The Big AEPA: A Last Chance to Save the Appalachian Ecosystem

Proforestation means “growing existing forests intact to their ecological potential” [1]. In other words, protecting standing intact forests and letting them grow and develop in complexity to their natural old growth state. The 2019 paper’s title says it all: “Intact Forests in the  United States: Proforestation Mitigates Climate Change and Serves the Greatest Good.” Forests of older and larger trees sequester far more carbon than do those of younger smaller trees [2]. Clearly, intact older forests are of such exceptional value in so many ways that their preservation must be made an urgent priority [3]. 

So, a climate-smart strategy for the public’s forests — our National Forests (“NF”), National Parks (“NP”), BLM lands, National Wildlife Refuges, National Monuments, and other public forests — starts by protecting them in order to maximize carbon sequestration and reduce carbon emissions. Climate-smart care for public forests entails proforestation — truly protecting standing forests (keeping them standing). This is in addition to reforestation and afforestation programs. Passage of and implementing an Appalachian Ecosystem Protection Act (the big AEPA) will accomplish this crucially needed true protection of wildlands, and more. 

Current public lands’ management is in many ways not just a disgrace to science and reason and democracy, it’s a manifestation of a basic disdain for the Creation. And a sneering contempt for the intelligence of any American with more than two neurons to rub together.

The defenders of this unholy trajectory of dozer- and chainsaw-driven business-as-usual (many of whom financially gain from it and are the beneficiaries of its subsidies — follow the money), would actually have you believe that all the parks, refuges, wilderness areas, and World Heritage sites and Biosphere Reserves, since they do not have logging and dozers and chainsaws inflicted upon them, that they are all unhealthy. Who are you going to believe, the corporate pr minions and their government lackeys and enablers? Or your lying eyes and countless scientific studies that reveal the incomparable majesty and irreplaceable necessity of these sanctuaries of life?

Modernizing Public Lands Management 

At this point in America, the extinction/ecological meltdown crisis demands that our overriding priority must be on reducing the direct pressures on biodiversity — safeguarding ecosystems, species, viable populations, and genetic diversity by expanding and actually ‘protecting’  public lands and thereby reducing habitat loss and degradation. According to the IUCN, “a protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long- term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.” The US currently has a lower proportion of our nation as protected areas than do countries such as Guatemala, Venezuela, Gabon, or Thailand [4] (IUCN 2016 pg. 32). Changing a National Forest to a National Park, such as proposed for the Shawnee NF in Illinois, would achieve real protection.

Bringing new lands from willing sellers into the public conservation sphere, such as the proposed three-million acre Maine Woods National Park and Preserve or lands and waters in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Swamp, would also indeed bring great benefits. As others have clearly explained and are promoting [5], expansion of the National Park system by converting/transferring National Forests into National Parks would accomplish the desired and crucially needed proforestation/conservation  benefits. Americans are working to achieve this not only for the Shawnee NF, but also elsewhere; such as proposals for making the George Washington (“GW”) and Jefferson NFs part of the Shenandoah NP in Virginia. 

These efforts bring much needed attention to the overriding reality: There are US lands already in the public domain that are crucially important for real and lasting biodiversity conservation. There are 190 million acres in the public domain which are called “National Forests”. Unfortunately, most of this acreage is not truly protected. In many regions of the country, these public lands provide just about the only places left with expansive relatively natural landscapes. Capable of providing irreplaceable sanctuary to countless plant and animal populations, they are precious arks afloat in a sea of human development. 

Though numerous public opinion polls show that the vast majority of Americans (ca. 75%) do not want our National Forests to be logged, nonetheless,  most NF and BLM lands are open to various forms of commercial exploitation and extraction, such as logging, drilling, and grazing. Areas pummeled by commercial harvest/extraction that substantially modify the natural state of ecosystems simply do not qualify as “protected” in any rational and meaningful sense of the word. US Forest Service analysts estimated that only 3% of the total forest land area in the East is “reserved”, i.e.,  withdrawn from logging by statute or administrative regulation [6 – at pg. 26].

