Tag Archives: forests

Executive Orders for 2014: Dominick DellaSala

Back in November of 2013, President Obama issued an executive order on climate preparedness. Because executive orders circumvent Congress within certain limits, they allow the president to implement action to address climate change and other issues. A few weeks ago I asked some of our authors to create their own executive orders to improve our handling of the environment, and I’ll be sharing their responses over the next two weeks.

 

When It Comes to the Environment: What Would Obama Do?

by Dominick DellaSala

“Further, recognizing the many benefits the Nation’s natural infrastructure provides, agencies shall, where possible, focus on program and policy adjustments that promote the dual goals of greater climate resilience and carbon sequestration, or other reductions to the sources of climate change.” The White House, November 1, 2013

As we enter the home stretch of the Obama White House, conservationists want to know just what would the President really do to be remembered for his environmental legacy?

Will he go out a conservation hero the likes of Teddy Roosevelt or leave in a disappointing whimper never to be mentioned as one of the great innovators of public lands conservation? Although we give him credit for his tough stand on climate change, there has been little to cheer about on public lands conservation six years into his administration. To truly make a difference on what is arguably the most pressing environmental and socioeconomic issue of our time (climate change is not just an environmental problem by the way), his climate change policies need to be linked to clearly defined conservation outcomes.

Back in 2008, I was part of a team of scientists assembled by the Geos Institute (my employer) and Society for Conservation Biology (I am currently the North America Section President) that briefed the President’s transition team on the importance of bold leadership on these issues after the Bush administration’s draconian policies. We explained to the team how capping emissions on forestry and other polluting industries operating on public lands (oil and gas drilling, coal extraction to name a few) needed to be a central tenet of the administration’s climate change policy. Naturally, I enthusiastically welcomed the language in the President’s Climate Action Plan, announced this June and codified in a Presidential Executive Order in November, which included a section on preserving forests to mitigate climate change impacts. But at the same time, I lamented the numerous contradictions, not the least of which is an oil and gas-drilling boom on public lands.

dominickdellasala

About Dominick A. DellaSala

Dominick A. DellaSala is Chief Scientist and President of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, and President of the North American section of the Society for Conservation Biology. He is the editor of Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World.

Why Our Forests Need Fire, Not Salvage Logging

For over two decades, I have studied forests from Oregon’s amazing coastal rainforests to the fire-adapted forests of the West. In dry forests, there are three issues that reoccur every fire season: (1) forests will burn regardless of what we do; (2) politicians will propose unchecked post-fire “salvage” logging, even in national parks, as a quick fix; and (3) scientists will continue to document the incredible regeneration that takes place after fires and how post-fire logging disrupts forest renewal.

Recently, I submitted a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden and other members of Congress signed by 250 prominent scientists summarizing fire ecology studies from around the globe (www.geosinstitute.org). The letter was especially urgent as Wyden and other legislators are currently drafting legislation to increase logging on public lands in response to wildfires and, for economic reasons, on Bureau of Land Management lands in Western Oregon. In the letter, we compared four common fire myths with the evidence from around the globe.

Myth 1 — Fire is catastrophic, and forests cannot recover by themselves.

As a young forest ecologist, I witnessed firsthand how the media erroneously described the 1988 Yellowstone fires as “destructive.” The same misconceptions led to declaring Oregon’s 2002 Biscuit fire a “moonscape” in need of massive post-fire logging and tree planting. However, after decades of observations, we now know that both fires were ecologically beneficial. Following the fires, the increased plant growth provided forage for deer and elk, dead trees (snags) became habitat for woodpeckers, conifer seedlings released from intense heating of seed cones blanketed ash-covered soils, and there were increases in songbirds, butterflies and morel mushrooms even in the most severely burned areas. This fire-created web of life soon rivaled what we see in the much-celebrated old-growth forests. New forests with their abundant snags will eventually become old-growth, if we let them.

Myth 2 — Post-fire landscapes will become brush fields unless salvage logged and planted with conifers.

Post-fire logging actually slows down forest renewal. Conifer seedlings are crushed as logs are dragged uphill, heavy machinery compacts fragile soils, large snags that shade seedlings are removed for economic value, and invasive weeds are transported by logging machinery, requiring costly measures to remove them, if at all possible.

