ON CAPITOL HILL, spring is about more than cherry blossoms. It’s when Congress begins the critical process of budgeting and planning for federal priorities for the next year. This year, we have been sounding the alarm because America’s forests are in crisis. We are witnessing their loss and destruction at a staggering rate. As a nation, unless we change the way we manage them, we will lose them.
Our forests are struggling to adapt to a changing climate — to extreme drought, low humidity, high winds and shortened “cold spells.” These extremes produce dramatic tree mortality and high intensity wildfires in the West and changing tree species composition and declining forest health in the East. To adapt forests to this “new normal” will often require more active forest management, including harvesting dead and dying trees, reforestation, reintroducing controlled fire and other measures. More active forest management will require increased federal and private investment and level of effort sufficient to halt this crisis.
Unfortunately, the Administration’s budget for fiscal year 2020 did the opposite. It proposed significant cuts or complete elimination to critical forestry programs. This spring, we testified to Congress and asked them to consider what is at stake. In California’s forests, more than 147 million trees have died since 2010, with roughly 85 percent of those located in the Sierra Nevada. If Congress continues with “business as usual,” many areas will experience fires so intense that they cannot be reforested and will transition to a shrub ecosystem. The best hope for sustaining forests, like those in the Sierra, will be to thin areas with dead and declining trees, while restoring a more resilient forest and using controlled burns more frequently. By providing the U.S. Forest Service with the critical tools and increased resources it needs, Congress can stop this looming crisis.But, it’s not only western forests that are under threat. A recent University of Florida study found that southeastern forests are already seeing a changing mixture of tree species in response to prolonged drought. Dangerous forest pests are reaching farther north into New England as its climate warms. New stresses are coming to all of America’s forests. Unless Congress significantly increases funding for critical U.S. Forest Service programs, forests across the nation will be in crisis.
Thankfully, this spring marked only the beginning of the federal funding process on Capitol Hill. At American Forests, we will take every opportunity through this summer and into fall to urge Congress to provide the U.S. Forest Service with the tools and re- sources they need to address this crisis. But we cannot do it alone — Congress needs to hear from readers like you! To get involved, go to our Action Center at americanforests.org/TakeAction.
Together, we can stop the crisis threatening our forests and protect them for future generations.
Alix Murdoch writes from Washington, D.C. and is American Forests’ vice president of policy.