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Inside the Institute
Ben Hayes Joins Western Regional Office Staff
Ben HayesBen Hayes is a fifth generation Oregonian with a background in forestry and humanities. Before returning to graduate school, he worked as the Program Manager for Fishtrap, a non-profit that promotes clear thinking and good writing in and about the West. At Fishtrap, Ben oversaw 13 programs including a week-long summer workshop series, residency programs throughout eastern Oregon, and a regional “Big Read” program. Ben has also worked as a river guide, arborist, and events manager. He received a Master of Forestry degree from Yale University and a BA from Whitman College. His academic work has focused on western land conservation, including state forest land management in Oregon, institutional investment in ranches, forest land, and water, and environmental market dynamics. Other interests include fly fishing, boat building, and backcountry skiing.When not at work, on a river, or in the mountains, Ben helps to run Hyla Woods, his family’s forest business in Oregon’s Coast Range.

Stephanie Dalke Completes Environmental Leadership Program
Stephanie P. DalkeStephanie Pendergrass Dalke, Project Director of the Institute’s Common Waters program, is now a Senior Fellow in the Environmental Leadership Program (ELP). She was among the first class of fellows to participate in the leadership development program tailored for the Delaware River Watershed Network, which was launched with the support of the William Penn Foundation as part of its Delaware River Watershed Initiative. In a series of three retreats in Wallingford, PA, the group covered topics such as building community, diversity, and learning to lead across differences; the learning organization model and systems thinking; developing partnerships and collaborations; and strengths-based leadership. Membership in the ELP Senior Fellows Network is an ongoing commitment to leadership development and mentoring in a dynamic network of more than 700 of the country’s top emerging environmental and social change leaders. ELP is accepting nominations for the next class of Delaware River Watershed Network fellows to be trained in 2016. More information is available at elpnet.org.

America’s Great National Forests,Wildernesses, and Grasslands
America's Great National Forests, Wildernesses and GrasslandsPinchot Institute University Fellow Char Miller has recently completed a new illustrated celebration of our greatest National Forests, from Alaska to Florida. For more than a century, America’s National Forests have proved an environmental gift and cultural treasure, our spectacular backyard. Under the management of the US Forest Service, this system of public lands encompasses 193 million acres of mountains, prairies, rivers, and canyons—much of it undiscovered, but accessible for hiking, kayaking, fishing, and winter sports. Officially published with the US Forest Service, this book features the thirty most notable National Forests—while also celebrating more than one hundred different national forests in forty-four states— from the White Mountains of New Hampshire to the Olympics of Washington. Unlike the national parks, Americans can use these lands for all manner of recreation, truly earning these tremendous resources the moniker of "America’s backyard." Featuring photography by Tim Palmer and a foreword from Bill McKibben, this book is a treasure for all readers who use and cherish these lands. Available for pre-order now: http://bit.ly/AGNFWG

Gifford Pinchot to be inducted into World Forestry Center Leadership Hall
The World Forestry Center and the Pinchot Institute for Conservation are pleased to announce that the World Forestry Center will induct Gifford Pinchot into its Leadership Hall. Pinchot’s ethic of “the greatest good, for the greatest number, in the long run” still resonates today, the 150th anniversary of his birth. Gifford Pinchot’s Leadership Hall Induction will support the Research Fellows Program of the Pinchot Institute as well as the forest education program of the World Forestry Center. The Pinchot Institute and the World Forestry Center partner to advance sustainable forestry research and education. The Leadership Hall of the World Forestry Center was established in 1971 to honor those who have made significant and meaningful contributions to the advancement of forestry. The Hall celebrates the history of the world’s forests and the men and women who have made significant and meaningful contributions to the advancement of the forestry sector in business, government, or education. More information about this opportunity to recognize Gifford Pinchot’s groundbreaking work as America’s First Forester will be available soon at pinchot.org and worldforestry.org.
In Memoriam: Jackson F. Eno, 1948-2015
Book Review - The US Forest Service: A Love Story
Al Sample

Toward a Natural Forest: The Forest Service in Transition
by Jim Furnish
Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2015. 213 pp.

There is a common tendency to perceive organizations as singular entities, and to presume that the public actions of an organization accurately reflect the values of all its members. This is especially true of organizations as rich in history and tradition as the US Forest Service. In truth, the views and values within an organization can be as varied and diverse as those in broader society, especially when society itself is uncertain or conflicted about whether the path forward needs to be different from the one in which we have been so comfortable for so long.

Toward a Natural ForestJim Furnish came into the US Forest Service in 1965, not long after the publication of Herbert Kaufman’s political science classic The Forest Ranger: A Study in Administrative Behavior (John Hopkins Press 1960). Kaufman’s book detailed the remarkable organizational systems by which the Forest Service, a large and highly-decentralized federal agency with many of its 35,000 employees in remote locations, ensured an extraordinary uniformity of action—and also of values, beliefs, opinions, and motivations. It also was not long after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which documented the subtle but potent destruction of the natural environment by organizations and institutions that many Americans trusted and even admired.

The US Forest Service was one of those trusted and admired institutions whose actions would soon be questioned and challenged by an increasingly distrustful public. In 1965 the Forest Service was an agency proud of its skills and accomplishments. Over the previous two decades it had responded successfully to the surge in post-war demand for housing by providing abundant supplies of high-quality old-growth timber from the public’s forests. Its people were largely those of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation” who, having served in the military in their twenties, were now at the peak of their careers and influence. They eagerly embraced their mission as they understood it, and brought their “can do” enthusiasm to delivering on their promises to an adoring public. Uniquely for a federal agency at the time, the Forest Service logo was featured prominently in a popular prime-time television show about a courageous and principled forest ranger and his equally brave and noble collie. How much more of a public affirmation could any government agency want?

So much greater then was the shock when in the late 1960s ordinary citizens accused this proud conservation organization of willfully damaging the environment to serve the needs of special interests. Clearcutting was the central focus of controversy, but the public challenges ranged broadly from destroying wildlife and fish habitat, to driving out endangered species, to poisoning public water supplies with pesticides. In a nation with rapidly expanding suburban development and a rising concern about protecting the remaining wild places, the Forest Service was accused of punching miles of new roads into remote regions not because the timber there was of any great value, but simply to disqualify these areas from future consideration for wilderness designation.

Forest in Oregon Furnish’s memoir spans a pivotal era in the history of the Forest Service, from the first public skirmishes over clearcutting in the 60s, through new federal legislation and court decisions that forced changes in the National Forests, to the adoption of ecosystem management policies that have served as the agency’s de facto mission ever since.Throughout all of this, Furnish examines the evolution in his own thinking in response to changing social values about the environment. As supervisor of one of the most productive timber-producing National Forests in the country, he responded to public concerns about past impacts on salmon habitat by steering a different course meant to sustain a wider range of resources and values. As a senior official in the agency’s Washington headquarters, he continued to work to reinforce the new value system that was gradually taking the place of one that had guided the Forest Service for more than half a century.

This book reads in many ways like a love story. It starts with starry-eyed romance, evolves through the inevitable joys and disappointments of any committed relationship, and ends with a mature appreciation for a lifelong partner striving to do what is good and right in a rapidly changing world. Political scientist John W. Gardner once wrote, “Pity the leader caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers.” Observing that this seemed to be the Forest Service’s predicament over most of his 40-year career, Furnish views himself instead as a “critical lover” who was as committed to the agency as any of his colleagues but saw perhaps more clearly the changes that were still needed for the Forest Service to live up to its full potential as a world-class exemplar of 21st century sustainable forest management.

Al Sample is president of the Pinchot Institute and co-author of Forest Conservation and Management in the Anthropocene, forthcoming from the University Press of Colorado.
Powering Forward: Energy and Conservation in a Carbon-Constrained World
Bill Ritter, 2015 Pinchot Distinguished Lecturer

Editor’s note: This article is based on the 2015 Pinchot Distinguished Lecture given by Bill Ritter on February 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. Mr. Ritter was awarded the Pinchot Medallion for his extraordinary leadership, while serving as the 41st Governor of Colorado, in addressing an unprecedented series of wildfires, floods, insect epidemics, and other natural resource challenges associated with ongoing climate change in the western US. Mr. Ritter currently serves as the founding Director of the Center for a New Energy Economy at Colorado State University.
Pinchot Institute Board Chair Joyce Berry and Institute President Al Sample present the Pinchot Medallion to Governor Bill Ritter.

Those of us who ascribe to the conservation ethic in natural resource management need to reconsider it in the context of broad environmental, economic, and social terms espoused by Gifford Pinchot. In the modern age this means we must consider sustainable natural resource management in the context of ongoing climate change. Throughout the Rocky Mountain West, there are millions of acres of forests killed by mountain pine beetles, more than four million acres in Colorado alone. There are many variables and many factors at play, but the primary cause behind this is the steadily warmer and drier climate we are experiencing across the West. Milder winters and longer warm periods have actually enabled the bark beetles to have two life cycles in a single year, leading to a population explosion and increased infestation pressure on forests. Prolonged droughts have left the trees severely weakened in their ability to defend themselves against bark beetle attacks.

As Governor, I participated in a series of discussions at the Aspen Institute in which foresters and climatologists from around the world worked to understand what was going on and what we could do about it. It turns out that problems like this are occurring in forests around the globe, and that many of these problems can be tracked back to extraordinary environmental stresses associated with climate change. So, back to the way we think about our conservation ethic—if we care about the future of forests then we have to be part of the broader debate over what we do to address climate change.

Doing something about climate change leads quickly to questions of what to do about energy policy. Per capita CO2 emissions in the US are among the highest in the world—triple that of other industrialized nations like Germany or the UK, and many times that of most other countries in the world —so the US has a moral responsibility to address this issue. There are a variety of different areas in which there are opportunities to significantly reduce carbon emissions—in our industrial processes, in our agricultural practices, in the transportation sector, and especially in the electricity sector.

At the Center for a New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, we are working with numerous state governments on legislative and regulatory policies to advance the clean energy agenda and make substantial reductions in carbon emissions. State government leadership in this area is important, not just because of the lack of meaningful action by the US Congress, but because of the extent to which the electricity sector is regulated through state policy and not federal policy.

The US is currently on track to reduce carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 below 2005 levels, largely because of state-level actions on energy policy—renewable energy standards, energy efficiency standards, and a variety of other actions to advance clean energy technology and applications. More than 220 million Americans live in states that have a renewable energy standard. About 240 million live in states with an energy efficiency standard. If these states taken together were to constitute a separate country— a Renewable Energy America— it would be the fourth largest nation in the world. So we are actually seeing some substantial progress in energy policy reform to reduce carbon emissions, and much of this has been accomplished at the state level.

Nevertheless, there are areas in which federal policy plays a critically important leadership role, and the Center for a New Energy Economy is working with the Obama Administration and leaders in the US Congress to facilitate reform in federal energy policy. In March 2013, eight weeks into President Obama’s term, I was among a group of 14 people invited to meet at the White House to discuss ideas for advancing a clean energy agenda in the country as a whole. This initial discussion, which included CEOs of major US companies and utilities, led to a series of six more meetings at the White House to consider policy options for advancing energy efficiency, renewable energy, alternative fuels for vehicles, natural gas development, and how to facilitate a shift in the business model for utilities in the 21st century. The White House wanted recommendations for how to move a clean energy agenda alongside the President’s proposed climate policy. The resulting report, Powering Forward: Presidential and Executive Agency Actions to Drive Clean Energy in America (http://pinchot.org/cnee), contains more than 200 recommendations in six separate areas.

As a follow-up to this process, we are currently convening a dialogue around the Clean Power Plan proposed by EPA, the so-called 111(d) rule aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electric power generation. At the Center for a New Energy Economy, our analysis is primarily focused on states in the American West.

In June 2014, I approached the governors in the 13 Western states and asked them if they would be willing to convene around common issues and interests in implementing such a plan, and that process is now under way. The premise of the Clean Power Plan is that the President wants to reduce electric power sector carbon emissions in the country as a whole to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Since regulation of electric power utilities in the US has been done largely through state policy, several of the states contend that the EPA is exceeding its legal authority by using federal policy to force major changes in the electric power industry in their states.

In spite of the public opposition of some political leaders around the country, and in spite of lawsuits that have been or will be filed regarding 111(d), there is still a productive dialogue going on behind the scenes.That dialogue has been focused on ways to improve upon the rule when the final draft is published, but it is now shifting to studying models for implementing the rule should it be upheld in courts. The Nicholas Institute at Duke University, The Great Plains Institute in Minneapolis,MN, and the Georgetown Environmental Law Center in DC are all involved in efforts with state decision makers similar to ours at CSU.

When one reads about energy policy in America it’s all about the gridlock and inactivity in Congress, but quite frankly that’s not the full story. This Administration is advancing a clean energy agenda. Important advances in clean energy policy are already taking place in the states, even those states with very conservative governors. There is a perception that this has become a partisan fight, but that is not actually true, at least outside of Washington. Governor Sandoval in Nevada clearly understands the advantages to his state in advancing his clean energy agenda. Governor Snyder in Michigan has proposed an ambitious clean energy standard for his state and Governor Martinez in New Mexico has concluded that it is unlikely that there will be another coal-fired power plant built in her state any time soon. In Colorado we’ve done a lot to push the transition from coal to natural gas in electric power generation.

There are many other bright spots in climate and energy policy. Folks who just pay attention to Congress don’t have to be quite so depressed.There is a lot to be done, but there is a lot of good progress being made. Just as the energy sector is doing, the transportation sector, the industrial manufacturing sector and the agricultural sector are all starting to figure out how to limit their emissions. It is a part of an expanding conversation in the western states and all across America, and a variety of very positive and very constructive things are already happening.

So there is some good news out there.We have a lot of work still to do and certainly the Pinchot Institute should be congratulated for all that it is doing to promote rational public dialogue on policies relating to climate, energy and forests. Gifford Pinchot’s conservation ethic was based on the application of common sense to common problems, for the common good. Working together across the states and across partisan lines, we are finding solutions to today’s big conservation and environmental policy challenges—because we have to—and the Pinchot Institute is certainly helping to accomplish that.
Certification and the National Forests
Will Price

For 20 years the US Forest Service has watched a revolution in forest management from the sidelines. “Independent third-party certification” originated in the private sector to assure the public that the wide range of forest products they are buying come from responsibly managed forests, whether it is paper from Staples, tissues from Target, or lumber from Home Depot. Since the emergence of forest certification the construction industry has undergone a similar revolution, as green-building standards have been adopted in urban revitalization projects. Public investment has brought increased attention to environmental impacts, energy efficiency, and the materials that are used. Leadership in Energy & Environmental design, or LEED, the green-building standard that is best known and most widely-supported by the environmental community, favors the use of certified wood. Points are awarded for projects that use wood certified to standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Certification is widely considered the best proof that forest products are from sustainably managed forest lands. Without certification landowners must convince their neighbors, buyers, shareholders, investors, and/or constituents by themselves, on the strength of their own word. Companies and public land management agencies that have achieved certification can point to their certification label when their practices are challenged. For example, Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the largest and most maligned companies logging in the tropics, has sought FSC certification as a way of countering persistent criticism from environmental and social activists.

