Starting and Ending With Forests –

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Starting and Ending With Forests –

It is inspiring and heartening to see the increasing levels of commitment to and investment in climate-smarter forestry (CSF) and climate-smart forest products. Like all who are involved with the work, I am determined to see the energetic talk translate into tangible results. As owners and stewards of a small forest business, my family and I have experience with this topic and a strong commitment to modernizing forestry in ways that shape forests to be much more resilient to climate-related stresses while also reaching toward their potential to mitigate human impacts on climate.   We’re all called to think carefully and strategically about how to accelerate the transition.

An important place to start is agreeing on the best metrics of success; what’s the prize that we must keep our eyes on? I suggest these three, all of which can be visualized as trend lines rising over time:

1 – On the forest resilience side, we need to help the average level of resilience to climate-related stresses, averaged across the landscape, rise over time.

2 – Balanced with increased forest resilience, we must find ways to have and average amount of carbon stored per area of forest rise over time.

3 – And finally, we must reach these goals in ways that also increase levels of opportunity and vitality for members of forest-dependent communities.

With full acknowledgement that my understandings and perspectives are limited and, like all, influenced by bias, I offer “encouragements” that I hope might be helpful. To convert our good, CSF intentions into real results, I propose that we keep these five encouragements in mind.

Encouragement 1 – Keys to Driving the Lines Up: -It is important for us to acknowledge and remember that increased forest resilience and catching and holding of carbon in forests hinge on one, simple change – changes in the decisions made by forest managers. Yes, there is absolutely a long list of actions that may incentivize forest managers to modify their approaches, but we’d do well to remember that they are only means to reaching the larger end of changing on-the-ground forest management. Of course, we need such changes as updated procurement policies, powerful climate action plans, effective certification schemes, responsible easement programs, inspiring conferences, sought after awards and, perhaps, markets for forest carbon offsets, etc. – but only to the degree that they influence the on-the-ground decisions made by forest managers.

Encouragement 2 – Honesty About the Trends: As we find ourselves well over a decade into multiple strategies intended to incentivize climate-smarter forestry, it is appropriate and important for us to honestly ask ourselves what impact they have had. Though I wish that it were otherwise, it seems clear that levels of forest climate resilience and carbon capture have not increased and have, most likely, decreased in recent decades, even as climate stresses keep increasing. To create better outcomes, we need better approaches.

Encouragement 3 – Start With the Forest:  Projects that aspire to having positive, climate-related impacts on forests will be most effective when they begin the specification and procurement processes by considering and connecting with the actual forests they seek to both get wood from and have positive impacts on. Because these are real places, learn their unique histories, strengths, challenges, goals, needs and quantifiable, climate-related results. Based on these understandings, focus on ways that your interactions with the forest can and will have the results that you desire.

Encouragement 4 – Listen and Learn: There is much to be learned from the experienced forest managers who are actively working to modify their practices to achieve better climate-related outcomes. Many have worked for years to develop, implement and test CSF strategies.  They know which climate-smarter management strategies are most important in their unique context. They know the relative feasibility of those practices, and they know what changes are needed to shift desired practices from being currently infeasible to becoming more feasible. Seek and learn from their input. Work with them to make the changes needed to accelerate the transition toward climate-smarter forestry. When we creatively work together and foster a culture of continuous learning we can shift climate-smarter management from being too often a largely irrational choice, in the current context, into the rational choice that it must become. Having the forest managers who are already committed to climate-smarter forestry become more successful in their work will be the best way to motivate those who are less motivated and committed to more actively engage.   For forest owners and managers, the transition toward CSF is “about us” – and progress will not be made “without us” – and our active collaboration.

Encouragement 5 – End With the Forest: Of the multiple approaches that will incentivize forest managers to implement climate-smarter strategies, there is one that is most important – making it worth the forest owners’ and managers’ financial while to engage. It is more expensive to grow climate-smarter wood than less climate-smart wood. Accordingly, it should be worth more money in the marketplace. When end users pay a premium for climate-smarter wood, as they should, there is a critical question to ask: “Did a fair percentage of that premium find its way back to the forest owner?” When the answer is “yes”, we’re on our way toward reshaping systems to better incentivize CSF; when the answer is “no”, we are not. For several decades our family has accepted the invitation to participate in projects intended to encourage better forestry. Participation takes many forms, including welcoming people to visit and learn from our forests, sharing our experiences and approaches with various audiences and selling wood for use in projects committed to climate-smarter use of wood. While we remain committed to helping with these requests, experience has taught us that in most cases our participation does not result in positive benefits to our forests. It is time for us all to acknowledge that relationships intended to advance CSF will only endure and strengthen when they are truly mutually beneficial, including bringing tangible benefits back to the forest in which the wood grew.  Personal experience gives me the basis for highlighting this need, but my point in raising it goes far beyond narrow self-interest.  Navigating the transition toward CSF depends on developing stronger connections with the larger category of forest owners and managers, of which I am a member.  Doing so will help us all shift good intentions into impactful results.

The question of beginning and ending with a clear focus on forests is not neutral terrain.  There are participants in the wood chain, specifically sawmillers, distributors and retailers directly benefit from minimizing attention to the direct connection to real forests.  There’s more profit to be made from buying and milling logs from anonymous forests and selling them into premium climate-smart markets as opposed to knowing ones wood sources and guaranteeing the fair trade relationships needed to incentivize truly climate-smart forestry.   The supply of truly climate-smarter wood will increase in proportion to our ability to establish and expand these fair trade relationships.

A healthy and exciting brew of architects, builders, staff of agencies and non-profits, sawmillers, wood seller and – yes – forest owners and managers is feeling their way, as best we can, toward climate-smarter forestry.  Along with our good intentions and many strengths, we each, inevitably bring our biases and blind spots.  In this rare moment in time, our opportunities and responsibilities challenge us to constructively bring our best selves to the crafting pathways toward positive outcomes.  My hope and wish is that our companion on this journey will be strong awareness of the living, breathing, real and wonderful forests that we seek to benefit.