For many of us, observing and finding signs of wildlife are among the top reasons for visiting a National Forest. Whether it’s a deer spying your next move, a snake crossing your path, or an owl swooping overhead, there is that feeling that sneaks up and electrifies your senses (or causes your heart to skip a beat!). Forests are teeming with wildlife and other life forms, like plants and fungi, and worldwide, they hold 80% of the total terrestrial biodiversity! Our National Forests are no exception, and with 193-million acres of our National Forest System, there is ample opportunity to encounter all sorts of creatures. Within our forests, you can find more than 3,000 species of fish and wildlife, including more than 400 federally listed threatened and endangered species.
So why does wildlife like our National Forests? Our forests offer various types of cover from predators and shelter from the cold and rain, ranging from dens and nests in hollow trees, decomposing logs, and leaf litter. Forests offer many different food sources, such as prey animals, vegetation like grasses and leaves, fungi, nuts, and berries. Forests also sustain healthy riparian and aquatic habitats, reducing erosion and sedimentation, moderating water temperature, and providing woody debris - essential for spawning fish. Our campaign to plant 50 million trees on our National Forests helps improve wildlife habitat that has been charred by high intensity wildfires, fragmented by insect and disease outbreaks, and degraded by other natural disturbances.
While disturbance has been an important part of our forests history, the current and future projected impacts of a changing climate - e.g., drier and warmer conditions and more frequent and severe wildfires - are making our forests increasingly vulnerable to ecosystem changes. Impacts can lead to irreversible changes, such as conversion to non-forest habitat. Resulting habitat degradation, loss, and fragmentation may lead to declines in species diversity and impacts to essential ecological processes such as pollination, seed dispersal, and nutrient cycling (like carbon storage). These processes are critical for wildlife and their forest ecosystems. Additionally, increasing disturbances compounded with the increasing development and resulting habitat loss and fragmentation outside of National Forests may lead to increasing human-wildlife conflict.
Scientists have already observed reduced tree regeneration following climate change-associated disturbances. That’s why we only plant on the most severely impacted forests where seedlings are unable to sprout on their own. We’re not only planting trees for today, but for the future. Planting seedlings sourced from local, healthy trees improves forests’ resilience - ability to resist or recover from a disturbance- and helps to re-establish a seed source for future natural regeneration. Overtime, reforestation also improves habitat connectivity, contributes to healthy populations, and supports biodiversity - all of which benefit wildlife! Through our campaign to plant 50 million trees, we are restoring and improving critical habitat for the thousands of species of fish and wildlife that call our National Forests home.
This blog is the first part of a four part series, Our Forests Their Home, highlighting just a few examples of the many ways our campaign to plant 50 million trees supports wildlife.