Funding Our Forests, Part One

Climate change has made urgent the need to preserve the trees and forests we already have, as well as increase tree coverage by planting new trees. How can we come up with the money to do this?

forest treasure in community chestIn a previous post, I listed some of the many ways a living tree or forest is valuable, far more than just the lumber that a timber company can pull out of it (and thereby ending its contribution to the ecosystem). They are so important, that we need to start looking at them and treating them as natural resources necessary for the common public good. Part of our community chest, so to speak.

We need to protect them and husband them in the same way we do with our sources of water and air, because in fact they are part and parcel of them.

Ecosystem services” is the term used by the US Department of Agriculture to describe all the functions that trees and forests perform, house or enable. We need to start looking at all trees as a “public utility” which benefits everybody, akin to a power grid, a reservoir or a city water system, or even our highway system.

First: Do No Harm

I think the first place to start is to issue a moratorium on clearcutting. Stop the wholesale destruction of forested lands. Conserving an extant tree or forest now does more immediate good than planting new. Stop sign superimposed on a clearcut

Reducing tree cover at this critical moment exacerbates global warming. Particularly with the planet heating up at a faster rate than previously projected, we need to hang onto our mature forests and keep them healthy.

From Timber Producers to Forest Creators

Let’s create a process and funding scheme whereby timber companies can sell their land complete with trees to parks departments or municipalities wherever practical.

Squirrel with arms crossed
Just where am I supposed to live now that you’ve cut down my treehouse, eh?

Then pay timber companies to become tree planting companies. They already know how to plant trees, since it is their business and they are required to according to logging regulations. But now their business can be creating and maintaining mixed forests for their environmental utilities, rather than as monoculture lumber plantations.

Rather like re-purposing game hunting reserves to become wildlife preserves.

Levy Society Because We All Benefit

Society needs to recognize that there is more value in the ecosystem services of an acre of live forest than in its lumber.  And the ecosystem services’ value grows just like a bank account. As the trees grow, they sequester more carbon, clean more pollutants, create more soil, cool the air more, manage more stormwater, shelter more wildlife, pollinators and biodiversity.

We must invest in this. We levy property taxes for things such as emergency services, stormwater systems, roads, schools, library systems, etc. We also have special levies for funding shortfalls in public monies and to pay for specific projects.

Monopoly Community Chest card for Tree levyLet’s do that for trees and forests. Let’s decide that trees and forests are as important as clean water, an educated populace and good roads. Let’s come up with tax levies which will give our local municipalities the funds to plant new trees as well as to maintain and expand tree coverage, parklands and greenbelts.

Of course, it is hard to get people to vote for a tax increase. But I bet the people who live around the clearcuts in Kitsap and Jefferson counties would support such a levy. I bet people who have lost their local forests to wildfires know well what they have lost and want to get the forests replanted as soon as possible. Let’s leverage that loss with a levy for trees.

In 2016 — the first property tax statement I happened to grab out of the file cabinet — we paid, among other assessments:

  • $86 for stormwater management
  • $117 for the libraries
  • $494 for county roads
  • $668 for the fire department
  • $1333 for schools

Think about how much we could do if any of those amounts were earmarked on all of our property tax bills to preserve the trees we have and plant many new ones. We could even credit owners who maintain and increase tree coverage on their properties. That would definitely incentivize planting more trees.

Extend Conservation Grants to Everyone

The USDA has conservation grants for agricultural producers to put their land into forest, much as they have subsidies to encourage farmers to grow or not grow one crop or another.

Man and short dog walking in forest
Bill & Kebab in Silver Falls State Park, OR.

We should have such grants available to homeowners and businesses, schools, municipalities and county park systems. This would not be to create a harvest (like a crop of soybeans) at a later date, but to maintain and increase the tree canopy permanently. The existence of the earth’s remaining species, including humans, depend upon it.

Funding should be available for urban micro-forests, for rooftop gardens and to shade parking lots with more trees. How about funding for owners of vacant lots who cannot afford to build on their property to simply plant trees and increase local greenery?

Earth’s Known Unknown

Old growth trees at precipice of landslide, roots exposed
Old growth trees, roots exposed, at precipice of a landslide on the Olympic Peninsula, WA.

We can’t be sure what we plant now will make the transition to the new warmer, drier climate. We aren’t even sure what that new climate will be. How many degrees warmer? Does it mean more drought, or more variability? With the snowpack in the mountains melting sooner and faster in the spring, how does that affect the available water in the environment, and what does that mean for trees and forests?

There’s so much we don’t know. But we do know that we cannot continue as we are. We are, like these trees on the Dosewallups River, just hanging at the edge of the precipice of destruction.

In Funding Our Forests, Part Two, I will go into the complex matters of carbon offsets and also crowdfunding as a way to pay for forests.Forest, lake, mountain

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