WildCATs field checking the Windy Peak Unit in the N126 timber sale (photo by Anupam Katkar).

WildCATs field checking the Windy Peak Unit, an N126 timber sale area that Cascadia WildCATs got removed through advocacy and field checking! (photo by Anupam Katkar/WildCAT).

Opinion: Protecting Cascadia’s forests is our greatest climate solution

by Rebecca White, CW Wildlands Director
Originally published in The Register-Guard, June 26, 2021.

Let’s talk “proforestation.”

Coined by scientist William Moomaw, this term describes letting older forests do their natural thing, growing and sequestering carbon while nurturing a deep network of wild lives. Proforestation means leaving forests alone if they are already mature and letting younger forests survive to become old-growth.  

Proforestation does not sideline other forestry terms: Reforestation refers to either natural regeneration or to planting trees in formerly forested areas, and afforestation means planting trees in areas not historically forested. By contrast, proforestation recognizes the contributions of young trees are mostly decades in the future, and that greater carbon sequestration — and intact habitat — is necessary now as we face the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. 

Our Cascadian forests are among the world’s most powerful natural climate solutions, able to store more carbon than almost any other ecosystem. We should permanently protect our remaining mature and old-growth forests as part of a national strategic carbon reserve. Forest protection is not a substitute for, but must occur along with, an end to burning fossil fuels. 

The forest defense movement has worked against deforestation of our priceless, mature Pacific Northwest forests for decades, even before we fully understood the importance of forest carbon. These refuges of biodiversity have intrinsic value. Cascadia’s old forests provide clean drinking water, wildlife habitat and — particularly in this year of pandemic isolation — a beautiful, safe respite for people.  

And, our older forests help cool the Earth. Research published by Oregon’s own Beverly Law, Ph.D., shows our regional forests are the nation’s biggest carbon sink. Law also has shown that the timber industry is Oregon’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases

The industry tries to convince the public the fast-growing, young stands it plants after clear-cutting are best at sequestering carbon. As with so much of Big Timber’s messaging, that claim is demonstrably false. Little trees just do not store much carbon. In fact, the largest 1% of trees store half the carbon currently contained in the world’s forests. And sadly, the most disturbed forests in the world are here in the U.S. — not in the Amazon, and not in Indonesia. 

The Flat Country timber sale on the Willamette National Forest is an opportunity for the Biden administration to uphold its climate mandate. The Forest Service is planning to aggressively log 2,000 acres of mature and old-growth forests in the McKenzie River headwaters. Rep. Peter DeFazio told the Eugene Weekly in May that, “Going into a 100-120-year-old forest at this point in time is nuts.”

Leading forest scientists Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin, referred to as the “architects of the Northwest Forest Plan,” agree. 

Johnson and Franklin: Protect older natural forests in the western Cascades

They say proforestation is the right approach: “It is time to stop harvesting magnificent and irreplaceable older natural forests, such as those proposed for harvest in the Flat Country Project, once and for all. They are simply too uncommon in today’s northwestern forest landscapes and contribute too much ecologically, socially and spiritually as they are.”

An immediate moratorium on logging mature and old-growth forests on public lands is a necessity for achieving climate stability. We must value this carbon sink for the climate solution it is and protect forests accordingly.

Rebecca White is the Wildlands Director for Cascadia Wildlands. She directs Cascadia Wildlands’ forest defense work across Oregon and the Cascadia bioregion. She replaces Dylan Plummer for this opinion column, which appears in The Register-Guard on the fourth Saturday of the month.