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.

Scientists speak out on behalf of the Northwest Forest Plan

The Northwest Forest Plan is considered a global model for ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation on 24.5 million acres of federal lands from California to Washington (mainly west of the crest of the Cascade Mountains). Since the plan’s inception in 1993, forest ecosystems have been recovering from unsustainable logging, streams are improving, and atmospheric carbon is being stored in forests as they mature. This landmark plan is up for renewal in 2017 and a science synthesis is being conducted by the Forest Service as a pre-requisite. Scientists have called on the Forest Service to expand protections afforded to forest ecosystems and imperiled species as a means of preparing for unprecedented climate impacts and ongoing land-use disturbances mainly on nonfederal lands.

Read the scientist comments

Analysis of proposed fire legislation by Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist shows public lands at risk of increased logging

In comments submitted June 10, 2016 Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist provides analysis of 6 specific pieces of the proposed fire legislation in the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee:

  1. Ecological role of wildland fire in resilient and fire-adapted ecosystems is missing from the draft
  2. Restricts provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) by restricting forest planning to the “no action” vs. “action” alternative and allowing for expansive use of emergency “alternative arrangements” will harm the environment
  3. Allowing for long-term (20-year) federal “hazardous fuel reduction” contracts (d – Long-Term Contracts) in dry mixed conifer and ponderosa pine forests is a disincentive to ecologically based restoration
  4. Not excluding inventoried roadless areas and other ecological important lands recognized in forest plans (e.g., Wilderness Study Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Late-Successional Reserves, “high-value watersheds”) will cause harm to public lands with some of the highest ecological values
  5. Not addressing the risk of human-caused fire ignitions from an extensive and damaging road system on public lands misses an important contributing factor to uncharacteristic fires
  6. Reducing hazardous fuels in the backcountry diverts much needed attention away from homeowner safety

Read the full comments here

Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist speaks out on draft fire legislation in Congress

Bipartisan Senate proposal eyes funding, promotes clearing

(Originally published in Environment & Energy Daily, Thursday, May 26, 2016) Marc Heller, E&E reporter

A bipartisan group of senators proposed draft legislation yesterday that would spare the Forest Service from borrowing money from forest management to fight wildfires while encouraging more forest clearing to remove potential fuel for fires.

The draft, called the “Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act,” would allow the Forest Service and the Interior Department to tap a budget cap adjustment when the cost of fighting fires exceeds the 10-year average.

That provision is in line with requests Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made repeatedly to Congress, culminating with his pledge this year to refuse to engage in any more budget borrowing for fires.

It also resembles the “Wildfire Disaster Funding Act” proposed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) in 2013. Both of those senators joined in crafting of the new draft.

Beetle outbreaks not responsible for severe fires

A new whitepaper by Geos Institute Chief Scientist Dr. Dominick DellaSala summarizes the results of dozens of recent field studies in multiple regions on the effects of mountain pine beetle tree kill on fire severity.

“There is now substantial fieldbased evidence showing that beetle outbreaks do not contribute to severe fires nor do outbreak areas burn more severely when a fire does occur. Outbreaks are primarily the result of a warming climate that has allowed more beetles to survive and to have multiple broods within a breeding season.”

Vilsack pitches revamped wildfire budget to firefighters

(originally published in Greenwire, an E&E Publishing Service)

by Marc Heller, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, May 6, 2016

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack took his plea for a new approach to paying for wildfire fighting to the nation’s fire departments last night, telling hundreds of firefighters that Congress needs to set up disaster funding for forest fires.

At the annual National Fire and Emergency Services dinner, Vilsack said the borrowing the Forest Service does within its budget to pay for firefighting hurts the Agriculture Department’s programs for small, volunteer fire departments.

Mystic Corridor Tour

From Crater Lake to the Coast

Join us for an online road tour down the Mystic Corridor, between Crater Lake National Park and the Pacific Coast, with its world-class recreation sites and scenic attractions.  This tour crosses the northern part of the Klamath-Siskiyou region on highways 62, 234, 99, and 199.