Myth 3 — Salvage logging reduces fuel hazards and future fire risks.

Most post-fire salvage actually increases fuel hazards. The small twigs and branches left by loggers provide kindling for the next fire while the big charred trees that are least likely to burn again are taken away. Fire risks are also much higher in densely packed tree farms planted over thousands of acres. Witness the shotgun blast pattern of replanted clearcuts the next time you fly over the Siskiyous; fires tend to burn hot and spread rapidly through them.

Myth 4 — Salvage logging is needed to prevent global warming pollution released by burning vegetation.

When a forest burns, it releases carbon dioxide to the air, a greenhouse gas pollutant when in excessive amounts. Surprisingly, forest fires release only about 5 percent to 15 percent of forests’ stored carbon to the atmosphere. This is because the charred trees, if left on-site, continue to retain carbon for decades to centuries, as they slowly decompose. New vegetation also comes in after fire, rapidly capturing and storing carbon while cleansing the air. In contrast, salvage logging emits much larger quantities of carbon dioxide, as logs are hauled over long distances, requiring fossil fuels in transit, and logging slash decomposes rapidly, releasing even more carbon dioxide.

Simply put: Nature has given forests unique properties to rebound even after the most severe fires. Salvage logging takes away what plants and wildlife need most after fire — large dead and live trees — and pollutes waterways from sediment runoff along roads and from logging on steep slopes.

Common ground begins with job-producing thinning of flammable tree plantations and removing flammable vegetation nearest homes. If we must salvage log for economic reasons, it should be limited to removing hazard trees along roads for safety reasons and small trees in areas that were scheduled for logging before a burn.

As Senator Wyden is poised to introduce legislation, we hope that he takes notice of the diverse ecological and economic benefits that Oregon’s forests give to us in addition to their timber. Hillsides covered with old and new forests produce clean air, drinking water, salmon, abundant wildlife and a quality of life that is essential to attracting new businesses and the variety of jobs they are bringing to our region.

Cross-posted from the Geos Institute

For more on salvage logging, check out Salvage Logging and Its Ecological Consequences

 

dominickdellasala

About Dominick A. DellaSala

Dominick A. DellaSala is Chief Scientist and President of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, and President of the North American section of the Society for Conservation Biology. He is the editor of Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World.

Rants from the Hill: Towering Cell Phone Trees

Rants from the Hill is cross-posted from High Country News

For a couple of years back in the 1970s, when I was a little kid, my family had an artificial Christmas tree that I thought was incredibly cool. It was fun to put together, with a central “trunk” that resembled an oversized broomstick, full of downward-angled holes into which the “branches” were fitted. The “needles” were shiny silver strands of industrial-strength tinsel, and the whole thing was so perfectly symmetrical and so ridiculously garish that it was only a sort of notional tree, one that was vaguely reminiscent of treeness while making no real attempt to resemble anything found in nature. I also talked my Mom into buying an electrical device that sat beneath the tree, slowly revolving an illuminated, multi-colored wheel, which projected up into the silvery branches light that was by turns yellow, green, blue and orange. It was the funkiest tree on our street – the disco ball of trees, the kind of Christmas tree Donna Summer or the Bee Gees probably had. I didn’t love it because it looked like a tree. I loved it because it didn’t.

I was reminded of that old fake tree the other day, while driving down from the Sierra Nevada Range into the Great Basin Desert on my way home to the Ranting Hill, when I noticed next to the local volunteer fire station one of those cell phone towers that is disguised to look like a tree – in this case a vaguely ponderosa-ish pine. In this Halloween season, what strikes me as most odd about these cell towers costumed as trees is that they don’t really look much like trees, at least not to anybody who ever paid any attention to trees in the first place. Like my childhood Christmas tree, these copies somehow suggest a tree without actually resembling one. Unlike my childhood tree, though, they don’t seem to embrace their artificiality in a way that is celebratory. You get the sense they’re still under the illusion that they actually look like real trees, which is both cute and somehow a little sad. Maybe the artificial cell tree just needs to embrace its true identity as a tasteless fake and accessorize with a giant, ponderosa-sized color wheel.

