Public Forests Are Nature’s Lungs and Water Towers

Each and every day, our public forests cleanse the air we breathe, purify our drinking water, and nurture the wild things that make our region a great place to live, work, and play.

Like a big sponge, older forests soak up and store massive amounts of atmospheric carbon in vegetation and soils. When they are cut down, most of that carbon is released to the atmosphere through rapid decomposition of logging slash (branches) along with fossil fuel pollution from transporting and manufacturing wood products.

Even forests charred by fire play a role in a safe climate and vibrant ecosystem. Wildfires reboot a forest soon after the flames go out. The dead trees anchor soils, shade new seedlings from intense sunlight, and provide nests for scores of insect-eating bats and birds that help keep destructive insects in check.

New vegetation rapidly soaks up carbon from the atmosphere, using it to make plant food. Young and old forests do this dance of intimacy over human lifetimes – both are important to the cycle of life. Take a hike up Grizzly Peak or the Biscuit burn area near Cave Junction in the early spring and you will witness nature’s phoenix at work – life springs eternal from what appears at first glance as lifeless.

Forests managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are also doing their part as nature’s water towers, slowly releasing drinking water, especially during the summer, for nearly 2 million residents. Logging on steep slopes and a spaghetti network of roads leak sediment into streams, smothering salmon spawning nests and increasing municipal water treatment costs.  

The BLM is currently revising its forest plans, proposing to log over 469,000 acres of public forests! BLM’s logging will only add to climate and water pollution, while making unsightly clearcuts a more common occurrence on our hillsides. In the long run, this isn’t good for the economy either. Many new businesses, and the jobs that they bring, are relocating to our region for the beautiful scenery.

Next time you fly over the area take a look out the plane window. You will see a shotgun blast of clearcuts intermixed with patches of forests. Those green areas are holding the ecosystem together and they are mostly on public lands. Protecting these public forests is key to a safer climate.

The Forest Legacies program of Geos Institute is doing its part in providing science-based climate solutions to forest managers and advocating for responsible public lands management. We envision public lands that are adequately protected and properly stewarded as the backbone of a robust regional economy, vibrant ecology, and safer climate.

Dominick A. DellaSala, Ph. D., Chief Scientist, Geos Institute, is an award winning internationally recognized scientist of over 200 scientific publications and is dedicated to leaving a living planet for his daughter and all generations to follow. Two of his recent co-authored books include “Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World: Ecology & Conservation” (Island Press) and “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix” (Elsevier).