Protect Life Itself and Make Proforestation the Driving Policy on Public Lands

George Washington National Forest, West Virginia. Photo: Steven Krichbaum.

The new landmark report released in August by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change painted a dismal and nightmarish scenario for the Earth1. 

But we must remember that all is not lost.

In response to the report, as usual the mainstream media focused on the need to reduce emissions. But there is another factor of just as great an import, if not more so2.

And that is protecting and maintaining the integrity of the carbon sinks, those places and ecosystems that sequester carbon.

By far, the most important terrestrially being standing older forests. These forests are of exceptional value in so many ways that their preservation must be made an urgent priority3. Research shows unequivocally that the best method we can employ to combat climate change is ensuring that standing forests remain intact and allowing them to grow in complexity and reach their ecological potential, their natural old growth state – in other words, proforestation4. Proforestation does not take special and expensive technology. It takes political will and recognition of reason, empirical evidence, and scientific fact.

There are three main catastrophes facing all of us now. The latest IPCC report addresses one, climate change. The other two are the extinction/extermination crisis wrought by ecological meltdown and direct destruction/alteration of habitat5, and pollution, such as oceanic plastic and toxic chemicals discharged into our air, lands, and waters6. It is essential that these three problems be tackled together here and now.

Proforestation simultaneously addresses and helps to reverse all three of these overarching catastrophes that are existential threats to not only us, but also to the countless other beings alive on Earth. In contrast to afforestation (planting new forests) and reforestation (replacing forests on deforested or recently harvested lands), proforestation has the further advantage of not requiring any new land.

Making proforestation the driving policy on already existent public lands, such as our National Forests and Bureau of Land Management lands, is not only climate-smart policy, it’s also essential for achieving the “30 X 30” goal of truly “protecting” 30% of America’s lands by 2030. Implementation of this proforestation initiative will restore forest health and result in a National Strategic Forest Carbon Reserve system on NFs, BLM lands, and other properties7. Multiple benefits in one swoop — serving the greatest good by significantly countering both climate change and the extinction crisis. And pollution as well; far and away, the greatest amount of carbon emissions from US forests comes from logging operations, not fires or trees falling from natural disturbances8. 

In making proforestation the fundamental working principle behind the urgently needed improvement and modernization of the legal, regulatory, and management framework for our National Forests, BLM lands, and other public lands, the USDA and USDI will explicitly set a positive example and lead the debate.

Certainly, proforestation can be implemented on private lands as well. But, of course, land holders may have  economic considerations that will override its realization. Whereas, public money (tax dollars) can and should be redirected away from subsidized logging of public lands and into incentivizing and implementing the forward-looking conservation of intact forests. In addition, with few exceptions, the expansive and relatively intact landscapes crucial for conservation are only found on public lands. 

Future generations are depending on decisions being made right here right now. As are those alive today who cherish wild spaces, public lands, and America’s biodiversity.

We cannot allow climate deniers and forest deniers to join forces and forge the ultimate cancel culture, canceling Creation — Life itself. If they could, those who don’t know and don’t care would ransack the Earth and toss its tattered remains in a dumpster (if only they could find one big enough). 

Instead, we must focus on what still can be done and what can still be salvaged — and that is preserving standing older forests and keeping them intact. Proforestation is pro-life and the vital key to our most pressing problems.

Scientific papers and reports used for info —

1IPCC Report 2021

2 IPCC Report 2019 

3/ Watson et al. 2018 

4/ Moomaw et al. 2019  

5/ IPBES Report 2019

6/ UNEP Report 2021

7/ Law and Moomaw 2021

8/ Harris et al. 2016