President Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan, an ambitious agenda of administrative actions to address climate change. His plan appropriately identifies the important role of our nation’s forests in reducing carbon in the air and affirms that our forests, especially the 60 percent that are privately owned and managed “working forests,” are part of the climate change solution.
The President is on to something powerful provided the actions following his announcement align with the economic drivers that promote ownership of private working forests for the long term.
Shortly after NAFO was founded in 2008, a diverse group of organizations including forest owners and operators, conservation organizations and environmental groups convened and identified the top drivers to keep working forests economically viable.
Strong markets. Working forests can only continue providing substantial environmental benefits if there are dependable markets for the goods and services they provide. These markets provide returns to forest owners that are reinvested in forest stewardship that has resulted in 50 percent more total tree volume in the U.S. today (and correspondingly 50 percent more stored carbon) compared to the 1950s. Today our forests remove 14 percent of our nation’s industrial carbon emissions from the air each year.
Forest owners can grow even more trees on their land and remove even more carbon from the air if the marketplace gives them a reason to do it. A study by experts from the University of Georgia and North Carolina State University concluded, for example, that forest owners in the South could increase tree growth on their land from between 75 percent and 150 percent in response to favorable market conditions.
This means that the more we can promote the markets that produce lumber for our homes, paper and packaging for the books we read and the products we buy at the grocery store, and the energy that runs our businesses and powers our homes, the more carbon our forests will ultimately remove from the atmosphere.
Public investment. Working forests are under great pressure to convert to other land uses, even when markets are strong. Death, sickness and the ever-rising cost of living can often create the tipping point that compels forest owners to convert their forestland to other uses.
Wise public investment in conservation coupled with tax policies that recognize and accommodate long-term investments in forest management are effective in helping to keep private forestlandeconomically competitive with other land uses and hedging against conversion.
Aligned legal and regulatory framework. Sometimes laws and rules work together well to promote private forest ownership and investment, and sometimes they don’t. Making sure they are aligned in a way that support public benefits, like carbon storage, is vital. This includes federal policies currently before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determining how to capture the full carbon benefits of forest bioenergy as an alternative to fossil fuels.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides perhaps the best summation of the path ahead for the Obama Administration:
“In the long term, a sustainable forest-management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.”
Administrative actions preserving the three economic drivers will encourage forest owners to enthusiastically do their part as contributors to the climate change solution. We stand ready to work with the President’s team to advance policies that make sure we can.
NAFO is an organization of private forest owners committed to advancing federal policies that promote the economic and environmental benefits of privately-owned forests at the national level.NAFO membership encompasses more than 80 million acres of private forestland in 47 states. Working forests in the U.S. support 2.5 million jobs. To see the full economic impact of America’s working forests, visit www.nafoalliance.org/economic-impact-report.