A cell phone tower disguised as a tree. High Country News

A cell phone tower disguised as a tree.

This question of what cell towers look like is more significant than you might think, simply by virtue of scale. There are almost 7 billion mobile phones in the world, 328 million of which are in the U.S., which means that we have more cell phones than people in America, even if you count the infants – which is probably wise, since babies will be using cell phones soon enough. This level of saturation necessitates a lot of towers: about 200,000 in this country alone, which adds up to a lot of ugly crap on hills and ridgelines. Because the range of a cell tower isn’t much above 20 miles even when those hills and ridges aren’t in the way – and because the number of towers is proportional to the number of users – we need to build more towers every day, and they are most effective when installed in places that are visually prominent.

It makes sense, then, that we entrepreneurial Americans would find a way to make a virtue of necessity and sell not only cell towers but also ways of disguising them. The tower-as-tree innovation was the work of Tucson-based Larson Camouflage, which pioneered the “mono-pine” back in 1992 and proudly describes itself as “the leader in the concealment industry.” Larson has figured out how to turn cell towers into a wide range of cultural and architectural objects, including water towers, grain silos, gas station signs, streetlights, flagpoles and chimneys. My favorite of these obfuscations is the disguising of a cell tower as a church steeple – an appealing business proposition, since many local building codes permit churches an exception to maximum structure heights. It is even the case that some churches without steeples are now building them solely to accommodate cell towers. This can generate a handsome income in leasing fees, which average $45,000 per year but in some places run as high as a half million dollars.

Get the rest of Michael’s Rants from the Hill at High Country News

michaelbranch

About Michael Branch

Island Press author, Michael Branch, is Professor of Literature and Environment at the University of Nevada, Reno. He has published five books many articles and essays, including recent environmental creative nonfiction in Utne Reader, Orion, Ecotone, Isotope, Hawk and Handsaw, Places, and Whole Terrain. He is the editor of John Muir's Last Journey. New installments in his essay and podcast series, Rants from the Hill, appear monthly at hcn.org and iTunes. For more, visit Michael's website: http://michaelbranchwriter.com/

Some Kudos from Scientists Using Island Press Books

"Now we are translating this book into Korean and would like to spread H. Bruce Franklin's idea about over-fishing and ecology concerns to people in our area."

“Now we are translating this book into Korean and would like to spread H. Bruce Franklin’s idea about over-fishing and ecology concerns to people in our area.”

“We organized a ‘fish book club’ about ocean books and chose The Most Important Fish in the Sea, which we learned about through the American nonprofit The Ocean Project. The book helped us understand over-fishing problems, diminishing fisheries resources, and environmental disasters in the global ocean. We recently saw a drop in the pollock population in our area. We don’t have any clear clue what happened, but experts suspect overfishing and climate change could be the main reasons for this phenomenon. Now we are translating this book into Korean and would like to spread [author] H. Bruce Franklin’s ideas about over-fishing and ecology concerns to people in our area. Eventually we want to help sustainable fishery management and keep our marine ecosystem service safe and profitable.”

—Jason Oh, Research Scientist, National Fisheries Research and Development Institute, Republic of Korea

 

 

This book has really helped inform the work of foresters and biologists world-wide.

“This book has really helped inform the work of foresters and biologists world-wide.”

“Some years back while we were working together on the Northern Forest Protection Fund project for OSI [Open Space Institute], we were having some challenges explaining the importance of proper management of working forests to a segment of the fund’s conservation-oriented advisory board. This group, and the representative of the major funder, was more focused on the importance of establishing reserves.

I was starting to feel a bit frustrated, but then at a key meeting the funder’s representative entered the room, slapped a book on the table and exclaimed, ‘Everyone should read this book!’ It was Conserving Forest Biodiversity: A Comprehensive, Multiscaled Approach (2002) by David B. Lindenmayer and Jerry F. Franklin. What made this particularly satisfying for me is that I had been eagerly awaiting the publication of the book (I knew that Jerry Franklin was working on it), and I had been more than a little concerned about how I might introduce this book to this group. The problem solved itself.

