The conversation around forests is playing out on the national stage and here at home. Recently, to mark Earth Day, President Joe Biden traveled to Washington state to announce an executive order to safeguard mature and old-growth forests on federal lands.
It is no coincidence that Biden picked Washington to make this announcement. Nowhere is the importance of our forests more evident than in the Evergreen State.
Washington forests work every day on our behalf, cleaning our air and water, as well as providing fish and wildlife habitat, critical jobs for rural Washington and the wood we need for our homes, hospitals and schools. They also help us adapt to a rapidly changing climate and reduce further warming by removing carbon from the atmosphere. Indeed, our forests sequester roughly 35% of our state’s carbon emissions.
But our forests are at a crossroads. For the first time, our state is less than 50% forested. Deforestation isn’t just happening in the Amazon, it’s a reality here. Our forests are being replaced by shopping malls, subdivisions and parking lots.
At the same time, we are confronting a forest health crisis throughout Washington that threatens millions of acres of forestland and is fueling wildfires. The catastrophic fires we have recently experienced not only result in further forest loss, but they also pollute our air and exacerbate climate change.
Our forests intersect not just with the biggest environmental issue of our time, but also the economic and social ones as well. The increasing gap in home prices and people’s ability to afford them is a crisis that is impacting our urban and our rural communities — increasing homelessness, displacement and forest conversion.
The health of our forests impacts every single person in Washington, and we all have a stake in their future. For this reason, our forests should bring us together — not pull us apart.
To utilize forests to address our climate crisis, we need to come together around an offensive and defensive strategy. We must increase carbon sequestration in our forest carbon sinks and our built environment.
To strike this important balance, the Department of Natural Resources is focusing on a three-part strategy: maintain and expand forest cover; promote and advance the use of sustainable, locally sourced forest products and; improve forest health to make our forests more resilient to drought, disease and wildfire.
On the first, we have already preserved in permanent habitat protection more than 40% of the 2 million acres of publicly owned forestland managed by DNR. We are also accelerating tree planting in our urban areas and areas burned by wildfire to increase forest cover.
And most recently, we launched a first-of-its-kind carbon offset project, which will preserve another 10,000 acres of high ecological value forests in Western Washington. These forests will generate tens of millions of dollars via carbon credits that will fund local government services like schools and libraries. Through carbon credits, these forests, over the next 10 years, will offset the estimated emissions of two billion miles driven by gas-powered cars.
The project represents the first time in the nation that a state agency is using carbon markets to immediately remove forest stands from the planned harvest schedule, many of which were slated for imminent logging. As a result, the credits generated by the project represent an extremely robust calculation of additionality, much more so than typical carbon offset projects currently on the market.
Carbon reductions are considered additional only if the project would not have occurred but for the market for the carbon credits. Additionality is essential for the quality of carbon offset credits — if their associated carbon credits are not additional, then purchasing carbon credits in lieu of reducing emissions will make climate change worse.
By entering these acres into carbon leases, similar to existing DNR leases for renewable energy or agriculture, we are preserving high ecologically valuable forests while also creating a higher standard of durable and verifiable carbon sequestration for carbon markets that will have a greater impact on greenhouse-gas reductions.
Carbon projects like this give us another tool in the toolbox to sustainably and responsibly manage our public lands while raising the bar to meet the challenges of climate change.
Playing climate offense also means investing in our working forests. Building with wood stores carbon in the built environment and requires less energy to manufacture than materials such as steel or concrete. Maintaining our working forests, increasing their ability and rate of storing carbon and incentivizing the use of wood in our built environment increases our ability to store carbon and fight climate change.
At the same time, we must help our forests play climate defense.
Here, we have made significant progress in restoring the health of our forests from the conditions that fuel catastrophic wildfires, treating fire-prone forests with thinning and prescribed fire. But it isn’t enough to just prevent our forests from burning, we must also prevent our 9.2 million acres of private working forests from being developed.
Indeed, given the value of our forests to store carbon and adapt to climate change, we need to not only maintain current forestlands, we must increase forestlands.
These investments in our forests, forest products and forest health not only help solve our climate crisis, they also help address our affordable housing needs and support almost $6 billion annually in good paying jobs in our communities.
Our forests are key for accelerating our transition to a sustainable environment, a renewable economy and a just society.
More than ever, we must unite to confront the threats our forests face, and we must recognize all our forests are essential.
More than ever, we must stop fighting over our forests and come together to start fighting for our forests.