New legislation is sorely needed, call it The ProForest Initiative, that will counter this extreme disbalance and alter the current management trajectory applied to our NFs and BLM lands. At present, proforestation occurs in National Parks and Congressionally-designated Wilderness Areas; these designations generally confer the highest level of protection public lands can receive in the US. But only a paltry 2.7% of the land area of the lower 48 states and less than 1% of Virginia (including GWNF, Jefferson NF, and Shenandoah National Park acreage) is protected Wilderness. And only a tiny fraction of our National Forests is protected as Wilderness, around 18% nationwide (mostly in the West). In eastern NFs it is much less — for example, less than 5% of the Virginias’ GWNF, while on Ohio’s Wayne National Forest the percentage is zero. 

Even if not formally “designated” as Wilderness, the wild character of lands can still be administratively protected by the Forest Service and BLM. And even on lands not explicitly administratively managed to maintain their wild character, certainly the vast majority of National Forest acreage can at least be managed custodially, allowed to progress to their ecological potential without the billions of dollars of taxpayer-subsidized commercial logging and road building — providing for a broad range of non-industrial low-impact human uses, such as drinking water, camping, hiking, recreational sites and beauty, while at the same time providing meaningful protection. 

This proforestation management regime will result in a huge Win-Win-Win for us all: reduced carbon emissions and increased carbon sequestration and intact habitat/ecosystems. With management under The ProForest Initiative, NFs and BLM lands will significantly contribute to meeting America’s goals for actually “protecting” lands (“30 X 30”),  combatting climate change (“climate-smart management”), and reducing pollution; far and away, the greatest amount of carbon emissions from US forests comes from logging operations, not fires or trees falling from natural disturbances [7]. 

An added bonus of this wilderness and custodial management direction is that it’s the least costly option in budgetary terms, providing by far the biggest bang for our limited bucks. For instance, at the very least there should be a moratorium on road building on the public lands — there are already over 400,000 miles of FS administered roads on our NFs (in addition to county, state, and federal roads), with a maintenance backlog of many billions of dollars.

“Protected” Lands 

Today, relative to America’s overall landscape, truly “protected” lands (e.g., Wilderness Areas) are few in number, small in area, and isolated. They are tiny islands in a sea of human disturbance and as such are a grossly inadequate approach to maintaining healthy ecosystems. 

Across America, there is a big discrepancy in what is “protected” and where. Present “nature reserves” are primarily located at areas with the least productive soils and are found predominantly at mid-to-high elevations [8]. This pattern has been termed the protection of “rocks and ice”.  In other words, the most productive and species-rich sites are not well represented in protected reserves. 

In the US, most protected areas are in the West, whereas one of the places of greatest species richness, endemism, and vulnerability is the Southeast [9]. One of the nine priority areas that Jenkins and colleagues identified is the Blue Ridge Mountains; they pointed out that though it has substantial biodiversity, National Forests inadequately protect it.

The current system of nature reserves fails to be representative of the natural variation found in the United States. All the ecosystem types need to be well represented, not just rocks and ice. The small wild areas that are currently protected on NFs and BLM landsmust be augmented and integrated into expansive ecological reserves. Unlike the surrounding human-dominated and -fragmented landscape, these public lands can still provide the large expanses, wild habitat complexity, ecological functionality, and security of remoteness formed over the past centuries.

It’s imperative to realize that our George Washington and other National Forests are simply not essential for functioning as the nation’s tree farms, feedlots, drilling pads, or recreational thrillcraft areas. There are other parts of the country that are more appropriate landscapes in which to practice these activities: Private lands. Quite simply, the highest value of a Forest such as the GWNF is as an ecological preserve. It truly is the George Washington National Ark. 

If the USDA is to manage National Forests for the perpetuation of the diversity of Creation and for the good of all Americans, not for profiteers and special interests, then this shift to wilderness designations, custodial management, and proforestation that achieve real on-the-ground “protection” is absolutely essential.

The following objectives/principles should guide new NF management:

– Maintain  native biodiversity and critical ecological processes

– Minimize external threats & maximize external benefits to the sites 

– Preserve evolutionary potential 

– Management is adaptive and minimally intrusive

Of course, due to bureaucratic inertia, the agency is resistant to change be it slow or rapid; perhaps the only change they are committed to is half-fast.

To achieve this crucial restoration and protection of our National Forests and BLM lands, legislation based on conservation biology, such as the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (“NREPA”) that protects and connects multiple western public lands and the formerly introduced National Forest Protection and Restoration Act (“NFPRA”), can serve as proforestation models/frameworks/blueprints to be implemented by The ProForest Initiative not just in the Appalachians, but nationwide.

