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Land Trust Alliance


U.S. Climate Policy: Let's Not Forget What Our Temperate Forests Can Do

February 18, 2009

Those of you following the latest news about forests and climate change may have read about renewed calls to protect tropical forests from deforestation.

The Washington Post ran a story earlier this week about the pace of climate change exceeding previous estimates and scientists asserting that preventing deforestation in the tropics is vitally important.

This news follows a story last week on about Avoided Deforestation Partners hosting a Capital Hill briefing with Senators Lugar and Kerry at which AD Partners issued a "Call for Leadership" urging Congress to include strong tropical forest protection measures in U.S. climate change legislation.

The Pacific Forest Trust agrees. Preventing further deforestation of the tropics is essential to tackling global climate change. We also believe the U.S. could and should help lead by example by promoting sound tropical forest protection policies ahead of this year's international climate conference in Copenhagen in December.

However, we also urge U.S. lawmakers to consider the difference we can make and the leadership we can demonstrate by implementing policies to protect our nation's temperate forests—of which we lose approximately 1.5 million acres of each year—from further deforestation.

A Congressional Budget Office report estimates the United States has the potential to sequester between 40 and 60 billion tons of carbon from improved forestry and agricultural practices over the next 50 years. A separate EPA report estimates our nation's temperate forests make up almost 80 percent of that total. That's a lot of carbon—right here in our own backyard—we can keep out of the atmosphere by implementing federal policies that will put America's 400 million acres of forests to work delivering real and lasting climate benefits.

As Senator Kerry said at the briefing, "We, America, must set the tone for the rest of the world by including smart, effective forest protections in our own climate legislation this year and working to include international forestry provisions in the next international climate change agreement."

It's also important to clarify here that the "northern" forests referred to in the Post article as possibly contributing to global warming because of their sun-absorbing properties are boreal, not the temperate forests found in the middle latitudes of the United States.

Furthermore, the theory behind the idea that "deforestation in northern areas has benefits, since larger areas end up covered in exposed, heat-reflecting snow," is based on a narrowly focused computer-model study about tree planting in that region, not the conservation of existing forests, and therefore should not serve as a basis for climate policy.

A March 1, 2007 Land Letter article provides further background on tree planting in boreal forests, its "albedo-effect" and impact on global warming.



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