National parks tend to get a lot of attention — after all, it’s hard to compete with the beauty of Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. But did you know that the US has more than 193 million acres of national forests?
Those forests are threatened by wildfires that are worsening because of climate change. The National Forest Foundation (NFF) is working to replant trees that are destroyed by fires or other problems. Anyone can contribute to those efforts for as little as $1.
Amid other environmental concerns vying for your time (and your wallet), why should you care about the trees? Wes Swaffar, NFF’s director of ecosystem services, offered his insight on the foundation’s work, goals for the future, and more.
What does the National Forest Foundation do?
Wes Swaffar: The mission of the National Forest Foundation is to promote the health and public enjoyment of 193 million acres of public forests. We work with individual corporations and foundations to raise funds and complete projects that will improve our national forests. Our national forests are super important pieces of land.
National forests are often a forgotten type of land out there. They provide water to millions of people and are the largest single source of water in the country. They are also a habitat for hundreds of species of plant and animal life and receive 200 million recreational visits each year.
What are the greatest threats national forests face?
WS: Our national forests face a lot of different threats, and they’re all kind of interrelated. A big threat to forest health is wildfires. Over the last 10-15 years, we’ve seen the severity and frequency of so-called megafires (100,000 acres or more) increase. These fires are decimating some portions of our national forests. Climate change is certainly driving some of that; less precipitation and higher temperatures means more fires.
There are also threats from insects and diseases. Things like spruce beetle outbreaks or mountain pine beetle outbreaks can have a big impact on our ecosystems.
On top of those specific threats to our reforestation work, another threat is the relevancy of [national forests] to the American public. All of us as Americans own these public lands, and we all have a right to visit these forests, but a lot of folks don’t know that these forests exist. You can’t step up and care for them if they don’t know they exist.
How can people support the NFF?
WS: There are a lot of different ways to become involved with [NFF] and what we do. You can follow us on social media. We put a lot of work into putting out a lot of educational and informative content and talking about partnerships with other companies.
You can make donations to plant trees on national forests. Anyone can go to our website and donate. You don’t need to do it through a company. One dollar plants a tree.
Or, you can become a member for $35 per year. Members have access to our magazine that goes out twice per year. Like our social media, we put a lot of thought into curating content that includes information about our national forests and spotlights on specific issues we work on.
So, as soon as someone donates, you guys go out and plant a tree, right?
WS: A lot of people think it works that way, but we operate on an annual cycle. We work in close partnership with the National Forest Service to identify areas that are in need of reforestation. We are right in the middle of planting season right now.
As the planting season gets wrapped up, we’ll start looking for areas that will be candidates for reforestation projects based on highest ecological need and determine the projects that we’re going to fund in the fall. At that point, I’m working with corporations, small businesses, and individuals to match donations to projects. In the spring, we obligate that money and get started on planting.
What are the NFF’s goals for the future?
WS: There’s far more reforestation need than we can fulfill right now. We estimate that there are about 700,000 acres in need of reforestation. We are working hard to expand our work in this area but are still just touching the tip of iceberg. We want to keep addressing that need through our partnerships with small and large companies. It’s an order of magnitude that we are working to address.
Our next big step is working to increase our funding base. We are really only constrained by funding at this point. These are our forests, and they really need help from all Americans. We want to help people understand importance of these lands to make sure that they help keep them around for everyone.