5 Admirable Organizations Protecting & Restoring American Forests

Aside from providing habitats for a wide variety of flora and fauna, forests are critical ecosystems that act as physical barriers to help mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Unfortunately, these natural areas are often threatened by human activity, such as aggressive logging and unmanaged outdoor recreation. Here, in no particular order, are some groups dedicated to preserving and protecting forests all across the United States.

First up, at #1, we have the Indiana Forest Alliance. Founded in 1996, it is a network of groups and individuals dedicated to the long-term health and well-being of the state's native forests. The organization's Ecoblitzes are baseline surveys of flora and fauna; these studies help establish which animals and plants survive in certain areas and how well they are faring.

Its Forests For Indy campaign, launched in 2018, is a collaborative effort to identify and preserve the remaining urban woodlands of Indianapolis. Through the organization's Wild Indiana Campaign, the group also works with legislators to try and pass laws that protect state forests from commercial logging.

Next, at #2, is the Montana-based Yaak Valley Forest Council. Established in 1997, it is dedicated to preserving critical wildlife habitats for the sensitive, threatened, and endangered species inhabiting the Yaak. Among its initiatives is the Climate Refuge Program, which aims to identify, protect, and restore the species of the valley that are resilient to the effects of climate change.

It also creates community growth projects in the Yaak, partnering with Lincoln County's stakeholders and organizations such as the Kootenai Climate Group. One example of these is the annual Lincoln County Photo Contest, which seeks to build community connections through wild experiences.

Taking the #3 spot is the John Muir Project, which works to ensure the ethical and ecological management of federal public forestlands. In an effort to protect rare and endangered wildlife species, the organization goes to court to enforce federal environmental laws, such as the National Forest Management Act.

The group also monitors commercial logging projects proposed in the western US, focusing on the national forests of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. The John Muir Project also engages in scientific research that aims to challenge the untested assumptions that govern the management of national forests.

Coming in at #4 is the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, which seeks to reform the U.S. Forest Service through advocacy and public education. It also facilitates communication between reformers both within and outside the agency, defending whistleblowers who risk their careers to protect natural resources.

Andy Stahl is executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, a watchdog group that describes its mission as holding the Forest Service accountable for responsible land stewardship. Stahl said air tankers were initially intended for early attack to prevent wildfires from getting large. "That's no longer how they're used," he said. "Air tankers now are primarily used on large fires that have escaped initial attack. It's pork barrel spending in Western states." Limiting air tankers to an initial attack role could save the Forest Service money by reducing costs on the largest and most expensive fires where air tankers, Stahl said, are ineffective.

In an effort to increase awareness about reform initiatives, the organization creates and distributes publications such as a newsletter, detailed monitoring reports, and a middle-school environmental curriculum. In addition, it hosts speaking tours throughout the nation and publicizes the agency's wins, such as successful watershed restorations.

Finally, at #5, we have the National Forest Foundation, which works with communities and other organizations to conserve and enhance watersheds and wildlife habitats. By providing funding opportunities and various other resources, it supports projects that aim to directly improve the well-being of America's national forests and grasslands.

Among its other initiatives is the Community Capacity and Land Stewardship Program, which provides funding towards large-scale restoration projects benefiting the national forests in Southeast Alaska. Working closely with its partners, the organization also plants trees across the country every year, focusing on regions with urgent reforestation needs.