Our neighbors in Canada recently undertook an initiative that just may be the biggest land conservation victory for the United States in decades. It ensures that massive amounts of greenhouse gases won't be released and added to global warming. The province of Ontario placed at least 55 million acres off limits from development in order to prevent the escape of the carbon dioxide associated with deforestation. This huge expanse of boreal forest is now a climate reserve that protects the carbon while it also serves to protect the habitat of the songbirds that migrate through our neighborhoods in the fall and the waterfowl that winter on our refuges in the winter.
There are many good reasons to protect wilderness areas, but until recently preserving carbon has not been one of them. We can hardly afford business-as-usual – we are already losing enough open space every day to cover over 5,400 football fields. According to the UN, the United States has the seventh largest annual loss of primary forests in the world, ranking it the worst among wealthy countries. Yet in the United States, we have barely begun to start thinking of protecting the land for its climate benefits.
Maybe now is the time to declare our own “National Climate Reserve”, where the value of the forest in protecting us all from catastrophic climate change trumps its value for development.
Every time private citizens decided to set aside more forested land under a conservation easement, they could add to the Climate Reserve. When a local municipality added to its community forest, or the federal government added to its untrammeled wilderness, they would be adding to the Climate Reserve. And as that Reserve grew, so would our national consciousness of how protecting wildlands was directly contributing to protecting the planet. Shall we begin?