The rules and regulations about forest protection and conservation are lax. In many ways, the United States is the “Wild West” of forestry. This is because the US has created laws that support:
- corporations over individuals
- production over people
- economic development over natural resources and forests
In this era of climate change, we need to do better. We need to honor our responsibilities to nature and our rural communities. To protect ourselves and mitigate climate change, we need to support community rights.
We’re working with many organizations and communities to create better forest policies. These improved policies will support forest protection and improve forest management. Our recommendations will help forests:
- clean our air
- filter our water
- protect us from the worst storms
But what are the policies that safeguard or destroy our forests?
What are our current forest policies and forest management?
There aren’t many policies that deal with all forests in the United States. Instead, many of the policies that end up protecting forests do so by chance. For example, the Clean Water Act ends up protecting forests on occasion. Or the Fish and Wildlife Service may protect forests that house endangered species. But there are no hard-and-fast laws that apply if a landowner wants to cut down their forest for cash.
Public lands have a variety of policies that apply, but they differ by ownership and agency. The US Forest Service may have a different approach to a forest than a local, state, or city park. Instead, it’s up to the forest managers. And there aren’t very many tools that can weed out bad actors in our forests. Members of the public can only sue when they witness public forests mismanaged. And some politicians want to restrict even that ability in the name of “efficiency”.
This is very different from the political landscape in other parts of the world. For example, the EU has a variety of rules that determine what’s allowed in forests. The US needs to catch up to be a true leader in forest conservation and preservation.
Political change for healthy forests
We must make smart political choices to achieve sustainable forest management. Forests need political champions in local, state, and national political offices. We need forest champions on our local planning boards and in our legislature.
We need political leaders who set aside more wildlands. Who improve forest conservation laws to protect the forests we have. Political change starts with people taking action. Below are some ideal policy solutions for forests. This is the change that we and our members are fighting for.
Policies should keep forests standing
Policies should protect and conserve millions of acres of natural forests. There’s inherent worth in high conservation value (HCV) forests like wetland forests. Policies should give equal, fair access to public funding that keeps forests standing.
Policies shouldn’t increase demand for wood products
No policy should inflate demand for wood products. Incentive policies work against climate mitigation and forest health. Examples of these bad policies include subsidizing:
- research and development in bioenergy (via the Forest Service and others)
- aggressive forest management (via the Forest Service and others)
- research and development in bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS)
- funding to increase tree plantations (often via the Forest Service)
- rewards for landowners who clearcut
- paper, pulp, and wood companies
- research and development in “sustainable” aviation fuels (via the Forest Service and others)
- the timber industry
Instead, policies should focus on:
- slowing deforestation
- reducing illegal logging
- maximizing carbon storage
The US should be a leader in the global community.
Policies should put diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) first
All forest policies should center the voices of the public. When DEIJ comes first, policies get designed in a way that benefits the most people. Some examples of prioritizing DEIJ in forest policy:
- Open and accessible public comment periods for all major forest management or removal decisions. Public comments should have real power to influence the final outcome.
- Community-centered approaches that put the needs of the community first. Above the interests of politicians or industry.
- Reparations for BIPOC who US laws and injustices have disenfranchised and economically damaged.
Policies should focus on just economic transitions
A just economic transition is when economies change in a way that centers fairness. Many rural economies survive on the extraction of coal or other natural resources. But a “regenerative” economy reduces waste and emphasizes sustainability. A regenerative economy might focus on non-timber forest products. It may create a community forest. A just economic transition gives exciting career transition opportunities to community members. Learn more from the Climate Justice Alliance.
Policies should focus on the urgent need for climate action
We’ve got the next decade, not the next century, to solve climate change. Policies must focus on the urgent need for climate action. This means that we must account for forestry emissions in an open and accurate way. We must then reduce emissions from the forestry sector. We’ve got to expand US forest carbon sinks as a major climate strategy. A carbon sink is when forests are absorbing more carbon than they emit. Politicians need to put our forests’ health above short term industry profits.
Policies should create real consequences for the environmental harms that large companies cause.
Communities must have recourse when they’re harmed. For example, Drax was fined millions of dollars for air permit violations. But none of that money went back into the community who suffered from its pollution. “We didn’t know” is no longer an excuse. Policies should hold environmental polluters responsible. Policies should repay those who’ve suffered from the pollution.
Why do we need better forest management policies?
Climate change is coming for us all. It’s coming through:
- changes in weather
- increasing frequency of “storm outbreaks” and severe weather like flooding
- forest fires: increasing intensity, number of events, and length of season
As we recover from these new, powerful, and devastating events, we’re wise to look at how we got here. High winds, flooding, and heavy rains are pummeling many communities in the South. These will only become stronger and more frequent as climate change worsens.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report. It showed that the world’s forests can aid recovery from:
- climate crisis
- biodiversity loss
Many scientists agree that a big piece of our climate solution is in the forests that sustain us.
We know the environmental threat driving these extreme weather events. It’s climate change. And we know how to fix it. We have to invest in natural climate solutions like forest and wetland conservation.
Our policies must focus on resilience and adaptation
Our response to the rapidly changing climate is two-fold: resilience and adaptation. Resilience is making our homes and forests better withstand severe weather events. Adaptation is changing our homes and environments to succeed in the new climate. These two practices will help communities across the South find people and nature-first solutions.
Forests are nature’s climate solution
Today, forests cover around 1/3 of the US. Many of these lands have little protection from wood-hungry businesses. Businesses like paper, packaging, and pellets. The US South is the “wood basket” of the world because it produces so many wood products. As a result, the average forest in the US South is less than 30 years old. Many forests are lost to logging, wildfires, development, or other causes. And they’re often replaced by single-crop tree farms. These plantations hurt our fight for climate recovery.
The best way to protect nature is to work with it. Forests are our planet’s natural climate solutions. They trap carbon dioxide in their trunks and leaves. They filter the air we breathe. Forests protect us from flooding by absorbing rainwater at their roots. This is natural green “infrastructure”. It creates harmony, health, and wealth in ecosystems and their surrounding human communities.
A forest’s value can be measured in lives saved
Forest protection isn’t just lofty idealism. Forests are critical in our fight against climate change. Healthy forests:
- prevent pollution from making its way into our homes
- suck up carbon faster than commercial “carbon capture and storage” technologies
- prevent flooding during storms
- provide ecosystem services and homes to wildlife
- give natural stress relief to people who can visit, hike, or play
But unprotected forests can’t provide these benefits. Unprotected forests are at risk of being logged, sold, or developed. They’re at risk of being replaced by cheap single-crop tree farms, convenience stores, or roads. And when forests are damaged or destroyed, we all lose.
Where to go from here
There’s no better place to work on forest policy than Dogwood Alliance. Our members and grants fund us, not proceeds from forest destruction. We’re committed to a vision for a new policy landscape that supports and protects our forests.
Will YOU be part of the solution for our forests, climate, and communities? Join us today!