Avoiding Extinction

Biota exhibit four basic responses to environmental change, be it from climate change or habitat destruction/alteration: 1) plasticity or acclimatization  (phenotypic response), 2) adaptation (genotypic response), 3) movement to another area (behavioral response), and 4) extinction (disappearance without descendants). Except for the last one, these responses can be considered as multiple modes of “rescue”, in other words, the avoidance of extinction. And, except for extinction, these responses are not mutually exclusive.

In the context of the applied science of conservation biology, the appropriate question that we must act upon is: What must we do to preclude/reduce the likelihood of the extinction response?  In other words: How do we best provide for potential evolutionary rescue via adaptation as well as range shifts and in situ plasticity? 

For long-term viability, large populations are essential, which in turn require habitat in large amounts and high quality for all life stages [10]. Large populations are more likely to provide the high amounts of standing genetic variation needed to facilitate both phenotypic plasticity and genetically adaptive responses [11].

Therefore, to decrease extinction risk, we must provide for or increase  population abundance by providing expansive habitat area and natural habitat quality (including that of the surrounding matrix), and reduce functional isolation of populations, i.e., allow for dispersal/gene-flow [12-14] . 

So, just as we must PROTECT, we must also CONNECT. “Protected area networks need to be expanded, interconnected and better managed to conserve biodiversity in a changing climate.” [15]  Expansion of the areas that are actually “protected” means not just purchasing and designating new sites (such as lands for a new National Park in Maine); it is essential that we raise the protection level of the lands already in the public domain, such as NFs and BLM lands — emphasizing ecosystem protection and low-impact recreation over  extractive uses. Such management also restores forest health through natural processes and by ensuring that dispersal/colonization abilities of biota are not impaired.

Remember, in periods of past climate change, such as the recent ice ages, many plants and animals moved (shifted their ranges) to escape the conditions that would kill them if they stayed put [16]. And then, when conditions improved, moved back to their former homelands. Indeed, be it worms, Wood Turtles, Sugar Maples, or Moose, all that glorious flora and fauna that we love so much in a lot of the northern USA moved there in the very recent past — as and after the ice-age glaciers receded. But now, with much of the landscape altered and fragmented by development and roads (over 5 million miles in the USA), opportunities to move in response to contemporary climate change are greatly impeded.  

The standard methodology to increase the size, quality, and connectivity of habitat, thereby improving the overall context within which populations exist and move, is implementation of a conservation network model consisting of  Core Reserves <—> Steppingstones <—> Corridors [w/ Buffers]  that protects the ecological integrity of entire landscapes. Corridors and steppingstones help sustain viable populations not only by providing for movement, but also by serving as temporary habitat (think of them as hotel rooms for travelers) and even permanent habitat for populations of smaller fauna and flora. 

A critical aspect for achieving real connectivity and effective corridors/steppingstones is the necessity of making the nation’s road system much more “wildlife friendly”. Hotspots of natural travelways used by animals as well as dispersal bottlenecks wrought by human development have been and can be identified [17, 18]. Improving these sites by putting up fencing and providing underpasses and overpasses for animal movements can bring enormous benefits to individual survival and population viability [19]. Doing this systematically across the nation will be one of the most important public works projects in America’s history.

Large storehouses of genetic material, the building blocks of ecological restoration and sustainability, are values that only large contiguous blocks of natural land can provide. And gene flow via dispersal is a key evolutionary process [20], so connectivity allowing dispersal of organisms may be essential for maintaining viable populations [21]. Dispersal presupposes that there is something that can move, thus it is crucial to maintain sources of the individuals (propagules) doing the dispersing — we must PROTECT large populations/expansive habitats [22, 23]. In addition to contributing to the high standing genetic variability that may be necessary for potential adaptive evolution, connectivity for dispersal/gene flow (such as by providing elevational contiguity in protected areas) also allows for the tracking of suitable habitat in response to climate change.

