For Immediate Release on May 13, 2020
As multiple current legislative proposals attempt to shoehorn measures that would increase logging, or increase funding for logging, into COVID-19 stimulus packages, over 200 top U.S. climate and forest scientists are now asking Congressional leaders to avoid using the pandemic emergency as a means for stripping away forest protections and promoting logging. In a historic and unprecedented letter sent to Congress today, the scientists conclude that, in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, moving beyond fossil fuel consumption is not enough, and we must also increase forest protections and shift away from energy-intensive and greenhouse-gas polluting wood consumption.
The scientists note that annual carbon emissions from logging in U.S. forests are comparable to emissions from the residential and commercial sectors combined. They ask legislators to reject false climate solutions that promote forest biomass logging (removal and incineration of trees for energy production) under the guise of “climate-friendly” or “carbon neutral” energy or logging for cross-laminated timber (CLT) and other wood products under the guise of carbon storage. Most of the carbon in trees is removed from forests when they are logged and quickly ends up in the atmosphere or in landfills, they caution. The scientists also note that logging, including commercial “thinning,” can often increase fire intensity in forests, while damaging soils and removing vital nutrients, which undermines the carbon sequestration and storage capacity of forests.
“Forests are our only means for removing atmospheric carbon dioxide and storing the carbon long term at the needed scale. Burning wood in place of coal is accelerating global warming and decreasing the capacity of forests to counter the buildup of heat trapping carbon dioxide,” said Dr. William Moomaw of Tufts University. Dr. Chad Hanson, a forest ecologist with the John Muir Project, observed, “The dangerous excess CO2 that we’ve put into the atmosphere with fossil fuel consumption and logging will stay there for far too long if we don’t take serious steps to bring it down, and forest protection is our best and most effective way to do that.” Dr. Dominick DellaSala, Chief Scientist with the Geos Institute, added, “The vast majority of scientists warn that in order to avoid catastrophic climate impacts in the decades ahead, including new pandemics potentially linked to deforestation, we need to keep dinosaur-carbon in the ground and store atmospheric carbon in forests.”
On August 26, 2019, over 230 scientists submitted comments strongly opposing a draft US Forest Service rule that would overhaul regulations that implement the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), one our nation’s landmark environmental laws. The proposed rule is designed to speed up logging and other damaging activities across the 193 million-acre national forest system, while cutting the public and independent scientists out of the vast majority of all national forest decisions.
217 Scientists call on Congress to oppose logging provisions in the House Farm Bill.
In an open letter to the U.S. Senate and President Obama, 276 scientists expressed concern that current legislation in both the House and Senate would use fear and misunderstanding about wildland fires to suspend federal environmental protections to expedite logging and clearcutting of both post-fire wildlife habitat and unburned old forests on National Forest lands, removing most of the structure a forest ecosystem needs to properly function.
The proposed House and Senate legislation addresses the borrowing of funds from other programs to cover costs of fire suppression. However, both bills would increase funding for suppression of mostly backcountry fires in remote areas, and neither would focus on, or prioritize, protection of rural communities. The best available science has shown that effective home protection from wildland fire depends on “defensible space” work within approximately 100 feet of individual structures, and improving the fire resistance of the homes themselves. Unfortunately, neither bill recognizes the ecological costs of further suppressing fire in fire-adapted ecosystems.
Fifty-four scientists from nine countries, supported by prominent experts speaking at the Earth Summit in Rio, sent a letter to the Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, calling on her government to fully implement the agreements to protect the world renowned Great Bear Rainforest – announced more than six years ago. In the letter the emphasized the importance of implementing the agreements within the next year.
“Most of the rare old-growth rainforests outside of the tropics have been logged, making it imperative that we safeguard the Great Bear Rainforest – the largest remaining temperate rainforest of its kind,” said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist of the Geos Institute and an expert on temperate and boreal rainforests, who initiated the letter. “Scientists are eager to have a model of conservation that can be replicated around the world, and while we have hope with the Great Bear agreement, six years later it remains an unfinished job,” he added.
In the letter, the scientists point out that the Great Bear Rainforest is one of the few remaining large blocks of comparatively unmodified landscapes left on earth. The region includes over a quarter of the Pacific Coastal rainforests of North America that provide habitat for spectacular wildlife like the Spirit Bear and wild salmon runs that are increasingly rare throughout the world. Currently, half of the Great Bear Rainforest remains open to logging, but the scientists’ recommendation built into the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements was to set aside 70 percent of the natural old-growth forest that has yet to be implemented.
Over 260 scientists sent a letter to the U.S. Senate and President Obama urging them to oppose two public lands logging bills, being promoted by the timber industry and their supporters in Congress, which the scientists say would be very destructive to forest ecosystems and wildlife on National Forests and other federal public forestlands. The bills, HR 2647 and S 1691, will not improve forest health or reduce fire risks by promoting widespread logging of ecologically rich post-fire “snag forest” and older forest in mostly remote areas of federal public forestlands.
Instead they would eliminate most environmental analysis, prevent enforcement of environmental laws by the courts, and markedly reduce public participation in forest management decisions on public forests. The role of the timber industry in federal forest management would also unfairly increase under the deceptive guise of promoting decision-making by “collaborative” groups.
The scientists urged Congress and the Administration to oppose the misguided bills, which “misrepresent scientific evidence,” and instead focus on “ways for the public to co-exist with fires burning safely in the backcountry.” They urged Senators and the President “to consider what the science is telling us: that post-fire habitats created by fire, including patches of severe fire, are ecological treasures rather than ecological catastrophes, and that post-fire logging does far more harm than good to public forests.”
In an open letter, 229 scientists hail the Northwest Forest Plan as a “global and regional model in biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management.” They cite recent studies reaffirming the importance of protective reserves for threatened species like spotted owls and other wildlife, as well as new studies describing improvements made under the protective elements of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy. Positive changes in watershed condition, for example, have taken place since the implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994 that have been driven mostly by road decommissioning and recovery of previously logged watersheds2. In addition, spotted owl numbers, while declining throughout most of the region, are faring better on federal lands managed under the protections of the Northwest Forest Plan than surrounding lands that are not.
“Erasing the protective land designations and weakening aquatic protections is a bit of a shell game,” DellaSala added. “There is nothing holding the Forest Service back from addressing climate change or new science within the constructs of the Northwest Forest Plan. The agency can already thin forests to address climate-related fire risks both inside and outside the reserve network.”
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