When most Americans think of carbon-rich forests and climate change, their minds go to tropical rainforests in the Amazon. But closer to home, the lush temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska store even more carbon per acre than their tropical counterparts.
Establishing permanent protections for all mature and old-growth forests in the carbon-rich temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest and the Tongass National Forest is one of the single biggest steps the incoming Biden administration could take to quickly address climate change. We need to pull carbon from the atmosphere, simply reducing emissions is no longer enough. Trees are the best opportunity to do this at scale over the next decade. Protecting and expanding upon these valuable resources would represent globally significant climate action, and position the United States as a world leader in progressive natural climate solutions.
Our oldest climate solution is still one of our best.
Here is how we get it done —
We are calling on the Biden administration to take immediate executive action to establish permanent protections for mature and old-growth forests (with trees over 80 years old) in the Pacific Northwest and in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Why 80 years? Research has shown that the rate that trees take up carbon from the atmosphere is most powerful when trees pass 80 years of age. This common-sense step would not only capture and store vast amounts of carbon, but also better protect our nation’s drinking water sources, valuable salmon runs, sacred indigenous areas, iconic wildlife species, and beloved outdoor recreation spaces. Could public land managers evolve into carbon reserve managers? Natural climate solutions, like forest protection, are some of our best near-term options for mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change. Federal land management agencies urgently need to lead our nation in a direction to take climate science seriously, and immediately begin work on policies that increase natural carbon sequestration and reduce emissions from logging.
Ancient forests in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest also represent culturally significant areas to indigenous communities and offer incredible outdoor recreation opportunities, a critical component of the economy in western states. Protecting mature and old-growth forests for their carbon reserves will represent a triple win: Preventing near-term emissions from logging, mitigating the future impacts of climate change on communities, and protecting these forests indefinitely for future generations.
In addition to the important climate implications, this strategy to protect remaining mature and old-growth forests is aligned with the incoming Biden administration’s 30 by 30 goal to protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters from development by 2030. The forests of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest are home to many of America’s most iconic species, including valuable salmon and steelhead runs, as well as countless other native wildlife. These species and many other at-risk wildlife depend on mature and old-growth forests, and establishing permanent protections will ensure biodiversity protection in addition to storing and sequestering more carbon.