Since, for multiple reasons, we need to facilitate the ability of organisms to traverse landscapes, it is essential to address and nullify habitat fragmentation — we must CONNECT populations and habitats. Organisms with limited capacities of mobility, such as turtles or salamanders or flightless invertebrates, are particularly vulnerable to recovery or recolonization problems associated with habitat fragmentation, as are habitat specialists and those with large home ranges. In this age, connectivity is particularly crucial so as to permit many populations and communities of wild organisms to remain viable as they track the moving locations of their preferred climate zone. Resiliency to climate change demands an interconnected network of protected areas — with longitudinal, latitudinal, and altitudinal pathways, both within and between reserves. For an example of such a network for the Eastern USA, see The Wildlands Network, Eastern Wildway, available online at:

In the face of future climate change and resultant reorganization of biotic communities, and the vast uncertainties involved with these, it is imperative that we retain as much genetic diversity as possible (the storehouses of opportunity for adaptation) — NOT just for those species or populations “desired” by managers (oftentimes for commercial/economic reasons). We have no exact idea what could be important in the future, how or where. There’s a vast amount of uncertainty and indeterminacy. We have to admit our great ignorance, there is so much we don’t know. With this reality, it is crucial to take  the “precautionary approach”.  Retaining genetic and population diversity are needed now more than ever — for resiliency to respond to climate change and other human disturbances. The Forest Service has no idea what is being lost at cutting sites.  

In recognition of this pro-active and precautionary necessity, we need to apply this R-C-I webwork across America — large core Reserve areas, connected by Corridors and smaller habitat Islands that serve as stepping stones. Elements of the web can include some state lands (such as state forests, parks, and wildlife management areas) as well as relatively smaller private land holdings, such as the Arc of Appalachia preserves in southern Ohio, Audubon Sanctuaries (such as Corkscrew Swamp in Florida), and The Nature Conservancy’s lands. 

One of the compelling reasons for the necessity of implementing a unified proforestation/R-C-I methodology nationwide is the fact that regardless of the location, no matter the state, physiography, soils, ecosystem, forest type, or biota present, the Forest Service’s “management prescription” is always the same, nationwide: “There’s too many big old trees out there; we need more trees with diameters greater than their height” [i.e., stumps].

The AEPA : Bringing It Home

In addition to implementing The ProForest Initiative, the USDA/USDI need to work with private individuals and organizations and Congress in developing the AEPA — the Appalachian Ecosystem Protection Act, modeled on the recently re-introduced NREPA. Through this Act, current federal public lands areas will be interconnected and better managed (actually “protected”) — exactly what’s needed to conserve biodiversity in a changing climate [15]. Proforestation on our National Forests and  implementation of the R-C-I system here will result in the largest biotic reservoir possible in the Central/Southern Appalachians. This 8 million acre expanse of public lands is of truly global significance. Nowhere else on Earth is it possible to protect an area of humid temperate deciduous/mixed forest of this size, condition, and diversity.

As the federal National Forests, Parks and Wildlife Refuges are generally the largest relatively intact contiguous tracts in the area, they must serve as the large core reserves of the system. There is no other option, these public lands are the only large and relatively intact expanses that exist. The initial AEPA will focus on the Central and Southern Appalachians and include and work to connect the lands of the George Washington (VA & WV), Jefferson (VA, WV, & KY), Monongahela (WV), Daniel Boone (KY), Pisgah (NC), Nantahela (NC), Cherokee (TN), Sumter (SC), Chattahoochee (GA), and Talladega (AL) National Forests (totaling ca. 6.7M acres), plus the Shenandoah (VA), Cumberland Gap (VA, KY), New River Gorge (WV), and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, the Big South Fork NRA (KY, TN), and the Blue Ridge Parkway (totaling an additional 1M acres). The globally renowned Appalachian Trail passes through and connects many of these lands.

There are around two million acres of unroaded or roadless areas in these Appalachian NFs (“Mountain Treasures” – “MT”) that have already been identified by conservationists (plus more on WV’s Monongahela NF): see the “Mountain Treasure” booklets for VA, NC, SC, TN, and GA published by The Wilderness Society (Atlanta, GA). The Treasures are unroaded NF areas with an average size > 5000 acres. These precious habitats are at present open to various levels and types of development and extraction such as logging and road building. Unfortunately, and unreasonably, the FS refuses to recognize most of the identified Mountain Treasures as officially “inventoried roadless areas”. The FS can and should immediately formally recognize/inventory all these Mountain Treasure areas as “roadless areas” and/or “potential wilderness areas” and manage them as such  i.e., maintain their intact wilderness character. 

