BetterPlanet, NFF, Sustainability

Q&A with Wes Swaffar of the National Forest Foundation

Apr 19, 2018
Austin Langlois
Contributing Author
Austin Langlois
Contributing Author

As you may know, we partner closely with the National Forest Foundation (NFF), the nonprofit partner of the U.S. Forest Service, to plant the hundreds of thousands of trees that you help us with through our #BetterPlanet campaign.

We recently sat down with Wes Swaffar, Director of Ecosystem Services, about his role at NFF and the vital role they play in helping manage and conserve our National Forests.

Wes, what is your role at the NFF?

I manage our tree planting program and form relationships with individuals, small businesses and corporations that are interested in supporting tree planting in our National Forests. We work with the U.S. Forest Service to invest the funds that we raise through partnerships to plant trees, which includes working to identify and select high-impact projects that will do a lot of good for our forests.

Reforestation is such a huge part of forest management -- how do both play into NFF’s role?

Forest management is the planning and implementation of stewardship activities that improve the health and function of our forests. It involves a lot of different activities, from recreational trail improvements to wildfire risk reduction to tree planting. In short, forest management encompasses a variety of actions that we can use to manage our forest resources in a way that maintains their health and vitality now and for future generations.

Our National Forests arised from a rocky start in how we managed forests. National Forests were initially set aside at the turn of the 20th century as “forest reserves” because people started to realize that the rampant harvesting of timber was simply unsustainable, and Americans were beginning to see the impact of that in the form of degraded wildlife habitat and degraded watersheds. The idea of National Forests was a new concept at the time, but it allowed for the incredible network of lands that we now have.

Reforestation is one important forest management strategy – and that strategy is what we employ after a large wildfire or other disturbances affect forests and there is no natural regeneration. Tree planting helps give our forests a jumpstart to recover.

As we know it’s an important concept, what does sustainability mean to you?

To me, sustainability is the ability to keep something operating at a certain level without undercutting it and ensuring that our resources stay functional over the long term. Sustainability guides a lot of what we do – a key part of our mission is to sustain the system of lands that are set aside for all Americans. There isn’t a lot of money set aside by the federal government to manage our National Forests, and it’s something that’s decreasing every year. That’s where we come in: We raise awareness and generate support for the long term sustainability of our forests. Boxed Water has been a great partner in helping plant new trees across the country.

Wes Swaffar

That raises the question how are you funded?

We are funded through a number of different sources. A large part of our budget comes from donations from individuals, foundations, and our corporate partners who are interested in sustainability and supporting our National Forests. We do receive an appropriation from Congress which we use to make grants to support local community groups and contractors working to improve our National Forests. We also receive support from local and state governments.

When we think forests, we don’t usually think water or watersheds. So, how does this play into forest management?

Our National Forests cover 193 million acres, and if you look at the map, a lot of them exist in mountainous regions. These mountainous regions are incredibly important because they receive the majority of rain and snow that falls in the U.S.  Over the course of the year, they store and release that water to supply millions of Americans with water in thousands of communities across the country.

How did your partnership with Boxed Water begin?

We originally got connected to Boxed Water because they’re a business member of 1% for the Planet, and the National Forest Foundation is a nonprofit member. We began talking about what could we do together, and we put together a really ambitious goal of planting 1 million trees together in five years. So far, we’ve planted over 600,000 trees, which has helped to restore thousands of acres. Each of these projects improves wildlife habitats and benefits our water resources. Boxed Water has not only been a really important partner in helping us in our reforestation goals, but they’ve also been an incredible partner in reaching Americans to raise awareness of our forests while providing a simple unique way via social media to engage in helping them with the #BetterPlanet program.

Some of Boxed Water’s tree planting projects include these areas:

  • The Deschutes National Forest: to improve forest diversity, create more resilience in the face of climate change and improved the habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl.
  • The Custer-Gallatin National Forest: to restore damage caused by the Ash Creek Fire
  • The California Stanislaus National Forest: to restore damage caused by the Rim Fire, California’s second largest fire on record. This project also improved watershed values for downstream communities.
  • The California Sierra National Forest:  to restore damage caused by the Aspen Fire. This project also improved habitats for the Pacific Fisher and California Spotted Owl.
  • Utah’s Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest: to restore watershed values following an insect outbreak that deforested the area.
  • The Angeles National Forest to restore damage caused by the Sand Fire.
  • The Minnesota Chippewa National Forest: to restore damage caused by a windstorm. This project is located in nesting bald eagle habitat.
  • The Northern California Lassen National Forest to restore damage caused by a major wildfire.

Besides supporting the #BetterPlanet effort, what other steps can people take to be involved?

On Earth Day, the NFF is launching a campaign to plant 50 million trees in our National Forests in the next five years. It’s an enormous goal for us, but we are encouraged by the support of partners like Boxed Water and showing us what’s possible. Some actionable steps include connecting with us on online through our social media channels, subscribing to our newsletter, visiting our website and learning more about reforestation, reforestation need, and how you can help.

Contributing to support reforestation is also a very easy way to get involved. Through our program, every $1 plants a tree – it really is that simple.  Every little bit helps as we strive to reach our goal of planting 50 million trees.

In a broader sense, we encourage Americans to go outside and connect with their National Forests. Seven out of 10 Americans live within 100 miles of a National Forest, and we want people to know more about this amazing network of lands. Once you make a connection with these places, you want to take care of them. And if we can care for them, we’ll ensure that these places will be intact and healthy for future generations to enjoy.

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