Restoring public trust is perhaps one of the Forest Service’s most enduring challenges of the last half century. The agency’s management of the National Forests was criticized by the environmental community in the 70’s, by industry in the 90’s, and by local communities all along the way. As a result, Forest Service leaders have been challenged in Congressional hearings, community meetings, and courtrooms over the years. So the potential for rebuilding trust is at least one benefit of certification for the Forest Service. Perhaps now, when the agency is even more pressed to restore vast expanses of forest to avert catastrophic fires, greater trust and acceptance may prove critical. Whether certification can cultivate trust in the agency while improving National Forest management, and doing so without overburdening forest planners and accountants remains to be seen. The question remains, should the National Forests get certified?
Backpacking on the Allegheny National Forest. Credit Joe Philipson CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Two Decades of Certification
Certification has had an interesting history in the US. FSC was launched by environmental groups in 1994 following the failure to address deforestation at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It quickly gathered steam as progressive companies saw a way to prove that their products complied with a set of standards supported by environmental groups. In 1998, with FSC growing, and certification labels becoming important in the marketplace, the American Forest and Paper Association began to transition its Sustainable Forestry Program into a an independent organization, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Both FSC and SFI have evolved over the years. As the FSC-US office grew from its home in Vermont, to Washington, DC and then its present Minneapolis headquarters, their certificates proliferated. FSC’s label is now on everything from Kleenex to plywood. SFI has also grown rapidly, bringing along most of the acreage from an association representing much of the US forest products industry, and its standards becoming recognized by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), a global certification system based in Europe.

As of this year there will be almost a billion acres of forestland certified by PEFC and FSC worldwide. For both FSC and SFI, about two-thirds of the land in North America certified under each program is in Canada, much of it federal or “Crown Lands.” In fact, more than two-thirds of the FSC certified acreage globally (~450 million acres) is public, government-managed, or equivalent.1 So how is it that the US Forest Service—considered by many to be the leading forestry organization in the world—counts not a single certified acre amongst its 193 million acres of National Forest land? Until recently, the Forest Service and FSC were mutually disinclined to seek certification for National Forests. Several environmental groups supporting FSC felt that US National Forests should be an exception.To put it differently, they did not want FSC to sanction the timber harvesting program in the National Forest System.

Are National Forests an Exception?
The National Forests have always been on the frontlines of the conservation movement. First established to protect forest from over-exploitation, then tapped to fuel the war effort and economic growth, and more recently serving as the crucible for ecosystem management, the National Forests have always been surrounded by controversy. The American public has continually debated the balance of uses of National Forests, and laws like the National Forest Management Act have made public consultation a formal part of the decision process.This debate has sometimes simmered in communities near National Forests, dividing them on questions of existence and identity— e.g. are we loggers or birders, or both? At other times it has reached Washington, DC, involving the White House, Congress, and organized national interests. Right now the debate is again edging onto the national stage. With another record-breaking wildfire season upon us and mounting documentation of shifting habitats, how will the Forest Service again rebalance forest management to better address climate change mitigation and adaptation?How can certification help the Forest Service deal with these challenges?

Sunrise in a longleaf pine forest. Credit Flickr user UGArdener CC BY-NC 2.0 FSC and SFI have differed on whether National Forests should be considered an exception for certification. From the time the question first arose, SFI has been willing to consider certifying National Forests. For FSC, National Forest certification could cause an internal conflict that would be difficult and expensive to navigate, so for many years they upheld a policy essentially prohibiting FSC certification of National Forests. In the meantime other federal forest lands have been certified by FSC, including forests managed by the military and the National Park Service.2 The exception has at times been glaring for the Forest Service, whose representatives at international meetings were often questioned why National Forests were not allowed to be FSC certified. So the discussion on whether certification is appropriate for a National Forest is really a debate about FSC certification in particular, and how some FSC supporters regard the Forest Service.

One of the reasons proponents would like to see National Forests certified—expanding the supply of certified wood from well-managed forests—is a Gordian Knot for some environmental groups that have been FSC’s key supporters.To them supporting an increase in the supply of certified wood by encompassing the National Forests perches them on a slippery slope. They have fought for years to shrink the timber program; would certification significantly expand timber harvesting? Meanwhile, there are FSC-certified wood products companies that are disadvantaged because they are surrounded by National Forests whose wood supply cannot be certified.

In some ways this is the same problem some in the environmental community had to navigate when helping to launch FSC: they were cautious about endorsing logging operations, but recognized that wood could come from well-managed forests. It is the same problem now bedeviling both certification systems as they wrestle with, and defend, their standards on allowing some percentage of wood from lands that are not certified— i.e. what should be included in their “chain of custody,” and how much risk is too much to bear?3 A portion of wood products sold with certification labels is not actually from certified forests; some of it may even be coming from US National Forests.4

The Forest Service also recognizes that it is an exception, having been repeatedly tested in the battle between sustainable use and chronic abuse of natural resources, and is wary of inviting still another kind of scrutiny or conflict. The growth of certification systems in the US and around the world has been associated with acrimonious competition in the marketplace. FSC, SFI, and many proponents of each standard have a history of fierce debate, a dynamic the already embattled Forest Service has not wanted to further inflame.

Zack Frank/Shutterstock.comA simple solution, at least to the competition between the two certification systems, was pioneered with several state forestry agencies that sought certification from both FSC and SFI. From 1997 until 2003, with support from the US Forest Service and private foundations, the Pinchot Institute worked with a number of states and Indian tribes to see whether certification was achievable and served their needs. Many became FSC and SFI certified as a result. They cited many reasons for choosing to certify their forests. For example, representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said that despite some additional work and the cost, the holistic review and constituency support certification engendered reduced the staff time devoted to resolving public conflicts. All the agencies had to make adjustments. Often they already knew certain shortcomings existed but certification audits served to draw attention to these issues and secure new resources to address them.

Soon after the pilot certification studies with state agencies and Indian tribes, which brought certification to more than 6 million acres of forest land in the US, the Institute began working with the US Forest Service to consider “test audits” on a few case study National Forests. In 1998, the Forest Service had considered the possibility of certifying the Lakeview Federal Stewardship Unit in Oregon (or at that time the “Sustained Yield Unit”). The Forest Service, FSC, and stakeholders concluded that certification would be premature. This experience gave rise to the FSC Federal Lands Policy mentioned above. It was really a National Forest System policy, and it established three somewhat circular and vaguely defined conditions: a willing landowner, stakeholder consensus about management of the National Forest, and a set of considerations additional to the FSC Standard.
National Forests Audited in the 2007 Certification Study

To better understand how certification could affect a National Forest— and whether there were insurmountable obstacles (e.g. some conflict between certification standards and federal policy)—the Institute and the Forest Service compared the management of seven National Forests against FSC and SFI standards. A “paper study” analyzed thousands of pages of planning documents, directives, and guidance. With no insurmountable policy barriers evident, the Institute and the Forest Service then organized the “test audits” on the seven National Forests. Nevertheless, while the study involved all the steps in an actual certification audit, the FSC Federal Lands Policy meant that the study could not lead to actual certification. It even included a mock set of what were called additional considerations that laid out potential new standards unique to the mission and management of National Forests. Developed through broad stakeholder consultation, these considerations were wide-ranging and forward- looking: for example, testing a National Forest on how it is addressing climate change on the forest and the surrounding landscape.

NF Certification Study The report focused on five National Forests: two in the Pacific Northwest, one in the Lake States, one in Pennsylvania, and one in Florida. The study yielded important findings, including a demonstration of what would comprise an audit for a National Forest. Auditors both marveled at and complained about the comprehensiveness of the documentation used by the Forest Service—“more forestry paperwork than any other forest in the world.” This flood of paperwork contributes to what critics, and the Forest Service itself, have called “analysis paralysis.” The supposed benefits of the documentation is that the agency is prepared for any contingency, management activity, or policy change.The study found instances in which National Forests fell short in implementing their own plans and priorities or encountered internal resistance when attempting to do so.

Certification is unlikely to significantly affect the planning process defined by the rules and regulations governing the National Forest System. That certification could reduce these requirements is a concern expressed by some environmental groups. The Forest Service would still have to fulfill the requirements of NEPA, ESA, NFMA, and all other applicable laws. Forest Supervisors would still need to assess the impacts of proposed projects, consult the public, and weigh alternatives. They will still need to monitor the status of rare plants and animals and understand how their management decisions affect these resources. And they would still need to seek biological opinions in response to concerns raised by the public. Certification in fact adds independent oversight on whether and how the Forest Service is meeting its own requirements.

Teaching to the Test or Real Improvement?
So what can certification add? Perhaps the best way to evaluate whether certification can serve the public interest is to look at the major problems the Forest Service faces, and consider what certification could do to help. Could FSC and SFI help the Forest Service materially improve its management of a National Forest? Or would certification be akin to an overly burdensome testing mandate, adding to the already heavy workload of National Forest managers without significantly improving the health and management of our forests?
View of Mt. Hood from Trilium Lake, Mt. Hood National Forest. Credit C.B. Aberlé CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The findings of the study suggest there are two major ways in which certification could be helpful.One is at the field level, where it showed that a holistic review helped draw attention to chronic and systemic problems and secure additional resources to resolve them. A second way addresses trust and relationships with stakeholders. As in the certification pilots with state agencies, the audit findings on National Forests identified barriers to reaching stated goals. This was especially true on the Lakeview F
ederal Stewardship Unit, where in the 1990’s the Forest Service experimented with a new approach to National Forest management. In reviewing this Unit as part of the study, Scientific Certification Systems found that the Forest Service had either set unrealistic goals or needed to find more money and/or a new a way to get work done. For example, the Forest Service consistently fell short of its stated goals for forest restoration and road decommissioning. Based on the results of the test audits on five National Forests in the study, a common element was the inconsistency between what is planned and what is accomplished.

A comprehensive independent review can be an opportunity for adjustment occurring more frequently and with harder deadlines than decadal forest plan revisions.The Forest Service has long done periodic internal reviews usually conducted by the regional line officer and staff, with participation from the Washington office as well. These reviews provide important overall evaluation and guidance but they are by nature internally focused and largely closed to the public. Reviews by a third party that has seen the books, reviewed projects in the field, and interviewed a diversity of external stakeholders can offer important new insights and provide the public transparency that is essential for rebuilding trust.

So perhaps the most important potential benefit of certification is the way in which it engages external stakeholders and speaks directly to the public. To this end, certification may be more beneficial on some National Forests than others. Some forests may not be interested or ready, while others may be eager or looking for new ways to accomplish their mission. Certification could help reset the relationship between the Forest Service and its critics. Like an independent financial audit, certification is intended to evaluate any organization’s performance relative to its stated policies and objectives, in the broader context of widely accepted standards of practice. Certification does not establish goals— which are a matter for the public to decide through existing policymaking and planning processes—but it can help promote the understanding and public trust necessary to achieve them.

Will Price is Director of Conservation Programs at the Pinchot Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

1 https://ic.fsc.org/preview.facts-andfigures- november-2014.a-3810.pdf
2 Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Historic Site is a demonstration and teaching forest in Vermont encompassing about 500 acres, and was certified through a pilot project coordinated by the Pinchot Institute.
3 This is another discussion altogether, along with the related question of how much wood from National Forests is already sourced for use under FSC and SFI labels.
4 The SFI Fiber Sourcing label most prevalent in the marketplace can contain more material from forests that have not been certified (100% is allowable). FSC’s “Mixed Sources” label requires an average of at least 70% from certified forests.
"Trustees of the Coming World": Gifford Pinchot and Forestry's Moral Code
Char Miller
Gifford Pinchot with students at the Yale Forestry School summer camp at Grey Towers, 1910

This year we celebrate four key birthdays in the history of the forestry profession in the United States: Gifford Pinchot (150th); the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, née The Yale Forest School (115th); the Society of American Foresters (115th); and the US Forest Service (110th). Pinchot was not responsible for the first event (he was just its happy outcome)—but he was present at the creation of the other three, in fact he was their father and midwife.

Aldo Leopold was among the first graduates of the Yale School of Forestry (front row in light suit). Courtesy Yale FES These latter births were part of a plan. In the early 1890s, as Pinchot turned his considerable energy to becoming the first scientifically trained American forester, he was already conceiving the steps needed to create the forestry profession. Its adherents would need graduate training, which the Yale Forest School, with funding from the Pinchot family, would provide. That program’s graduates would need a professional organization to help certify their careers; enter the SAF. And these recent graduates would need to apply their scientific insights on the ground; many of them became the new agency’s workforce. Call this a closed ecological system.

Yet for all this system’s commitment to the scientific analysis of environmental factors shaping forested landscapes, progenitor Pinchot knew that forestry was not just about trees. It was a social project born with an ineluctable moral code.

Even before he became a forester, Pinchot had a well-developed sense of an all-encompassing duty to the commonweal, as evident in his 1889 speech celebrating the US Constitution’s centenary. Speaking in his hometown of Milford, Pennsylvania, the twenty-four-year-old young man declared that he and his audience bore a special obligation as “trustees of the coming world”: not only “do we have a share in the commonwealth, but the commonwealth has a share in us.” The state and nation-state, Pinchot confirmed, had a right to “our service, our thought, and action.”

One year later, while studying forestry in Europe, Pinchot began to make good on that promise. As compelling as was the scientific basis of his chosen profession, Pinchot was more attracted to the political environments in which it was rooted. That attraction was manifest in Governmental Forestry Abroad (1891), a survey of the significance of global forestry. It contains two telling takeaways. That while forestry science was consistent across cultures, its application was not; that’s why republican Switzerland was a much better model for the United States than monarchical Prussia. The second was that government action was essential because forestry’s goal must be to protect and utilize forest resources across time: “a definite, far-seeing plan is necessary for the rational management of any forest,” Pinchot argued, and as such “forest property is safest under the supervision of some imperishable guardian; or, in other words, of the State.”

