December 17, 2018|By Alterra Hetzel| Climate
We’ve all heard the phrase “Can't see the forest for the trees.” It means that sometimes we are too deeply invested in a specific approach or solution and we lose perspective. This phrase is true with climate change, which requires new approaches and broad partnerships, including leadership from the private sector, to address one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time. 

How do forests address global climate change while also providing critical support to our economy?

Consider this fact: U.S. forests currently store 10 billion metric tons of carbon (MTCOe). In 2016, U.S. forests removed 670 million additional MTCO2e from the atmosphere. The forest’s carbon removal is comparable to taking 143 million cars off the road (or 55% of our current vehicles). As the recent 2018 UN IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming affirms, various land-use carbon reduction measures, including forestry, soil carbon and responsible sourcing are critical to avoid a 1.5°C warming of our planet by 2030. If the United States is committed to achieving ambitious carbon reduction goals than forests are an essential part of the solution.

12 17 Forests carbon seq

At the same time, U.S. working forests (for our wood-based products) represent a major economic driver important to our country as a profitable and renewable natural resource. The following statistics underscore their enormous economic significance: U.S. working forests represent 30% of the global forest product market in all major categories. In 2016, total economic activity from the U.S. wood products sector was $370 billion; the industry directly employed 1 million workers and indirectly supported an additional 1.7 million jobs. For perspective, those 2.7 million jobs that forests directly and indirectly provided is higher than the combined direct employment of America’s current largest companies, Walmart and Amazon. Without forests and the wood products they provide, our lives and many of our livelihoods would be radically altered.

12 17 logsPhoto by The Conservation Fund.

But despite the important role our forests play in both storing carbon and in supporting our economy, they are in great jeopardy. Today, more than 45 million acres of America’s large intact forest lands are privately owned and are at high risk of fragmentation and conversion from forests into other land uses, such as development. Because of these risks, between 1982 and 2012, 17.4 million acres of forests were lost forever, which is like losing two Central Park-sized forests every day for 30 years. We have an opportunity to change this trajectory and to preserve these critical national assets, including the carbon and economic benefits they generate. But we must act now. We must see the “forests for the trees.” We must seek new perspectives. 

What can we do differently to change the trajectory of forest loss in the United States?

Our Working Forest Fund® (WFF) is a proven approach and innovative solution that can protect one of America’s most precious natural resources before it’s too late. The Conservation Fund pioneered this model to ensure a dedicated source of patient conservation capital. Through WFF, we can quickly acquire threatened forests that have high conservation values. We own, restore and sustainably manage these lands as working forests. We then fundraise and work with our conservation partners over several years to protect them permanently through conservation easements. By using responsible forest management techniques, we are keeping working forests productive and protected. 

Our innovative Working Forest Fund model has enabled us to successfully purchase over 32 working forests in 16 states. We have deployed $434 million in capital and have protected 541,000 acres of working forests from development or conversion with conservation easements. Further, we know that these forests are delivering climate benefits. More than 74,000 of our forests have been verified to a carbon standard resulting in nearly 5.5 million MTCO2e of carbon offsets for companies seeking to meet their carbon reduction goals in both the voluntary and compliance markets. 

12 17 c Chad RileyPhoto by Chad Riley.

With this approach, we have seen the “forests for the trees.” We’re demonstrating a model that provides our country with both economic and environmental returns. It is scalable, cost-efficient, and a one-of-a-kind initiative to safeguard America’s forests now and for generations to come.

But don’t we also need to be planting trees to restore lost forests?

Absolutely. The Fund’s reforestation projects focus on restoring marginal agricultural lands—mostly on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—that were deforested before 1990. We have restored 34,000 acres of forest throughout the Lower Mississippi and Gulf Coast with the help of numerous corporate leaders who donated money to plant more than 10 million trees across America. Several of these reforestation projects have been verified to a carbon standard, ensuring that they deliver a host of climate and community benefits as they grow. Over their lifetime, they will trap 4.5 million MTCO2e. As with the forests we protect, these new trees will continue to clean our air, filter our water, and provide habitats for native wildlife. 

12 17 General GoZero USFWS012Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Our history includes engaging companies, foundations, individuals and our partners to protect more than 8 million acres of land in the United States over more than 30 years. It’s a legacy that is rooted in the protection of vital environmental assets to support economic progress. We are part of a legacy that addresses climate change in a practical and innovative way. And we are part of a legacy that aims to achieve some major goals, such as protecting another five million acres of working forest and planting another one million trees by 2020. These ambitious goals and large challenges are why seeing the forest for the trees is so key to solving our greatest environmental challenges. It will require bold new partnerships, innovation and long-term viability to ensure our economy and the environment benefit. 

To join our long list of business partners or learn more about how your company can join The Fund’s legacy of conservation please contact me. Together, we can craft a program that meets your corporate sustainability goals and advances forest protection and restoration in America.

Make sure to read parts 2 and 3 of our climate series:
Part 2: Growing Resources in Kansas to Combat Climate Change by Kevin Harnish, Forestry Analyst for The Conservation Fund’s Working Forest Fund®
Part 3: Walking the Talk by Paul Trianosky, Chief Conservation Officer at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. (SFI)