Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) and Members of the House GOP introduced the Trillion Trees Act, in conjunction with President Donald Trump’s State of the Union announcement that he plans to join the One Trillion Trees global initiative. Rather than mandate tree planting, the Westerman bill requires an annual increase in logging levels and that all actions under the bill must stimulate the domestic and international timber markets, which is why many environmentalists have nicknamed it the Trillion Stumps Initiative.
One of the most concerning parts of the legislation is that it falsely declares the burning of trees for energy to be carbon neutral. Essentially, the Act ignores what scientists around the globe and even our own EPA Scientific Advisory Board have stated, that burning wood for electricity is not carbon neutral, in fact in many cases it emits more carbon dioxide from the smokestacks than coal-burning plants per unit of energy, and this on top of the carbon lost from the forest and the forest’s reduced capacity to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
Protecting our forests is so vital, we need to let existing forests grow to their biological potential. Taking a stand for our existing forests will result in reducing emissions from logging and a far greater uptake of CO2 from forests. Now is the time when we must rapidly transfer carbon from the atmosphere to the land, and the fastest and most efficient way to that is by letting our forests grow. Protecting and restoring existing forests is superior because older trees do a much better job than seedlings.
Additionally, tree planting does not equate to forest restoration as the forest industry loves to trick us into believing, a tree plantation is nowhere near as biodiverse or an important carbon sink as a fully functioning natural forest. Planting trees is a feel good distraction, but it is not a substitute for protecting natural forests, because at the end of the day, we will simply have a trillion trees that the industry will continue to manage on short rotations for unnecessary products, and will be left with no real forests.
The effect of the legislation is the protection of the logging industry under the guise of climate action, all while placing the health of our forest ecosystems and our communities at risk. A biodiverse, carbon-rich forest develops only with the slow passage of time. Once it’s gone, it can take generations to return. We need to stay focused on drawing down carbon emissions and protecting our existing forests as the best defense against the climate crisis.
Don’t get us wrong, there is nothing wrong with planting trees, they provide us shade and shelter, store carbon as they grow, protect us from flooding, and provide habitat for a variety of animals. But rather than greenwashing the climate crisis and climate denial with feel good tree planting, we need to protect and restore our existing forests and rethink the extractive industrial forestry model that sees board feet and money rather than community protection and a more regenerative, restoration-based economy.