The Alabama Wildlife Federation is always looking for ways to teach kids about the environment, so we were thrilled to receive free native tree seedlings from the National Wildlife Federation this past spring. These seedlings enabled us to share the great outdoors with school children and their families in our area.Almost 600 students from Prattville Elementary School, Prattville Christian Academy, and the Alabama Nature Center’s Expedition Lanark Outdoor Day camp chose between a flowering dogwood and an American sycamore to take home and plant in their yards!
Most of the youth involved are in fourth grade or lower, and each shared with me their ideas for where their tree would be planted and how they would take care of it.
One of my primary responsibilities as a conservation educator is to instill a sense of care and responsibility in the students we teach. With programs like NWF’s that sponsor trees for wildlife, educators are equipped to do just that. With the right tools to teach today’s youth about our environment and how to care for it, it makes it easy to promote the balance of use, protection and conservation of our natural resources!Thank you NWF for helping teachers through this program. Everyone needs a little more green space!
Help NWF affiliates, communities, and wildlife continue receiving free native tree seedlings by sponsoring a tree or purchasing holiday cards from NWF’s catalog!
About the Author: Elizabeth is originally from Montgomery, Alabama, and earned a B.S. in wildlife Science and a M.Ed. from Auburn University. She has worked at the Alabama Wildlife Federation since 2008 and currently serves as the Director of Education, although she also has served as Camp Director and Education programs Specialist in the past. One of her favorite parts of her job is taking children into nature, showing them the animals, plants, water and soil they don’t usually pay close attention to. A hands-on experience into the outdoors with a seasoned naturalist can make a world of difference in a child’s life.]]>
Gathering my optimism, I opened the boxed, organized them into bunches and put my plan into motion. NWF already provided us with the planting instructions and pledge forms (when people sign a pledge form, they are more likely to actually plant the tree and take care of it). So, we began to create information sheets for each tree and laminated pictures of the trees to show folks what they would look like fully grown.
The trees we received arrived as young seedlings, ranging in size from 2 to 5 feet tall. Their size made transporting them easier, but did not set the most appealing stage for volunteers to agree to plant them and water them over the summer. We had several different responses such as “I will never live long enough to enjoy it” and “How big will this little guy get?”.The trees went to every Earth Day event in the area, which included 4 different North Carolina cities. At some events, like the Lake Norman Spring Fling, we had our own tent and table just for giving away trees. The events were attended by over 15,000 people and some people even took two trees home!
At the celebration of Charlotte becoming a Certified Community Wildlife Habitat, one of our last events, we were giving away trees left and right.Somehow, after all the busy events, we still had trees left. Luckily, Habitat Stewards came to the rescue. Habitat Stewards are trained to teach others in the community how to create habitat for wildlife by giving presentations, volunteering, writing articles for local media or restoring habitat in a public site. They helped us send trees by the dozens to schools, parks, municipalities, and more.
This had a huge impact for those involved and for the local environment and wildlife. We look forward to participating in more tree plantings!
Help NWF affiliates, communities, and wildlife continue receiving free native tree seedlings by sponsoring a tree or purchasing holiday cards from NWF’s catalog!
About the Author: Christopher North is the Conservation Coordinator at the North Carolina Wildlife Federation.]]>
With this support, they led tree-focused crafts, like making a magic wand from downed twigs and branches, and handed out trees to families interested in improving the wildlife habitat at home.Over 300 people attended the event, and over 50 families adopted trees to plant at home, choosing from native Montana species including Ponderosa pine, white pine, bur oak, and white oak. Many families were interested in adopting an oak tree because they loved the idea of having a beautiful deciduous tree in their backyard, and they were also enticed by the thought of acorns! Other families were so excited to get a pine tree whose branches would one day shelter local birds and pollinators.
By the time the day was over, countless children were running around, completely unconnected from digital devices, enjoying playing in the nature that surrounded them.
Later that month, the Clark Fork School held their kindergarten graduation ceremony. To celebrate the students’ progress, each took home their very own tree to plant and care for—cementing the knowledge that trees truly are gifts, for both people and wildlife.