The Gifford Pinchot Forestry Building, headquarters of the Society of American Foresters, in Bethesda, MD. Courtesy Joseph M. Smith A forester, in short,must be a virtuous citizen and upright public servant.Theirs was amoral calling.That’s also rigorous standard, as Pinchot’s professional colleagues discovered when they prioritized technical fixes or industrial-friendly solutions to the rapid devastation of America’s forests. “Every forester in the country must face a clear-cut issue,” he confirmed in The Lines are Drawn (1919). “He must act with foresters in the public interest, or with lumberman with a special interest.” Naturally, there was only one acceptable answer, “if he is to call himself a forester in the finest sense of that fine word.”

A decade later, Pinchot reiterated that his peers must return to the fold. “Failure to grapple with the problem of forest destruction threatens the usefulness of our profession,” he and his co-authors wrote in A Letter to Foresters (1930). “We must cleanse our minds of apathy and doubt; and through a rebirth of faith in forestry and a reawakening of all our moral and mental energies” they’d reclaim their birthright of “high ideals and great purposes.”

That Pinchot felt as deeply about this idealism then as he had forty years earlier, and that he worked so diligently and for so long to realize it through the institutions he helped to create, is worth commemorating on this, the sesquicentennial of his birth.

Senior Fellow Char Miller is the W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College, Claremont, CA. Author of Seeking the Greatest Good: The Conservation Legacy of Gifford Pinchot, he and photographer Tim Palmer have collaborated on an illustrated history of the US National Forests (Rizzoli, forthcoming in 2016).
Ecosystem Services in the Built Environment
The Bullitt Center. Credit Nic Lehoux

Steve Whitney

When people think about ecosystem services, they often picture a wilderness landscape with clean rivers flowing through healthy forests. This landscape is producing food, medicinal herbs, fiber, clean air, and clean water among other important services that humans depend on for survival and quality of life. However, we seldom think about the extent to which these same benefits are, or are not, being produced within urban areas and the built environment.

There are significant consequences to ignoring the potential for the built environment to produce and deliver ecosystem service benefits. Removing nature from an urban landscape, or failing to maintain that urban landscape in harmony with the ecosystem that encompasses it, reduces the resilience and sustainability of those communities. With an ever-increasing majority of people living in urban areas, the role of ecosystem services production within urban boundaries cannot be ignored. The ability of these urban areas to provide quality of life over time is inextricably linked to our ability to integrate ecosystem services into our urban planning and design practices.

Accordingly, promoting ecosystem services within the urban context is critical to improving the human condition and ensuring the ongoing vitality of our communities. But understanding the role and need for ecosystem services in urban areas is a nuanced issue that requires us to move beyond simplistic models that create a dichotomy of nature versus human development, or ecological functions versus technology. In an urban context we cannot draw a bright line between “natural” and “human.”

Creating a Dialogue with Nature: The Bullitt Center
The Bullitt Center is a 50,000 square-foot office building located in Seattle’s Central Area. Called “the greenest commercial building in the world,” the project was the first multistory office building in a dense urban neighborhood to achieve the Living Building Challenge—the most rigorous benchmark of sustainability in the built environment. To meet the Challenge, the Bullitt Center was required to achieve a set of “imperatives,” including generating as much energy as it uses in a year, avoiding toxic materials, and capturing rainwater for all purposes, including drinking.

Given these requirements, it was natural to wonder about the value of the benefits produced by the building.

To answer this question, researchers from Autopoiesis, Ecotrust, and EcoMetrix Solutions Group dug into the ecosystem service values generated by the building. Optimizing Urban Ecosystem Services: The Bullitt Center Case Study, found that just six of the building’s green features will produce up to $18.5 million in benefits to society over the life of the building. This is the first time ecosystem service values have been calculated for a building.
Lifetime Value of Public Benefits Provided by the Bullitt Center

Ecosystem services are benefits provided by natural systems to support all life on earth. Such benefits accrue broadly to society rather than directly to building owners or tenants, and current regulatory and financial systems do not fully account for them.

In this research—funded by the Bullitt Foundation, which owns the Bullitt Center—the team calculated values for public benefits, such as energy efficiency, solar energy, walkability, rainwater capture and use, composting toilets, and enhanced carbon storage in the forest from the exclusive use of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood.

Although many other public benefits—low-cost housing, pollution reduction, sanitation—are subsidized or required as a price of doing business, investments in sustainability are currently voluntary charitable acts by developers. This places sustainable buildings at a commercial disadvantage to conventional buildings.

“Society provides enormous annual subsidies to residential and commercial real estate, many of which promote sprawl. But society does not acknowledge the benefits that deep green buildings provide to the general public,” said Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation. “By ignoring the benefits such investments provide to society at large, we penalize the best buildings and reward the worst,” he added.

The Bullitt Center. Credit Nic Lehoux The value of such public benefits can vary based on factors such as the assumed social cost of carbon emissions and the discount rate applied to benefits received in future years.The table above shows the public values calculated for the life of the Bullitt Center.

In addition to its quantitative research, the team also provided a qualitative assessment of an additional dozen ecosystem services benefits. If these other benefits were accurately quantified, they would add significantly to the documented value of the Bullitt Center.

For example, stormwater mitigation —which is directly related to rainwater capture and reuse—can be extremely expensive for cities to address. Seattle recently spent more than $1 billion to address part of the stormwater challenge it faces. The Bullitt Center has no more stormwater runoff than would be expected from a native Pacific Northwest forest.

The magnitude of this one benefit demonstrates the need to begin incorporating public benefits into regulatory and financial frameworks.

The Bullitt Center is a six-story heavy timber commercial structure built entirely of Forest Stewardship Council certified wood. The research team calculated that the use of FSC-certified wood retained an additional 1,844metric tons of carbon dioxide sequestered in the forest, relative to wood from forests managed to legally required Washington State forest practices standards. This finding is a result of the differences between post-harvest carbon stores in forests managed to rigorous FSC requirements and those associated with the business-as-usual practices common in Washington.

The Bullitt Center study seeks to not only quantify values but also extend the way ecosystem services are valued and modeled in the built environment. Before the current Bullitt Center study, ecosystem service valuations were typically limited to natural ecosystems or large-scale rural areas. This research was grounded in the terminology and science of both ecology and economics, which are often incompatible with the terminology and frameworks of architecture, urban and regional planning, engineering, landscape architecture, interior design, and other design professions.

There are significant consequences to ignoring the potential for the built environment to produce and deliver ecosystem service benefits. Removing nature from an urban landscape, or failing to maintain that urban landscape in harmony with the ecosystem that encompasses it, reduces the resilience and sustainability of those communities. With an ever-increasing majority of people living in urban areas, the ability of these systems to provide quality of life over time is inextricably linked to our ability to integrate ecosystem services into our urban planning and design practices.

AThe Bullitt Center: A 50,000 square-foot Seattle office building called the greenest commercial building in the world. Credit: Nic Lehoux s we move from reliance on ecosystem services toward reliance on centralized technology solutions, we introduce a greater level of fragility into our urban areas. Every time we make an urban design decision, we make a trade-off between comprehensive, resilient solutions, such as stormwater filtration spread across the landscape, and targeted, often-brittle solutions, such as combined sewer overflow systems.

Biophilic urbanism—urban design that reflects humans’ innate need for nature in and around and on top of our buildings—can make significant contributions to a range of national, state, and local government public policy objectives, including climate change mitigation and adaptation and improvements in public health.

Other potential benefits include reducing the heat island effect, reducing energy consumption for thermal control, enhancing urban biodiversity, improving human well-being and productivity, and improving water cycle management. Effective planning and policy can underpin adoption of biophilic urbanism.

The Bullitt Center offers an unprecedented opportunity to communicate the value of ecosystem services in an urban context. The quest to reduce externalities from the built environment while maintaining high population densities, community resilience, and quality of life requires a careful balancing of ecosystem services and technology within our urban planning and design.

The Bullitt Center produces meaningful direct benefits (or avoided impacts) for over two-thirds of the twenty-two ecosystem services classified by the UN’s Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity  study. This suggests that ecosystem services provide an important complement to the Living Building Challenge, with most of its requirements mapping naturally to one or more ecosystem services.

Steve Whitney is a program officer with the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle, WA.

To read the full study, visit www.pinchot.org/bullitt
From the President: Biophilic Cities and Resilience Landscapes
Depending on whom you talk to, cities are either the most sustainable —or most unsustainable—form of human habitation on the planet. Large cities require vast amounts of food, water, and materiel to be brought in daily, and similarly vast amounts of waste and refuse to be shipped out and absorbed somewhere else. They draw in the resources of an enormous surrounding landscape, and their disproportionate economic and political power allows them to outcompete rural communities for both natural resources and human capital.

On the other hand, concentrating human development in metropolitan centers greatly reduces the per capita demand for energy and space, and facilitates the interdependent cooperation that forms the basis for economic and social organization, and that leads to steady advances in technology, architecture, art, and other hallmarks of human civilization. The growth of early cities like Athens and Rome stimulated the development of the first aqueducts, sanitation systems, and transportation networks, along with higher education, science, and democratic government.

Credit: NNECAPA Photo Library CC BY 2.0 America has had a tempestuous romance with its cities, falling in love with them, then out, then in again. At the turn of the 20th century, America’s population was more than 60 percent rural and agricultural.1 Industrialization lured millions of people from farms in the South and Midwest to new economic opportunities in the Northeast and in California. In the second half of the 20th century this tide reversed. Increasing affluence allowed more people to own cars and flee the cramped and polluted confines of the cities for the burgeoning suburbs that exploded across the American landscape in the “housing boom” of the 1950s and 1960s. These communities too required vast inputs of resources. Public and private forests supplied wood to construct more than 21 million new homes between 1945 and 1960.2 Food and fiber came from highly mechanized large-scale agriculture in distant regions of the country, facilitated by a new interstate highway system and abundant supplies of cheap energy.

Today we are finding our way back to the cities. By 2014, more than 81 percent of Americans resided in metropolitan areas. This is in part because of the passing of the era of cheap energy and its associated externalities of polluted air and water, and global impacts on climate. But there is more. We are reinventing our cities, making them more sustainable and turning them into the kind of places in which people actively choose to live, work, and raise their families.

Major new advances in building technology and energy use are making cities much more efficient consumers of lower per capita inputs of fossil fuel energy. Innovations in geothermal, solar and wind energy technologies have demonstrated that buildings even in northern cities can be nearly energy self-sufficient. The energy costs of producing and transporting food into cities are being reduced by the increasing appeal of locally-grown fresh foods, including those produced right in cities in colder seasons from “vertical greenhouses” in converted high-rise buildings.

Perhaps most important in the long run is the complete reconceptualization of cities that is taking place, from hardened built environments apart from nature, to functioning urban ecosystems inextricably intertwined with the natural systems in the broader regional landscapes in which they are located.

Stormwater has long been a problem for cities not only in terms of flooding, but in contamination of waterways and estuaries when pollutants are washed into them and sewage treatment systems are overwhelmed. Cities such as Philadelphia are now opting out of building more concrete and steel “gray infrastructure” to handle stormwater, and investing in the conservation of upstream floodplains with natural capacity to accept, absorb, and moderate stormwater surges.

With leadership from visionaries at the William Penn Foundation, the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the US Forest Service, and the Pinchot Institute, Philadelphia is also learning the importance of investing in the conservation of forests many miles from Independence Square, in the headwaters of the Delaware River. The Common Waters Partnership in the Delaware River watershed is providing a new model for protecting critically located private forest land from development, making these forests more resilient to severe storm events and other manifestations of climate change, and providing clean drinking water to more than 16million city dwellers in the most urbanized region of the country.

The emerging idea of “biophilic cities” goes beyond improving the sustainability and resilience of cities, and dives deeper into the social and psychological aspects of making cities more appealing, more healthful, and more fulfilling places to live. The early work on urban sustainability focused largely on green buildings and energy efficiency. The idea of urban resilience revolved around reshaping cities to be less vulnerable to shocks associated with water scarcity, energy disruptions, and lately to the effects of climate change.

The concept of biophilic cities subsumes both of these, but goes a significant step further. Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist E. O. Wilson first coined the term biophilia to describe “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms, and the instinctive human need to connect with the natural world.” Biophilic design that incorporates nature and natural elements appeals to something deeply embedded in human genetic memory—of landscapes ideally suited to providing the basics of food, shelter, security, and comfort. Across the world’s cultures and ethnicities there is an uncanny preference for prominent landscapes characterized by a mix of grasslands and open woodlands, overlooking a nearby body of water. Is there something vestigial about the woodland savannas of east Africa from whence humans emerged that continues to shape what we instinctively seek out in parks, natural areas, and livable communities?

Sustainable urban ecosystems as we think of them today maintain functional natural elements at multiple scales— buildings, neighborhoods, cities, and regions—with a far greater sense of interdependency and mutual reinforcement than ever before. The old boundaries between the urban built environment and the surrounding natural landscape on which it depends are rapidly disappearing. Resilient, sustainable, biophilic cities are creating opportunities for daily interactions with nature that sustain the human spirit and that lead people to better understand, value, protect, and conserve the forests and other natural ecosystems around them.
—Al Sample

1 US Bureau of the Census. Urban and Rural Population. Accessed at: https://www.census.gov/population/censusdata/urpop0090.txt

2 US Bureau of the Census. Table 1438. Economic Indicators for Construction, Real Estate, Manufacturing, Retail, and Foreign Trade Sectors: 1929 to 1998. In: 20th Century Statistics. Accessed at: http://www.census.gov/prod/99pubs/99statab/sec31.pdf

For Further Reading
Beatley, T. 2010. Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning. Washington, DC: Island Press.

DeVries, S., Verheij, R.A., Groenewegen, P.P., and Spreeuwenberg, P. 2003. Natural Environments—Healthy Environments? An Exploratory Analysis of the Relationship Between Greenspace and Health. Environmental Planning (35) 1717-1731.

Hansen, R. D. 1983. Water and wastewater systems in Imperial Rome. Water Resource Bulletin. American Water Resources Association, 19(2).

Peter, N. and Kenworthy, J. 1999. Sustainability and Cities. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Pinchot Institute. 2012. Common Waters: Conserving Clean Water, Natural Places and Working Lands. Access at: http://www.usendowment.org/images/CW_Booklet_Oct_2013.pdf

Steel, C. 2009. Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives. London: Random House.

