Restoring forests a 226 gigaton climate solution

Flat Country Timber Sale Oregon credit Cascadia Wildlands

A new report published in Nature underscores the need to preserve existing forests rather than just planting new trees to fight climate change. The report, from 200 scientists worldwide, stated that allowing forests to reach maturity and become old-growth has tremendous carbon storage and biodiversity conservation potential — a win-win natural climate solution. 

The report was intended as a clarification to a 2019 paper that was widely misunderstood to champion the carbon sequestration potential of young trees and plantation forestry. That mischaracterization, embraced by the logging industry and fossil fuel industry, gave rise to campaigns like the Trillion Trees movement, which wrongly painted tree planting as a simple solution. In fact, young forests and plantation forestry do not sequester anywhere near as much carbon as mature natural forests, and mass monoculture tree plantings can severely harm biodiversity.

From the New York Times

Restoring global forests where they occur naturally could potentially capture an additional 226 gigatons of planet-warming carbon, equivalent to about a third of the amount that humans have released since the beginning of the Industrial Era, according to a new study published on Monday in the journal Nature.

The research, with input from more than 200 authors, leveraged vast troves of data collected by satellites and on the ground and was partly an effort to address the controversy surrounding an earlier paper. That study, in 2019, helped to spur the Trillion Trees movement but also caused a scientific uproar.

The new conclusions were similar to those in a separate study published last year. Mainly, the extra storage capacity would come from allowing existing forests to recover to maturity.

But there is one thing they all agree on: To tackle both climate change and biodiversity loss, the world must do far more to cut fossil fuels and end deforestation of old-growth forests.

Here in Oregon, we have been working for decades to preserve our remaining mature and old-growth forests from the threat of logging. Oregon Wild, as well as the entire Climate Forests Coalition, made up of conservation organizations from all across the country, are calling on the Biden administration to establish permanent protections through a new national rulemaking process.  This common-sense step would capture and store vast amounts of carbon and better protect our nation’s drinking water sources, valuable salmon runs, sacred areas, iconic wildlife species, and beloved outdoor recreation spaces.

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