Help NWF affiliates, communities, and wildlife continue receiving free native tree seedlings by sponsoring a tree or purchasing holiday cards from NWF’s catalog!]]>
National Wildlife Federation affiliates along with schools, cities and other partners across the country will be planting almost 25,000 native trees to help provide habitat for wildlife and regreen communities during the next few weeks. This Earth Day, we’re celebrating the support from friends of wildlife like you that makes the trees for wildlife plantings possible.]]>
NWF’s Southeast Forestry Program is dedicated to projects that protect and restore forests and wildlife habitats throughout the region, and longleaf pine restoration remains a keystone to our program and our affiliates. Since 2007, we have worked with the Alabama Wildlife Federation to plant, manage, and restore over 9,000 acres of longleaf pine forests on private lands. This program is important to us and the landowners we work with, as longleaf pine provides income through sustainable timber practices, recreational purposes (i.e. quality hunting habitat, bird watching), aesthetics as it is a beautiful ecosystem with a vibrant understory, and has meaningful cultural and intrinsic values to the southeast.
Longleaf pine forests provide an ideal habitat for wildlife due to the high level of biodiversity found in the ecosystem, as longleaf provides crucial components needed for wildlife survival such as food, water, cover and space. Wildlife species found in longleaf pine forests include the northern bobwhite quail, red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises, striped newts, pinewoods treefrogs, pine and prairie warblers, eastern indigo snakes, Bachman’s sparrows, white-tailed deer, the Eastern wild turkey and many more. Twenty-nine species on the Federal threatened or endangered lists are found in these forests, however these pine forests are one of the most endangered landscapes in North America. Balancing economic, ecological and social values is crucial to restoration goals and is recognized by the federal government, private companies, and conservation organizations alike.
On January 14 the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, announced that two projects in the Longleaf Pine Range were selected to receive Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) funds from the 2014 Farm Bill, marking a historic inclusion of the southeastern forest species in federal conservation efforts. The Longleaf Pine Range was recently declared a Critical Conservation Area (CCA) by Vilsack; this is significant to NWF and partners as it shows the federal commitment to support projects that elevate longleaf restoration throughout the southeast.The Conservation Fund and Resource Management Service, LLC (RMS) were awarded a first-time partnership to create a 205,000 acre working, sustainable longleaf pine forest in the lower Alabama and Florida panhandle region. By keeping longleaf pine in privately-owned timber production, environmental and economic benefits will be made possible by establishing the first large landscape model for the conservation of longleaf pine. This project will enhance over 44 at-risk species’ habitat, restore approximately 150,000 acres of longleaf pine, protect water quality and quantity to the Gulf of Mexico, and at least 80 jobs will be retained. NWF’s Southeast Forestry Program provided a declaration of support for this project, as we have a vested interest the optimization of both economic and ecological benefits with longleaf restoration.
I applaud the USDA in their inclusion of the longleaf pine range and the two projects selected as recipients of federal conservation funding, and hope to see additional programs and projects aimed at sustaining forest habitats such as longleaf pine funded in the future. Forest restoration and wildlife habitat are distinctly and highly integrated; the longleaf pine forest is an exemplary model of a species deserving of conservation efforts and initiatives underway to restore these forests and consequently, wildlife.]]>
Remember, the less time you have to spend doing the back-breaking work of raking up your leaves, the more time you have to enjoy the gorgeous fall weather outside and the wildlife visiting your garden!
Autumn is a fantastic time to make your yard wildlife-friendly by adding food, water, cover and a place for animals to raise their young!]]>
As winter descends, trees in temperate and boreal zones face punishingly cold temperatures and frigid winds, conditions that would damage leaves, so trees have to reduce themselves to their toughest parts—stems, trunks, branches, bark. Leaves must fall.
Evergreens can hang on to their leaves through winter, because their foliage is coated in a wax that helps protect against cold, and their cells bear anti-freeze chemicals that ward off winter’s worst woes. Not so for broadleaf, or deciduous, trees. The fluids that flow through their leaves are thin and susceptible to freezing, the tissues tender. Winter cold dooms the leaves, and trees save energy by getting rid of them. Let’s take a look at the process.
As the dark mantle of winter’s dwindling days falls, trees can sense the loss of light. Thanks to chemical light receptors—phytochrome, which detects red light, and cryptochrome, which is sensitive to blue—trees can register day-length changes of as little as half an hour. When they do, they undergo chemical and physical changes that produce autumn hues.