For each stop on this virtual tour, you will find:

  • a 2 to 3 minute video about the site and what you can do there    
  • driving directions and a map    
  • links to more information and resources

Explore the Klamath-Siskiyou

Breathtaking beauty and untouched serenity are only a small part of what makes the Klamath-Siskiyou region so unique.

Teeming with life, the Klamath-Siskiyou is ranked one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. From the Pacific coast, the rain-soaked coastal redwood forests give way to the rugged Klamath Mountains, which are bordered on the east by the arid foothills of the Rogue and Shasta Valleys. Wild salmon and steelhead spawn in the pristine Wild and Scenic Rivers, while the clear, cold streams provide fresh drinking water for our local communities.

The Klamath-Siskiyou region’s dense mountain forests and beautiful rivers provide a recreational wonderland for generations of families to enjoy and pass on.

The federally-protected Wilderness Areas, National Recreation Areas, National Forests, National Parks, and Wild and Scenic Rivers ensure that this national gem will remain for our future generations to treasure.

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A Wild American Forest

dvd thumbAcademy Award winner Susan Sarandon narrates the remarkable, inspiring story of how a rugged pocket of America’s Pacific Northwest has endured 150 years of logging, mining, and dam-building to remain one of the largest strongholds of old-growth forest in the nation. The beautiful, scenic Klamath-Siskiyou eco-region, straddling the border between California and Oregon, is a wonderland of biodiversity and one of the world’s most important temperate forest regions. The tallest trees on earth grow here, and the greatest concentration of wild and scenic rivers in the nation tumble through the steep terrain.  Filmed in more than a dozen wilderness areas and national monuments, A Wild American Forest showcases the Klamath-Siskiyou’s natural splendor and vividly illustrates why this area is recognized as a globally significant bioregion.

Like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, the Klamath-Siskiyou bears the impact of more than a century of resource extraction.  Yet a remarkable set of circumstances–including topography and a landmark court ruling preserving spotted owl habitat–has left the 20,000 square-mile eco-region with more than a third of its old-growth forest intact, a higher percentage than the Pacific Northwest overall. How this happened is explored in the film with the help of those who know it well, from scientists and foresters to an economist, Native Americans, and other local residents. But what will the future bring?  Only one-fourth of the area’s old-growth forest enjoys full legal protection, putting the rest of it at risk.  Salmon populations are on the brink of collapse here and elsewhere on the Pacific coast. A Wild American Forest reveals how creative solutions to these problems have been set in motion in the Klamath-Siskiyou, setting a precedent for the world.

Watch the first five minutes of A Wild American Forest

Guest Opinion: We need a moon-shot for the environment more than ever

By Dominick DellaSala

(Originally published in the Medford Mail Tribune, April 17, 2016)

This week, more than 193 nations will celebrate Earth Day. The annual event is a marker for the environmental movement begun on April 22, 1970, when Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson organized a peaceful teach-in. At the time, rivers were on fire, oil spills fouled Santa Barbara’s coastline, spaceships were headed to the moon, and the nation was at war.

Rachael Carson warned in the 1960s of a “Silent Spring” caused by toxic pesticides that were bad for songbirds and people. Hydro-fluorocarbons, a byproduct of refrigerants and other uses, were ripping holes in the ozone, triggering skin cancers.

Forests in the Pacific Northwest were being clearcut at an alarming rate of 2 square miles every week, which nearly wiped out the spotted owl and salmon.

Clearly, something had to be done. And, thankfully, millions of Americans demanded that Congress pass new laws to give us a healthy environment.

Over the past four decades, political activism has led to hard-fought gains in civil rights, gender rights, social justice, and environmental policies, from the Clean Air Act to the Northwest Forest Plan.

So, why do we need Earth Day even more now?

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