikimedia Commons

Winter Walks: Where to Find Maine’s Most Impressive Eastern White Pines

moosehorn

Maine’s state tree is a real beauty year-round, but the Eastern White Pine really shines in winter, holding onto its evergreen needles even when many of its neighbors are bare. It’s easy to see why it’s such a popular choice as a Christmas tree, with its classic conifer shape and full, bushy limbs. It’s an important part of local ecosystems, too, providing food and shelter for a wide variety of species during even the harshest winters. It might be cold outside, but it’s still a lovely time to take a brisk walk and enjoy the sights and smells of these beautiful trees, which grow all over the state.

Nobody is really keeping official tabs on the tallest trees in Maine; state officials maintain a registry of big trees, but it’s not updated very often, and residents submit their own reports to add to it. But it does note the existence of an impressive Eastern White Pine standing 120 feet tall with a circumference of 245 inches and a crown spread of 80 feet located in Morrill, last measured in 2008. This one was nominated for ’national champion’ of big trees.

Many others measuring over 100 feet tall have been celebrated as champion trees in various counties, like a 108-foot Big Tree Contest winner in Sumner. According to the Monumental Trees database, there’s a particularly beautiful specimen located across from the 5 Lakes Lodge in Millinocket, but its height and official girth are unknown.

Of course, Eastern White Pines can be found all over Maine, which provides plenty of fertile, well-drained soil to help the species thrive, not to mention a historic lumber industry maintaining sustainably managed pine forests. The state notes Bearce Lake in the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, Bigelow Preserve Public Lands, Chamberlain Lake Public Lands, Gero Island Public Lands and the Scientific Forest Management Area of Baxter State as prime conservation lands brimming with beautiful white pines.

But if you want to see the tallest Eastern White Pines the East Coast has to offer, you’ll have to venture outside the state a little bit. Pennsylvania’s Cook Forest State Park is home to 110 Eastern White Pines measuring 148 feet or taller, including an incredible ‘Longfellow Pine’ reaching 183 feet 7 inches into the sky. The tallest one of all, the ‘Boogerman Pine,’ is a bit further afield in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reaching an amazing 207 feet.

Image of Bearce Lake via the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Forest Facts: Sustainably Forestry Benefits in Infographic Form

forest

Sustainable forestry pays off, not just in slowing climate change and restoring ecosystems, but by creating jobs and wealth around the world. 1.3 billion people depend on forests for employment, financial benefits and the wood products they produce, and forested watersheds and wetlands supply a whopping 75% of the world’s accessible freshwater while acting as natural air filters. These two infographics from the World Bank sum up these and other benefits to sustainable, responsible forest management, explaining why it’s so crucial.

forestry infographic 1

For example, did you know that carbon emissions from land clearing outweigh those of the entire global transport sector? Sustainable forestry gives landowners a strong financial incentive to continuously replant their land and practice other techniques that maintain vital tracts of wooded land that might otherwise be sold and cleared for development.

sustainable forestry infographic 2

Standing forests absorb greenhouse gases and also build more resilient landscapes by regulating water flow, improving soil, protecting coastal communities from extreme weather events and providing migratory corridors for plant and animal species. GreenBiz.com has a rundown on how sustainable forestry can be a crucial part of a billion-dollar carbon removal industry.

Top photo: Wikimedia Commons