By Jad Daley, President & CEO of American Forests
Here at American Forests, we see a surging love for trees as people realize our leafy friends can help solve our biggest challenges, starting with climate change. But there is something equally profound rising up with all of that tree love — people coming together across lines of political party, race, and income to plant and care for our forests together. We should fully embrace this unique opportunity to heal our environment and the growing divisions in our country.
Let’s start with the power of trees to tackle big shared challenges. Did you know that America’s forests, from urban forests to natural landscapes, currently capture and store almost 15 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions? New research shows we could nearly double this with the right investments, such as planting billions more trees. Best of all, using forests to tackle a thorny problem like climate change will do much more for our country, such as creating jobs and protecting public water supplies.
These diverse benefits explain why our forests have a proud history of bipartisan support, and can help us move forward together today. Here is proof. Did you know that one of the most significant tree planting initiatives ever developed was led by President George H.W. Bush? His America the Beautiful Initiative had a goal of planting 1 billion trees per year, including 30 million trees per year in cities. When President Bush announced his $175 million plan, he had prominent Democrats including U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) by his side.
The same bipartisan energy is growing again, this time around ideas like planting billions of trees to slow climate change. As the impacts of climate change grow, leaders of both parties are looking for climate solutions that are maximum gain and minimum pain. Tree planting and other carbon-beneficial forestry actions like thinning forests to reduce wildfire risk are providing a natural place to start.
That’s why bipartisan support is quietly growing behind some “early win” opportunities, like tapping the federal Reforestation Trust Fund to more quickly replant trees on America’s 193 million acres of national forests.
This would be a significant step because climate change is accelerating loss of our national forests to wildfire, pest infestations, disease, wind storms, and related events, but our tree planting has not kept pace. Accelerating reforestation will generate thousands of green jobs bringing these lands back to life so they can once again help slow climate change, filter our water supplies, and more.
This bipartisan vote for trees goes beyond Washington, DC. My organization is working with the 25 states of the U.S. Climate Alliance to leverage forests as part of their commitment to slow climate change. Republican governors Larry Hogan (MD), Charlie Baker (MA), and Phil Scott (VT) have been at the forefront of these efforts, such as my organization’s partnership with the State of Maryland and the U.S. Forest Service to identify forestry practices that will increase carbon in forest soils.
Diverse cities are also getting into the act, planting trees to reduce energy use and protect people from extreme heat and other climate-related risks. Take Root Nashville, in Tennessee. The goal of this remarkable public-private campaign is to plant 500,000 trees, with former U.S. Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) as one of its leaders. In a very different city, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) has made trees part of his Green New Deal by hiring the city’s first forest officer and pushing to plant 90,000 trees by 2021. In these cities and many others across America, urban tree planting is helping to advance “Tree Equity” by prioritizing underserved neighborhoods where lack of tree cover is worsening other inequities, like public health.
Can you feel it? This is our moment to bridge all that divides us and rediscover our common bonds. To solve climate change. To invest in equity and opportunity across our communities. Let’s embrace the power of trees and plant hope together.
Jad Daley is president & CEO of American Forests, as well as the co-founder and current co-chair of the Forest-Climate Working Group.