Forest Legacies Programs

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, we seek 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.

Because public lands policies depend to a great extent on which political party is in the White House or in the majority in Congress, we periodically revise program goals to be responsive to threats and opportunities on public lands. Our near-term goals are:

  • Transition logging on the Tongass Rainforest out of 2.5 million acres of old growth to about 100,000 acres of previously logged plantations within five years, thereby ensuring the Tongass will continue to sequester up to 8% of the nation’s globally warming pollution annually.
  • Defend public lands from inappropriate logging and fire management policies – Fire Ecology
  • During forest plan revisions, advocate for protection of ~1 million acres of at-risk legacy forests in the Pacific Northwest that store the equivalent of ~80 times Oregon’s global warming pollution.
  • Permanently protect 220,000 acres of a legacy landscape that may act as a climate refuge within the world-class Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion.

Oregon lawmakers look to supersize firefighting and forest cleanups; critics say it could be counterproductive

Debate on wildfire heats up in Oregon with Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist calling on legislators not to make matters worse by increasing logging.

Legislators will consider several bills in the upcoming short session that could expand and overhaul the way Oregon works to fight – and prevent – wildfires.

The plans include an unprecedented effort to restore forest health through thinning, removing brush and small trees, and increasing prescribed burns. Over the next 20 years, supporters aim to do that work on 5.6 million acres of forest and rangelands — an area equivalent to the state of New Jersey, or nearly 10 percent of Oregon’s entire land base.

The proposals also call for expanding firefighting resources at the Oregon Department of Forestry, putting more boots on the ground and modernizing equipment to put fires out when they’re small, thereby keeping costs low. And they would add administrative staff to make sure the state is promptly invoicing and collecting its firefighting costs – a problem that drove the Department of Forestry to the brink of insolvency last fall.

Read the full article: https://www.oregonlive.com/politics/2020/01/lawmakers-look-to-supersize-firefighting-and-forest-cleanups-critics-say-it-could-be-counterproductive.html

An Australia in flames tries to cope with an ‘animal apocalypse.’ Could California be next?

By Joseph Serna and Susanne Rust
Originally published January 14, 2020 at the Los Angeles Times

KANGAROO ISLAND, Australia — Sam Mitchell balanced himself on a eucalyptus branch 30 feet above the ground as his meaty left fist clutched a koala, which wailed like a pig with breathing problems. The dark gray marsupial batted its 3-inch black claws in the air helplessly, and minutes later Mitchell crawled down. He and the animal were safely on the ground.

Across much of Australia, volunteers and professionals are fighting to contain widespread blazes, with many also taking risks to save wildlife being killed by the millions. Kangaroo Island, a popular tourist destination and wildlife park off Australia’s southeast coast, has seen some of the worst damage to the nation’s biodiversity. Fires have overrun nearly half of the 1,700-square-mile island, and rescuers have been going tree to tree, trying to save what they can.

“There’s not much that isn’t threatening koalas at the moment,” said Mitchell, who has owned and run the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park with his wife, Dana, the last seven years. The couple started a GoFundMe campaign so people can help with the rescues. Without quick intervention, koalas that survived the fires “are going to die of starvation,” he said.

In terms of human fatalities, Australia’s blazes this year have been less severe than some previous bush fires — with 27 people killed so far this season, compared to 75 during the nation’s 1983 “Ash Wednesday” inferno. But the impact on wildlife this year has been far more devastating, a preview of what California could experience in future fire seasons.

Chief Scientist Dr. Dominick DellaSala testifies in the Oregon legislature

Chief Scientist Dr. Dominick DellaSala testifies in the Oregon legislature on a proposal by state legislatures to provide $4 billion for logging Oregon’s forests, which would be a maladaptive climate change response.

Read the testimony

Read the supplemental materials

Read the additional supplemental materials on the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), climate change, thinning, and defensible space

Jane Fonda: Save Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from loggers in climate change fight

The Trump administration has proposed removing logging protections from the Alaskan rainforest. But now is the time to plant trees, not cut them down.

By Jane FondaOpinion contributor, USA Today, published December 31, 2019

I’ve been in Washington, D.C., for the last three months doing weekly actions called Fire Drill Fridays — because what 97% of active climate scientists are saying scares me, and I feel the need to do more.

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report issued in October 2018, if we don’t make great strides toward lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years, the magnitude of the changes we’re already seeing will accelerate and may become irreversible.

We have the technology to transition away from fossil fuels, and this can’t happen soon enough. At the same time, we need to take proactive measures to reduce the concentration of carbon emissions already in the atmosphere.

That doesn’t necessarily require expensive technology. Trees are carbon sponges, and some scientists estimate that planting billions of new trees across the globe would be the cheapest and most effective way to absorb and store the emissions contributing to climate change. Planting new trees is important — and so is protecting existing forestland.

Tongass transition: Future of the forest depends on preserving old growth

Young growth timber harvest can sustain timber industry, environmentalist says — others aren’t so sure

By Peter Segall, Originally published December 22, 2019 at the Juneau Empire

A recently released mapping project seeks to show the importance of the Tongass National Forest not necessarily in terms of fishing, tourism or dollars but in carbon.

The Oregon-based Geos Institute published an analysis of the Tongass on Dec. 16, and it highlights the importance of the National Forest as a “carbon sink,” which the report says has global climate implications.

“The Tongass is part of a global network of temperate rainforests that make up ~2.5% of the world’s total forest coverage,” the report says. “But these rainforests have exceptional carbon stores for their relatively small spatial extent and are critically important in climate regulation collectively and individually.”

