Building a Movement for Forests, Climate, and Justice

On a hot and humid Saturday at the beginning of June, Rita and I found ourselves covered in sweat and dirt; our ankles eaten alive by mosquitoes. But most of all, we had two huge, satisfied grins on our faces. We were just wrapping up an inspiring summit with 30 independent, diverse, and committed leaders from all over the country, where we came together for a groundbreaking purpose: to elevate the role of forest protection in the national movement for climate action and justice. After all those months of preparing for the summit, we didn’t know quite what to expect.

The group accomplished so much, and our hearts were full at the end of the weekend.

From the majestic redwoods of the West to the mystic cypresses of the South, forests are our lifeline. Whether they’re providing us with clean air and water, protecting us from storms, or giving us a place to retreat and restore, forests make for healthy and resilient communities.

And there’s more. Forests aren’t just the place where all the unique critters, towering trees, plants, and creatures smaller than the eye can see are thriving.

In the magic of the forest, we find solutions to the greatest threat we face: climate change.

Forests remove large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in trees and soils.

If we’re to avoid a climate disaster, we need to dramatically scale up forest protection.

With the highest rates of logging in the world and a system that puts profit over people and land, the US is doing exactly the opposite – and putting our climate, communities, and forests in grave danger.

“The US is the world’s leading wood products producer and the leading source of greenhouse gases from logging,” noted John Talberth, President and Senior Economist at the Center for Sustainable Economy, who joined us at the Virginia meeting from Oregon. He added,

“Big Timber’s toxic plantations are serious public health and safety threats as climate change unfolds because they are more susceptible to fires, floods, insects, disease, and water shortages than natural forests.”

In the beginning of the year, Dogwood Alliance reached out to this group of leaders to bring them in on the ground floor of catalyzing a national movement on forests, climate, and justice. This inspiring group represented people from all over the country, who all offered their diverse perspectives, background, spirit, and wisdom to the conversation. Frontline communities and grassroots organizations, big and small non-profits, universities and institutes — we were all over the map.

Folks traveled from near and far to be a part of the summit. We gathered to work and break bread together in a large mess hall. Over two days, we strengthened relationships while learning from one another and putting pen to paper on our work to come.

While we may differ in our regions, priorities, and tactics, we are united by a common goal: we seek a world where we value forests more standing than logged.

That’s why we are working together to create a platform that lifts up forest protection as a solution for the crises our earth, communities, and economy face.

Dr. Dominick DellaSala, President and Chief Scientist of the Geos Institute, who traveled from the West coast to join our group of forest protectors, said,

“The time is now for infusing the forest movement with biodiversity, climate security, and social justice in order to keep carbon in the forests instead of logging and releasing it into the atmosphere.”

As we chatted over meals prepared by Seeds of Peace, a collective dedicated to feeding, training, and in all ways supporting the practitioners of radical political change, we got the sense that big change was happening. Ten years from now many of us will look back at this weekend as a shining moment in the effort to protect forests, climate, and communities.

But we don’t call it moment work, we call it movement work.

This is a movement, and it’s the work that comes next that will drive the forces of change to keep more forests standing and to tackle the climate crisis and the injustices we are facing.

On the work ahead, BJ McManama, a West Virginia-based Campaign Organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, shared,

“We came away from this gathering of grassroots leaders encouraged and motivated to find the unique solutions that are based on our location and our people’s needs, and that will ensure a peaceful, prosperous, and equity-based future for our next Seven Generations.”

MC Egbert, the Policy Assistant and Social Media Coordinator with the John Muir Project, said,

“I was so inspired by everyone at the meeting, and it inspired me to bring it back to my own organization and start building our own grassroots team!”

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be putting the finishing touches on our collaborative national platform, while we’re gathering more organizations, community members, and other voices.

We’ll be calling on you to help us spread the word and to join a powerful grassroots movement to stand for forests. Stay tuned for more updates this summer — and a big launch in the fall!

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