Tragically, this is exactly what the FS is currently not doing. During project-level planning and analyses the FS typically fails to honestly and fairly consider concerns about harms to the characteristics of these MT areas, such as impacts to the undisturbed, interior sections of the MT. For example, just recently on the GWNF : the Sandy Timber Sale includes logging in the Great North Mountain and Big Schloss Virginia MTs; the Potts Creek project includes logging and burning of the Toms Knob VMT (also identified by the FS as the Potts Mountain Potential Wilderness Area); the North Shenandoah Mountain TS includes logging and/or burning in the Little Cow Knob, Dunkle Knob, Hogpen Mountain, Beech Lick Knob, and Kretchie Mountain MTs; and for the Archer Knob TS over a thousand acres of cutting plus road building are proposed for the Archer Knob and Elliot Knob MTs. 

There are more timber sales devastating Appalachian MTs, these named are just for the past few years on just one National Forest. Many other projects  have been significantly reducing roadless/unroaded acreage and degrading/diminishing the ecological integrity, wildlife populations, untrammeled character, naturalness, scenery, remoteness, opportunities for solitude, and non-motorized recreation associated with Appalachian MTs. That the FS improperly refuses to recognize and inventory many of these areas as official “roadless areas” does not make the harmful on-the-ground impacts go away.

One of the reasons that it is imperative that these areas be strictly protected is because we have lost so many unroaded tracts elsewhere. The FS has been and is destroying America from within by an ongoing onslaught of logging & roading make-work projects to subsidize the agency’s timber industry puppet masters, for job security, and for the agency’s self-serving economic interests. Remember the first rule of any bureaucracy: Increase Thy Budget. The result being severely fragmented and degraded National Forests throughout the country. 

Zero percent of the Chippewa NF (MN) and Wayne NF (OH) were identified by the FS as an “inventoried roadless area” (IRA). Less than half a percent of the Mississippi NFs, the Daniel Boone NF (KY), the Huron-Manistee NF (MI) and the Ottawa NF (MI) were identified by the FS as IRAs. Less than one percent (0.9%) of the Hiawatha NF (MI) was identified by the FS as an IRA.  

The importance of roadless areas was documented for both small (1,000-5,000 acres) and large (>5,000 acres) roadless areas in the 2000  USDA FS Roadless Area Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). That FEIS contained an Alternative 4 that would “Prohibit road construction, reconstruction and all timber cutting within  Inventoried Roadless Areas” [6 at pg. ES-3]. This option can and should be administratively implemented and expanded to all unroaded tracts or roadless blocks. This action needs to be implemented right now nationwide and expanded to include ALL roadless areas/unroaded tracts/roadless blocks at least c.a. 1000 acres in size on all NFs and BLM lands. This is the size (> 1000 acres) used by the FS for the Forest Plan revision on the Wayne National Forest in Ohio to identify “roadless blocks” for analysis as “Potential Wilderness Areas”. 

More Than the Northern Rockies or the Central/Southern Appalachians

Connected and protected networks such as implemented by the AEPA are particularly important and needed in the East. Although generally without the bigger expanses of relatively undeveloped land as found in the West, it is in the East where much of America’s biodiversity is still found [9]. So, in addition to the other ecological, economic, social, and climate benefits, because of the East’s sheer richness of species and ecosystem types, it is crucial that we establish R-C-I networks of truly protected lands here.

Multi-scalar connectivity is necessary to address the multi-scalar fragmentation of forests and habitats across America. Connectivity must take place within lands such as NFs as well as between the different NFs. And beyond this to connectivity between the different regional R-C-I networks of NFs and associated protected lands.  This national connectivity web will become international, with US networks/lands connected with those in Canada and Mexico, such as the Yellowstone to Yukon initiative. Achieving this will entail a new mission for the FS and other government agencies.

These missions should become the primary objectives of the Forest Service throughout all of the USA:

1)  Managing the public, national forest acres as ecological reserves for preservation of ecological and cultural affordances, maximum carbon sequestration, and primitive recreation; 

2)  Providing technical assistance and coordinating financial aid to private landholders to reforest land and practice sustainable, ecological forestry when maintaining their forests; e.g., performing ecological surveys on private lands to identify rare and sensitive species and habitats where logging would be avoided/mitigated; 

3) Providing clear leadership and assistance for Americans to greatly expand our reuse/reduce/recycle actions.

Management change and direction such as entailed in the NREPA or an AEPA needs to be initiated throughout the country for ALL the National Forests and BLM lands. NREPA/AEPA/NFPRA-style management fights climate change, protects our environment, creates jobs, and saves taxpayers billions of dollars in logging subsidies and road costs. It’s time to end the piecemeal approach and for the USFS and USDI to start to systematically deal with all this potential at a cross-Forest, cross-agency, cross-jurisdiction (local-state-federal and private), and inter-state manner. 

