Over the last several weeks, Dogwood Alliance and our partners had the unique opportunity to directly engage with decision makers in the European Union and within the member states. Delivering them the Our Forests Aren’t Fuel message: that EU energy policies are destroying Southern forests and it’s time these policies change. Over the course of the trip: hustling from meeting to meeting, engaging with officials, delivering our presentation, Communications Director Scot Quaranda and I came to realize an important shift in the way conversation is taking place about the forests we call home. For too many years, the forests of the Southern United States have been sparsely recognized for their incredible contributions to biodiversity, mitigating climate change and improving the health and quality of our communities.
Yet, as they begin to take center stage in the global debate over using our forests for fuel, Southern forests have finally begun to get the recognition they deserve.
We noticed this first in our meeting with a member of the EU parliament, when he described wetland ecosystems of the Southern US as the “North American Amazon”. Wow! We’ll take that. While Southern US wetland ecosystems are vastly different from the Amazon rainforest, it’s still a fact that Southern forests contain the highest tree species diversity in the US and greatest amount of wetland forests in North America.
The growing sentiment is clear: our forests are truly special, and we should do everything we can to protect them.
During our second week of travel, we had the unique opportunity to meet directly with British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey.That we were even able to secure a meeting with Secretary Davey was a huge step forward. As we addressed in our first EU Update blog, it’s become widely understood that the destruction of our forests for the use of electricity was an issue that needs to be addressed. In the meeting, our coalition exposed Secretary Davey to the devastating effects that UK policies are having on the forests, communities and local economies of the Southern US (this past November over 50,000 people sent Secretary Davey SOS messages) and demanded that he take action. While Secretary Davey was clearly moved by our scientific facts and stories from Southern communities, it was clear that he had been lobbied by the industry, making it vital that we continue to communicate the growing opposition movement.
This conversation would have not happened several years ago.
For too long the wood products industry has held a choke hold on the fate of our Southern forests. Our environment and communities have had to deal with the impacts of unsustainable extraction of our native standing forests – our best defense against climate change. That paradigm is shifting. As the native forests of the Southern US continue to gain global recognition, we now have a unique opportunity not only to build the movement that provides lasting protection for our unique forests but helps completely shift the natural resource extraction economy that has suppressed Southern communities and economies for so long. This is an opportunity to transition into a sustainable economy that relies not on the destruction of our precious environment but on the preservation and valuation of the natural world, native culture and truly sustainable industries.
To achieve this vision for our environment and economy, we have a long way to go. But after spending two weeks across the pond, advocating for our unique and important Southern forests and demanding action to protect them, it’s clear that the time is now. We have a growing movement, a unifying issue, and a clear goal.