It’s all about chlorophyll—the green pigment that allows plants to absorb sunlight and turn it into food that can be stored for winter dormancy, much as a bear stores fat for hibernation. During the growing season, trees create chlorophyll as fast as they use it up, so leaves stay green. But as daylight declines, trees slow the production of chlorophyll until, finally, it stops. Producing more would be a waste of energy because, as temperatures near the freezing point, the process of photosynthesis slows to impractical levels.
While the green pigment ebbs from the leaf, other pigments hidden in the greenery during warm months begin to appear. Carotenoids—which produce the yellow, orange and brown colors in the flowers of daffodils and the roots of carrots, in the rinds of pumpkins and the peels of bananas—are present in leaf cells throughout the growing season, but they’re masked by the green pigment. Once the chlorophyll disappears, the carotenoids give leaves a burst of color.
Trees produce another pigment group, the anthocyanins, primarily in autumn. These pigments give red and purple to such things as blueberries, cherries, red apples, concord grapes, and plums. And autumn leaves. Possibly, their presence helps to lower the leaf’s freezing point, giving it some protection from cold and allowing leaves to remain in place longer, giving trees more time to absorb nutrients.
You can tell by the color of an autumn leaf what kind of pigment a tree specializes in. Oaks, dogwoods, black tupelo and some maples tend to turn red, brown or russet because they produce a lot of anthocyanins. Hickories, aspens and some maples (the most erratic of fall trees, obviously), are big on carotenoids, leading to the trees’ brilliant golds and yellows.
The precise timing of the color shift apparently is genetically controlled. Oaks, for example, are among the last trees to change color. Others, such as sourwood, flip the switch to fall colors as early as August. However, weather and soil moisture can affect the quality of fall color. A severe summer drought can delay fall color by a few weeks. A warm spell in autumn also tones down autumn colors.
The most-dazzling displays of scarlet and crimson occur in autumns marked by warm, bright days and cool, crisp nights withtemperatures above freezing. Sun-lit autumn days stimulate leaves to produce sugars, and chill nights close the veins leading into and out of the leaf, locking in the sugars—which in turn lead to the production of anthocyanins and their crimsons and violets. Yellow and gold colors vary little from year to year, however, because leaves contain carotenoids at all times.
Eventually, autumn leaves must fall. By the end of summer, they may be damaged by insects, disease or general wear and tear and ready for renewal. They are equipped to self-destruct. At the point where leaf stem meets twig or branch is an array of cells called the abscission layer. As autumn days shorten, this layer begins to choke off the veins that move water into the leaf and food into the tree. Once the leaf is completely choked off, the layer becomes dry and flakey and, through decomposition, detaches the leaf from the tree.
Nature seems to abhor waste, so it is no surprise that though leaves may fall to earth, they still have not outlasted their ecological role. As they decompose, their nutrients trickle into the soil and feed future generations of plant and animal life. Quite likely, fallen leaves are a key factor in the survival not only of trees, but of forests as a whole.
This means that you need not militantly rake up every fallen leaf. In fact, leaving them on the ground is actually a very good thing to do for wildlife.
With their leaves gone, the trees are ready to take on winter’s slings and arrows. Naturalist Henry David Thoreau imagined it this way in his journal entry for October 29, 1858: “Nature now, like an athlete, begins to strip herself in earnest for her contest with her great antagonist Winter. In the bare trees and twigs what a display of muscle.”That display of botanical muscle might still need a bit of help from the gardener. Water trees and shrubs through autumn, so they can begin winter with a head start on moisture. Even in winter, trees, especially young ones, can benefit from watering every three or four weeks when temperatures are above freezing. Dousing them early in the day gives them more time to absorb the water before night freezes the soil. As cold weather begins, wrap tree trunks with crepe-paper tree wrap or burlap until spring to prevent sun scald, which occurs when sunlight on a subfreezing day warms a tree trunk to as much as 40 some degrees above freezing, allowing ice to form in the tree cells during night cold and producing dead tissues that in spring will crack open.
If you want more info on autumn trees, here is a National Wildlife magazine story you should read.
Help wildlife in your neighborhood by becoming a wildlife gardener.]]>
Global Forest Watch has great promise as a tool for citizens, governments, NGOs and the private sector to see more clearly what is happening in nature, and to use this unprecedented level of transparency to understand and protect forests around the world. Try it! GlobalForestWatch.org]]>
Here are some easy ways for you to help wildlife or enrich your local area with your trees after you’ve enjoyed them (and removed all the ornaments) this holiday season.