This book has really helped inform the work of foresters and biologists world-wide. There has been an emerging consensus that well-managed working forests can support biodiversity conservation, and that these forests are an essential part of any reserve strategy in forested landscapes.”

—Mike Ferrucci, Consulting Forester and Forest Certification Auditor

Heavy Logging vs Fires

From the Sacramento Bee

Viewpoints: Fires can be restorative, unlike heavy logging

This year, as in every year, fires are occurring in the forests of the western United States. And, as always, we read the predictable headlines about how many acres of forest were “destroyed,” whether in Yellowstone National Park in the famous 1988 fires or today’s Rim fire in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

Some claim more logging is needed to “salvage” dead and dying trees and “rehabilitate” burned landscapes, and many complain about the smoke. But the central questions remain: Does fire harm forests and what remedial actions are needed, if any? Is the system out of whack due to fire suppression and global warming? As fire ecologists, we have spent years studying the aftermath of forest fires and the wealth of life that exemplifies nature’s healing powers.

Red Stanislaus Sunset  (cc) USFS Region 5 @ Flickr.com Dramatic tree silhouettes against a red sunset near Fahey Meadow on the Summit Ranger District of the Stanislaus National Forest. Photo by Alice Poulson.

Dramatic tree silhouettes against a red sunset near Fahey Meadow on the Summit Ranger District of the Stanislaus National Forest.
Photo by Alice Poulson.
Red Stanislaus Sunset (cc) USFS Region 5 @ Flickr.com

Bordering on some of California’s giant sequoias, the Rim fire is more than 255,000 acres in size, and has been consistently described as “catastrophic,” “destructive,” and “devastating.” It turns out that this fire is actually ecologically restorative. And, while it may kill some of the sequoias, large sequoias are highly resistant to fire, and sequoia regenerates most vigorously after intense fire turns understory brush and twigs and needles on the forest floor into useable nutrients.

Soon after the fire, native wood-boring beetles will rapidly colonize the standing dead trees, detecting fires from miles away through infrared receptors they evolved in a long relationship with fire. The beetles bore under the bark of trees, and their larvae provide a food source for the rare and imperiled black-backed woodpecker – a keystone wildlife species that, every year, creates new nest cavities in fire-killed trees, providing homes for many other cavity-nesting wildlife species. Within years, the regenerating sequoia forest is a symphony of bird songs, punctuated by colorful butterflies and dragonflies, flowering plants, and a carpet of conifer seedlings that is anything but a disaster.

Contrary to what many may think about fires in Yosemite or elsewhere, there are far fewer of them in forests today than there were before European settlers arrived. Over the past few decades, fires have increased in size in some areas, but still remain well below what American Indians witnessed historically. Today’s climate scientists investigate whether fires are burning hotter than they once did; however, using decades of satellite images and pollen records that date back to the last millennium, we and other scientists have yet to see an increase in the severity of forest fires in the Pacific Northwest or Sierra Nevada. It is possible that global warming could lead to more fires in the future; however, some computer models predict increasing summer precipitation in these regions.

Mountainside erosion (cc) Sister Luke @ Flickr.com

Mountainside erosion (cc) Sister Luke @ Flickr.com

After fire, logging can damage the restorative powers of a forest by compacting and eroding life-giving soils, removing large trees that anchor fragile soils and shade new seedlings, taking big fire-killed trees that provide irreplaceable habitat for wildlife, and crushing conifer seedlings as logs are dragged uphill. Consequently, natural areas should be allowed to regenerate on their own as they have for millennia.

It is time we had a rational discussion on the proper role and management of wildland fire in forests, lest we continue to mislead people about the ecological role of fire and what to do about containing fire. Putting out fires close to homes is a matter of public safety, but attempting to squelch them in the backcountry is unlikely to succeed, as most large fires are put out by nature when it rains. Fundamentally, we need to develop a new way of discussing forest fires – one that recognizes what the current science is telling us: that post-fire habitat is as ecologically rich and diverse as old-growth forests, yet it is the rarest and least protected forest habitat type in the Sierra Nevada.

dominickdellasala

About Dominick A. DellaSala

Dominick A. DellaSala is Chief Scientist and President of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, and President of the North American section of the Society for Conservation Biology. He is the editor of Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World.

