SEM advocates are celebrating the EPA’s stoppage in Bristol Bay, Alaska, of the establishment of the proposed Pebble Gold Mine. Their calls and emails helped protect the 300- to 700-year-old-growth forest there along with salmon. However, SEM has virtually no say in limiting the clearcutting of tropical rainforests in Indonesia to make way for oil palm plantations or the harvesting of Brazil’s tropical rainforests to provide increased acreage for raising soybeans and cattle.
Drawdown (Paul Hawken, editor. Penguin Books, 2017) says, “Carbon emissions from deforestation and associated land use change are estimated to be 10-15 percent of the world’s
total… In addition to the loss of aboveground biomass carbon held in trees, significant losses of below ground carbon held in soil can accompany deforestation processes… Conversion of forest to agricultural fields or pasture has been estimated to result in a 20 to 40 percent decrease in soil carbon.” It’s devastating in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating our worsening climate crisis.
The release of carbon stored in older trees and the soil is even more pronounced when the trees are burned. And the wildfires in eastern Washington, Oregon, and California have been overwhelming this year. Even California’s beloved, 3,000-year-old giant sequoias are being destroyed.
Closer to home, a canopy of trees covered 40 percent of Seattle 50 years ago. But a 2007 study found the canopy had shrunk to 18 percent. That’s when the city established a 30 percent goal by 2037. An Urban Forestry Commission was established in 2009 and an interim tree ordinance was adopted. A 2016 study found that the tree canopy had increased to 28 percent of the city. That’s great, but most of the progress is attributable to the mass planting of saplings which will take years to reach maturity.
In the meantime, Seattle’s older trees continue to be cut-down at an alarming rate as the city puts off the adoption of a permanent and enhanced tree ordinance. The city’s inability to tackle this greenhouse gas emission problem is unacceptable. It’s akin to Emperor Nero’s fiddling while Rome burned.
It also means that residents, especially those in poor– and majority-POC neighborhoods, have limited shade protection from high temperatures. Tree cover reduces heat, while roads, pavement, and rooftops intensify heat. Last summer’s heat waves produced record-breaking temperatures and made it especially miserable and unhealthy (even deadly) for people living in “heat islands.”
While Seattle dallies, King County adopted a 30-year forest plan, per the Seattle Times article “King County’s 30-year forest plan eyes growth of the canopy with nods towards climate change, timber industry.”
The state legislature adopted a bill (HB 1168) in April which will significantly beef-up long-term forest health efforts and reduce wildfire dangers. It also adopted a bill (HB 1216) which will provide DNR assistance and funds to maximize the benefits of city trees and urban forests. That bill, in particular, could help jumpstart things in Seattle.
But there’s also an election in November and the message Seattle’s residents should send to their mayoral and city council candidates must be clear and unequivocal – Deal with protecting and expanding Seattle’s urban forest NOW!
The Earth is Sacred – Not Ours to Wreck