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Forest Conservation, Restoration and Preservation

Submitted By: Joan Bergsund

“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” As a child, did you have to memorize the poem “Trees,” by Joyce Kilmer? The poem describes a single tree. However, it isn´t referring to a particular tree, according to his biographers, but is representative of all trees in general, like a forest.

This resonates with us, as we conclude another fire season with our Stanislaus Forest having suffered very little damage compared to our neighboring forests in the south. We watched the raging fires and devastation as their homes went up in flames.

So heed the words of our Fire Safe Council. Protect your immediate environment by trimming back, limbing up, and clearing ladder fuels. You know the drill. (If you need more information, call the UCCE office at 533-5695 to get a copy of “Living with Fire in Tuolumne County.”)

The careful clearing of fuel loads and underbrush in our Stanislaus Forest is admirable. We have seen up close and personal how effective these measures have been. There is much more to learn about forest preservation, however. Led by the California Air Resources Board, and inspired by the Kyoto Protocols of 2005, California has taken recent actions.

According to Laurie Wayburn, president of the Pacific Forest Trust, writing in the October 18th San Francisco Chronicle, forest loss and depletion accounts for about 40 to 50 percent of excess atmospheric carbon dioxide. Forests store carbon dioxide as the trees grow, and release it when disturbed or harvested.

Trees (and all plants that photosynthesize) use carbon dioxide as their “fuel.” By absorbing carbon dioxide from the air, energy from sunlight, and water from the ground, trees create sugars to use in their metabolic processes (thus “locking up” carbon) and release oxygen into the air for us to breathe. Locking carbon molecules into a permanent structure, in this case the cellulose of wood, is referred to as carbon sequestration.

The new landmark California legislation AB 32, Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, proposes to make conservation and restoration one of the tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California. The “protocols” were developed over a four year period—including a public process—and were approved by the California Assembly and Senate in August, 2006 and signed by the Governor in September, 2006. AB 32 specifically refers to carbon sequestration as one technique for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

AB 32 also refers to “Market-Based Compliance Mechanisms.” In many places in the world, carbon trading and carbon banking are used as a way of complying with greenhouse gas emission standards. A high-carbon “bank,” such as a forest or the country of New Zealand, for example, may sell or “trade” carbon “credits” to an entity that has difficulty meeting emission standards, thus protecting forested land from development by offering a valuable service to “high-emission” entities.

Again according to Ms. Wayburn, at one time the state of California was almost half forested and maintained one of the most stable forest carbon banks in the world. Over the years, development related to modern western migration has contributed to the “de-treeing” of forested land and thus, significantly, to the build-up of carbon dioxide. The goal here is to position California forests in the growing global carbon market by maintaining sustainable forestry practices that will create employment opportunities along with a long term supply of sustainably-harvested wood products and a sufficiently healthy and sufficiently protected carbon bank.

The Union of Concerned Scientists asserts that California is the 12th largest producer of carbon dioxide worldwide. Quoting AB 32, “Global warming poses a serious threat to the economic well-being, public health, natural resources, and the environment of California. The potential adverse impacts of global warming include the exacerbation of air quality problems,” and “a reduction in the quality and supply of water to the state from the Sierra snowpack.”

We´re already experiencing an unseasonably warm and dry autumn. As residents of this beautiful, productive state of California and of the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, we have a responsibility to ensure that the decisions we make do not have a negative effect on our own local Sierra Nevadas and on the world at large. So before you decide to remove that tree that´s “in the way” or add a water-thirsty lawn under a native oak because “it looks pretty,” consider the services performed for you by that tree.

Ms Wayburn, representing the Pacific Forest Trust, is just one voice in this global debate. There are many related issues with varying opinions expressed by spokesmen from the World Wildlife Fund, Wetlands International, The Audubon Society to mention only a few. Steve Mader, senior habitat management and planning scientist at CH2M Hill, Inc. asks “How do we use forestland to do the most for the environment?” He writes, also in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 18th, that we need to harvest trees to provide essential wood products and replant to regenerate forests while conserving water quality and a wide range of forest resources.

Sound like the tip of the iceberg? It is. When you see references made to new ideas in forest management, pay attention. It hits home in Tuolumne County—both because we have so much forested land and because so many of us rely on the forests for our employment. To quote AB 32 one more time, let´s thoughtfully manage our forests (and our landscape trees) to “maximize additional environmental and economic benefits for California.”

Master Gardener Joan Bergsund, on a recent flight to Oregon, noticed that interspersed throughout the vast forests of the Northwest were clearly-evident patches of clear cutting visible from the air.