Why Forests Need to Be Enlisted in Climate Change Actions

“Forests have a vital role to play in overcoming this challenge.  Rainforests store vast amounts of carbon. That’s true across the planet, and in America, too. Our Tongass National Forest, a temperate Alaskan rainforest comprises only 2% of America’s forest land base, but may hold as much as 8% of all the carbon contained in the forests of the United States.”—Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack

Forests and Carbon Cycles

dellasala-forestscarboncyclesForests are a critical part of the global atmospheric carbon cycle that contribute to climate stabilization by absorbing (sequestering) and storing vast amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) in trees (live and dead), soils, and understory foliage.

As a forest ages, it continues to accumulate and store carbon, functioning as a net carbon “sink” for centuries. Ongoing carbon accumulation and storage have been measured in forests that are >800 years old.

When an old-growth forest is cut down, much of this stored carbon is released as CO2 – a global-warming pollutant. In fact, nearly 60% of the carbon stored in an old-growth forest is emitted as CO2 when it is converted to a tree plantation, via decomposition of logging slash, fossil-fuel emissions from transport and processing, and decay or combustion (within 40-50 years) of forest products, often in landfills. Planting or growing young trees does not make up for this release of CO2 from a logged forest. Indeed, after a forest is clearcut, it remains a net CO2 emitter for its first 15 or more years, and even if not cut down again will not reach the levels of carbon stored in an old forest for centuries. Globally, forestry-related losses contribute about 17% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas pollutants, more than the entire global transportation network, which is why many countries are seeking ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from logging.

 

ENLISTING CARBON RICH FORESTS IN CLIMATE CHANGE ACTIONS

Scientists and many countries have increasingly recognized that if we are to avoid catastrophic effects of global warming within this century, we must take a comprehensive approach to reducing greenhouse gas pollution overall. Part of the solution to global warming must come from reducing emissions from forest losses, as recognized by the United Nations REDD+ Programme in developing countries.

Forests in the United States, especially older carbon dense ones, can play a critical role in reducing climate change impacts through sequestering and storing carbon for centuries if undisturbed. New forest inventories demonstrate that the U.S. forests store the equivalent of around 21% of the nation’s emissions. Notably, National Forests store approximately 28% more carbon than private lands and therefore are important as carbon sinks.

Logging on the Tongass rainforest releases vast amounts of CO2 as a global warming pollutant

Logging on the Tongass rainforest releases vast amounts of CO2 as a global warming pollutant

Importantly, forests in the Pacific Northwest are nationally significant carbon stores, mostly because of the strategic role older forests provide as carbon sinks. Notably, mature moist forests on public lands in Oregon and Washington store the equivalent of nearly 130 times the state’s annual greenhouse gases (Over 9 million acres of older carbon dense forests have been identified in Oregon and Washington (Krankina in review). These 9 million acres store about 450 metric tons of carbon per acre or 15 billion metric tones of CO2 (e) total. By comparison, Oregon and Washington emitted about 115 million metric tones of CO2 (e) in 2010.). Alaska’s Tongass rainforest is also a global champion in storing carbon, storing the equivalent of nearly 80 times Alaska’s annual emissions (5 million acres of old-growth rainforest store about 234 metric tons of carbon per acre or 4 billion metric tons of CO2 (e).  By comparison, Alaska emitted 55.2 million metric tons of CO2 (e) in 2010.).

In June, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan. Among the President’s many steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, he specifically calls out forests – “the Administration is working to identify new approaches to protect and restore our forests, as well as other critical landscapes including grasslands and wetlands, in the face of a changing climate.”

Since forests play a such a critical role in the global atmospheric carbon cycle by absorbing and storing vast amounts of carbon, protecting forests, especially old growth forests like those in the Pacific Northwest and the Tongass Rainforest in Alaska, should be a key component of any plan to mitigate the effects of climate change.

dominickdellasala

About Dominick A. DellaSala

Dominick A. DellaSala is Chief Scientist and President of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, and President of the North American section of the Society for Conservation Biology. He is the editor of Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World.

