Climate Change

USDA Promotes Farms and Forestlands in the fight against Climate Change

Amidst national wildfire suppression efforts, the US Department of Agriculture and the US Forest Service are speaking out about the important role of forests in the global fight against climate change. The USDA responded recently to allegations that the Forest Service might be “turning a blind eye” toward the struggle against the current global climate crisis. Under fire specifically was the organization’s 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule, which some felt went against the Forest Service’s committed duty to the protection and conservation of the natural environment.

The criticisms stemmed from balances and compromises in the rule that facilitated potential use of about 8,000 and 19,000 acres of land respectively for the expansion of ski areas and underground coal mining operations. However, in recent comments, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie highlighted that the rule primarily protects the state’s valuable environmental resources.

In the wake of the monthly global average concentration of CO2 surpassing 400 parts per million back in March, forestation on these lands is an increasingly important tool in the fight against climate change. As these forests thrive, CO2 in the atmosphere is absorbed and stored in trees and soil, releasing clean oxygen back into the atmosphere. However, deforestation threatens these and many other forestlands around the globe every day. Consequently, the efforts to conserve and restore these valuable natural resources – such as the Colorado Rule – are becoming more and more important over time.

Compared to the 2001 rule which it replaced, the new rule conserves almost 400,000 additional acres of forestland in Colorado’s National Forests for a total of about 4.2 million acres. It also includes increased protections for 1.2 million acres of “high-quality road-less areas” that are vital in the conservation of environmental refuges for Colorado wildlife, and of headwaters that help to maintain the healthy water supply.

The rule itself, which Federal District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson praised as the product of “collaborative, compromise-oriented policymaking,” was just part of the USDA’s ongoing work to combat climate change. The organization is responsible for the enrollment of more and more acres of land into conservation programs, and has been working closely with farmers and forestland owners to mitigate atmospheric CO2 levels through responsible and sustainable farm and forestland management. Last year, USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced their comprehensive 10 year plan, which aims to reduce net carbon emissions and enhance carbon sequestration – the process of by which CO2 is captured and stored by vegetation – by over 120 million metric tons per year. The plan conforms to the USDA’s “cooperative conservation” approach, and aims to meet its 10-year goal through a series of voluntary and incentive-based programs to help farmers and ranchers transition to more efficient and sustainable management practices.