In this summer edition of the Forest Legacies newsletter:
At nearly 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska is the nation’s largest national forest and a carbon champion, absorbing some 8% of our annual carbon dioxide pollution in its productive old-growth rainforests. Unfortunately, the Forest Service proposes to clearcut 43,000 acres of this old growth, mostly in the next 16 years, releasing the equivalent emissions of some 4 million vehicles annually. The agency’s logging plan is an embarrassment to President Obama’s global leadership on climate change and contradicts his visit to Alaska last September when he announced, while in route to the Paris Climate Change Summit, that the state is the nation’s “sign post” on climate change.
For the past three years, Geos Institute, and our partners, Natural Resources Defense Council, Mater Engineering (board member), and retired Deputy Forest Service Chief Jim Furnish (board member), have been conducting ground-breaking research on the amount of young forests available to shift timber production out of controversial old-growth logging. Thousands of acres of young plantation forests originally logged in the 1950s have since regrown and will soon (by 2020) be ready offset the need to log old growth.
We also teamed with a local Alaska mill to propose a study that would determine the feasibility of processing young trees from the Tongass, using new milling technologies that get more material from small logs with much less wood waste. Collectively, this work is uniquely solving for economic uncertainties of a rapid transition. And while we have demonstrated to the Forest Service how transition can swiftly occur, they remain dug in on clearcutting vast areas of old-growth rainforests, the only national forest that is still doing this on a large scale.
In the coming months, we will be making a compelling case to the Obama Administration to direct the Forest Service to speed up its transition by taking advantage of this new opportunity we have demonstrated, and help save Alaska’s rainforests and climate. Only with bold direction from the President can we save the Tongass from rampant old-growth and climate-dirty logging.
Emerald green rivers, rare carnivorous plants, and massive Oregon redwoods make up a landscape unmatched in biodiversity across the American West. For the past 4 years, Geos Institute has partnered with local and national conservation groups to seek protection from mining of these waterways and for Oregon’s redwoods. Legislation has been introduced in Congress by Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Peter DeFazio (OR) and Jared Huffman (CA) to protect at-risk watersheds that, although has yet to receive a hearing in the Republican-controlled Congress, did trigger a temporary withdrawal of new mining claims until Congress can act. Geos Institute is pushing for permanent protections of this area in the coming months that we hope to achieve before President Obama leaves office in January.
The Northwest Forest Plan is a global model for ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation on over 24 million acres of federal lands from California to Washington. This landmark plan is scheduled for renewal in 2017 under the incoming Administration. The Forest Service is currently conducting a science synthesis in its preparation for future plan revisions. Geos Institute has been instrumental in providing sound science to the agency. Recently, we published a peer-reviewed paper on the 20-year anniversary of the 100-year Northwest Forest Plan in the journal Forests. That paper, along with hundreds of related publications by scientists, was sent to the agency in support of increased protections for Northwest forests.
This June, 13 leading scientists called on the Forest Service to expand protections afforded for forests and imperiled species as a means of preparing for unprecedented climate impacts and ongoing land-use disturbances mainly on nonfederal lands. We intend to brief the incoming Administration on the importance of building on the Northwest Forest Plan’s two decades of accomplishments.
Chief Scientist, Dr. Dominick DellaSala, was recently interviewed in a Jefferson Journal article, “The Wildfire Conundrum,” based on a three-part radio series on the Jefferson Public Radio.
“If fuels were contributing to more forest fires and more severe fires, that’s what we would be seeing in the West.” Instead, [DellaSala] says, “We are actually in a deficit of fire severity and fire acres in most of the West compared to historical times.”
Geos Institute continues to be a national leader on advocating for the biodiversity importance of wildland fires and ways to co-exist with them without logging in the backcountry. Check out our book – “The ecological importance of mixed-severity fires: nature’s phoenix (link to the book goes here). In the coming months, we will be meeting with decision makers in Washington D.C. to make our case to Congress that responsible fire management can be achieved by first and foremost protecting homes and fire fighters so that more fires can burn safely in the backcountry performing a vital ecological role.
Conservation always involves anticipation. And despite uncertainties in who the next president will be in November, Geos Institute is already preparing to brief the incoming Administration. We are in the process of working on a bold conservation vision for public lands that we hope to present to the incoming Administration during its first 100 days – stay tuned as we wrap up existing campaigns and keep our periscope up for emerging opportunities.