Alaska Roadless Rule Petition Comments

EarthJustice submitted comments to the USDA Forest Service, Alaska Region on December 18, 2019 on behalf  of Geos Institute, Alaska Wilderness League, National Wildlife Federation, Audubon Alaska, Alaska Rainforest Defenders, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, Center for Large Landscape Conservation, Sierra Club, and Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Tongass National Forest roadless areas hold keys to Alaska’s climate future

For immediate release December 16, 2019

Contacts: Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Chief Scientist, Geos Institute, Ashland, OR; dominick@geosinstitute.org; 541-621-7223; Dr. Brian Buma, Assistant Professor, University of Colorado, Denver; brian.buma@ucdenver.edu; 303-315-7677

Ashland, OR – A new analysis of roadless area values on the Tongass National Forest, southeast Alaska, documents the enormous amount of carbon stored in the Tongass old-growth rainforest as key to Alaska’s climate future but at-risk to development by the Trump Administration’s proposed rollback of 9.2 million acres of roadless protections.

With mapping help from Audubon Alaska and funding from The Wilderness Society, researchers mapped carbon data obtained from the Forest Inventory and Analysis program of the US Forest Service, the USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station, and other published sources across the Tongass. The team then distilled that information for areas currently conserved by the Roadless Rule the Trump Administration is seeking to overturn in Alaska. Researchers report exceptionally high carbon density for the Tongass rainforest on par with temperate rainforests in Chile and Tasmania, the world’s most carbon dense terrestrial carbon sinks.

“At a time when thousands of scientists have sounded the alarm that the world is in a state of emergency from escalating climate disruptions and mass global extinctions of both plants and animals, the Trump Administration is opening up America’s carbon-version of Amazonia,” said lead author, Dr. Dominick DellaSala, Chief Scientist, Geos Institute.

Dr. Brian Buma, University of Colorado, added “The Tongass is a unique national environmental treasure, integral to our national carbon balance. It is far more valuable as a carbon storehouse and on carbon markets than in its timber, which is slow growing, remote, and expensive to access relative to other parts of the country. It is irreplaceable and takes centuries to recover when harvested. Extraction is short sighted and economic development should take more creative lines, like carbon marketing and tourism.”

The report was sent to the Forest Service – along with a letter signed by 234 prominent scientists – requesting that the agency suspend efforts to lift roadless protections.

The report summarized unique national and global values at risk, including:

  • The Tongass is part of a global network of temperate rainforests that make up ~2.5% of the world’s total forest coverage but that store a disproportionate amount of carbon critically important in climate regulation.
  • The Tongass is one of only 4 other temperate rainforests world-wide that is still largely intact, which is crucial for hundreds of fish and wildlife species seeking refuge from Alaska’s extreme climate impacts.
  • The Tongass occurs within the Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest bioregion (Coast Redwoods to Alaska) that collectively comprise over one-third of the world’s entire temperate rainforest biome.
  • Carbon stored in Tongass roadless areas has an estimated value of $234 million to $2.2 billion depending on offset markets and amount of logging in the next 100 years.  Notably, Sealaska Native Corporation in southeast Alaska recently sold >$100 million of carbon offset credits to help BP offset 11 million metric tons of carbon emissions ($12 per ton of carbon; equivalent to offsetting 2.4 million car emissions in a year).
  • The Tongass may function as a climate refuge for species facing more extreme climatic conditions in the interior of Alaska and coastal rainforests further south if managed to protect old-growth forests and roadless areas.

“Carbon dioxide emissions are insidious and cumulative – we cannot see their immediate effects – but everyone on the planet – especially future generations – will eventually be affected severely by the unprecedented accumulation of fossil fuel emissions globally, deforestation in the tropics, and development of Tongass roadless areas unless we cut all emissions drastically,” said DellaSala. “This is Alaska’s best and final shot at preparing for climate change but the Forest Service has completely undervalued the climate importance of Tongass roadless areas and is squandering it away to developers.”

Here are the values provided to the Forest Service by Audubon Alaska mapping and US Forest Service datasets.

 

 

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‘Hail Mary Pass’ in Alaska’s Tongass Forest Sets Up Carbon Clash

By Bobby Magill, originally published December 9, 2019 at Bloomberg Environment

Deep within the Tongass National Forest, the rain was just heavy enough to need an umbrella—and to wash away a light dusting of snow coating the mountains above Juneau, Alaska.

The low that mid-November morning was 38 degrees, 10 degrees above normal. That’s been the new normal in Alaska’s warmest year on record, slowing the salmon runs in what should be icy streams and killing an estimated 600,000 acres of towering yellow cedar trees.

“See all this rain? We should be having snow,” said Kenneth Weitzel, a natural resources specialist with the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, who’d just returned from a float-plane trip into the Tongass to collect water samples from streams. “Less snow, more rain—that’s the regime we’re changing into now.”

For Many, Issue Of Logging In America’s Largest National Forest Cuts Deep

By Emily Kwong for NPR’s Short Wave, October 23, 2019

The Trump administration is seeking to lift federal protections on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, paving the way for possible timber harvests and road construction in the largest national forest in the U.S.

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, called for the Tongass to be fully exempted from the Roadless Rule, a 2001 policy passed in the waning days of the Clinton administration.

The rule has long prohibited development on 9.2 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in the Tongass. The Forest Service’s proposal, if approved by the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, would eliminate that rule for the Tongass and convert 165,000 acres of old-growth and 20,000 acres of young-growth to suitable timber lands.

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