Why Biodiversity is Important to Solving Climate Chaos: Top 10 Reasons

Having jump-started my career as a conservation biologist riding the 1980s explosion of scientific and public interest in biodiversity, I have progressively witnessed how biophilia has given way to climate change concerns with the public, decision makers, scientists, and philanthropists (who have increasingly moved funding out of biodiversity and into climate change). In the meantime, we have lost sight of why biodiversity is critical to solving climate chaos. In fact, our biodiversity roots are indeed needed to solve climate chaos as the natural world holds the keys for reaching both a safe climate and living planet. After all, the planet’s life-giving atmosphere is a byproduct of billions of years of atmospheric and biological forces in synch with one another and balanced by life on earth. We are poised to change that balance through unprecedented human-caused extinctions interacting with greenhouse gas pollutants, both byproducts of runaway population growth and unsustainable consumption levels.

Simply put, the path we are on today – some call it the “Great Acceleration” – or “Anthropocene” (Age of Humanity) – is triggering the sixth great extinction spasm (aka E.O. Wilson) through unprecedented species losses and a build up of heat-trapping gasses. The path ahead must recognize that we need nature to survive and overcome these dangerous times, lest we live in a world where wild things are pushed to the brink and climate disruptions worsen loses to both nature and people. Here are my top 10 reasons for why reinvigorating biodiversity conservation is critical to both a stable climate and a living planet.

Massive trees like New Zealand’s Kauri (Agathis australis) not only support unique temperate rainforest communities but are vital in the effort to find a solution to global warming. Bio-diverse temperate rainforests globally absorb the equivalent of over 60 times the world’s annual greenhouse gas pollutants.

Massive trees like New Zealand’s Kauri (Agathis australis) not only support unique temperate rainforest communities but are vital in the effort to find a solution to global warming. Bio-diverse temperate rainforests globally absorb the equivalent of over 60 times the world’s annual greenhouse gas pollutants.

  1. Areas of high ecological integrity (generally intact systems) with full complement of species and processes (biodiverse) are more resilient (capable of rebounding from disturbance) and resistant (capable of withstanding disturbance) to climate change and human disturbances.
  2. High levels of biodiversity are associated with productive ecosystem services, including pollination (in major decline in agriculturally simplified systems), carbon sequestration and long-term storage (highest in old-growth biodiverse forests), nutrient cycling, soil formation, predator-prey dynamics (complex food webs), and provisioning services such as clean air and water, food, timber, and fiber. All of these services are at risk in a changing climate and from their exploitation.
  3. High levels of biodiversity tend to be associated with human-well being (quality of life) and human health, which are at risk from increased air pollution, reduced quality and quantity of clean water, respiratory ailments, and natural disasters exacerbated by climate change. Natural systems and their inherent biodiversity can ameliorate at least some of these ailments as nearly 1 of every 4 medicines was originally synthesized from the world’s tropical rainforests that we also desperately need for a stable climate.
  4. A diverse coastal environment with intact and functional wetlands is best at absorbing increasing storm surges and sea-level rise caused by global warming.
  5. A diverse streamside channel with fully functional and intact riparian areas and wetlands are more capable of ameliorating flood damages and storing water especially if keystone species such as beaver are present.
  6. Biodiversity is a kind of climate change insurance – we humans know very little about how natural systems work and how tipping points can trigger cascading ecological effects. Examples from marine fisheries abound where entire systems have collapsed due to over-fishing of a few commercially valuable fish that limit options for climate change adaptation.
  7. There is magic in wild places; climate change removes that magic as a product of an ever-increasing human footprint – a dangerous feedback loop is being set up where biodiversity is hammered, resulting in diminished ecosystem services, concomitant impacts to humans that then put more pressure on those systems until they are extinguished. Numerous studies have linked poverty to decline in natural capital and this will only worsen as the poor feel climate impacts disproportionately.
  8. Diversity in nature allows for more adaptation options in the future –biodiverse prairies with their full complement of wildflowers, for instance, are more capable of rebounding after disturbance than mega-farms.
  9. Intact and connected landscapes are better able to provide refugia for climate-forced wildlife migrations than fragmented areas with low levels of diversity and artificial barriers to migration.
  10. High levels of genetic diversity allow for greater phenotypic plasticity (i.e., more adaptive responses) than low levels of genetic diversity. Similarly, genetically modified organisms may be maladaptive in a changing climate due to their simplified genetic structure.
for the future

For the future.

