Years ago Tony Angell, the well-known artist and author, was the director of the Washington Office of Environmental Education. Although he did not invent the phrase, he is the first person I ever heard say, “Think globally, act locally.”
I was remembering Tony and this phrase earlier this month as I read the news from the Paris climate talks. In the conference report, 162 nations agreed upon a timetable to fight global warming by limiting and ultimately reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
While this is a worthy goal, I feel frustrated about how little we as individuals can do, personally, to assist in meeting it. Oh, I suppose we could continue to harass our state legislators to get off their collective duffs and actually create a state program — likely centered on some type of carbon tax — to address climate change. But I imagine that effort would just lead to more frustration.
Hidden in the news from earlier this month, however, was a real good-news story about a local action being taken here. In a first-of-its-kind transaction, Microsoft Corp.is purchasing something called carbon credits from the Nisqually Land Trust. Among its many conservation holdings, the Nisqually Land Trust owns forest land in the upper Nisqually watershed, west of Mount Rainier National Park.
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As a result of the Microsoft transaction, the Land Trust will manage a 520-acre forest tract to allow the trees to grow older, much older than the usual timber management cycle. The trees will remove and store, or “sequester,” carbon. And, since the larger the tree the more carbon is stored, the entire deal provides for a more mature forest in the upper Nisqually watershed.
The process, documenting the amount of carbon in current trees and the rate of carbon sequestration into the future, involved detailed and costly studies. The Washington Environmental Council, a statewide environmental-advocacy organization, stepped in as a project partner, assisting with funding support and insuring that this innovative project got the statewide and national publicity it deserved.
For Microsoft, this transaction fulfills in part a corporate goal of becoming carbon neutral, that is removing from the atmosphere at least as much carbon as its corporate activities produce. What a concept! Taking direct responsibility for a corporation’s byproduct that easily could have been shifted to all of us.
As you probably remember from school, trees are our friends. All trees remove carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Using light energy from the sun and water, they split the carbon atom from the CO2 molecule, ultimately adding that carbon to the plant’s structure. The same process frees oxygen, essential to all life on Earth.
But forests provide us with much more than oxygen and carbon sequestration. First, of course, forests are an economic engine, injecting wealth into our economy as trees are harvested, milled and utilized, or when they provide opportunities for recreation and tourism.
And, there are many other ways the forests serve us. Taken together, these are called “ecological services.” Hunters appreciate forest wildlife habitat, an important ecological service that forests and wetlands contribute. More subtle is the role the forests play in stream flow and water quality. Recent studies have demonstrated forests, and especially older forests, actually increase summer water supplies and reduce stream sediment.
Most Washington historical accounts give the reader an impression of the immensity of the forest cover that existed here 150 years ago (and one can still see traces of this in our national parks). My bottom line take from this history is: Washington is the greatest tree-growing territory in the United States.
If timber land owners, public and private, would allow forests to become older and more mature, that action alone over time would remove uncounted tons of carbon from the atmosphere and would provide other ecological benefits as well. This does not mean no harvests; rather, it means longer rotations (80-plus years rather than 40, the current practice) and partial thinning rather than clear cuts.
And why should timberland owners bear the costs of delayed harvest and greater management costs? They shouldn’t. As demonstrated by the Microsoft-Nisqually model, these owners should be compensated for the public service their forests are providing, and the methods to determine appropriate compensation are being developed right in our own neighborhood.
Washington state forests are ideally suited to take substantial “act local” steps to address climate change. We just need creative leadership in the corporate and political world to make it happen.
George Walter is the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s environmental program manager, and is a member of The Olympian’s 2015 Board of Contributors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org