The United States should immediately establish a collection of strategic forest reserves in the western United States to combat climate change and save biodiversity, according to a scientific collaboration led by an ecologist at Oregon State University.
Bev Law, his colleague at the College of Forestry William Ripple and other Western scientists argue that climate change and biodiversity are inextricably linked and that strategic forest reserves would address both “emergencies” while promoting the protection of natural resources. water.
Scientists make their case and set a framework for reserve development, in an article published today in Earth & Environment Communications.
Describing the natural woodland systems of the United States as the “American Amazon” and protecting forests as “the cheapest climate mitigation option,” the researchers point to the ability of older forests to accumulate massive amounts of soil. carbon in trees, vegetation and soils, to provide shelter for wildlife. and to serve as sources of water for consumption and other uses.
âPolicymakers, including those in the Biden administration, frequently speak about the need to protect forests in developing countries,â Law said. âThe forests of the Pacific Northwest have enormous carbon storage potential, but American public lands are often overlooked. Little attention has been paid to the link between high carbon density and high biodiversity forests in the temperate region, and their importance for climate mitigation and adaptation. “
Scientists note that several nations have pledged to achieve goals commonly referred to as 30×30 and 50×50; the first calls for 30% of the world’s land and water to be protected by 2030, the second 50% by 2050. Achieving the 50×50 target is widely seen as necessary to ensure the Earth’s biodiversity, according to the researchers.
For this study, the researchers drew up an inventory of land tenure protections in 11 states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.
GAP 1, as defined by the US Geological Survey, refers to permanent protection such as wilderness areas and national parks, where natural disturbances such as fire can occur without interference or are mimicked by activities. Management. On GAP 2 lands, uses or practices that degrade the quality of existing natural communities, such as road construction, may be permitted, and removal of natural disturbances is also permitted.
They found that 8%, or 57 million acres, of the total area of ââthe study region was protected by GAP 1, including 32 million acres of forest. Another 5%, 44 million acres including 11 million wooded acres, is protected at GAP level 2.
âTo achieve 30% protection of forest area in the West by 2030, an additional 25 million acres of forest must be protected at these levels,â Law said. “Protection at a level equivalent to wilderness would be best for biodiversity, increasing the additional acreage needed from 25 to 36 million acres.”
Permanently protected areas equivalent to wilderness areas cover an average of 14% of the forest area of ââthe surveyed states, ranging from 7% in Oregon to 37% in Wyoming. This means that region-wide protection of areas equivalent to wilderness designation is expected to increase by 16% to meet the 2030 target and 36% to meet the 2050 target.
Currently, the percentage of forest habitat preserved for species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles is about 18% for each of them and 14% for tree species. Preserving more old growth forests would help birds such as the endangered Marbled Murrelet and the Northern Spotted Owl, Law said. Large threatened carnivores such as the gray wolf and the Canadian lynx would also benefit from expanded regional forest protections.
“We are pushing ecosystems to the point where they might not recover unless we take aggressive action to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases and protect plants, animals and the rich natural reservoirs of carbon,” said Law. âIn Oregon alone, 80% of drinking water comes from forested landscapes, and protection would help alleviate water scarcity and ensure security in the face of climate change. “
To achieve 30% protection of forest area in the West by 2030, researchers identified areas that could serve as strategic climate reserves using an analytical framework that could be applied in other regions with sufficient data, they say.
The framework produces conservation priority rankings using spatial metrics of biodiversity, carbon stocks, and accumulation under climate change and future vulnerability to drought or forest fires. In the West, the highest priority forest lands are mainly under federal ownership, with substantial areas controlled by private entities and state and tribal governments.
Many federal forest lands would achieve GAP 2 protection simply by phasing out grazing, mining and logging and strengthening protection through administrative rules, Law said. Areas without inventoried roads make up nearly 42 million acres of national forest in the West and are readily available for permanent protection, she added.
“Strategic forest reserves could be established on federal lands through executive action, regulation and rule-making and could be a low-cost way to simultaneously achieve forest carbon protection goals. to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity, âLaw said. âPrivate and tribal lands present substantial opportunities to increase carbon storage and protect biodiversity through incentives, voluntary conservation measures and fair market procurement. “
This research was supported by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Law and Ripple’s collaborators were Polly Buotte of the University of California at Berkeley; David Mildrexler of Eastern Oregon Legacy Lands; and Logan Berner of Flagstaff, Arizona-based EcoSpatial Services LLC.