Wilson, E.O. 1984. Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Wilson, E.O. 1993. Biophilia and the Conservation Ethic. In: Biophilia: The Human Bond with Other Species. Kellert, S. and Wilson, E.O. (Eds.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Healthy Communities and Urban Natural Resource Stewardship
Healthy Communities and Urban Natural Resource Stewardship. Credit: AJ Bombers CC-BY-NC 2.0

Michael T. Rains, Erika S. Svendsen, Lindsay K. Campbell, Morgan Grove, Sarah Low, and Lynne Westphal

America’s Forests and Cities: Then and Now
The USDA (Department of Agriculture) Forest Service has direct and indirect roles on most of our nation’s 885 million acres of forests. When the Forest Service was created in 1905, only 13 cities worldwide had populations of one million people or more. Eighty years later, 230 cities have a population of more than one million people. In the new millennium, it is projected that there will be more than 400 cities with a population of one million people and 26 megacities with populations of more than 10 million people. Looking nationally, about 50 percent of our nation’s population lived in urban areas in 1920. Today, about 83 percent of our people live in cities and towns. Simply put, this is the first century in our history that the majority of humans live in urban areas.

The Change in Population from Rural to Urban The Chief of the Forest Service has a responsibility to help ensure that forested landscapes, including those in urban areas, are healthy, sustainable, and provide the required green infrastructure that effectively links environmental health with community resiliency and stability. In partnership with states, municipalities, and non-governmental organizations, the Forest Service has been formally engaged with the management and care of approximately 138 million acres of trees and forests in cities, towns, and communities since the early 1970’s. At the heart of ensuring the proper care of America’s urban natural resources and improving people’s lives are the collaborations among federal, state, and local governments and a wide range of partnerships. The slogan that illustrates the mission of the Forest Service is “caring for the land and serving people.” As we face the conservation demands along the entire rural-to-urban land gradient, we must embrace the challenge and opportunity that arises as we view the scope of the motto differently. That is, “caring for the land and serving people, where they live.”

Rising Up to Meet a Changing Landscape and Constituency
The spatial extent of our urban areas is growing. Cities are no longer compact; they sprawl in spider-like configurations and increasingly intermingle with wildlands. As a result, new forms of urban development have emerged including a wildland-urban interface in which housing is interspersed in forests, shrublands, and desert habitats. Along with this spatial change is a shift in perspectives, behaviors, and constituencies. Although many of these habitats were formerly dominated by agriculturalists and foresters, they are now populated by people from urban places, who, in turn, draw upon a more urban experience.1 While growth may be inevitable, smart growth should be the guiding principle if we are interested in the sustainability of our natural resources and its linkage to the protection of lives and property.

In caring for urban forests, our focus and engagement goes well beyond trees. We are interested in the stewardship of the urban environment across a broad range of urban forest site types, including parks, community gardens and orchards, waterfronts, wetlands, meadows, brownfields, and vacant lots. One of the most enduring lessons of cities is the important and vital relationship between grey infrastructure (e.g., streets and buildings), green infrastructure (e.g., forests, parks and open spaces), blue infrastructure (e.g. streams, ponds, lakes, and harbors), and the human communities that create and inhabit cities and their infrastructures.

High school students contribute to the development of a summary site environmental report at the Argonne National Laboratory's wetlands. Credit: George Joch, Argonne National Laboratory CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Cities are unique in that the sheer density of people interacting with natural resources can create new and unique benefits. Research and experience indicate the important role that trees and urban natural resources play in creating healthy places for people to live: linkages with better school performance, reduced crime rates, and greater social cohesion. Engaging volunteers and community groups in the stewardship of these resources can increase civic engagement, neighborhood efficacy, ecological literacy, and market innovation. The body of research is becoming too large to ignore and difficult to catalogue. Simply, healthy urban natural resources support healthy urban places and people.

Over the last few decades, through its Urban Natural Resource Stewardship program, the Forest Service has emerged as a leader in developing cutting-edge urban research and practices through strategies that include—and begin with—people.

The Role of the Forest Service and Federal Service
In the rapidly urbanizing landscape, research collaborations have evolved to better address issues related to urban natural resources stewardship and system dynamics, including sustainability and resiliency. The majority of our work takes place through partnerships and collaborative models, focusing on social-ecological systems research to produce useful knowledge for land managers and decision-makers. For example, our program in Baltimore is one of just two urban National Science Foundation (NSF) Long-Term Ecological Research sites, along with the Central Arizona- Phoenix project. Accompanying the NSF, the Forest Service has provided core funding and support to the Baltimore Ecosystem Study as it spans everything from conceptual models and theory development, to empirical studies, to research applications and community engagement, to science and art. It offers a model of an expanded view of the Agency’s role in “urban forestry” research, broadly defined.

Rethinking the urban landscape to maximize benefits to ecological and human health. Credit: Flickr user UrbanGrammar CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Over the past few years, the Forest Service has begun to establish a network of Urban Field Stations in densely populated metropolitan regions. This network is part of the long arc of Forest Service Research and Development (R&D) investments in place-based, long term research first begun with the Experimental Forest and Range Network. Currently, there are 80 Experimental Forest or Range sites, but none of themare located in urban areas. The Urban Field Stations create new opportunities to engage with local experts and connect with practices of urban natural resource management that may be more than a century old in many of our nation’s cities. Comprised of multi-disciplinary science and practice teams, Urban Field Stations have been established in Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia. Solid programs of urban research have emerged in San Juan, Seattle, Portland, Atlanta, and Sacramento, and work has begun in Los Angeles and Denver. Much work remains to be done.

The shared mission of the Urban Field Station Network is to improve the quality of life in urban and urbanizing areas by conducting and supporting short-term and long-term research about urban social-ecological systems and natural resource management. Urban Field Stations are designed to address pressing questions facing urban and metropolitan regions in the US and beyond. Urban Field Stations are physical places to conduct research but are also networks of relationships among scientists, practitioners, and facilities within cities but also across the Forest Service R&D network. Working in conjunction with local partners, the Forest Service is growing the network of scientists working directly in cities and advancing a research-in-action agenda, whereby scientists and urban natural resource managers work iteratively to inform knowledge and practice.

Boy in tree. Credit: Sarah Gilbert CC BY-NC-SA 2.0While each field station responds to the unique environmental, social, and organizational characteristics of their place and partners, they also work within the network to share data, leverage resources, and promote comparative and interdisciplinary research. For example, the pioneering stewardship mapping research (STEW-MAP) in New York City has been replicated in Baltimore, Seattle, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Programmatically, a fellowship program developed in Philadelphia has been modified and adapted to New York City.The field stations are innovators in creating knowledge at the interface of research and practice, as evidenced through collaborations such as TreeBaltimore, Chicago Wilderness, and the MillionTreesNYC campaign. They also innovate in the area of science communication and translation by creating novel and nontraditional research products; convening public events such as seminars, workshops and symposia; maintaining a strong presence in traditional and online media; and supporting artist-in-residence programs.

The ambition and contributions of the Urban Field Station Network continue the Forest Service’s lineage and traditions, characterized by the maxim of our first Chief, Gifford Pinchot, when he described the Forest Service’s role to promote the “...greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time.”Urban natural resources stewardship may address this maxim more completely than any other conservation imperative the Agency embraces. Although the Forest Service does not own or manage land within most urban areas, nor does it regulate any aspect of the urban environment, it nonetheless has a crucial role to play across the country. The Forest Service’s Urban Field Stations can best fulfill these roles with participation from all the Agency’s Mission Areas and its partners. Some of these partnerships are already underway. The Urban Field Stations can link urban populations to the National Forest System through the water they drink, the wood they use, and the places they recreate. State and Private Forestry can share best management practices, support new innovations, and provide training. Forest Service Research and Development can develop new knowledge and applications for better understanding and managing urban natural resources. Conservation Education can develop educational materials for people with information from where they live. The Partnership Office can develop strategies for building synergies and amplifying the reach of the Urban Field Station Network throughout the country by collaborating with national and regional organizations such as The Pinchot Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Fund, Wildlife Habitat Council, and many more. International Programs can link the experiences and expertise of the Forest Service to promote urban sustainability and resilience throughout the world. Thus, the vision of the Urban Field Station Network is to be an inclusive platform, advancing the roles and resources of the entire Forest Service to provide the “greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time,” wherever they might live.

Michael T. Rains, Erika S. Svendsen, Lindsay K. Campbell, Morgan Grove, Sarah Low and Lynne Westphal are employees of the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Research and Development.

1 Grove, J. Morgan. 2009. “Cities: Managing Densely Settled Social- Ecological Systems.” In F.S. Chapin et al. (eds.), Principles of Ecosystem Stewardship. New York: Springer: 281-204.
The Fire Next Time

In this 13-minute film, filmmakers Stephen Most and Kevin White examine how problematic policies, fuel build-up, and climate change have endangered America's forests. When the Rim Fire burned 256,000 acres of the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park in 2013, it exposed the impacts that high intensity wildfires are having on watersheds, wildlife, and carbon storage. It also forged a coalition of environmentalists, loggers, scientists, officials, and land managers who are responding to this megafire and recognize the need to forestall the next one. “The Fire Next Time" is a precursor to Filmmakers Collaborative's feature-length work-in-progress, "MEGAFIRE at the Rim of the World." For more information, visit megafirefilm.org.

Building Resilience in the Upper Delaware River Region

A new climate change adaptation guide from the Pinchot Institute and the Common Waters Partnership. Download a PDF or request a copy in the mail. An excerpt from the report is below.

Building Resilience in the Upper Delaware River Region Opinions differ about the underlying causes of climate change, but the earth’s climate is indeed changing. Residents of the Upper Delaware River region are already experiencing these changes.

This guide addresses the critical need to build local community resilience against the impacts of climate change. Implementing the plan’s recommendations will lead to communities that can better withstand impacts of change upon their natural resources and economies in the decades to come. These are “no regrets” solutions—they are beneficial regardless of what the future brings, but particularly important in the context of a changing climate. The most costly thing we can do is nothing.

Build Resilience
Local governments are on the front lines of managing the impacts associated with natural hazards. As problems such as increased flooding, extreme heat, drought, and other major weather events become more frequent, local budgets and infrastructure will be strained, putting more people and property at risk. We can build climate resilience in local communities through effective adaptation strategies that sustain forest and water resources and promote economic stability.

Focus on “No Regrets” Actions
While we cannot know the exact course of climate change, the Upper Delaware River region can:

  • Make adaptation to climate change an integral part of existing planning efforts
  • Keep people safer by strengthening disaster preparedness
  • Reduce risks, protect assets, and save money
  • Safeguard the forest and water resources that support our economy

Delaware River at Pike County-Sullivan County line. Nicholas A. Tonelli CC BY 2.0

Opportunities for Local Governments
Risks to forests, waters, and economies could be reduced by implementing land use policies that focus on maintaining existing forest cover, reducing forest fragmentation, keeping impervious cover at reasonable levels, and taking full advantage of the ecosystem services provided by floodplains and riparian corridors. Local governments in the region have primary responsibility for the land use decisions that can ultimately make communities less vulnerable and more economically resilient to environmental changes. Although it is a challenge to coordinate land use policy in a region that includes three states, seven counties, and hundreds of municipalities, this strategy has great potential for far-reaching climate resiliency benefits.

  • Work with forest landowners and forestry professionals to implement forest management practices that improve forest health and diversity
  • Support forest-dependent industries including travel, tourism, and recreation as well as the forest products and services sectors
  • Improve tax incentives to recognize the many values of forest lands and to help landowners keep forests as forests
  • Engage the basin’s water users in investing in source water protection and land and water resources conservation in the Upper Basin
  • Improve floodplain and stormwater management standards to reduce risks to people, property, and infrastructure
  • Leverage cooperative conservation efforts already underway in the region and use available funding strategically to conserve priority landscapes


In 2013, the Model Forest Policy Program (MFPP), the Cumberland River Compact, Headwaters Economics, the Common Waters Partnership, and the Pinchot Institute for Conservation came together to create a climate adaptation plan for the communities of the Upper Delaware River region through a program called Climate Solutions University. The resulting publication, Adapting to a Changing Climate: Risks & Opportunities for the Upper Delaware River Region, identifies areas where the region may be vulnerable to the effects of climate change and suggests adaptation strategies to address those impacts that cannot be prevented.

Inside the Institute
R. Patrick Bixler Joins University of Oregon Faculty

BixlerDr. Patrick Bixler, University Fellow at the Pinchot Institute, recently relocated to Eugene, Oregon to join the faculty of the Ecosystem Workforce Program in the Institute for the Sustainable Environment at the University of Oregon. As Faculty Research Scientist, he will focus on the intersection of ecology, economy, and governance across a range of issues relevant to forest disturbance and western public lands management. Of particular concern will be community and collaborative responses to mountain pine beetle outbreaks in the context of climate change, and local consequences of wildfire suppression policies and strategies in large wildfires. Patrick intends to offer courses in Environmental Policy, Planning, and Management as well as Society and Environment. He will be continuing his affiliation with the Pinchot Institute as a University Fellow, working with Brian Kittler, Western Regional Director, on an analysis of the USFS Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. Patrick can be reached at pbixler@pinchot.org.
Book Review: Living Wild
Char Miller

Wilderburbs: Communities on Nature’s Edge
By Lincoln Bramwell, with foreword by William Cronon
University of Washington Press, 2014. 344 pp. $34.95.

Roger Kennedy, former director of the National Park Service, called the phenomenon “sprawling into danger.” Most federal land-management agencies use the clunky term “wildland-urban interface” to identify the terrain into which millions of Americans have set up house since the mid-20th century—their teeming presence has deeply complicated the stewardship of our national forests, grasslands, parks, and refuges. But what does it mean to live on the metropolitan edge, within this apparently dangerous interface?

A series of unsettling answers to that question emerge in Lincoln Bramwell’s marvelous new book, Wilderburbs: Communities on Nature’s Edge (University of Washington Press, 2014). Key to its claims is Bramwell’s coining of the term Wilderburbs to define this contested landscape. These “clusters of homes on mountain slopes and ridges that lay within commuting distance of cities and town centers” come with a set of inherent tensions. For even as well-heeled residents have flocked to wild settings on the outskirts of Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake City, or San Francisco, reveling in the natural beauty outside their plate-glass windows, luxuriating in their abodes’ upscale amenities, and banking on a steady increase in their property values, these developments have disrupted the very landscapes their residents have rushed to embrace. Their lives have been disrupted in turn.

Lincoln Bramwell, WilderburbsBramwell, the US Forest Service’s Chief Historian, gained an inkling of this story’s complexity while fighting fires across the west for the better part of the 1990s. At the beginning of his time on the line, firefighting strategies were relatively straightforward—he and his colleagues would “hike up behind the blaze and try to coax like cowpokes on a cattle drive up to the top of the ridge, hill, or mountainside so it could run out of fuel.” But as more and more subdivisions were built into these high and remote grounds, popping up “like mushrooms after a nice soaking rain,” firefighting tactics shifted. They did so because “the public urged fire officials to drop us into the fire’s path to make heroic stands in front of insured and evacuated houses.”

