By Dominick A. DellaSala and Jim Furnish, for the Juneau Empire
Change is not for the risk averse. It is scary stuff that takes us out of our comfort zones and into the unknown.
It’s also how we adapt, meet challenges and improve outcomes for our communities and ourselves. People in Southeast Alaska know that better than most. Over the past quarter century, the region has been moving beyond boom-and-bust cycles of unsustainable resource extraction and export. Today, world-class, sustainably managed fisheries, tourism and recreation lead economic diversification that has replaced most old-growth logging.
The time is past due for the Forest Service to ride the change wave. In 2010, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recognized that when he announced a transition away from logging old growth and roadless areas on the Tongass would help “communities stabilize and grow new jobs.” His Alaska Regional Forester agreed, saying that the Forest Service would transition “quickly.”
Geos Institute released a new report demonstrating the importance of the Tongass rainforest in southeast Alaska as the State’s first line of climate change defense. Old-growth rainforests on the Tongass store more atmospheric carbon than any national forest in the country and therefore act as a carbon “sink.” The recent Paris climate change agreements called on nations to enhance and maintain forests as a carbon sink. Continued logging on the Tongass releases greenhouse gas emissions that will further place at risk Alaska’s climate and world-class wildlife and fisheries.
Only about one-third of the world’s forests remain as intact primary forests with no roads or logging having taken place. Scientists have long recognized the unique values these forests provide including unmatched biodiversity, clean water, and, more recently, climate benefits. Geos Institute was part of an international team of scientists and conservation groups calling on countries, including the USA, to protect their dwindling primary forests as part of the historic climate change agreements negotiated this December in Paris.
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|Tongass rainforest – primary temperate rainforests on the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska sequester (absorb) the equivalent of about 8% of the annual US greenhouse gas emissions. No other forest in the nation sequesters and stores more carbon. Geos Institute works to preserve these rainforests for their climate and biodiversity benefits. ||Tropical rainforest, Australia – tropical rainforests are a global carbon “sink,” absorbing atmospheric carbon through photosynthesis and storing it in long-lived trees, dense foliage, and soils. Geos Institute is a member of the steering committee of “IntAct,” an international effort to protect the world’s primary forests. Photo credit: Dominick DellaSala |
Seven of the nation’s top scientific societies and 200 distinguished climate and natural resource scientists are urging the USDA and the Obama Administration to speed up its transition out of old-growth logging on the Tongass National Forest. The large trees, productive soils, and dense foliage on the Tongass store ten times more carbon than any other national forest. When these rainforests are logged, most of the stored carbon is released as carbon dioxide pollution, contributing to global warming in Alaska and worldwide.
According to Dominick DellaSala, “Quickly transitioning the Tongass rainforest out of clearcutting old-growth forests would bring certainty to the timber industry and secure the legacy of rainforest benefits for the American people.
A 2014 study of second growth timber on the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska shows that the U.S. Forest Service can transition out of old growth logging in 5 years, and shift timber sales into young growth located in previously logged and roaded areas.
As Dominick DellaSala stated, “We have a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to stop the needless logging of old growth in one of the world’s last relatively intact rainforests, with the added benefit of keeping carbon in the forest and out of the atmosphere.”