Helping forests prepare for a changing climate
From 2006 to 2020 our Forest Legacies Initiative provided policy makers and land managers with the latest scientific information and management guidance to sustain temperate forests during a time of unprecedented forest degradation and climate chaos.
Forest degradation and deforestation contribute more greenhouse gas pollution globally than the entire transportation network.
Conversely, protecting and responsibly managing forests for their capacity to store carbon for long periods (centuries) along with their associated biodiversity and clean water is pivotal to stemming serious global warming problems. Thus, Forest Legacies sought to elevate the importance of intact forests and watersheds in the Pacific Northwest and southeast Alaska nationally and globally in climate change and land-use policies.
Learn more about our Forest Legacies programs:
In 2016 we began to work more on issues that connected climate change with public health risks.
Defending Bedrock Environmental Laws and Policies
Fire is a natural force that has shaped the biodiversity of dry forests across the West for millennia. Fire is only catastrophic when it destroys homes or results in loss of life. Unfortunately, fire has been used as an excuse for opening up millions of acres of public lands to unabated logging based on the false premise that logging can prevent future fires and is needed to “restore” forests that have burned. We focused on fire as a keystone ecological process because there is much public concern about whether it will increase during a warming climate and whether it is a significant source of CO2 emissions.
For over a decade, Geos Institute served a leadership role in bringing cutting-edge science on the ecological importance of fire featured in top-tier science journals, news media reports, and in efforts by partners to defend landmark environmental laws and policies. We worked to develop scientifically sound alternatives that advocate for let-burn policies under safe conditions in the backcountry and fuels reduction near homes and in flammable tree plantations.
Over the years our Forest Legacies program was featured in many news articles and media outlets. We also produced some materials about climate change and land management generally. You can find a listing of these items here.
Protecting 220,000 Acres in the world-class Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion
For over a decade, Geos Institute played a lead science role documenting the world-class biodiversity of this 10-million acre region in southwest Oregon, northern California. Our science publications recognized it as a critical climate refuge for rare plants and wildlife to weather the coming climate change storm, if protected from unsustainable land use.
The biodiversity hotspot within the larger Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion is the ~quarter-million acre south Kalmiopsis area that borders northern California’s Smith River National Recreation Area and contains the highest concentration of rare plants of any of Oregon’s 1400 watersheds. Pristine headwaters support Oregon’s best remaining salmon runs and highest water quality. Just to the west, lie Oregon’s only ancient redwoods. Unfortunately, industrial scale nickel mining operations have been proposed in the area. If developed these operations would degrade the headwaters of the North Fork of the Smith River, which flows into the popular Smith River National Recreation Area, the headwaters of the Illinois River, which is a salmon stronghold, and important salmon spawning areas along Oregon’s coast.
Geos Institute was a central participant in a campaign to secure permanent protection for the Kalmiopsis area for the past two years. Our partners, Oregon Wild, American Rivers, KS Wild, and other local organizations, brought their organizing experience and leveraged our scientific expertise in a multiyear campaign to meet our shared conservation goals to permanently protect this biodiversity hotspot.
Protecting ~1 Million Acres At-Risk in the Pacific Northwest
For decades, the Pacific Northwest has been ground zero for battles over logging old-growth forests that reached a zenith with the federal listing of the Northern Spotted Owl as “threatened” in 1990.
Protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act and other laws and regulations ushered in game-changing forest management policies and the birth of the landmark Northwest Forest Plan that lowered logging levels by 80 percent on ~25 million acres of federal lands from Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to California’s Coast Redwoods. In 2014, Geos Institute celebrated the twenty-year anniversary of the plan hailing it as a global model for ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation. But the plan would have collapsed in the Bush-administration years if not for efforts by Geos Institute and our partners.
In 2008, we were part of a team of scientists that exposed political interference in the Endangered Species Act uncovered during our participation on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s spotted owl recovery team. Our work was featured in breaking news stories from CNN to the Jim Lehr News Hour. When President Obama took office in 2008, he overturned the Bush administration’s efforts to rollback old-growth forest protections, citing political interference and scientific integrity issues that we worked to expose. And while old-growth logging on federal lands in the region is now at historical lows, the threats to overturn the plan are ongoing.
The Forest Legacies initiative utilized a network of over 1,000 distinguished scientists to engage with and speak out on policies affecting biodiversity, forests, and the climate change crisis. A total of ## sign-on letters were issued.
There are three types of rainforests: tropical, temperate, and boreal.
Tropical rainforests are warm and very wet places found near the equator that receive some 60 to 160 inches rainfall evenly distributed throughout the year. In contrast, temperate and boreal rainforests are found at high latitudes (northern and southern hemispheres), generally near coastlines, and in very wet (40 to 100 inches or more) and cool (average annual temperature of 43- 52̊ F) places that receive up to a quarter of their annual rainfall in the summer, a time when other forest types are experiencing summer droughts.
Boreal rainforests are found in northern latitudes and are at the cool end of the temperature spectrum, even cooler than temperate climates. While most of the world’s boreal forests are in dry climates, a small subset with coastal influences are wet enough to qualify as rainforests. Ecologists also have recognized them as rainforests, but the general public is unaware of this distinction or its importance.
Preserving Old Growth Forests while Supporting Livelihoods in the Tongass Rainforest
Recognizing the importance of Tongass old-growth rainforests in sequestering the equivalent of over 8% of the nation’s annual emissions, the US Secretary of Agriculture issued a directive to the Forest Service in 2013 to transition away from old-growth logging and into ‘suitable’ young- growth acres that can support the timber industry in perpetuity. Suitable young-growth acres are those considered to be accessible by currently open Forest Service roads (no road building required) and have relatively low ecological values due to non-regulated pulp and paper harvest regimes that occurred decades ago.
With the best information on hand at the time, the directive from the Secretary assumed that it would take at least 16-years of continued old-growth logging to achieve a transition. Our team spearheaded innovative research to greatly accelerate the transition to young-growth logging in the next half decade. We focused on defining a pathway to move from a ‘wall of litigation” resulting from continued old-growth logging to a “wall of wood” through suitable young-growth acres available to support industry.
In 2015, we conducted the most intensive in-field timber inventory ever on the Tongass. This resulted in identifying a young-growth transition that could regrow an ecologically and socially responsible forest-products industry in a half decade while protecting millions of acres of at-risk old-growth forests. A year later, we took the lead in helping the Forest Service to secure Congressional funding to inventory over 25,000 acres of suitable young-growth forests that built on our initial results.