Earth Day is a good time to reflect on what we are doing well and what we can do better for our world. Forest owners have a lot to feel good about. We are world leaders in sustainable forestry providing an increasing array of public benefits. Our forests have 50% more tree growth today than 60 years ago. Through careful stewardship our forests are offsetting 15% of our nation's industrial carbon emissions and providing nearly 50% of our nation's drinking water. They support a variety of wildlife habitat and provide recreational opportunities for hikers, hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts. They enable families all over the country to enjoy the great outdoors while providing wood and fiber that are used to build and manufacture homes and thousands of products that help make life all the more enjoyable.
Public policy plays an important role in the many benefits private forests provide. When our policies reward good stewardship and promote forestry for the long-term, private forests thrive, and we all thrive along with them. When policies ignore, discourage or are ambivalent toward long-term forest ownership and good stewardship, our forests suffer, and so do we.
The Obama Administration has taken a number of steps to recognize and support the benefits of private forests. The President's Climate Action Plan, for example, recognizes the important role private forests can play in reducing carbon in the air through proactive forest management, building with carbon-storing wood and providing a reliable source of carbon-recycling renewable energy. This approach helps secure long-term benefits from our forests that we can all enjoy. It also provides an opportunity for the Administration to pursue additional measures that would further help forest owners provide clean air, clean water and other benefits that improve our overall quality of life. Here are three:
- Complete the alignment of pro-forest carbon policies. The Administration has made great progress to align federal policy to promote the carbon benefits of private forests, yet the uncertainty of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policies on biomass energy continue to strike a dissonant chord. Through a clear and simple approach recognizing the full carbon benefits of biomass, the EPA can bring its biomass policy into full alignment with the President's Climate Action Plan. This would replace ambivalence among biomass energy producers with enthusiasm and support investments that will help maintain forests and further reduce carbon in the air.
- Reward the clean water stewardship of private forest owners. A new study by the National Association of State Foresters shows that forest owners nationwide have a higher than 90% compliance rate with Best Management Practices established by the states to protect water quality. This is an unparalleled Clean Water Act success story. Forthcoming EPA policies defining Waters of the United States should reward this success by ensuring that the definition does not impose new and unnecessary burdens on states or private forest owners that could impair water quality progress. A good way to do this is to provide an additional comment period on changes to the proposed rule to make sure the policy helps rather than hinders clean water gains from private forests.
- Protect imperiled wildlife by promoting good forest management. Helping wildlife in serious decline is a priority we all share. Supporting good forest management is a proven and effective way to do this. Such is the case with the Northern Long-Eared Bat. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has identified proactive forest management as vital to the conservation and recovery of the bat as it struggles to overcome the effects of devastating disease. Preserving the full suite of proactive management activities available to forest owners in the FWS's recovery plan will not only help the bat but also support the many other wildlife benefits private forests provide.
On this Earth Day forest owners applaud what the Administration has done to promote the benefits of our private forests, but there is more to do. By following these three suggestions, the Administration can take advantage of an opportunity to enhance the benefits our forests provide and give forest owners even more reason to applaud when the next Earth Day rolls around.