Magazine article American Forests

An American Heritage

Magazine article American Forests

An American Heritage

Article excerpt

WHILE YOU ARE likely reading this in the crisp air of autumn, I am writing this column on the Fourth of July. Earlier today, my neighborhood held its annual Independence Day parade, featuring dogs with Old Glory bandanas, kids with red, white and blue balloons tied to their bike handle bars, and afew open, flag-festoonedjeeps led by abig pickup truck squawking out a Souza march. The parade was followed byacommunitypool party and cookout; neighbors with namesR-Z brought desserts. Tonight, there will be fireworks on the river near Mount Vernon. For me, this is adayto think about what it means to be an American, in big ways ansd email.

Recently, our staff has been talking a lot about what it means to be AMERICAN Forests. We have the forest part down. Our mission is to protect and restore forests. Our passion is to educate people about the benefits and threats to forests. And while we have funded conservation projects in more than 40 countries from China to Chile, American Forests is a remarkably American organization, with a deep American heritage.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French political thinker and historian, wrote in 1835 that "Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite ... In America I encountered sorts of associations of which, I confess, I had no idea, and I often admired the infinite art with which the inhabitants of the United States managed to fix a common goal to the efforts of many men and to get them to advance to it freely."

This idea was central to the creation of American Forests. Our founding represented a uniquely American means to address a characteristically American problem. The problem was that, in our optimism and drive toward the future, Americans believed that our resources - in this case, our forests - were inexhaustible, and that economic prosperity trumped all other goods. By 1875, the year of our founding, it appeared that America's timber barons were going to clear-cut their way straight across the country.

Our founders, led by physician and horticulturist John Aston Warder, came together as the American Forestry Association (AFA) to educate the public and advance a more sustainable approach to managing our forests. By the first part of the 20th century, the AFA had become a powerful force for change, helping to pass the Weeks Act that dedicated public forests in the east to match those established in the west, advocating for the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (the pen that FDR used to sign the bill creating the CCC is framed in my office), and donating the first living national Christmas tree to the White House.

In more recent times, our work has brought us to all 50 states and has, in its way, illustrated both our strengths as Americans and the challenges we still face. …

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