All species have a right to exist and are a product of eons of evolution at work (many believe a Creator is also at work). We should not have to choose between climate change or biodiversity nor justify biodiversity investments based mainly on anthropocentric views. We owe it to our children to leave both a living planet and a safe climate: the two are woven together like strands in the great web of life and all the strands are important for their own sake as well as ours.

dominickdellasala

About Dominick A. DellaSala

Dominick A. DellaSala is Chief Scientist and President of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, and President of the North American section of the Society for Conservation Biology. He is the editor of Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World.

Where Were the Forests in the President’s Speech?

On June 25, President Obama delivered his most significant speech on climate change. “As a president, as a father, and as an American,” he stated, “I am here to say, we need to act. . . . I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

Quinault Rain Forest, Olympic National Forest (cc) Wildcat Dunny @ flickr.com

Quinault Rain Forest, Olympic National Forest (cc) Wildcat Dunny @ flickr.com

In his address, the President laid out a three-pronged approach that balances short-term and long-term strategies: to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, to increase federal funding for developing renewable energy, and to help states and cities respond more proactively to rising sea levels, storms, and droughts. The administration’s goal is to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from their 2005 levels by the year 2020. That’s only 7 years from now.

Missing from the President’s otherwise laudable comments was anything about our nation’s forests. This oversight was disappointing but perhaps not surprising. The importance of forests in mitigating the impact of climate change is often overlooked—not only by presidents but by the general public.

In 2007, the U.S. Forest Service published a wide-ranging report on U.S. forests, titled Forests Resources of the United States. You can find this important document at http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/7334. Authored by forestry specialists in the Forest Service, the document paints a comprehensive picture of American forests today.

One of the topics it highlights is the importance of our forests in absorbing and storing greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide. According to the report, the United States has about 750 million acres of forestland. These forest ecosystems, as well as the wood that is harvested from them, store an immense amount of carbon. In 2005, forests and wood products stored approximately 699 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. They capture similar amounts of carbon every year. By way of comparison, the United States emitted about 5.9 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2011.

Deschutes National Forest - Oregon (cc) Dougtone @ flickr.com

Deschutes National Forest – Oregon (cc) Dougtone @ flickr.com

Yet American forests today are in deep trouble, which is why we wish that President Obama had talked about them in his speech. Destructive wildfires are raging throughout the West this summer. Just a few weeks ago, fires north of Colorado Springs destroyed 511 homes and caused the deaths of two people. In the San Juan National Forest, wildfire has attacked 83,000 acres.

To stop this onslaught of fires, the Forest Service now spends 40 percent of its annual budget on firefighting. In 1993, it devoted only 13 percent of its budget to fighting fires. To make matters worse, the federal budget sequester has cut the Forest Service budget to the bone.

As a result, the Forest Service has far less money to maintain the health of America’s national forests. When forests burn, they release carbon into the atmosphere. The Forest Service has fewer resources to clear away underbrush, cull mature and diseased trees, and plant new trees. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden told the New York Times, “[W]hen the big fires break out, the bureaucracy steals money from the prevention fund and the problem gets worse. The Forest Service has become the fire service.”

Since the passage of the Weeks Act in 1911, the United States has done a remarkable job of restoring and maintaining its forests. A century age, global warming and climate change weren’t issues at all. But since then, the earth has warmed, and forests have helped slow the rate of warming by absorbing carbon. If we don’t act now to protect our forests, we will only be destroying one of our major tools in mitigating climate change.

In President Obama’s next speech on the environment, we urge him to acknowledge the critical role that forests must play in protecting our planet for future generations.

