In the decade following the end of the U.S. Civil War, a group of people led by physician and horticulturist John Aston Warder established the American Forestry Association to create a constituency for protecting the country’s fast-disappearing forests. The group advocated for better stewardship of forests, including the creation of forest reserves to maintain timber stocks, wildlife habitat, watersheds, and recreational areas.
In the near century-and-a-half since its founding, American Forests, as the institution is now known, has at times had to navigate periods of tumult. Rampant destruction of forests led it to organize the first American Forest Congress and the first annual National Arbor Day to build support for the concept of forest conservation. The economic hardship wrought by the Great Depression prompted it to push for the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Timber stock depletion due to the Second World War moved American Forests to call for a national forest management strategy. Increased incidence and severity of forest fires this decade spurred the group to build a coalition to secure resources for preventing wildfires.
Today Americans face a deluge of challenges, from political polarization to protests over social injustice to the economic pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to the growing impact of unchecked climate change. It seems like a particularly bleak moment for the country, but American Forests president and CEO Jad Daley says he believes that forests can again be part of the solutions to some of our biggest problems. For example, Daley sees forests playing an important role in post-pandemic recovery efforts by creating work opportunities and supporting efforts to rebuild crumbling infrastructure. By sequestering carbon, U.S. forests can help in the fight against climate change, while urban trees can help cool cities. And because conservation has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, Daley says he believes that forests can help bridge political divides, especially as the constituency for forests is broadened to include a wider array of people across society.
Daley spoke about these issues and more during an October 2020 interview with Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett A. Butler.