Working to Protect America’s Trees and Forests from Harm

Nicole Leinders is the National Association of State Foresters’ Foundation intern.

There is something magical about walking through an avenue of trees in the fall, branches reaching up and surrounding you in a tunnel of color as gold and brown leaves swirl through the air. There’s that smell of fresh earth mixed with a bite of cold, and always the crackle of leaves beneath your feet. My school, St. Lawrence University, has an avenue of such trees that leads out to the riding stables from the edge of one of our older dorm buildings.

Friends, couples and families all head out in the fall to take pictures together among what's known as The Avenue of the Elms. A walk through the trees is a tradition on my school’s campus, and viewing them in the full glory of their fall foliage is a sacred part of what students and alum call the Laurentian tradition. There is just one problem; The trees aren’t elms.

Dutch elm disease has decimated American elm populations across the United States, and the elm trees that were planted on my campus in the 1920s succumbed to Dutch elm disease in the 1950s and 1960s and were replaced by red maples. Today, Dutch elm and several other forest diseases and pests threaten our nation’s forests. More than 81 million acres of the nation’s forest lands are at risk from a wide range of pests and disease, according to NASF's latest Forest Health Strategic Plan.

The emerald ash borer has spread from three states to 22 in the last dozen years, the Asian long-horned beetle has been detected in 26 states, and nearly thirty-three new tree killing pests have been detected across the United States. Native bark beetles have been particularly destructive to conifer forests in the West, killing trees on more than 47.6 million acres in the last 14 years. This directly correlates with forest fires, as the waste that the pests and disease leave in their wake creates hazardous fuel conditions.  

Our members work year round to ensure America’s trees are protected. According to our latest biennial statistics survey, pest infestation, disease outbreak, and invasive species are among the top high-impact issues that state forestry agencies face today, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest. Healthy forests support our lives and livelihoods by providing clean water, wood products, jobs and wildlife; but all of this is at risk from native and non-native insects and diseases that kill trees.

To combat the issues facing our forests, every state and territory has developed a Forest Action Plan as a strategic assessment to tackle our greatest forest threats.

Forest Action Plans provide long-term plans for addressing needs identified in the assessments through state agency initiatives, and they work together to leverage assistance from partner organizations and federal programs.

As my friends upload pictures to social media of the Avenue of the Elms covered in the winter, I can’t help but recognize that under the white dusting of snowflakes the maples stand grey and lifeless, like skeleton reminders of the elms that once stood in their place. Incorporating our Forest Action Plans into our future endeavors is incredibly important in an age when both native and invasive species are becoming greater threats each and every day. Before it’s too late, we must ensure protective measures are in place to save America’s trees and forests.

To learn more about your state’s Forest Action Plan, visit www.forestactionplans.org.


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