Intensifying the firefighters’ peril is what appears to be a new cultural response to nature itself. Wilderburbs are nestled into the surrounding, fire-adapted ecosystems to enhance homeowners’ encounter with the wild. Yet their love of this land (and their privileged place in it) also sparked some odd behaviors. Including the time that a homeowner yelled at a chainsaw wielding Bramwell to stop clearing a defensible perimeter around her house as a wildfire blew close.However flammable the bushes that had become entangled with her shake-shingle roof and eaves, they represented nature, her nature. She could not give up that vision even if it meant losing her home.

This was not a unique occurrence, and one of the best aspects of Wilderburbs is the careful way it weaves together site-specific details with the larger patterns that these particulars reveal. Framed around four case studies—Foresta, California; Colorado’s Burland Ranchettes; Utah’s Snyderville Basin; and Paa-Ko Communities in New Mexico—Bramwell explores the emblematic issues these developments evoke. Despite differences in how they were constructed, for example, these subdivisions rearranged land-use patterns in their home counties. Fifty years ago, rural economies had revolved around ranching, farming, and/or the extraction of natural resources such as timber and minerals. The arrival of wilderburbs and their occupants signaled a significant shift to a service economy built around tourism and housing starts.

These new residential environs reflect as well the increased pressures that a growing population can have on local water supplies. Given that much of the American west is arid, the creation of water-intensive subdivisions has had a worrying impact on groundwater supplies, made all the more worrisome given how a changing climate is expected to decrease levels of precipitation across the 21st century. If there is not enough water to flush toilets, run dishwaters, or irrigate lawns, the allure of the wilderburb will diminish considerably.

Then there are the close encounters with endemic flora and fauna. People may have moved into the wild, but they are not always thrilled when bears upend their garbage cans, take a cool dip in their pools, or ransack kitchens. Coyotes no doubt are cute, but should your cat or Chihuahua go missing, then their eradication suddenly seems like a good idea. Moose seem sacred right up until that moment when your car collides with one of those rock-solid quadrupeds. The increase in calls to county and state wildlife departments to remove these and other large mammals from their habitat reflects the tension that exists between the idealized natural world wilderburbs promote and the much more messy reality their inhabitants occupy.

Fire brings these contradictions and paradoxes into sharp focus, and Bramwell’s chapter on this subject is compelling. Even as it sketches out the familiar story of the evolution of firefighting on western public lands, it builds an important case for the decided impact that wilderburbs have had on how fires start, why and when they are fought, and at what price. These communities have also become media sensations, and their precarious siting frames our imagination of fire’s place in the land: every conflagration’s news cycle comes replete with breathtaking images of swirling flames sweeping toward McMansions crowning ridgelines, valiant if weary firefighters, Pulaskis in hand, battling these infernos, and the charred aftermath--smoldering structures, torched vehicles, blackened dreams.

Bramwell, drawing on his insights as a firefighter and historian, troubles this hyped narration. “People want to live in a wilderness,” he observes, “yet they do not want a truly dynamic ecosystem that constantly changes through natural processes such as fire.” As these residents have learned, often reluctantly and sometimes only partially, is that what they desire is in constant negotiation with what nature allows, how it responds, and what it takes. That’s a life lesson for us all, wherever we live.

Char Miller, a University Fellow of the Pinchot Institute, is the W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College in Claremont, CA.
In Memoriam: Richard L. Snyder 1940-2014
Richard Snyder Dick Snyder

Former Pinchot Institute board member Richard Snyder passed away on November 14 after an accidental fall at his home in Milford, Pennsylvania. Dick served as Pinchot Institute board member and Treasurer 1998–2004, and was a continuing contributor to the Institute’s work in his native Pennsylvania, at Grey Towers National Historic Site, and across the country. Having retired from the corporate world and New York City, he was committed to his adopted community in Milford, the home of Grey Towers and birthplace of the Pinchot Institute. He was a natural at building coalitions and working partnerships, and fostering a sense of community that went beyond the bounds of simple geography. From his CFO days, Dick had a clear sense of organization and finance, and the improvements he brought about during his time on the board are a lasting legacy of his service. Dick was a warm and gracious human being who made the world a better place, in his community and with every life he touched.
A Monumental Forest Restoration Opportunity
Char Miller

The San Gabriel Mountains are Southern California’s spectacular foreground and dramatic backdrop; they occupy a pivotal place in the Southern Californian imagination, past and present. On October 10, 2014, a sun-drenched and smoggy day, President Obama underscored their local centrality when he designated a portion of the Angeles National Forest as the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.1

To its promoters, the switch in nomenclature is critical. They believe that the nearly 350,000-acre national monument will generate additional dollars that will enable the U.S. Forest Service to enhance the visitor experience. That it needs enhancing is without doubt. Trees and rock faces are tagged and trash is strewn across meadows, scenic areas, and river banks; sodden diapers clogging the east and west fork of the San Gabriel River, whose headwaters lie within this rugged mountain range, are a too-common sight. Pomona College geologist Jade Star Lackey likens this devastation to a desecration. “On field trips we commonly go off the beaten path in search of outcrops, only to find ravines filled with trash and bullet-riddled appliances,” Lackey told The Student Life, newspaper of the Claremont Colleges (institutions that routinely use images of the snow-capped San Gabriels for admissions brochures and press releases). “We often pull up to a favorite outcrop that we’ve used for years to teach important geologic concepts like cross-cutting relations, only to find that it’s covered with graffiti.”2
President Obama signs the document creating the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument on October 10, 2014 in San Dimas, CA. Credit USDA CC BY-SA 2.0

Cleaning up this distressed landscape will be costly. But the key question is whether the necessary funds will be forthcoming. I doubt it. With the Republican Party in control of the House appropriations process, gaining additional public moneys will be difficult for all national forests, parks and refuges, let alone a new National Monument. At least in the short run, those who hope for more robust budgets will be disappointed.

Some of that disappointment may be mitigated by an increase in philanthropic dollars. In conjunction with the President’s designation, for example, the National Forest Foundation (NFF) announced the creation of a new $3million fund for the national monument. Since the 2009 Station Fire, which torched more than 160,000 acres on the Angeles, the NFF has been active in underwriting restoration projects in the Big Tujunga Canyon and other burned-over sites. The goal then was to rehabilitate damaged riparian corridors, replant the headwaters to protect against erosion and boost the forest’s capacity to sequester carbon, while rebuilding recreational opportunities in the forest.

That work is ongoing but the NFF, which Congress chartered in 1990 to support the Forest Service’s land management efforts, has taken on a new role with the announcement of the National Monument. Its San Gabriel Fund will help jump-start rehabilitation of those acres most battered by the annual influx of more than three million visitors. “This designation provides an exciting opportunity for the Forest Service and Los Angeles’ business and civic communities to provide residents and visitors with improved conditions to enjoy their public lands,” observed NFF president Bill Possiel. The fund will deepen “our commitment to long-term stewardship with community-based partners and to connecting Los Angeles County’s diverse residents to the National Monument.”3

That social good may be difficult achieve, however, given that the monument, for all its size, is not as large or as comprehensive as originally intended. Its first iteration called for it to absorb the whole of the San Gabriel range, stretching from the Cajon Pass on the east (through which I-15 cuts) to Newhall Pass on the west (through which CA-14 runs into the Mojave Desert). The logic was driven by geographic realities and management needs. By pulling together the entire Angeles National Forest and that portion of the range the San Bernardino National Forest stewards, the National Monument would streamline administration, making for more efficient and effective governance.

That plan made perfect sense on paper, but not in the imperfect political arena. Supervisors of San Bernardino County, responding to mountain community residents opposed to what they decried as a “federal land grab”—the irony is delicious, given that by definition a National Forest is also federal—unanimously opposed the designation. The Obama Administration responded by shrinking the monument so that its eastern boundary (as it had with the Angeles NF) runs in tandem with the Los Angeles-San Bernardino County line. However understandable, this decision will hamper efforts to manage recreation, wilderness, and endangered species in a more unified fashion across the range.

Those managerial efforts will be further complicated by the troubling fact that the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument does not include all of the Angeles National Forest, either. Although it is not yet clear what the administrative structure will be for the monument inside a National Forest, the inevitable overlapping authorities will not bring clarity to decision-making processes or streamline procedures, which is one of the issues that the monument’s proponents hoped to resolve through the original designation.

None of these difficulties—potential and predictable—undercuts the San Gabriels Mountains’ claim to National Monument status. They are more than worthy of this acclaim for reasons natural and human—not all of which are benign. “The San Gabriels, in their state of tectonic youth, are rising as rapidly as any range on earth,” John McPhee observed in The Control of Nature. “Their loose inimical slopes flout the tolerance of the angle of repose. Rising straight up out of the megalopolis, they stand ten thousand feet above the nearby sea, and they are not kidding with this city. Shedding, spalling, self destructing, they are disintegrating at a rate that is also among the fastest in the world. The phalanxed communities of Los Angeles have pushed themselves hard against these mountains, an aggression that requires a deep defense budget to contend with the results.”4
View of the San Gabriel Mountains from Cajon Pass. Credit Wikimedia User Ricraider/CC BY-SA 3.0

These very dangers of uplift and sloughing off add to this range’s uniqueness: when rain falls on their loose soils, the resulting debris flows are beyond treacherous; in August, a freak monsoonal storm dropped four inches on rain on the Mt. Baldy watershed, setting loose a churning torrent of rock, gravel, trees, and soil that killed one man, smashed houses, and gouged out roads. These same terrain, under scorching sun and fanned by furious Santa Ana winds, can funnel firestorms down slope and canyon to incinerate broad swaths of these stiff-folded mountains. Fascinating and terrifying, the San Gabriels are one of a kind.

They are home as well to some unusual geological features—the shape-shifting San Andreas Fault, for one—and a rich biodiversity consistent with Mediterranean ecozones that cover but three percent of the earth’s surface. More than 80 percent of the forest is covered in chaparral (a “bristly mane,” is how John Muir described it after hiking there in the 1870s), a habitat that contains upwards of 300 species of plants endemic to this region. Its streams, creeks, and springs sustain such threatened or endangered species as the yellow-legged frog and arroyo chub, while Nelson’s bighorn sheep occupy portions of the mountains’ windswept high ground; sailing overhead are California Condors.

These iconic natural features are matched by the mountains’ remarkable human history, which dates back 12,000 years. Native people used the foothills, ridges, and canyons for food, clothing, and shelter. They hunted across the rough land, made use of its pristine waters, set fires to “enhance the density of specific edible plant communities, increase the food supply for animals, and support the development of material used in construction and medicine.” Central to their cosmology, the San Gabriel Mountains were also their source of life.5

The San Gabriels proved as rich for the Europeans—ranching and agriculture made use of rain and snowmelt that flowed downhill: there would have been no citrus production in Southern California without these remarkable mountains and the alluvial fans that spread out from their canyons. The same can be said for recreation. The San Gabriels were the stimulus to the so-called Great Hiking Era of the late 19th and early 20th century. Hundreds of thousands of Angelenos took streetcars to trailheads in the foothills, and then trekked up Mt. Wilson and Mt. Baldy, and slept in the lodges that catered to their needs, blazing a trail for the more than three million people today who splash in the San Gabriel River, rest within a shady oak grove, or camp out in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.

We can continue to commune with nature whether the landscape is called the Angeles National Forest or the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. And maybe that’s the point: the lands are more important than the name we give them. Yet its new status as a monument perhaps gives us an unparalleled opportunity in this climate-changed era to repair these lands so that they will do what they have always done—sustain the human and biotic communities that depend on them.

Char Miller, a University Fellow of the Pinchot Institute, is the W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College in Claremont, CA.

1 Of the new monument’s 346,179 acres, the vast majority is from the Angeles National Forest (342,177) and a sliver (4,002) from the adjacent San Bernardino National Forest.

2 Tim Hernandez, President Obama Names San Gabriels a National Monument, The Student Life, October 17, 2014. http://tsl.pomona.edu/articles/2014/10/17/news/5564-president-obama-names-san-gabriel-mountains-a-national-monument, accessed October 18, 2014.

3 “NFF Announces $3 Million San Gabriel Mountains National Monument,” October 10, 2014. http://www.nationalforests.org/press/releases/nff-announces-3-million-san-gabriel-mountains-national-monument-fund , accessed October 18, 2014.

4 John McPhee, The Control of Nature, New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. 1989, 184.

5 Daniel Medina, The Indigenous Dawn of the San Gabriel Mountains. http://www.kcet.org/socal/departures/san-gabriel-river/the-indigenous-dawn-of-the-san-gabriel-mountains.html, accessed October 19, 2014.
People, Forests & Climate Change
Bruce Cabarle and Tom Martin

The recent agreement between President Obama and his counterpart President Xi Jinping to substantially reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions in the world’s two largest economies raises the heat on all other countries to take climate change more seriously.1 This comes on the heels of more than 400,000 people who poured out into the streets of New York City in September for the People’s Climate March prior to the United Nation’s Climate Summit. At the Summit, heads of state, industry titans,movie stars, and people from all walks of life took to the floor of the United Nation’s General Assembly and made passionate pleads for climate sanity. One of the more hopeful outcomes is the New York Declaration on Forests & Action Agenda, which sets an ambitious goal to halt the loss of natural forests by 2030, starting by halving the rate of global deforestation by the year 2020, and restoring an additional 350 million hectares (865 million acres, or five times the size of Texas) of degraded forest landscapes by improving governance and mobilizing the required financing.2 The US-China GHG emission reduction targets are sure to bring a renewed focus on reducing deforestation and restoring degraded landscapes by planting trees as two of the most cost-effective solutions available to mitigate climate change while also producing other environmental, livelihood, and security benefits for local families and their communities.

