2011: A Turning Point for the South’s Forests

Our Executive Director Danna Smith’s opinion piece was published in today’s Charlotte Observer. Below is the piece which speaks about why we need to change our perspective on forests moving forward in light of the UN’s announcement earlier this month making 2011 the Year of the Forest. Enjoy, and please feel free to comment…

Let’s make 2011 a turning point for the South’s forests

Posted: Friday, Feb. 18, 2011

From Danna Smith, executive director of the Dogwood Alliance, an Asheville nonprofit that works to protect Southern forests:

This month the United Nations designated the year 2011 as the International Year of Forests. Why? Because forests play a critical role in protecting the health of our planet. From supporting biodiversity to renewing and filtering water supplies, preventing floods, and removing carbon from the atmosphere, forests are essential for life on earth. Yet, despite their immense value, forest destruction is accelerating and today accounts for 20 percent of global carbon emissions. That’s more carbon than is released from all the cars on the road.

A recent report from proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the U.S. leads the world in percentage of forest cover loss, attributing much of that loss to industrial logging here in the South, where 2 percent of the world’s forests produce about 20 percent of the world’s wood and paper products. High poverty rates in rural communities, vanishing ecosystems, flooding and the loss of native species are just a few of the far-reaching consequences of living in the largest wood and paper producing region of the world. Here in North Carolina, our valuable wetland forests are being destroyed to make throw-away fast food packaging.

As if current pressures on our forests aren’t enough, efforts are under way to shift energy production from fossil fuels to wood. Though recent reports suggest such a switch could double logging rates across Southern states, increase carbon emissions and pose even more of a health threat than burning coal, President Barack Obama in his most recent State of the Union address advocated for more investments in wood-burning energy facilities. Last month the EPA decided not to regulate carbon emissions from wood-burning power plants for the next three years. In North Carolina, Duke Energy is already burning wood to generate electricity. It appears that more of the same old unregulated forest destruction is headed our way.

Is this really the model we want for the future?

There is hope. Over the past decade, public concerns about the impacts of industrial logging have inspired some of the biggest consumers and producers of paper and wood to adopt new policies to improve industrial logging practices and protect unique forests across the landscape.

Big names like Staples, The Home Depot and Coca-Cola are engaging with forest conservation groups in an exciting new collaborative called the Carbon Canopy. Carbon Canopy is developing a new model to spur investment in forest conservation to enable Southern landowners to generate revenue from leaving more trees (and carbon) in the woods. Now there is a new idea that’s worth an investment!

To the contrary, burning trees to generate electricity will only add pressure on our forests. It’s time to toss out old economic models based solely on resource extraction in favor of a new forest economy that values healthy forests for all the important climate, water, community and wildlife benefits they provide. Through waste reduction, recycling, energy conservation and a focus on truly clean sources of energy such as solar and wind we can chart a new path.

Let’s embrace this year as a turning point. It’s the International Year of Forests!

To view this online, go here.

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