The Earth is Sacred – Not Ours to Wreck
One of the most useful things we can do to mitigate the climate crisis is to preserve existing forests and plant new ones. That’s because trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and incorporate it in their roots and branches.
The fires in the Amazon rainforest are devastating because forests are being destroyed and the stored carbon released into the atmosphere. Equally alarming are the Trump administration’s plans to allow the logging of old-growth trees in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest and the building of roads there for energy and mining projects. It’s the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest. Its centuries old trees store more carbon removed from the atmosphere than any other national forest in the country.
Forests are also disappearing because of urbanization and the clearcutting of woodlands for livestock ranching and agricultural expansion. Seattle has a tree-protection ordinance which requires developers to replace all large or “exceptional” trees they remove. But it’s not being enforced, and Seattle has lost 1,200 acres of canopy cover to developers since 2009.
We should instead be protecting and increasing the size of old-growth forests. A good example of what can be done is a 7,600-acre tract of land owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) near Washington’s Willapa Bay. TNC is working with contract loggers there to enable young industrially-planted stands to become stands of old growth (150+ year old trees) by thinning young trees to provide more growing space and replacing some of the trees to provide more intermixing species of trees.
One of Sacred Earth Matters’ priority bills in the 2019 Legislature was SB 5873 which would establish a grant program to enable communities to acquire, develop, and restore forests. Unfortunately, it wasn’t approved in the House. On a happier note, Washington entered into a Shared Stewardship Agreement this year with the U.S. Forest Service to protect our forests from wildfires, insects, disease, and droughts and restore the forest we have lost.
Forests managed for timber (e.g. Weyerhaeuser) sequester carbon almost as well as wilderness woodlands do. Sustainable forestry increases CO2 absorption from the atmosphere as a result of young trees absorbing higher levels of carbon dioxide than older trees, making the forest act as a carbon sink. The Nature Conservancy is a strong advocate for the cross-laminated timber industry that makes effective use of young, small diameter trees from managed forests. The good news is that we’re planting more trees in our working forests today than we’re cutting down.
A new study found that reforestation is much more powerful than anyone ever expected. Letting saplings regrow on land where forests have been cleared and planting trees where there were none before (afforestation) could result in 1.2 trillion new trees across the planet. These trees would capture two-thirds of the carbon we’ve put in the atmosphere over the last 150 years. Russia, the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and China are the countries with the most room for new trees.
Every school student in China under the age of 11 must plant at least one tree each year. Think of the impact we could make if everyone who attends UCUCC planted or sponsored the planting of one tree each year. Do it!