A deforested hillside in Rio de Janeiro Forests play a vital role in the Earth’s climate as a vast sponge that continuously absorbs a substantial amount of carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. But forests are also a source of roughly one fifth of global carbon emissions from the conversion of forests to agriculture and urban sprawl. The emissions from deforestation are equal to that from all the cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships in the world— many of which are moving consumer goods that contain palm oil, soy, beef, leather, pulp, paper and other wood commodities produced at the expense of illegal forest clearing.3

What separates the New York Declaration on Forests from past manifestos is the rainbow coalition of supporters— over 30 countries (including the US), 40 multi-national companies, as well as a number of well-known indigenous peoples and civil society organizations. Cargill—America’s largest agricultural commodity processor— made a commitment to extend its “deforestation-free” pledge on palm oil and soy to cover every commodity processed by the company.4 This groundswell of commitments to address the age-old challenge of deforestation, and its more recently recognized pivotal role in climate change, is encouraging. But this stands in stark contrast to the impasse between the world’s major economies —notably the US, China, European Union and India—to agree on how deep and fast to curb fossil fuel emissions driving climate change and transition to a low-carbon energy future.However, conservation of forests has emerged as a critical step that all parties can agree on, particularly in the tropics where we lose 13 million hectares of forest every year—or 36 football fields of forest every minute.5

Forests are important to the US Climate Action Plan, which after the agreement with China, increases the US target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26–28 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020. The total amount of carbon stored in forest lands and wood products (such as homes and furniture) equals roughly 25 years worth of total US greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated that our forests and wood products have absorbed about 16 percent of total annual US emissions from the burning of fossil fuels over the past two decades. The amount of carbon stored in wood products alone is roughly the same as the annual US emissions from more than eighteen 500 MW coal fired power plants. Forests are also an important source of plant-based material to produce energy; this bioenergy currently comprises about 28% of the US renewable energy supply. The projected potential for forest bioenergy ranges from 3% to 5% of total current US energy consumption.6 Looking forward, US forests have the potential to capture and store about 225 million tons of additional carbon per year through to the beginning of the next century.7 However, this vast carbon sink could also become a significant source of emissions if not managed wisely. More than half of US forests are threatened by wildfires, urban development, invasive species, insects and disease. These risks may also be exacerbated by significant changes in species composition and productivity due to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns as a result of climate change.8
Keith Ramos, USFWS

The Forest-Climate Working Group9 representing a broad cross-section of the US forest sector— landowner, industry, conservation, wildlife, carbon finance, and forestry organizations—produced a 6-step action plan for the nation’s forests in support of the US Climate Action Plan:
  1. Provide sound data and science; prioritize information and tools to continue development of climate-informed strategies. 
  2. Promote forest products; strengthen markets for wood over less environmentally friendly materials.
  3. Restore and manage private forests; support private land owners to implement management practices and increase preparedness.
  4. Retain existing forests; prevent forests from being developed through the encouragement of permanent protection, carbon storage incentives, and strong forest product markets.
  5. Develop landscape-scale conservation approaches; encourage collaboration to view forests as systems instead of individual disjointed properties.
  6. Increase urban forests; promote programs that support increasing the urban forest canopy.
The families, individuals, companies, and tribes who own close to 60 percent of the US forests will be critical to realizing this potential; they will need to reap the benefits for providing this public environmental service and be insured against the risks. If we can make this vision for the world’s forests a reality, then we may be able to bring many more in step with the march for climate justice.

Bruce Cabarle is President of Concentric Sustainability Solutions, LLC in Falls Church, VA. Tom Martin is the President & CEO of the American Forest Foundation in Washington, DC.

1 http://grist.org/climate-energy/new-u-schina-climate-deal-is-a-game-changer/

2 http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2014/09/FORESTS-New-York-Declaration-on-Forests.pdf

3 Consumer Goods and Deforestation. http://www.forest-trends.org/illegaldeforestation.php

4 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/business/energy-environment/passing-the-baton- in-climate-change-efforts.html

5 UN FAO. 2010. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010. http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/45904/icode/

6 National Climate Assessment. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/sectors/forests

7 be EPA, 2013: Annex 3.12. Methodology for estimating net carbon stock changes in forest land remaining forest lands.Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2011. EPA 430-R-13-001,, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, A-2

8 US Forest Service. 2010. RPA Assessment.

9 http://www.naufrp.org/pdf/FCWG%202013%20Policy%20Recommendations.pdf
Prioritizing Conservation for Ecological Resilience
Amanda Stanley
Program Officer, Conservation Science, The Wilburforce Foundation

“Landscapes and seascapes are changing rapidly... altering some regions so much that their mix of plant and animal life will become almost unrecognizable.” Despite this blunt appraisal from the National Climate Assessment, many of us still have trouble grasping just how much things have changed, and will continue to change, even if we successfully tackle our societies’ addiction to fossil fuels.

AGolden eye and showy daisy on Abajo Peak, Manti-La Sal National Forest. Credit Al Schneider/USDA CC BY-SA 2.0 bout ten years ago, the Wilburforce Foundation recognized that our purpose, to preserve the North American West’s irreplaceable diversity of wildlife, land and water, was fundamentally at risk from a changing climate. We realized we needed to shift where we worked and how we worked in order to ensure that conservation gains were resilient in the face of ongoing change.

The Wilburforce Foundation has focused on two avenues in the realm of climate adaptation. First, we support conservation groups and partners to act on what we know now. Groups like EcoAdapt excel at helping groups think through how their goals are vulnerable to climate change, and what actions they can take.

Second, we invest in science to improve our understanding of how rapidly and significantly ecosystems are changing, and where and how we can best mitigate that change. Better information on where to prioritize conservation efforts to maximize resilience is one of the most common requests for assistance we receive. To address this key need, we support AdaptWest (adaptwest.databasin.org), a climate adaptation conservation planning database for western North America. The AdaptWest team is conducting a comprehensive comparison and synthesis of the many available approaches to adaptation, applying those approaches to the majority of western North America, and developing a spatial database from the results of these analyses.

Change can carry with it a sense of loss. One of my favorite childhood places, the hike up to Jack Meadow in the Oregon Cascades, was transformed by a severe fire, exacerbated by drought. It was hard the year following the fire to see the forest I’d loved as a child and the pond where my cousins and I chased tadpoles now a landscape of charred trunks and blackened soil. In my more recent visits to Jack Meadow, I’ve seen the bear grass flowering in swaths of white as the burned areas are recolonized by wildflowers, insects, and birds. Natural systems have an amazing capacity for adaptation, as seen in the unexpectedly rapid ecological recovery following the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens, or the historical ebb and flow of species tracking glacial expansion and retreat.

While a natural reaction to the scale and scope of climate impacts is hopelessness, it is important to remember that “action is the antidote to despair.” I am continually inspired by the work of Wilburforce’s grantees and partners, who are tackling these problems with passion, dedication, and innovation. It is incredibly transformative for us all to realize how much we can do, even given the scope of the changes ahead, with the tools we have to hand already.
Saving the Sink: Conserving Stored Carbon on Private Forest Lands
Will Price

The carbon stored and sequestered in forests in the United States has for most of the last century masked the atmospheric implications of economic growth. Pre-colonial forests were cleared and then mostly recovered just as a fossil fuel-intensive economy reached full throttle.This forest recovery depended on an exodus from the countryside to cities where industrialization was centered. Cities then sprouted suburbs on surrounding agricultural lands. These historical changes in landcover are well-documented, as are the changes in our forest carbon sink over time.1 The evolution in land use still continues, as there now is little arable farmland that will be so easily abandoned. In fact, over the last two decades forests have become the growth zone for population centers throughout the US.2

Over time this trend will both accelerate and slow in correlation with national GDP and housing, but will not abate for some decades. By 2050 urbanized land may expand by 73% to 98%, and exurban/suburban areas by 15% to 20%.3 The character of this change— the paving and perforation of forests across the landscape—eliminates and impairs habitat and degrades water quality.4 It also irrevocably reduces the extent and future potential of our forest carbon sink.
Hunter Mountain, Twilight. Sanford Robinson Gifford, 1866.

The forest carbon sink is sequestration and storage of carbon in forest ecosystems. The scientific literature on carbon storage and flux in the US has exploded in recent years, and with it different estimates of how much carbon is stored in US forests and what will happen to it over time. The oft-cited figure is that US forests absorb around 16% of the country’s annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions.5 This essential service provided by forests is ever more important considering the increase in national CO2 emissions. For the first six months of 2014, CO2 emissions were higher than emissions for the same periods in 2013 (+3%) and 2012 (+6%), with only the transportation sector holding the line (EIA 2014). We cannot afford to have emissions continue to rise in direct proportion to economic growth.

We also can not afford a reversal of fortune in forest carbon stores. The “forest account” is a critical component of the national total, and we can still affect whether today’s forests will, over the next 100 years, be a net source or a net sink. A useful way to think of this question is to treat forestlands as the principal that accrues interest as the forest grows—much the same way as timber investors have thought of forests all along. Within the construct of climate mitigation this concept became controversial with the publication of the “Manomet Study,”6 creating substantial debate on the notion of “carbon debt.” Timber removals are a withdrawal on the principal, which as long as the land regenerates, will grow back over time. With conversion of forest to houses and towns, the principal declines as well as potential future interest. So how rich is our stockpile of forest carbon? Are we withdrawing or depositing and for what purposes?

The latest Resources Planning Act Assessment shows that going forward an increasingly greater share of the “forest carbon pool” will be in the slowly decaying (releasing CO2) pool of harvested wood products and not in in the forest.7 While in prior years we have gained actual forestland, in some regions we have begun to lose acres, yet the total carbon in the forest sector still increases nationally because remaining forests still grow and there continues to be carbon stored in buildings throughout the country. From a carbon perspective this could be the equivalent of a bubble, a “carbon bubble.” By sometime between 2030 and 2040 the bubble will burst, and from that time forward the forestlands in the US will give up more carbon to the atmosphere than they absorb.8

The most complex and contentious part of our growing understanding of carbon dynamics is what happens to carbon in wood that is taken out of forests. The prevailing science shows that carbon in buildings stays out of the air for many years and substitutes for more polluting building materials.9 Wood burned for energy can also substitute for more polluting sources of energy, but inmost cases will only begin to reduce atmospheric CO2 many years from now since burning wood immediately moves carbon from the forest to the air.10 It takes decades until the balance of exchange is a net reduction in atmospheric CO2, but how many decades is still debated.11 Accelerating wood utilization strategies is favored by many policymakers and scientists, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The idea is that over the long term more use of wood could have climate benefits, but all scenarios suggest that this intensification of wood use will reduce the carbon stored on the land in the short run.12 This tradeoff emphasizes the need to protect the principal, to retain forestlands in whatever way we can.

So what is happening to the principal? The present consensus seems to be that on private forestlands there was more carbon on the land by around the year 2000 than there was at any time over the last 100 years, and carbon is still accumulating from year to year.13 The story of what is happening right now to the actual area of privately owned forestlands (58% of US forests) is a little murkier. There is no such thing as real time data on forestcover, and recent studies use different methods or draw data from different periods (e.g. the heyday of housing starts in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, or the subsequent economic recession.) Also, different assessments variously define “forest” and the implications of forestry—e.g. as a disturbance that leaves bare land vs. a harvest that moves carbon to another “pool”, such as building material. Reconciling the implications of different modeling and accounting approaches is crucial to understanding what is actually happening on the land.

The US Forest Service estimates that an average of 6,000 acres of forest land and open space are converted to development every day. Image credit Shawn Kashou/Shutterstock. A study of global forest cover loss from a few years ago ranks the US among the countries that are losing forest the fastest—6% between 2000 and 2005.14 But this is based on satellite data that just looks at bare land, a lot of which has been harvested and will soon again be forests. These findings are echoed by the USGS Land Cover Trends project, which looks at exchanges between different kinds of landcover.15 This kind of information helps reveal the highly regionalized character of forest loss and gain, with a net deficit of eastern forest occurring from 1973 to 2000 (-4.1%, or -0.15% each year). Last year, a remarkable study carried out by the World Resources Institute, University of Maryland, and Google shed light on forest “turnover,” showing that the US South has some of the fastest cycles of harvest and regrowth in the world— with a portion of the forest being lost to development in each cycle. The same pattern occurs throughout the Mid- Atlantic and into the Northeast, albeit with trees growing back more slowly further north. The studies that look at shifts in landcover (e.g. farms to forest, forest to cities, fields to neighborhoods, etc.) may prove particularly important for devising regional strategies to keep the land forested.

The charge is clear for all organizations that work to conserve forests: protect US forest carbon sinks and reduce emissions resulting from forest loss, change, and management. The challenge on private lands is fundamentally different from that on public lands, in the sense that saving the carbon estate on private lands cannot happen simply through changes in land management.16 Rather, change will result from decisions made by millions of landowners—responding to markets, advice, offers, and incentives available at the right time and which solve whatever situation they are facing. In other words, the factors that drive the loss of forests have to change.

The strategies for accomplishing this are only weakly deployed across the country. They include policies that allow carbon offsets to reduce emissions, incentives to increase wood-based bioenergy and construction, and land protection and land use planning that encumbers the conversion of forests to other uses. Also, agencies such as the USDA, through programs carried out in cooperation with states, have begun to transform federal assistance such that payments made to landowners can help reduce emissions. Finally, for landowners who are willing, there is some reinvigoration and retooling of land protection investments, to mitigate and adapt to climate change. All of these strategies have helped slow the loss of forestland, but larger financial pressures are still resulting in high rates of forest loss on private lands. We are at a crossroads at which we need to decide which strategies will most effectively and efficiently prevent forest loss.

A strategy that has attracted a great deal of attention over the last two decades is to impose fees for CO2 emissions and invest some of the revenue in forests. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) first introduced the world to large-scale trading in forest carbon offsets when in 2005 it was linked with the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. In nine years, forest projects around the world have received billions of Euros through the EU ETS to implement projects.

The US has been slow to consider actions of this kind—California being the notable exception. In 2010, when the US Congress came within a few votes of passing a Senate version of the House’s American Clean Energy and Security Act, there were expectations that a cap and trade regime would emerge in the US, harnessing carbon markets to reduce emissions. In the proposed legislation, the EPA could allow regulated entities (the energy sector) to meet their emissions cap by purchasing credits generated outside the energy sector, including emissions reductions resulting from forest planting, management, and protection.

Many involved in forestry were giddy at the prospect of this new source of revenue. At the same time there was also criticism of the House version of the bill, contending that forest offset provisions were not stringent enough and would at the end of the day let CO2 leak back into the atmosphere. In fact, recent modeling suggests that the leakage rates for carbon offsets are perhaps more significant than previously imagined.17 This research shows that in North America delayed harvest becomes wood removed elsewhere—wood supply being very inelastic and the leakage adjustments included in offset protocols perhaps being too modest.

USDA NRCS Four years after the last serious attempt to create a national carbon market, there is only one regulated emissions trading system in the US that has led to private forestland protection. In 2014, California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) issued the first forest offset credits under California’s compliance protocol. These were issued to the Yurok Tribe in Northern California, which had been working for several years with a private firm to inventory, model, and register carbon credits. All told there are 366,894 acres in ten forest projects that are now credited, or nearly so, within the CARB system. Voluntary credits for forest projects in the US are also being sold, 58,185 acres of which are registered with the Verified Carbon Standard. This cumulative total of less than half a million acres, while a notable accomplishment, will have to grow quickly to catch up with the rate of forest loss.

