By Andrea Tuttle
California's forests have something to celebrate.
The first forest projects in California designed specifically to fight global warming were recently announced at the United Nations conference on climate change in Montreal. By registering in the California Climate Action Registry, the Garcia River Forest in Sonoma County and the Van Eck property in Humboldt show a new model for protecting natural resources.
The projects will reduce greenhouse gases and restore streams and roads, all while working to produce timber. Perhaps most surprising is that well-known environmental groups, including the Conservation Fund, the Pacific Forest Trust, the Nature Conservancy and the State Coastal Conservancy, will actually manage logging on these lands to save them and better the environment.
Why do these respected environmental groups endorse cutting down trees?
They see that a quiet revolution is going on in our forests. Despite the fact that today's timber industry is more committed to sustainability and efficiency than ever before, landowners who once supplied mills with timber are being driven out of business by convoluted regulations and skyrocketing real estate prices. And just when forest owners face great obstacles to harvesting, they are confronting unrelenting pressure to sell their land to developers.
All of this means that the broad expanses of private forests so critical to California's water supply, wildlife and sustainable wood production are being chopped up for legions of baby boomers looking to retire and move out of the city. The wild lands we love are morphing into suburbia.
Fortunately, a new attitude about working forests is emerging. California universities are turning out graduates who enter the resource management field with the technical sophistication and environmental ethics to manage forests for resources and timber. Environmental groups and rural landowners are learning to reach goals that meet each others' needs, and this cooperation keeps landowners on the land -- and developers out.
With 45 to 60 percent of the world's terrestrial carbon stored in forests, and one-third of the United States in forest cover, it makes perfect sense to include forests in our climate change strategy. In spite of embarrassing federal intransigence, California is forging a new path in offering landowners a means to record their ``early good actions'' through the Climate Action Registry (www.climateregistry.org). To earn a ``carbon credit,'' forest landowners must show that they remove more carbon from the atmosphere than they would under business as usual. And one key way to earn credits is by committing to keep the land in forest use, instead of converting to asphalt and shopping malls.
The state will never be able to protect all of our forests by turning them into public lands, nor should we. A better way to guarantee protection is to provide incentives -- less cumbersome paperwork, rewards for protection of water quality and open space, economical timber production, and sequestering carbon. These incentives will allow forest landowners to be economically sound stewards of the land, while adhering to strict environmental principles.
Toss out the old imagery of logging. When environmental groups not only accept harvesting, but offer projects to do it themselves, it's time to take notice.
ANDREA TUTTLE is the former director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and a visiting faculty member at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. She wrote this article for the Mercury News.
This article originally appeared at http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/13499301.htm