A brush pile often consists of leaves, logs, and twigs so an old Christmas tree can make a great base. This is the easiest thing you can do with your tree if you have a yard. It directly benefits the wildlife in your backyard during winter months because brush piles and dead trees offer food and needed protection from the chill. We have suggestions for how to make a brush pile and we understand that not all communities allow for them.
There are a number of ways you can use your recycled Christmas tree to enrich your soil by composting it or using the pine needles and boughs to cover your garden bed. Chop the trunk and branches and break your tree down, this will allow you to add some nice insulation to your garden.
If you love to watch birds or want a fun project, you can decorate your tree with edible ornaments or popcorn strings so that you feed wildlife like birds and squirrels. This is a enjoyable activity to do with kids or the young at heart (me) and can help wildlife at a time when food is scarce. Most of the recipes call for peanut butter, fresh fruit (like grapes, berries, or apples), suet and bird seed.
These crafts all make edible ornaments for wildlife:
For more on decorating trees for wildlife:
If you used a real tree this year, let us know what you’re doing with it in the comment section below, or share a link to any places you know of that use Christmas tree donations to help wildlife or the environment. If you have a living or artificial tree, don’t miss out on the fun—ask a friend who has a real tree what plans they have.]]>
The same basic truth applies to people ‘driving’ businesses in crowded neighborhoods. Sure, they have deadlines and payments to meet. Yes, they get impatient with caution and rules that might seem unnecessary at times. But to avoid accidents, we establish speed limits and other traffic rules. I’d suggest that a new, fast-charging industry might need a few new rules to avoid colliding with some precious ones that might happen to be in their way.
The industry involved uses wood for energy—“biomass,” it’s called—and the crowded neighborhood is the Southeast U.S.
Until recently, we haven’t had much specific knowledge about the impacts of woody bioenergy harvesting on wildlife. There’s been a lot of concern—and rightly so—about the impacts of bioenergy on climate change. But these analyses are necessarily done at regional and global scales, and carbon impacts differ from wildlife impacts. So I’ve been very excited about a new report that NWF commissioned that is taking a good, close look at biodiversity.The study focused on the Southeast U.S., and for good reason. The region has some of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in America. I had known that the hardwood forests in the Appalachians harbor high levels of biodiversity, perhaps owing to the long persistence of the ecosystem without glaciation or other major disruptions. What I’ve been learning lately is that Southeast coastal forests have high biodiversity, too. In fact, the renowned biologist E. O. Wilson has observed that while longleaf savannahs can have 200 species per acre, SE pitcher plant bogs might have the highest fine-scale (i.e., within a very small area) biodiversity in the world—as many as 50 species per square meter.
Some of the SE’s pellets are made on a relatively small scale for the domestic home-heating market, but the fastest growth is in the large-scale production of pellets for export to Europe utilities. In fact, biomass, much of it from the U.S., is expected to supply up to half of the renewable energy needed to meet the European Union’s 20% by 2020 Renewable Energy Directive. In the U.S., the pellet industry is expected to almost double between 2012 and 2014, to a capacity of almost 14 million tons, with much of this growth occurring in the SE.
The study marks a significant improvement in the quality of biodiversity impact assessments from bioenergy. Led by Jason Evans, an environmental sustainability analyst at the University of GA who has expertise in wildlife and GIS analysis, the study used a two-step approach to assess potential impacts. First, Dr. Evans developed spatially-explicit sourcing models to predict where, over the next few decades, logging will be done to supply six actual bioenergy facilities, ranging from small pellet plants in the mountains to utilities in the mountains and piedmont to large export pellet plants in the coastal plain. Their sourcing model is based on what types of biomass resources the plants will use, the distribution and abundance of local forest types, demand from other forest product industries, and even the local road networks.
Then the researchers assessed where this logging might conflict with biodiversity. Because the actual distribution of biodiversity isn’t mapped well, scientists need to use proxies or ways of representing biodiversity (or risks to biodiversity). The first proxy that the team used was an assessment of which natural forests might be converted to plantations, which can reduce habitat value and thus biodiversity, and which rare forest types might be logged, in response to new biomass demand.