Many of the projects registered for carbon credits have been developed by conservation organizations, but these are a small fraction of the forestlands they have conserved over the last few decades. As of 2010, national, state, and local land trusts had protected 47 million acres—at a rate that has accelerated over the years.18 Other than the 316 million acres of forest conserved on public lands, this has been perhaps the most reliable strategy to protect forests. The land trusts’ ongoing campaigns and creativity will be essential to safeguarding the carbon sink on private lands.

A popular goal among conservationists is “no net loss of forests. ”This is much easier said than done as it immediately pits forests against every other land use to which forests may be shifting. Forests will have to reclaim land now in farms, towns, golf courses, and other land uses—each of which has a constituency. Only one state in the US has successfully launched a no net loss policy, in the form of Maryland’s Forest Preservation Act of 2013.19 The legislation is unique in the US. It adds a number of measures to complement and strengthen Maryland’s pioneering Forest Conservation Act, which requires developers to work with counties to offset the removal of forests. Other mechanisms include offsite mitigation for highway projects and a host of incentives for private landowners. The combination of measures introduced in Maryland promises the emergence of new and innovative ways to work with landowners. It also directly influences land use such that the carbon sink will be protected.

Few states will muster the political support to follow Maryland’s lead, though more should try. Also, few states, even those northeastern states that joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, will have offset revenue available to landowners. Moreover, one of the lessons from California may be that the stringent requirements for the highest-value offsets may be unacceptable to the majority of landowners who steward the US carbon sink. For them we need to deploy additional strategies, which do more than encourage faster growth and better use of forest carbon— at the end of day these strategies need to save the principal by reducing forest loss. Senator Stabenow of Michigan introduced a conservation program title to the Clean Energy Partnerships Act of 200920 that would have provided “supplemental incentives” for private landowners. While the bill was not passed by the Senate, it suggested a model for investing in the carbon sink at a large scale. The model was similar to a concept developed by the Pinchot Institute, the US Forest Service, and members of the Forest Climate Working Group.21 In essence, the idea is to sharpen the focus and improve the outcome of federal landowner assistance programs, or, introduce a new program altogether. Such a program would need to secure and grow the carbon sink in the forest, not just through 2030, but through 2100 and beyond.

Ideas of many kinds are under consideration, with supporting science and institutions capable of delivering them in cooperation with federal, state, and local government. They need to be evaluated from the perspective of what they can do to safeguard the forest carbon sink on private lands over the long term. We then need to apply strategies on the ground at a scale that matters, and get serious about saving the private forest carbon estate.

Will Price is Director of Conservation Programs at the Pinchot Institute in Princeton, NJ. The author appreciates the editorial contributions of Dr. John Gunn of SIG-NAL.

1 E.g. Birdsey, R., Pregitzer, K., Lucier, A. 2006. Forest carbon management in the United States: 1600-2100. Journal of Environmental Quality, 35, 1461-1469; Rhemtulla, J., Mladenoff, D. and Clayton, M. 2009. Legacies of historical land use on regional forest composition and structure inWisconsin, USA (mid-1800s- 1930s-2000s) Ecological Applications 19,1061-1078. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/08-1453.1

2 E.g. Nepal, P. et al. 2012. Projection of US forest sector carbon sequestration under US and global timber market and wood energy consumption scenarios, 2010-2060. Biomass and Bioenergy, 45, 251-264; Drummond, M. and Loveland T. 2010. Land-use pressure and a transition to forest-cover loss in the eastern United States. Bioscience, 60.4, 286-298; Houghton, R. and J. Hackler. 2000. Changes in terrestrial carbon storage in the United States. 1: The roles of agriculture and forestry. Global Ecology and Biogeography 9.2, 125-144.

3 Brown, D. et al. 2014. Ch. 13: Land Use and Land Cover Change. In Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, Melillo, J., Richmond, T. and Yohe, G., Eds., U.S. Global Change Research Program, 318-332. doi:10.7930/J05Q4T1Q

4 E.g. Riitters, K. and Coulston, J. 2005. Hot spots of perforated forest in the eastern United States. Environmental Management 35.4, 483-492; Stein, S., McRoberts, R., Alig, R., Nelson, M., Theobald, D., Eley, M., Dechter, M. and Carr, M. 2005. Forests on the edge: housing development on America’s private forests. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-636. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 16 p.

5 Joyce, L. et al. 2014. Ch. 7: Forests. In Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, Melillo, J., Richmond, T. and Yohe, G., Eds., U.S. Global Change Research Program, 175-194. doi:10.7930/J0Z60KZC.

6 Walker T. et al. 2010. Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study. Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. NCI-2010-03. 189 pp. Available at: https://www.manomet.org/sites/default/fil es/publications_and_tools/Manomet_Biomass_Report_Full_June2010.pdf.

7 USDA Forest Service 2012. Future of America’s Forest and Rangelands: Forest Service 2010 Resources Planning Act Assessment. Gen. Tech. Rep. WO-87. Washington, DC. 198 p.

8 Joyce et al. 2014.

9 Miner, R., Abt, R., Bowyer, J., Buford, M., Malmsheimer, R., O’Laughlin, J., Sedjo, R. and Skog, K. 2014. Forest carbon accounting considerations in US bioenergy policy. Journal of Forestry 112(6), 591-606.

10 Buchholz, T., Prisley, S., Marland, G. Canham, C. and Sampson, N. 2014. Uncertainty in projecting GHG emissions from bioenergy. Nature Climate Change, Volume 4, Issue 12, pp. 1045-1047.

11 E.g. Nepal et al. 2012; Sedjo, R. and X. Tian 2012. Does wood bioenergy increase carbon stocks in forests? Journal of Forestry 110.6, 304-311.

12 E.g. Nepal et al. 2012; Ryan M., Harmon, M., Birdsey, R., Giardina, C., Heath, L., Houghton, R., Jackson, R., McKinley, D., Morrison, J., Murray, B., Pataki, D. and Skog, K. 2010. A synthesis of the science of forests and carbon for U.S. forests. Ecological Society of America, Issues in Ecology 13, Spring 2010.

13 E.g. Joyce et al. 2014; Harmon et al. 2010.

14 Hansen, M. et al. 2010. Quantification of global gross forest cover loss. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107.19, 8650-8655.

15 Drummond and Loveland 2010.

16 Brown et al. 2014.

17 E.g. Murray, B. et al. 2004. Estimating leakage from forest carbon sequestration programs. Land Economics 80.1, 109-124.; Nepal, P. et al. 2013. Forest carbon benefits, costs and leakage effects of carbon reserve scenarios in the United States. Journal of Forest Economics 19.3, 286-306.

18 Chang, K. 2010. National Land Trust Census Report: A look at voluntary land conservation in America, Aldrich, R. and Soto, C., Eds., Land Trust Alliance, Washington, DC.

19 Forest Preservation Act of 2013. Maryland House Bill 706.

20 S.2729 – Clean Energy Partnerships Act of 2009.

21 http://www.pinchot.org/gp/Forest_ Carbon_Incentives .
From the President
Dwindling Wildlife: For Whom Does it Matter?
According to a report released recently by the National Audubon Society, climate change is “likely to so alter the bird population of North America that about half of the approximately 650 species will be driven to smaller spaces or forced to find new places to live, feed and breed over the next 65 years.” If they do not they could become extinct.1 The world as a whole has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, according to authoritative research compiled by the World Wildlife Fund, the Zoological Society of London, and several other organizations.2 This follows the publication earlier this year of Elizabeth Kolbert’s book The Sixth Extinction, an attempt to raise public awareness of an ongoing mass extinction that has been evident to scientists for at least the past decade.3

The Conservation Movement in the US began in the late 19th century in response to fears of running out of wood and other resources, but also because the potential impacts of human progress on birds and other wildlife were already becoming readily apparent. First came the citizens organizations—the American Bird Society, American Forestry Association, and others that worked to raise public awareness and press for government action. This action took the form of new agencies—the Bureau of Biological Survey in 1871, the US Forest Service in 1905; the National Park Service in 1916; the US Fish & Wildlife Service in 1940—charged with protecting many of America’s remaining wild lands and ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources.

“America’s greatest idea,” as Ken Burns characterized the creation of national parks and other protected areas, prompted others around the world to take stock of declining wildlife populations, from western Europe to the plains of Africa, and take actions aimed at reversing these trends. Clearly unsustainable patterns of natural resource exploitation spawned entirely new areas of natural and social science focused on understanding the complex web of ecological relationships in the natural world, and expanding the production of renewable resources to stay ahead of the needs of a growing—and increasingly consumptive—human population worldwide. Advances in agriculture and forestry greatly increased the land’s productivity for food, shelter, and renewable energy. The new field of resource economics posited that free markets, the laws of supply and demand, and new technologies would temper resource scarcities and ensure that production and consumption would always be roughly in equilibrium.

And yet...after more than a century of concerted effort in conservation science, policy and management techniques, we find that populations of other animal species around the world have plummeted by half in less than the last fifty years. How else to describe this magnitude of loss over such a short period of time in the history of life on Earth? This is not just the loss of rare, sensitive, and local species—as bad as that is—but a precipitous drop in the populations of robust species that heretofore have been able to co-exist in a world dominated by human influences.
Frosty pine

So here is a question for the social scientists: How should we interpret so passive a public response to the finding that we are already several decades into a global mass extinction on the order of the one that ended the era of the dinosaurs? Perhaps it is not that people don’t care, but that they are overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge and the apparent lack of any realistic solutions. Or perhaps many have concluded that, while certainly tragic, these trends in the natural world don’t really matter, particularly as humanity becomes increasingly an urban species. For most of us, especially in the US, life is good; we may never have noticed these declines in wildlife populations had they not been discerned by watchful scientists.

Besides, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. There were five previous extinctions, after all. The planet survived and here we are today, perhaps even the beneficiaries of the cataclysmic events that gave mammals a shot at ecological dominance. Might we actually benefit from the current mass extinction as well, technologically rendered immune to the forces that are decimating the populations of so many other species? It may be worth considering that humanity was not around to survive any of those previous extinctions, and the higher order species that were present at the time did not fare nearly as well as microbes and bacteria.

The reality is that humanity is a highly adaptable and opportunistic species, and we will adapt as best we can to the global environmental changes that we helped put in motion, and now cannot stop.We are betting heavily that it will be at least a survivable world, notwithstanding the disappearance of so many other life forms.

I have a book, Animals of the World, that was given to me as a child. Its rich color illustrations of strange and exotic beasts drew me to its pages time and time again. I will pass this book along to my first grandchild, born this past summer, in hopes that in her own lifetime she too will still have a chance to experience this rich diversity of life—that the exotic beasts on these pages will not have become something akin to what the saber-toothed tiger and woolly mammoth were to my generation’s childhood.

More than half the world’s population is now urban and increasingly distant from natural systems.4 But environmental change that has eliminated half the world’s wildlife in a mere four decades cannot help but have significant implications for the future of humanity as well. Creating a broader understanding of the connections between healthy natural systems and the health and well-being of human societies may be the most critical mission of conservation in this century.

Al Sample

1 Barrington, F. 2014. Climate Change Will Disrupt Half of North America’s Bird Species, Study Says. The New York Times, September 8. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/09/us/climate-change-will-disrupt-half-of-north-americas-bird-species-study-says.html?_r=0

2 Carrington, D. 2014. Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF. The Guardian, September 29. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf

3 Kolbert, E. 2014. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York. Henry Holt & Sons.

4 United Nations Development Programme. World Urbanization Prospects. http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/publications/2014-revision-world-urbanization-prospects.html
Growing the Role of US Forests in the Climate Movement
Brian Kittler

Why Forest Science and Forestry Need to Engage the Climate Movement
Throughout America’s history, grassroots movements have played a significant role in shaping how we govern ourselves as a people. The US civil rights movement of the 1960s is the preeminent example, and a watershed moment for our nation.

In fact, the US civil rights movement is perhaps the most referenced case for how a shift in the collective consciousness of the masses transformed how society functions. Up to now, a similar movement to address climate change—a threat that promises to impact the health and welfare of every person and ecosystem on the planet— has largely failed to result in a shift in collective consciousness similar to that which occurred during the civil rights movement. There are now signs of such a grassroots change beginning to take root.
Hundreds of thousands participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014. Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood, Survival Media Agency.

On September 21, 2014, more than 400,000 people took to the streets of New York City and more than 160 other cities worldwide to participate in the People’s Climate March. In what is probably the largest environmental protest in history, the march was timed for just before a UN Climate Summit. Many conservation groups rightfully used the occasion to advocate for the role of reducing deforestation and forest degradation in the tropics. Yet, as these groups marched through midtown Manhattan alongside so many other Americans, a focus on the fate of the forest carbon in their own country was noticeably absent. Surely American forests are a central issue for conservation groups, so why are they not also of focus for the broader climate movement?

Tropical deforestation for agriculture. Frontpage/Shutterstock Conservation of tropical forests is of course a crucial strategy in mitigating the worst effects of climate change; however, the role of temperate forests in the US must not be overlooked. Roughly a third of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions now in the atmosphere are attributed to land use change. The remaining two-thirds come from the combustion of fossil fuels since the early 1900s. Over time, deforestation globally shifted from the temperate forests of North America and Europe to the tropical forests in Southeast Asia and Latin America. Ironically, it was that movement to fossil fuels away from wasteful uses of fuelwood and extensive clearing for agriculture that allowed forest carbon stocks of North America and Europe to recover.

However, forest regrowth in the US has recovered only about a third of the carbon released to the atmosphere from land use change occurring between 1700 and 1935.1 Forests are naturally a long-term proposition binding generation to generation. Indeed, when it comes to US forest carbon, the choices we make now with regard to repairing the damages of the past will dictate the course of our future.

An Uncertain Future for US Forest Carbon
When considering net primary productivity, timber harvest removals, and forest disturbance, US forests are on the balance serving as a substantial net carbon sink accumulating approximately 200 million metric tons of carbon annually.This storage is equivalent to approximately 10% of net CO2 emissions from all US sources. While debated in conservation circles, the National Climate Assessment cites an additional 77.6 million metric tons of carbon being stored in harvested wood products each year, which is equivalent to approximately 4%of net CO2 emissions from all sources. So in all, the forest sector is assumed to currently serve as a net carbon sink in which the equivalent of 14% of annual CO2 emissions of the US economy are being stored.2

Forest carbon stocks have increased rapidly since the 1940s, but recent years find this trend line slowing, if not leveling off.3 If events of the past are indeed the prologue for the future there is no guarantee that we will be able to maintain the nation’s forest carbon sink and we should expect substantial carbon flux in the coming decades. In fact, the most recent national forecast for US forests, the 2010 Resource Planning Act (RPA) assessment, suggests a return to our forests being a net source of carbon release to the atmosphere. How can this be possible and what can we do to bend this curve?

