Two Jackson County residents were among three Oregon scientists testifying Tuesday before a congressional subcommittee on the role of federal lands in battling climate change.
Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist for the Ashland-based National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, and Medford resident Jack Williams, chief scientist for Trout Unlimited, joined Mark Harmon, a professor in Oregon State University's College of Forestry, in calling for changes in federal forest management to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"The longer we delay action on climate change and the more we pump dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from our insatiable addiction to fossil fuels and unsustainable land-use practices, the worse the situation will become for future Americans," forest ecologist DellaSala told the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands hearing in Washington, D.C.
"Climate change is not just an environmental problem," he said. "It is a growing moral dilemma of national and economic security requiring a sea change in management and conservation of water, forests and the very air we breathe."
Old-growth logging on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management needs to be halted to reduce the agencies' carbon footprint, said DellaSala, president-elect of the Society for Conservation Biology's North America section.
The society's membership includes more than 11,000 scientists and land managers, the lion's share of whom live in the United States.
Noting that scientific research demonstrates that global warming created by heat-trapping greenhouse gases is a major problem, DellaSala warned the impact of climate change jeopardizes national and economic security. The nation needs to establish a comprehensive goal with aggressive targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
Congress also needs to provide new direction for both the BLM and Forest Service to minimize greenhouse gas emissions while optimizing carbon capture and storage on federal lands, he said.
"The more we stress our natural systems the less capable they will be of adapting to rapid climate change," he said, noting that examples of stress include logging and road-building.
"Federal agencies need to build resistance and resilience to climate change by protecting old forests, roadless areas and flood plains," he told the subcommittee. "These systems hold the life-giving natural resources we will increasingly need to adapt to the climate change impacts."
Williams, former supervisor of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, agreed that making changes to reduce emissions ultimately will have a positive economic impact.
"Our national forests and public lands, that's what our country was built on," he said in a telephone interview, referring to timber and water resources. "We need to protect the natural capital of our country."
Like DellaSala, Williams said greater concentrations of greenhouse gasses increase the potential for catastrophic wildfires, floods, droughts and threats from invasive species.
"Obviously, from the Trout Unlimited perspective, we're concerned about impact on our fisheries and river flows," he said "but it isn't just the fish, wildlife and biodiversity but that will be affected. All the people who use our public lands will be impacted — recreationists, ranchers, loggers, nearby communities who depend on drinking water, everybody."
About 60 percent of the nation's municipalities obtain their drinking water from federal land, he said.
"One of the things we can do is protect areas that feed our groundwater," he said. "That includes wetlands and flood plains, areas that are natural sponges that help slow the water down and recharge aquifers. The healthier the watershed, the more resistant it will be to climate change."
He said the subcommittee appeared receptive to the message that human activity is associated with greenhouse gas emissions and a changing climate.
"These things are all tied together," he said. "We know we need to reduce our emissions. We know we need to do things to lessen the impact on the future. We know we need to get started with on-the-ground changes. The flip side of doing nothing is a much greater cost."
Harmon, a world expert on carbon-balancing in forests, said public forestlands can be used as carbon sinks to store greenhouse gases.
"Forests can play a role in offsetting greenhouse-gas emissions," Harmon said in an interview following his testimony. "Forests can play a bridging strategy. They won't absorb carbon forever but they can help us get to a more permanent solution."
Younger forests don't store as much carbon as a more mature forest, he stressed.
"We need to stop deforestation," he said. "When we remove forests, we release a lot of carbon."
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