The second proxy was indicator species, which ecologists choose to represent a group of species dependent on similar habitats. The indicators species include includes two mammals (eastern spotted skunk and long-tailed weasel), four birds (northern bobwhite, Swainson’s warbler, brown-headed nuthatch, and prothonotary warbler), two amphibians (gopher frog and northern cricket frog), and one reptile (timber rattlesnake).Lastly, the team assessed policy drivers behind biomass demand and the policy options for reducing wildlife impacts.
Importantly, the report does not assess carbon benefits—or risks—from any of the bioenergy facilities, but an earlier report commissioned by NWF found that using whole trees to generate electricity in inefficient power plants would increase atmospheric carbon for many decades, until the regrowth of trees finally re-sequesters the emitted carbon.
What emerges from the dizzying array of maps and data that the team produced is a picture that, not coincidentally, is as varied as the distribution of most species. The projected impacts of woody bioenergy harvesting depend a lot on where the harvesting will be done, how much will be done, what kinds of biodiversity exists in the forests that might be logged, and what sorts of existing or new policies are put in place to protect biodiversity.
The GA Biomass, LLC pellet plant is a good example of how good placement of a plant, and adoption of new but basic protections for biodiversity, could significantly reduce the threat to biodiversity. Though the GA Biomass plant was located in an area with a high predominance of existing plantations, the research team still found that because the new demand for biomass, and the presence of natural stands within the hauling territory that don’t have protections against conversion to plantations, there is a risk that up to 43,000 acres of natural forests could be converted to plantations, of which over 30,000 acres could be longleaf.
However, a simple policy, either adopted voluntarily by the company or enforced by the EU, to not purchase biomass from new plantations, would reduce the threat that biomass harvests would directly lead to conversion. For its new biomass plant, the city of Gainesville already adopted such a prohibition against purchasing biomass from new plantations, as a way to discourage conversions.
There was one alarming finding in the study. Based on its business model to log hardwood forests, and its location in an area with a high concentration of ecologically-critical wetland hardwood forests, the Enviva pellet plant in Ahoskie, North Carolina will pose significant risk to rare forest types, biodiversity, and water quality. Over its expected span, the plant will log about 100,000 acres of hardwood forests along rivers, and about 50,000 acres of swamps away from rivers. Many of these wetland hardwood forests are in the Roanoke River floodplain, which is identified in the NC Wildlife Action Plan (NCWAP) as the “finest example remaining in the state.” The wetland hardwood forests that are located away from the rivers are identified in the NCWAP as “urgently needing protection.”And we know from a story in the Wall Street Journal that Enviva isn’t sourcing its biomass with ‘tread-lightly, low-impact’ forestry.
Clear-cutting wetland forests poses risks to two indicator species—the prothonotary warbler and Swainson’s warbler—and many other associated species, not to mention likely negative impacts on water quality.
This is not a sustainable form of biomass. It should not be allowed to count toward any nation’s renewable energy requirement. The research team suggests that Enviva could start planting fast-growing poplars as a more sustainable source of biomass, but planting trees is far more expensive than harvesting standing timber, and of course it’d take years after the planting investment to get the biomass. With its current sourcing strategy, I can’t see a way that the Ahoskie plant could be made sustainable. And it’s important to remember that this sustainability issue isn’t some accident. The plant was intentionally located near where a large hardwood paper plant had closed: logging these wetland forests is their business model. The future of the Enviva Ahoskie plant is the demise of far too many of the region’s wetland forests.
On a more optimistic note, the study does note a possible wildlife benefit from biomass harvests. Many pine stands in the SE are planted with a high density of trees with the expectation that some will die and others will be thinned after about 15 years (for pulpwood, a small-diameter product). But given fluctuating paper markets and other factors, many landowners delay thinning, or don’t thin at all. As a result, many pine stands have so many trees that they shade out almost all other plants, particularly the grasses, which is where most species live. If it focused on thinning pine stands, bioenergy harvesting could improve habitat for quail and many other species, particularly if the harvesting was targeted toward areas with better wildlife potential, and if landowners also used prescribed fires to maintain the habitat value of the grass layer.
For me, the study reinforces my conviction that bioenergy can be done badly and become a threat to diversity, or that it can also be done well and reduce risks to biodiversity—and can even help improve wildlife habitat in some cases. The difference between doing bioenergy well or badly is the enactment of policy—some speed limits and stop signs, if you will—that insist that bioenergy be done well, including the protection of biodiversity.]]>