At a hearing held by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee today, Arkansas State Forester and NASF President Joe Fox testified on the merits of utilizing forests and forest products for addressing climate change.
State forestry agencies are uniquely positioned to address climate change, promote forest carbon sequestration efforts, and ensure greater forest resilience. One role that we play is that of the “advocate.” We advocate for the inclusion of active forest management in federal climate change policy and programming.
There are many existing federal programs that could enhance the role of forests as carbon sinks with additional funding and higher prioritization. They include: the Forest Inventory and Analysis Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the Forest Stewardship Program. These programs serve to increase carbon storage by helping to improve the condition of our forests and maximize wood availability for forest product utilization. As you all know well, forest products — like forests themselves — act as carbon sinks and have demonstrative climate benefits in many different applications, including building construction and energy generation.
The efficacy of forests and forest products in addressing climate change depends on forest sustainability. Without active management, forests are less resilient to climate change and less effective at sequestering carbon. As state foresters, we know active forest management looks different in different forest types, regions, and communities.
In Arkansas, where I’m the state forester, we harvested over 24 million tons of wood from the state’s 19 million acres of forests in 2019. It was a record year for us: data from the US Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis program shows our annual growth exceeded our harvest and mortality rates by 20 million tons. In some locales, harvesting trees on the scale we do in Arkansas isn’t feasible. Nine times out of 10 this is because there aren’t enough markets for forest landowners to sell their timber to.
This brings to me to a critical point I want to stress to this committee: forest markets — for both wood and carbon credits — are critical to maintaining the health and sustainability of forests in the U.S. Wood markets in particular enable the carefully planned harvest of trees that is needed for forests to have appropriate stocking levels, balanced age classes, and species diversity. These managed forests are healthy forests, better able to withstand wildfire and pests, and more capable of providing clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and countless other benefits.
In addition to promoting active forest management with federal programming and policy, this committee can support forest-based climate strategies by championing coordinated wildfire mitigation. To maintain our forests as carbon sinks, we can’t let them be destroyed by out-of-control wildfires. We must reduce wildfire fuel loads in our forests. With thinnings, harvests, prescribed fire — whatever the treatment — it is critical that hazardous fuels are reduced on at least 5 million acres each year in addition to what we treat now. By making significant investments in wildfire mitigation, this body can help maintain our forests as carbon sinks, create green jobs nationwide, and protect Americans from catastrophic wildfire.
The full test of Fox’s testimony is linked below. This hearing will be recorded; an archived video will be posted here.