Giving 25,000 Trees Back to Our National Forests
By Mark Steinbuck, KEEN Effect Grants and Community Specialist
In 2017, KEEN Headquarters and the rest of Portland, Oregon, sweltered in the 100+ degree weather, immersed in the thick, suffocating haze flowing out of the Eagle Creek Fire. This wildfire, set by human hands, ended up burning 50,000 acres of the nearby Columbia River Gorge for 3 months on the surface and over a year underground, engulfing Oregon’s most-visited attraction, Multnomah Falls, which to this day is still scarred and unstable in places.
The 2013 Rim Fire was the third-largest wildfire in California's history. Photo by Mike McMillan.
Although natural disaster response has been core to our philanthropy since the beginning, we never had seen it so close to home. Rattled but safe, we looked at California, British Columbia, and dozens of other places to realize that that Eagle Creek was just one of over 71,000 fires across the Western United States that year, a record-setting amount of destruction inflicting deep scars on the landscape and massive losses in human lives. In the immediate aftermath, we raised funds to support the National Forest Foundation’s efforts to provide relief and replanting after containment, as well as numerous humanitarian aid campaigns directly responding to California fires, like the Camp Fire that all but wiped out the town of Paradise in 2018.
On December 3rd, every transaction on keenfootwear.com helped plant 25 trees, with a goal of offsetting roughly 25,000 trees lost to events like the recent wildfires in California and throughout the West.
In the long term, we used our employee volunteer hours to restore portions of trails taken out by the Eagle Creek Fire. Since then, we have been so impressed by the impacts our non-profit partners have had in restoring destroyed recreation areas and in aiding the recovery of these western forests experiencing unnaturally large and hot fires, and despite the damage, how resilient the forests and the local recreation economy truly are.
Every full-time KEEN employee receives 40 hours of service leave per year. Here are 11 of us using our volunteer hours to help rebuild trails after the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia Gorge.
Although 2019 is, so far (fingers-crossed), milder than the past two years, California and other places in the West are yet again experiencing another high-cost, deadly season of wildfires, and so it’s time to again step up and act. This Giving Tuesday, we rekindled our partnership with the National Forest Foundation through their 50 Million For Our Forests tree-planting campaign to continue offsetting these unsustainable losses in a time of unprecedented fire size and impacts. On December 3rd, every transaction on keenfootwear.com helped plant 25 trees, with a goal of offsetting roughly 25,000 trees lost in events like the recent wildfires in California and throughout the West.
So far this year, NFF has planted twice as many trees as they did in 2018 as part of their 50 Million For Our Forests tree-planting campaign.
How does reforestation make a difference?
We asked the National Forest Foundation to share their insight and knowledge on the far-reaching effects of forest restoration after wildfires and other natural disturbances:
Q: How does forest restoration work? Why replant trees?
NFF: Healthy forests, including the trees that grow in them, are extremely important in a number of ways: they protect the watersheds that provide drinking water for cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle, and thousands of other communities; forests capture approximately 12% of U.S. carbon emissions annually, helping to mitigate climate change; forests provide habitat for thousands of species of wildlife.
There is a large and growing need for reforestation on National Forests caused by an increasing severity and frequency of disturbances, including wildfires, and insects and disease outbreaks, all made worse by a changing climate. This has created a significant backlog of reforestation need, and there are currently more than one million acres of National Forest land in need of active replanting. In 2018, we launched our 50 Million For Our Forests campaign to directly address this need and ensure the future of our National Forests.
We work closely with the United States Forest Service (USFS) to plant trees on National Forests across the U.S. Each year, Forest Service silviculturists assess sites to determine the highest priority areas for replanting, about 80% of which result from wildfire. Professional tree planters plant native seedlings during the best planting window using techniques that ensure a high rate of survival. Forest Service personnel then monitor the sites for years following the planting to make sure reforestation is successful. More information about our planting process and partnership with the Forest Service is available on our website.
Who is NFF and what else is NFF doing to help our forests?
Our mission is to promote the health and public enjoyment of America’s incredible 193 million acre National Forest System. We are the only national organization that is solely focused on our National Forests, and through our tree-planting campaign, we are at the forefront of organizations providing natural solutions to climate change on our public lands.
Aside from our 50 Million For Our Forests campaign, we have a number of programs in service of our mission. These include full-scale landscape restoration, grant programs, collaborative stewardship networks, and other mission-driven work in support of our National Forest System.
How does this all relate to western fires? Why is this different than natural/historical fire cycles?
Wildfire is an important component of many forest ecosystems, and many tree species have evolved with regular, low-intensity fire. Over the previous century, forest management practices prioritized fire suppression across the US, creating dense unhealthy forests that are susceptible to tree-killing insect infestations and diseases. Coupled with warmer, drier conditions linked to climate change, forests are now at greater risk for larger and more frequent wildfires. This is particularly the case in western states, where winter snowpack has declined and summer drought is more prevalent. Similar warming trends in the Southeast are expected to increase wildfire there as well.
What can our fans do to help? Money, actions, etc.?
The easiest way to help us plant more trees on our National Forests is by supporting our campaign. Every dollar we receive plants one tree on a high-priority National Forest. Additionally, at the NFF we are huge believers in the power of spending time in National Forests to help foster an appreciation for these public treasures. Since they are so accessible to many of us — seven in 10 people in the U.S. live within a two-hour drive of a National Forest – it may be possible to visit a forest for an afternoon hike or a weekend getaway. KEEN fans can also share our reforestation message and "50 Million For Our Forests" campaign with their friends and families, either in person, on social media, or through an online fundraiser.
Thank you, KEEN fans, for helping us restore our National Forests! For more information about the National Forest Foundation and the 50 Million For Our Forests campaign, please visit www.nationalforests.org/50million.