Now is the time to invest in our forests and California can lead the way

On the heels of the UN Climate Conference in Paris, a deal was struck between nations to keep the impact of climate change to below 2 degrees Celsius.

As a subnational government, California has taken a lead in reducing climate change since the passage of AB 32 in 2006.  Since then, Governor Brown has set aggressive goals to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels and has called for the State to use 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

By calling for the management of forests for the purpose of carbon storage, Governor Brown has set the foundation for forests to play a larger role in the solution for climate change, but we have yet to see specific policies to help catapult forests to center stage.

California forests currently cover more than 1/3 of the State and act as one of the largest sources of carbon sequestration – sequestering more than 18 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent annually.

But with wildfire, bark beetle infestations and tree die off threatening our forests, those carbon sinks are at risk of losing their carbon storage capacity and even worse, emitting more harmful emissions into our environment.  In fact, between 2001 and 2010, wildfires emitted more than 8 million tons of carbon pollution annually, making wildfire prevention key to meeting our greenhouse gas reduction goals.

To prevent the loss of California’s forests, we want to increase the proactive management of forests to ensure their health and role in our environment and economy for generations.  Furthermore, California can once again serve as a leader in securing the role of forests on a larger global scale.

This is a nonpartisan issue. In fact, we work across party lines on healthy forest management policies because our partners have collectively recognized the connection between our forests and their role in reducing climate change.

So let’s lay out the obvious. They store carbon. As young growing trees, they store carbon at a faster rate.  They store carbon for their entire lifecycle, even once they are harvested for useful wood products.  Once a tree is harvested, another four are planted.  This sustainable forestry cycle continues to grow renewable products while providing us with very real benefits – carbon storage and renewable wood products.

Secondarily, managed forests provide us with renewable energy in the form of biomass energy ‑‑ providing more than 400,000 homes with clean, renewable power.  Biomass gives us the opportunity to remove excess forest fuels that can increase the risk of wildfire, while using it to provide renewable energy.  This provides an additional climate benefit, as biomass produces 98% less emissions that burning it in the open.  Biomass has the potential to serve as an even greater source of renewable energy than wind or solar, especially if we plan to reach the Governor’s goal of 50% renewables by 2030.

The underlying issue with California forests is increasing their management to improve resiliency and reduce the threat of devastating megafires that trounce the bountiful opportunities forests provide. Opportunities such as a clean, reliable water supply; wildlife habitat; tourism and recreation, and more are threatened when wildfires burn more than 700,000 acres as they have done this year.

Thus, proactive forest management must be welcomed with open arms ‑‑ instead of feared and strangled in bureaucracy ‑‑ in an effort to improve both our environment and our economy.

As we’ve done for decades, private timberland owners can work across jurisdictional boundaries to manage healthy sustainable forests that provide us with renewable wood products and environmental co-benefits, while safeguarding public health and safety.

We can’t ignore the key role forests play in helping to meet the Governor’s aggressive environmental goals, so we must work to accelerate the pace and scale of forest restoration projects to realize their full environmental and economic benefits.