Some of these aggregations of federal public lands that can serve as focal anchors/core nodes of true protection of ecosystems in regional webs include: 

> the heartland National Forests — Ohio’s Wayne, Indiana’s Hoosier, and Illinois’ Shawnee, plus the Land Between the Lakes NRA  = ca. 0.9 Million acres for the Heartland EPA.

> the Mark Twain, Ozark, and Ouchita NFs in southern Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma (only ca. 4% is currently designated Wilderness), plus the Ozark National Scenic Riverways — 4.5 M acres for the Ozark EPA.

> the Adirondack Forest Reserve in NY, managed under the state’s maxim and policy of “forever wild” (6 M acres), connected with the Green Mountain (VT – 385,000), White Mountain (NH – 700,000), and Allegheny (PA – 500,000 acres – only 25,000 acres of IRAs) NFs (1.6 M) and the proposed Maine Woods National Park and Preserve (3 M) — use the Appalachian Trail as connector backbone: 11M acres for the Northern Appalachian EPA.

> the Hiawatha, Huron, Manistee and Ottawa NFs in Michigan and the Chippewa and Superior NFs in Minnesota and Wisconsin’s  Chequamegon and Nicolet NFs — total ca. 7.2 M acres for the North Woods EPA.

> the Appalachicola, Ocala, and Osceola NFs (1.15 M)  and Everglades NP and Big Cypress Preserve (ca. 2.5 M) in Florida — ca.  3.7 M acres for the Florida EPA.

What was once a “radical” proposal in the pages of the “Earth First Journal”, viz., a connected network of protected cores and corridors, is now implemented as state policy in Florida. Times change and now is the time for America to follow the examples of Florida and New York (their “forever wild” Adirondack Park) and make this happen nationwide. Instead of tax breaks for billionaires, tax incentives can be emplaced for small private landholders to be part of the corridor-stepping stone connective web. 

There are private/public initiatives currently ongoing all over the country of people striving to to protect wildlands and make these connections happen; regarding these local and regional efforts at retaining, restoring, and reconnecting, see Rescuing the Planet: Protecting half the land to heal the planet  by Tony Hiss (2021). Also see Song of the Dodo: Island biogeography in an age of extinction by David Quammen (1996), Half Earth by E.O. Wilson (2015), and The Power of Trees: How ancient forests can save us if we let them by Peter Wohlleben (2023) for some of the scientific, social, ethical, and economic rationale behind these efforts.

A Question of Values

There is nothing to stop the ProForestation Initiative, the AEPA, and nationwide R-C-I networks from happening    nothing except what’s happening in that narrow little space between our ears. We just need to change our way of thinking. And thinking will make it so. Americans can do this — there’s no physical law or force like gravity to stop us. We can do this — and we will make America great again in the truest sense of the words. Americans often portray themselves as “exceptional” and global leaders. Then it’s time for us to show the world that we are indeed conservation leaders. If any country in the world has the financial, intellectual, and technological resources to accomplish this vision, it is us.

This proposal is not something new and anomalous, ideas such as the AEPA and R-C-I networks have been around for awhile [see, e.g., 24-27]; in fact, a hundred years ago Benton MacKaye, the envisioner of the Appalachian Trail, wrote of protecting a regional system of wilderness reserves totaling 28 million acres of Appalachian countryside. Though, the AEPA is radical in the truest sense of the word: getting to the root of a problem, not simply treating a localized symptom. And with the mounting perils to life brought about by the three intertwined crises — extinction/extermination wrought by ecological meltdown and direct destruction/alteration of habitat, climate change, and pollution — this action is needed now more than ever. The problems are big and systemic, and our response must be as well —  we, the Earth, and Creation can not afford puny thoughts and timid little actions at this point in time. We must think BIG and think CONNECTED.

In addition to the three crises that are now finally getting public attention, I would add a fourth that is just as pernicious: the crisis in ethics/morals. Of course, death and destruction are in a sense the background radiation of our industrial growth society. And there have always been twisted purveyors of wanton death and cruelty, but still, the degree that it is now mainstreamed is deeply perturbing. For example, look at the diabolical atrocities happening out in Idaho and Montana and some other states, where things like killing mother Bears and their cubs in their dens, gunning down Wolves from helicopters, and slaughtering Bison when they step across the imaginary National Park boundary have been legalized and presented as “traditional hunting”. 

