By Jad Daley, President & CEO of American Forests
The global urgency for “all of the above” climate action, driven by the acceleration of climate impacts, is fueling unprecedented interest in forests as a climate change solution. But this increased interest has brought increased scrutiny. Can forests capture enough carbon to make a meaningful contribution? Will we lose this stored carbon to wildfires? Does harvesting timber help or hurt our forest carbon sink?
These five truths, grounded in science, can provide a common foundation for the public and decision-makers to shape America’s efforts on forests and climate change.
1. America’s forests are already providing a climate solution.
America’s forests have provided a large net carbon sink for decades. According to the 2020 U.S. EPA Greenhouse Gas inventory, U.S. forests and forest products sequestered more than 750 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents in that inventory year — equal to almost 15 percent of U.S. carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. The upshot? Our forests are already a proven climate solution, and we need to sustain those actions in our forests that are helping to produce these strong results.
2. Step one is to keep our existing forests as forests.
More forests equate to more carbon being sequestered. That’s why our first step is to hold onto the forest cover that we have, including in cities. This won’t be easy! The U.S. Forest Service projects total urban and developed land area will increase by 39 to 69 million acres from 2010 to 2060.
There are many ways to keep our forests as forests, starting with favorable tax policies and strong forest product markets that create positive financial conditions for private forest ownership. A complementary approach is to invest in permanent protection by purchasing conservation easements from private landowners and acquiring additional forestland for public ownership. The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020, and new federal efforts to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, will help significantly.