In all the years FSEEE has devoted to protecting our National Forests, we have never been so hopeful. With leaders in Congress and the White House who truly understand the importance of a healthy and clean environment, we are poised to make the changes necessary to save our planet. Those changes can start now with how we manage our public lands.
National Forests can help our country make one of its greatest contributions: address the climate change that threatens people and ecosystems across the globe.
Our 192 million acres of public forests have the potential to increase their storage of climate-changing greenhouse gases by 43%—an effect equal to removing 13 to 24 million cars per year from our nation’s roads.
Removing carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, from the air is what forests do better than any other ecosystem on earth. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb and convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and simple sugars, thereby locking in the carbon as wood. Rainforests, in particular, are the best carbon sinks, storing vast amounts. An acre of a rainforest can store more carbon than any other type of vegetation.
In the United States, the best carbon storers are the temperate rainforests found from southeast Alaska (the iconic Tongass National Forest) through British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and into California (e.g., the famous Redwoods).
Cool temperatures and lots of rain in the northwest make for year-round forest growth unrivaled anywhere in the world. The boreal forests of the Rocky Mountain and Lake States and the hardwoods of New England and southeastern states can also contribute substantially to carbon storage.
To realize the potential of our National Forests to ameliorate climate change, we must modernize the U.S. Forest Service’s governing law, the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act. This 1960 law directs that National Forests be managed for “outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes.”
As it is presently written, the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act provides no legal basis for the Forest Service to manage National Forests to reduce global warming. Without clear legal authority directing the Forest Service to make carbon sequestration a priority, it is unlikely our public forests will be administered with that goal in mind. For the good of our planet, we need to ensure that this public resource is managed to combat climate change.
Now is the time to call on President Obama and Congress to direct that our National Forests be used to protect our planet from the greatest global environmental threat of the 21st century.
First, we must amend the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act to make the mitigation of climate change as our first priority for federal forests. I am convinced that, with your help, FSEEE can make this critical legislative change in the new Congress. Doing so will require that we educate members of Congress on the very real threats posed by climate change. Hard as it is to believe, many of our legislators still don’t get it.
Second, we will mobilize Forest Service scientists to become more active in making the case for change. They have the knowledge essential to recommend sound National Forest policy. With a new administration, now is the time for public employee scientists to speak out about the ability of public forests to sequester carbon.
Third, we must explain to Congress and the American people the important role our National Forests can play in the global climate. This requires synthesizing the scientific literature and converting these studies and data into policy action.
Our years of forest policy work at every level make FSEEE well-qualified to pursue these objectives.
Among the compelling reasons to add climate change mitigation to the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act is that doing so will save taxpayer dollars. Fewer logging roads and less logging mean lower management costs to taxpayers. In fact, this is one of the rare climate mitigation measures that does not require a stimulus package, a corporate bail-out, or more long-term government debt paid for by our children and grandchildren.
Another management tool that can help put carbon sequestration front and center for National Forests is the Northwest Forest Plan. It protects more than 8 million acres of ancient forests in three states—forests that store more carbon per acre than anywhere else on Earth.
The Plan was written originally to save endangered species, including the northern spotted owl and imperiled salmon. But it turns out that what was good for the owl and the salmon is also good for our planet. An unintended consequence of the Plan was that those old-growth trees now provide a baseline for carbon sequestration.
Just like the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act, the Northwest Forest Plan, would greatly benefit by the addition of carbon sequestration to its directive. By law, the Plan requires revision on or before its 15th anniversary, which is this year. Such a revision will provide the solid footing necessary to make a new Northwest Forest Plan that is responsive to the environmental needs of the 21st century.
I know that it will take a multitude of protective measures to mitigate a changing climate. We need to revolutionize our transportation. We need to stop building new coal-fired power plants. And much more. But reorienting National Forest policy is an important step in the right direction. It is achievable politically and it can be done at little or no taxpayer cost. No other climate mitigation measure is so attractive and immediately realizable. If our political leaders are truly serious about addressing climate change, they will not hesitate to do as we ask.
I hope you’ll help save our planet by supporting our program to make National Forests a major player in the climate change forum. Now is the time to make the meaningful progress prevented during the last eight years.
Your support for FSEEE’s campaign to enshrine climate mitigation as a legal “multiple use” of our forests is critical. Your grandchildren will appreciate it.
You can make a donation for this project here at our secure website. Click here to go to FSEEE’s donation page.
P.S. You can read more about the carbon sequestration potential of public forests in “Public land, timber harvests, and climate mitigation: Quantifying carbon sequestration potential on U.S. public timberlands.” Full text available at www.elsevier.com/locate/foreco or www.sciencedirect.com. © 2008 Elsevier.