As projected, each plausible RPA scenario suggests that US forests will change from being a net sink to a significant source of carbon emissions by 2030, with annual net carbon emissions from forests increasing to 40–80 million metric tons by 2050.4 From a climate forcing perspective this would be like adding as many as 86 additional 600 MW coal plants to the US electric power grid. Given the battles fought over new fossil fuel power plants, this potential fate of US forest carbon stocks should be alarming to climate activists, but the issue is rarely looked at this way.

While previous long-range RPA projections of forest growth and loss have been shown to have significant margins of error relative to subsequent measurements of forest growth and carbon storage,5 emerging science on the effects of climate change on net carbon storage in forests, coupled with observed trends in the scale and severity of urban development, wildfires, insect infestations, and drought related forest die-off, would seem to indicate that these long-range RPA scenarios at least correctly identify the trends.

Declining Trends in Forest Carbon
In the last decade or so, the US has been losing forest and open space at an estimated average rate of about four acres per minute. If trends in the US continue unabated, increases in urban development are expected to expand by 41% by 2060, with most of this development occurring at the expense of forests. Forests lost to development in the southeastern US alone, a region that has tremendous natural forest carbon sequestration capacity, are projected to be as much as 9.7 million acres by 2050—a land area about twice the size of New Jersey.6 Urban growth projections in other forested regions, the Puget Sound for instance, are expected to result in significant loss of carbon storage.
Mega-fires like the 2013 Rim Fire are becoming more common across the West. Credit USDA Forest Service

When forests are cut, the direct impact is not only a pulse of emissions and the ensuing loss of sequestration capacity, but also often the addition of secondary emissions from new buildings replacing forests. These secondary emissions are not captured in estimates of net forest carbon flux, meaning that the effects of land use change are significantly larger when the carbon footprint of the built environment replacing natural carbon sinks is considered. Going forward, better integration of regional urban planning and strategies to conserve working forests around cities will be fundamental as it is these specific geographies where forest carbon will continue to be lost.

In addition to forest conversion, degraded forest conditions should rightly be viewed as a carbon concern too. For instance, western forests represent 20–40% of US terrestrial carbon sequestration capacity.7 Opinions vary widely on what management approaches should be taken across this massive land area.

The wet forests of the Pacific Coast offer globally superior carbon storage rates, with old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest storing nearly 250 metric tons of carbon per acre. Much attention is being paid to incentivizing longer rotation forestry in the coniferous forests of the Pacific Coast as a means to remove more carbon from the atmosphere and store it in standing forests. Strategies vary across landownership types, from the integration of carbon into National Forest plan revision processes, to engaging large acreage private landowners in carbon offset projects through the California carbon market. New types of incentives also need to emerge to promote carbon storage and land retention within the family forest landowner demographic.

In the Interior West, high intensity crown fires and large-scale insect infestations are becoming increasingly significant factors in the regional terrestrial carbon balance.The scale and frequency of disturbance events is being driven in part by an over-accumulation of small trees. The USDA Forest Service has estimated that across this region, from Idaho and Montana south to Arizona and New Mexico, forests are experiencing significant fire regime departure due to overstocking of at least 1.5 billion cubic feet of excess tree growth per year. From a carbon management perspective, this translates to as much as 9 million metric tons of additional forest carbon being added annually to already unstable carbon pools.

These forest conditions are expected to contribute more CO2 to the atmosphere. In fact, between 2001 and 2008, carbon emissions from fires on western rangelands and forests in effect cancelled out nearly 12% of the carbon sequestered in those same ecosystems.8 Looking forward, when combined with losses in sequestration capacity, direct emissions from wildfires are projected to counter as much as 27–43% of net carbon sequestration by terrestrial ecosystems across the West by 2050. This trend is unfolding before our eyes.

In the western US over the last 30 years, the average area burned in large fires (i.e. those greater than 1,000 acres) has increased to about 1 million acres per year.9 The last 10 years have seen more than 60 “mega-fires“ of greater than 100,000 acres across the West, many of them high-severity stand-replacing fires.10 Unsurprisingly, climate change is playing a role here. In what appears to be the new normal, the western fire season has increased in length by more than two and a half months since the 1980s.11 Warmer springs and earlier snow melt are drying out western interior forests, increasing the risk of wildfire related emissions.

Going forward, under future climate change scenarios for the period of 2041–2050, the annual area of land burned by wildfires in the West is projected to increase by 31–66% as compared to 2001–2008, a period which itself had already seen increased wildfire activity.12 A growing percentage of these fires will likely be high-severity stand-replacing crown fires.

Some suggest this is an expected reconfiguration of western forests in response to 100 years of fire suppression, while others see a more nuanced story linked to the effects of climate change.Whatever the cause, we need to learn to live with fire and identify strategies for reducing negative impacts to forest ecosystems, human communities, and the climate.

We also need to consider the loss of carbon storage after large fires. Recent studies find that in parts of the West, the types of ecosystems returning after severe disturbance events are not always the same as existed before.13 Forests in parts of the Southwest, for instance, are transitioning toward grass and shrub systems with inherently less capacity to store carbon.14 In fact, between the late 1990s and 2010 nearly 20% of the forest area of the Southwest experienced tree killing wildfires, bark beetle infestations, and related mortality from drought stress.15 Given trends in fire activity and intensity, it appears that the success of reforestation efforts post-fire are now, and perhaps greater than in any time prior, a controlling variable in the functional ability of the land to store carbon. Scientists and managers take heed.

Altered fire regimes are not the only way in which the forest carbon to climate change feedback loop is being expressed. Rather, all manner of disturbance appears to be at least somewhat induced by climate change. For instance, the mountain pine beetle epidemic in western Canada occurring on a land area the size of Missouri has transitioned much of British Columbia’s forests from being a small net carbon sink to a large net carbon source. In the worst year of the infestation by this endemic insect, the carbon impacts are estimated to be equivalent to approximately 75% of the annual direct forest fire emissions from all of Canada during 1959–1999.16
During a 2003 fire in the Glacier National Park, the Rocky Point Trail served as a natural firebreak. Credit: Wing-Chi Poon, CC BY-SA 2.5

Federal Policy and Management of Forest Carbon
Policies will need to recognize variation in regional forest types and conditions. Conserving the vast reservoir of carbon currently stored in US forests, and increasing the near-term rate of carbon storage where possible, is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Forest species, ages, soils, fire risks, vulnerabilities to natural disturbance, and decomposition rates vary widely from the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, to the pine flats of the South, to the boreal forests of the Lake States and New England. Each must be understood for its own potential, and for the specific ways in which forest managers and conservationists can adjust their methods to achieve this potential.

California remains in the grip of one of the most severe droughts in its history. Credit Cynthia Mendoza/USDA CC BY-SA 2.0 Across the forest regions of the US, management actions for optimal forest carbon management vary widely, from encouraging the development of late successional characteristics that promote dense accumulations of biomass, to strategies focused on reducing the amount of standing biomass. This will inherently involve tradeoffs between competing values. For instance, in the longleaf pine forests of the Southeast, restoring optimal savannah habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker involves reducing forest biomass through mechanical thinning and frequent prescribed burning, which has been found to reduce forest carbon stocks by as much as 22% as compared to passive management.17

The relationship between climate change and forest carbon is exceedingly complex and the scientific community is just now beginning to develop a robust understanding of these issues. Policy is not waiting for science to catch up. There are a number of proposals under consideration by federal and state agencies regarding the management of forests to enhance or maintain carbon storage. Many of these policy initiatives are presented within the context of reducing net carbon emissions across the entire economy. The objectives of these proposals include maintaining existing reserves of stored carbon in live forest biomass; minimizing carbon emissions associated with forest loss, degradation, and disturbances; and identification of optimal forest management regimes for various regional forest types.

At the same time, there is an active discourse on “resilience” occurring within the natural resource management world. As defined by a 2013 executive order,18 resilience is “the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions.” Much of this resilience dialogue is centered on the need for stabilizing forest carbon pools and identifying the management actions that may do so.

Building on this Executive Order, the interagency Council on Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience has prepared a report detailing several actions needed to promote the resilience of the US forest carbon estate. As reported, these include: improving inventory, assessment, projections, and monitoring of carbon sinks via integration of remote sensing with the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) and the USDA Natural Resources Inventory (NRI) to regularly and accurately detect changes in terrestrial carbon stocks; developing estimates of baseline carbon stock and trends using methods consistent with those developed by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); and promoting forest conservation and restoration through initiatives such as the Forest Legacy Program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, but also by stimulating “complementary markets for sustainably harvested wood products,” such as efforts to create a boom in multi-story wood construction as a means to creating long-term stable pools of biocarbon within the cities of the future.19 These high level goals, as valid as they may be, presently lack transparent strategic plans to catalyze those capable of making real progress toward the goals by working at the interface of government and the private sector. Without leadership, little progress will be made.

Policy leaders are calling for the increased storage of carbon in multistory wood-framed buildings. Credit Blumer-Lehmann AG As a society, we face difficult choices regarding what steps to take to positively affect the stability of carbon stocks in our forest sector. These steps cannot be taken on the basis of conjecture, conventional wisdom, or wishful thinking. We need to get this right the first time; science has a significant role to play and is absolutely necessary for identifying optimal forest sector strategies. Moreover, we need to quickly enhance the way in which scientific knowledge informs natural resource management, as the implications of climate change for the US forest carbon sink are already playing out. As a first step, a process is needed to identify the low hanging fruit for forest carbon management in each region of the country to identify:

  • Opportunities for reforestation and afforestation. For instance, the failed Waxman-Markey climate and energy legislation identified a hypothetical goal of storing nearly 1 billion metric tons of CO2 via tree planting that would require 105 and 455 million acres of afforestation.20 Who owns these lands, at what expense, what financial mechanisms are used, and how such forest banks are maintained are all essential questions for such a policy.
  • Priorities for restoration treatments in fire adapted ecosystems. With emissions from disturbance projected to increase, the costs and benefits of measures that may reduce risk of losing stored carbon need to be weighed along with myriad other variables. Mechanisms to finance and reduce the cost of such activities are sorely needed.
  • Market-based incentives to encourage carbon storage through long-rotation forestry. Incentives need to flexibly account for variations in forest ownership demographics. An appropriate balance between robust protocols for carbon measurement and practice-based approaches should be considered.
  • Methods of more effectively integrating regional urban planning efforts with strategies that conserve working forests. Substantial amounts of carbon are being lost through conversion of forests at the fringes of expanding cities. Networks of individuals and institutions in the conservation and planning worlds need to target these buffer areas and prioritize them for conservation.
Through the process of identifying near-term priorities and opportunities, it will be vital that science continues to inform policymaking and peels away motivations not otherwise grounded in evidence. Such science is thus not a feel good gesture or academic exercise, but rather an essential act of the democratic process.The choices we make, from the woods of the forester to the desk of the policymaker, affect the nature of future carbon fluctuations.

Finally, science must also interface with the growing climate change social movement if forest sector strategies are to be given serious consideration by society at large. During the civil rights movement there was a collective realization that significant social change was needed and that this would ultimately improve the lives of all Americans. However, it was a strong and consistent desire for changes expressed across society which created the political will necessary to pass Civil Rights legislation. Similar momentum is needed to enact transformational climate policy. Strategies for maintaining the US forest carbon sink and minimizing its transition to becoming a net source of emissions must be as clear as possible in order to engage the growing climate change movement.

If we are to avoid a truly life-altering climate change future, greenhouse gas emissions will need to be aggressively reduced in the next 25 years. Reducing the carbon intensity of the energy, materials, and food we consume is paramount but maintaining, and where possible expanding the US forest carbon sink is just as important. The forest sector must nudge the American people toward the realization that the fate of our forests warrants equal airtime to calls for the divestment from fossil fuels, ending tropical deforestation, and other statements emblazoned on the signs of climate activists marching through the streets of Manhattan. This will only happen with greater consensus within the forest sector itself. Without a commitment to a transparent and non-politicized dialogue, the US forest sector will remain at the fringes of the climate movement.

Brian Kittler is the Director of the Pinchot Institute’s Western Regional Office in Portland, Oregon.

1 Birdsey, R. 2006. Forest carbon management in the United States, 1600– 2100. Journal of Environmental Quality, 35,1461-1469.

2 Melillo, J., Richmond, T. and Yohe, G., Eds. 2014. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, 841 pp. doi:10.7930/J0Z31WJ2.

3 Ryan, M. 2010. A Synthesis of the Science on Forests and Carbon for US Forests. Issues in Ecology, Report Number 13, Spring 2010.

4 USDA Forest Service. 2012. Future scenarios: a technical document supporting the Forest Service 2010 RPA Assessment. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR- 272.

5 Buchholz, T. et al. 2014. Uncertainty in Projecting GHG Emissions from Bioenergy. Nature Climate Change, 1045- 1047.

6 Zhao, S. 2013. Land use and carbon dynamics in the Southeastern United States from 1992 to 2050. Environmental Research Letters. US Geological Survey.

7 Westerling, A., Hidalgo, H., Cayan, D. R. and Swetnam, T. 2006. Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western US Forest Wildfire Activity. Science, 940-943.

8 Zhu, Z., and Reed, B., eds. 2012. Baseline and projected future carbon storage and greenhouse-gas fluxes in ecosystems of the Western United States: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1797, 192 p.

9 Westerling, A., Brown, T., Schoennagel, T., Swetnam, T., Turner, M. and Veblen, T. 2014. Briefing: Climate and wildfire in western U.S. forests. In: Sample, V. and Bixler, R., eds. Forest conservation and management in the Anthropocene: Conference proceedings. Proceedings. RMRS-P-71. Fort Collins, CO: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 81-102.

10 Ibid.

11 Westerling et al. 2006.

12 Zhu and Reed. 2012.

13 Raymond, C. et al. 2015. Representative regional models of post-disturbance forest carbon accumulation. Forest Ecology and Management, 336, 21-34.

14 Allen, C. 2012. Statement of Dr. Craig Allen, US Geological Survey Department of the Interior, to the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

15 Williams, A. 2010. Forest responses to increasing aridity and warmth in southwestern North America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 107, 21289-21294.

16 Kurz, W. et al. 2008. Mountain pine beetle and forest carbon feedback to climate change. Nature.

17 Martin, K. 2014. Carbon Tradeoffs of Restoration and Provision of Endangered Species Habitat in a Fire-Maintained Forest. Ecosystems.

18 Executive Order 13653 3 C.F.R. 330. 2013.

19 Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience Climate and Natural Resources Working Group 2014. Priority Agenda: Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources. Washington, DC.

20 Gorte, R. 2009. US Tree Planting for Carbon Sequestration. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

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