The AEPA and ProForest Initiative, and other similar legislation that fundamentally improve the management of our public lands, positively address this crisis in our ethical/moral relationship with the Creation simultaneous with the three other concerns. The disinformative labels used by the FS and other agencies — restoration, wildlife habitat improvement, fuels reduction, harvest — are not just misleading euphemisms for intensive logging. These euphonius appellations are indeed phony, since they gloss over and totally fail to acknowledge the dire and catastrophic impacts of the Godzilla-like machinery and actions upon those who are the least among us. The on-the-ground reality of current National Forest management is the mass slaughter of incomprehensible numbers of small creatures, common and rare, that cannot run away or fly away from harm. Aside from having their homes and food destroyed, countless harmless and vulnerable salamanders, toads, turtles, snakes, lizards, nestling birds, small mammals, snails, slugs and other flightless invertebrates are being obliviated beneath the wheels and treads of heavy equipment and burned alive.

This callous cruelty is avoidable and unnecessary. As these fundamentally violent assaults are taking place day-in and day-out across the landscape, life on planet Earth is crying out for sanctuaries of safety. The AEPA, ProForest Initiative, and other similar legislation will significantly accomplish a real pro-life relationship. Such management of our public lands is part of the much-needed manifestation of a true “Reverence For Life”, a societal benefit just as important as all the other ecologic, economic, and social  benefits.

Of course, with regard to implementing the AEPA and R-C-I webs, the question inevitably arises: Can we afford it? Yes, the money is out there.  We simply have to make decisions about an underlying premise: What are our priorities?  Freedom of choice is what we got. Anybody with a shred of self-respect has a clear decision to make: Whose side am I on? Are you on the side of life, or death? Are you with the forests, the bears, the turtles, the streams, liberty, all of creation — Life Itself — or on the side of arrogance, money, greed, and domination?

Do we care enough about life here on Earth or don’t we? Not just respect and gratitude for all the plants, animals, fungi, and lands, but reverence and awe for all these kindred spirits. With this in mind, the real question is: Can we afford not to do it? If we care, the answer rings loud and clear: NO! This isn’t about preserving “the treasures of western civilization”. It’s a lot bigger than that: The treasures of Life and Creation. Cause as I once heard a venerable slug proclaim, “I’m connected to everything!”


1/ Moomaw, W.R., S.A. Masino, & E.K. Faison 2019. Intact Forests in the  United States: Proforestation Mitigates Climate Change and Serves the Greatest Good. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change 2(27): 1-10.

2/ Law, B.E. et al. 2022. The status of science on forest carbon management to mitigate climate chance and protect water and biodiversity. 1-9.

3/ Watson, J.E.M. et al. 2018. The exceptional value of intact forest ecosystems. Nature Ecology & Evolution: 1-12. value-of-intact-forest-ecosystems-Nature-Ecology-Evolution.pdf 

4/ UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 2016. Protected Planet Report 2016. UNEP-WCMC and IUCN: Cambridge UK and Gland, Switzerland. 

5/ Repanshek, K. 2023. National Park System expansion is key to biodiversity protection. National Parks Traveler: July 2023.

6/ USDA Forest Service. 2000. Roadless Area Conservation Final Environmental Impact Statement [FEIS]. Washington, D.C. 485 pp. + Appendices A-E. 

7/ Harris, N.L. et al. 2016. Attribution of net carbon change by disturbance type across forest lands of the conterminous United States. Carbon Balance and Management 11(24): 1-21. 

8/ Scott, J.M. et al. 2001. Nature Reserves: Do they capture the full range of America’s biological diversity? Ecological Applications 11(4): 999–1007.  

9/ Jenkins, C.N. et al. 2015. US protected lands mismatch biodiversity priorities. PNAS Early Edition (pnas.1418034112): 1-6.

10/ Reed, M.J. and E.D. McCoy. 2014. Relation of minimum viable population size to biology, time frame, and objective. Conservation Biology 28(3): 867-870. 

11/ Reusch, T.B. 2014. Climate change in the oceans: Evolutionary versus phenotypically plastic responses of marine animals and plants. Evolutionary Applications 7: 104–122. 

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