Christopher Johnson & David Govatski

About Christopher Johnson & David Govatski

Christopher Johnson is a writer with extensive experience in education and publishing. He has written numerous articles on nature and the environment for American Forests, Appalachia, Chicago Wilderness, E: The Environmental Magazine, Snowy Egret, and other magazines and journals. In 2006, the University of New Hampshire Press published his book, This Grand and Magnificent Place: The Wilderness Heritage of the White Mountains. He is a member of the Forest History Society. David Govatski is a forester and environmental consultant who worked for the U.S. Forest Service for more than thirty years. He has conducted forest inventories, developed and supervised forest management plans, and written assessments of the environmental impact of forest plans and policies. From his base in New Hampshire, he conducts field inventories and prepares management plans for endangered plant and animal species. He is also a professional trip leader and leads canoeing, birding, and hiking expeditions throughout the United States and Canada. David is past president of the board of Weeks State Park in Lancaster, New Hampshire, the summer estate of John Wingate Weeks, the cosponsor of the Weeks Act. He is a member of the Forest History Society.

President Obama Delivers Historic Speech on Climate Change: But Will His Rainforest Actions Speak Louder Than His Words?

The President’s groundbreaking speech on climate change was as an historic step to follow up on his message to Congress that if they don’t take action on climate change, he will. But will he now follow suit by taking even bolder actions on forests?

Old-growth temperate rainforest in southwest Oregon with large carbon-storing trees marked for logging (photo credit: F. Eatherington, Cascadia Wildlands)

Old-growth temperate rainforest in southwest Oregon with large carbon-storing trees marked for logging (photo credit: F. Eatherington, Cascadia Wildlands)

Following the hottest year on record, and $110 billion in storm related and other climate chaos damages, the President is reading the climate change tea-leaves and taking advantage of how the public is gradually warming up to weird weather being the new norm.

His milestone “Climate Action Plan” includes fuel-efficiency standards for heavy trucks, tougher rules on new and existing power plants, efficiencies in the energy grid, and a menu of other climate change mitigation and adaptation measures that will set the stage for new policies on climate change for years to come.

But where do forests fit in the mix of climate change remedies?

The President’s announcement includes “preserving forests in their role to mitigate climate change.” Specifically, he aptly notes that “conservation and sustainable management can help to ensure our forests continue to remove carbon from the atmosphere” and, in recognizing this, he is directing federal agencies to “store more carbon” in forests.

dominickdellasala

About Dominick A. DellaSala

Dominick A. DellaSala is Chief Scientist and President of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, and President of the North American section of the Society for Conservation Biology. He is the editor of Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World.

Are the United Kingdom’s Coastal Woodlands “Rainforests?”

Hazelwood stools - growing in dense and genetically related "stools" repeatedly on the same microsite, hazel wood is an ancient temperate rainforest. Note the extensive green lichen blotches growing on hazel wood stems. Photo - D. DellaSala

This August I traveled to Glasgow to keynote a symposium on temperate rainforests at the European Congress of Conservation Biology (Society for Conservation Biology). Having never set foot in a European rainforest, I was especially challenged by the invitation to help put these rainforests on a global map of conservation importance (the theme of my rainforest book, Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World), and so set out to learn more about these unique ecosystems.

In particular, the UK’s temperate rainforests are fragmented emeralds in a sea of human-modified landscapes impacted by people dating back to the retreat of the last ice age. Climatically, they meet the definition of a rainforest, and on the British Isles they are extremely wet places moderated by the Gulf Stream. But these rainforests are vertically challenged compared to the more statuesque rainforests of North America, Chile, and Tasmania, some with trees no taller than 3 meters.

I was able to get a firsthand look at a UK woodland rainforest during a post-conference field trip to the hazel woods located at the southeastern tip of the Isle of Seil, close to Oban, western Scotland. Here, I visited the world-renowned (for its lichen richness) Ballachuan Hazel Wood Reserve, an encounter that challenged my North American perception of rainforests as cathedrals of giant trees. In the UK, hazel wood is managed as semi-natural woodland where conservationists often struggle to maintain some naturalness in the vast sea of humanity.  In this Atlantic woodland, hazel “trees” barely rise above the ground, windswept by North Atlantic storms. Their dense canopies are so tightly knit that sunlight barely reaches the ground beneath them.

dominickdellasala

About Dominick A. DellaSala

Dominick A. DellaSala is Chief Scientist and President of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, and President of the North American section of the Society for Conservation Biology. He is the editor of Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World.