By Ernie Reed, Heartwood Council Chair
The effects of our changing climate on forests and ecosystems are well recognized and the focus of a plethora of research projects. Far less attention has been paid to the converse: the contribution that forests make to creating and affecting climate.
Forests are the lungs of the earth. Trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, sedges and ferns all absorb carbon dioxide from the air and give back life-giving oxygen in return. Trunks, stems leaves and roots cycle the carbon back into themselves and into the soils that sustain them. The role of forests in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere storing that carbon as a “carbon sink” is well documented scientifically. Nothing stores carbon longer, deeper and more effectively than old, complex and vibrant forest ecosystems.
Forests also create their own microclimates. They pump unbelievable volumes of water into the surrounding air creating the humidity that make them so biologically diverse. They shade the soil, cool the air and enrich the ground around them. They guard against the drying effects of erosion and are major players in the complex web of cycles that create climate.
What seems insignificant in a single timber sale or a single oil and gas lease has very significant impacts when combined with others over time, or over vast land areas, or proposed for the near future. And the use of forest resources, carbon in all of its terrestrial forms, trees, oil, gas or coal, have environmental impacts have similar cumulative impacts. Incineration of these fuels, when combined with the amounts of carbon removed from the earth creates an ongoing, exponentially increasing carbon debt. In the world of acclimatization, carbon that remains in the ground and in living, breathing forests is our long-term climate mitigation equity that cannot be replaced without simply leaving it be and by letting nature do its photosynthetic magic of forest building.
The understanding of this relationship between forests and their contribution to climate creation will have an important effect in present and future land management decisions and in applications of administrative law on behalf of forest ecosystems and National Forests all over the U.S. This presents both an opportunity and a responsibility for us as citizens, activists, conservationists and proponents of ecological justice, to work to protect and conserve forests, forest communities and forest resources.
Heartwood’s strategy is simple. Project-by-project, ecosystem-by-ecosystem, watershed-by-watershed, these considerations and evaluations of environmental impacts to climate must be made. Then forest-by-forest and region-by-region forest reserves translate into climate reserves. Hand in hand with allies and colleagues who promote and provide facilities for non-carbon based energy systems and call for an end to mountaintop removal coalmining, hydrofracking and oil and shale gas drilling, we can reverse the movement of this beast and in the process, protect water and air resources and promote the growth and flowering of life in our forests and our human communities for the highest and best benefits for all.
Heartwood is a network of grassroots groups working for forest protection and carbon conservation on all of the national forests in the central and eastern United States and in the communities they support. For more information and to find out how you can help, contact us at www.heartwood.org, or firstname.lastname@example.org.