Trump’s Agriculture Department has signed agreements with 12 state governments mandating “fuel reduction” and “restoration” treatments on national and state forests. With deceptive semantics, skewed science and timber town economics, the result will be tree cutting on a broad scale. On the flip side, scientists say forest preservation has a critical role in averting a climate catastrophe. Herein lies a call to action: The new armies of climate activists should direct some attention and support to the work of veteran forest protectors.
Idaho was the first of eight Western states and four Eastern states to adopt the Trump USDA program called Shared Stewardship (see fs.usda.gov, “managing the land”). In each state, it’s a collaboration of stakeholders, heavily stacked with those favoring expanded logging. Stated goals of this initiative are “treatments to suppress forest fire, promote forest health and create jobs.” The U.S. Forest Service, the administrator of the program, has a history of such “treatments”—it’s logging in various forms, and always has a money motive. Idaho’s collaborative initiative includes a token enviro group with a record of being soft on logging, the Idaho Conservation League.
This is another example of Trump’s reversing everything progressive or green: turning the EPA against the environment, rolling back regulations to protect clean water and public health and choking off the National Environmental Policy Act, our bedrock environmental law. Trump’s base and local economies favor lifting regulations; it saves otherwise obsolete jobs while turning trees into cash.
The UN Climate Panel says, “Preserving standing forests is essential in removing and storing atmospheric carbon. Forests absorb carbon at an accelerating rate as they mature, but if they’re logged, most of this carbon will be released.” Oregon State University and University of Idaho researchers found the wood products industry is Oregon’s largest contributor to carbon pollution, with twice the emissions of the transportation or energy sector. Temperate forests of North America are vital to our climate, as are the tropical forests; don’t cry about Brazil if we don’t protect our own. See science-based climate solutions at “Project Drawdown.”
Do forests need human help, or do they flourish over time left alone? After a fire, salvage logging or natural regeneration? Widely respected conservation author George Wuerthner, author of 38 books including “Wildfire, A Century of Failed Forest Policy,” says, “A red flag goes up whenever I read or hear the Forest Service claiming that they are going to thin or log the forest to improve ‘forest health.’ Abundant evidence exists to suggest that periodic mortality—even significant losses—from drought, disease, beetles, fire and other evolutionary processes create ‘resilience’ and ‘healthy forests.’ Indeed, there is even evidence that logging increases the occurrence of high severity blazes. Thinning opens the forest to increased wind velocity and the spread of invasive flammable vegetation.”
Forest conservationists’ most effective strategy is legal action to enforce environmental laws. On-the-ground research and written “appeals” of proposed logging projects (to establish legal standing) are followed by attorneys’ arguing cases in court. Legislative bills are enticing, but politically challenged.
Cutting to the chase, the battle-scarred work of saving our country’s forests must be recognized for its vital role in saving our climate. Burgeoning climate action groups should identify veteran forest protectors and bring some attention and resources to their efforts.
Greta Thunberg: “There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It’s called a tree.”
Will Caldwell is a Ketchum resident and board president of the Idaho Sporting Congress. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.