Public Land Policies for the Biden Administration 


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by Felice Pace, North Group Executive Committee Member 

 

In last issue’s Eye on Washington report, Dan Sealy included a short reference to President Biden’s sweeping Executive Order: Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. The Order invites input from all sectors and interests on how to achieve and sustain the large reductions in emissions needed to reverse the climate catastrophe that is already underway. Sierra Club staff and grassroots volunteers are among the host of environmental activists and conservation organizations providing recommendations and working to influence federal policy.

Sec. 216 of Biden’s Order declares the goal of “conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.” It instructs the Secretaries of Interior, Agriculture and Commerce to collect input and report in 90 days on how best to achieve that goal, including: “how to encourage the voluntary adoption of climate-smart agricultural and forestry practices that decrease wildfire risk fueled by climate change and result in additional, measurable, and verifiable carbon reductions and sequestration and that source sustainable bioproducts and fuels.”

Many climate activists believe all federal lands, and especially national forests, should be managed as carbon reserves.

This part of the Order has spurred a lively debate on how best to manage public and private forests to achieve the climate goal. You can bet the timber industry and lobbyists of all ilk are hard at work to shape federal climate policy to their client’s interests. 

Applying the Best Science

Within the national network of forest organizations and grassroots activists who work on forest issues, the correct path forward is clear, confirmed by the vast preponderance of relevant independent science from around the country and the globe. Below is a brief summary of recommendations circulating within forest and public land circles, as well as some of my own unique recommendations, on how to maximize climate and related benefits on US Public Lands:

  • Manage forests on federal and state lands to preserve and restore old forest conditions, including restoring natural fire regimes. Science and experience on the ground confirm that managing for old forest conditions most effectively reduces the risk for catastrophic fire effects and best sustains the “favorable conditions of flow” for which national forests were created. 
  • Manage private forests with greater protection for streams and landslide terrain and with longer intervals between logging. Allowing trees to grow larger and longer not only stores more carbon but produces higher value wood products.  
  • Upland forests and meadows are already our largest reservoirs and they will become even more important as western snowpacks decline. The upper watersheds and headwaters are where investments in restoration of old forest conditions, fire regimes, wetland meadow systems and stream ecosystems will yield the most benefits. 
  • Most of our remaining unprotected wilderness and old, unlogged forests are located in the upper portions of western river basins. Those lands, as well as all remaining low elevation older forests, should be designated as wilderness. 
  • Grazing in our public forest and wilderness headwaters should be phased out using voluntary buy-outs financed with private funds. Numerous “vacant” grazing allotments inside wilderness should be permanently closed.  
  • Abolish timber sales from public lands. The timber sale contract was a great tool when the task was getting logs from the woods to the mills. Because it is ruled by economics, however, the timber sale contract is a poor tool when the task is forest restoration. A much better tool is the service contracts whereby forest restoration work is directly compensated. If commercial logs are “produced” as a result of forest restoration work, they would be sold separately.  
Older and unmanaged forests store the most carbon.

 

Forest restoration requires a skilled, well paid work force and will create robust economic activity if adequate funds are invested. Some of us call that “the Green New Deal for Public Lands.” In my view, equity and practical decolonization suggest that federal tribes be afforded the opportunity to contract the needed restoration work within their ancestral homelands on a priority basis and even to administer public lands if they have the capacity and interest, under the same laws and public protections by which federal agencies operate. 

 

Managing national forests as carbon reserves requires restoring natural fire regimes, including by allowing wildfires to burn naturally when they do not threaten homes and communities.

 

Some of the items outlined above require that society control the post-modern human impulse to “manage” everything. It is precisely that attitude which got us into our present climate predicament. While there are contributions humans can and must make to avoiding catastrophic climate change, restraint on human hubris is indispensable if we are to succeed. 

 

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Check out the Sierra Club online 

The Sierra Club is the only major US environmental organization that is organized democratically. Members elect other members to serve on our national board of directors and as chapter and local group executive committees. Learn about how we are organized, explore issues and take action at www.sierraclub.org. 

California is the Sierra Club’s home state and in California we have Sierra Club California, the voice of the Club and its members in Sacramento. The California office works on a variety of issues that have a special California nexus including fire and public forest management. Our dedicated Sacramento staff has led the Club’s opposition to biomass incineration which is dirty energy that damages forests and degrades air quality. Check out Sierra Club California at  www.sierraclub.org/california.

 

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Meeting Announcement

 

Share your ideas on public lands as carbon reserves, proposed aquaculture on the Samoa Peninsula or any other topic by joining the North Group’s monthly video meetings. For meeting access directions, contact Gregg Gold at greggjgold@aol.com or 707-826-3740.