Why every acre counts to stop global warming

Resurrection Roadless Area, Chugach National Forest, Alaska. Photo by John Schoen.

We’re losing 6,000 acres of open space per day — the equivalent of two Rhode Islands per year — and you can almost feel the Earth’s thermostat inching up a fraction each day. If we want to have any hope of slowing, let alone reversing, these trends, our country needs to take bold action. Perhaps bolder than we’ve ever attempted. Big problems clearly require serious solutions.

One step we can take in that direction to put some real muscle into the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the premier federal program for buying open space and creating parks, forests, wildlife habitat, and recreation areas for Americans across the country.

Since its creation in 1965, LWCF funding has been used to safeguard some of America’s most iconic places, including Redwood National Park, Valley Forge National Historical Park, the Appalachian Trail National Scenic Trail and Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.

The recently released Obama Administration budget proposal includes an increase for the LWCF and commits to the goal of reaching full funding of $900 million over the next five years.

We need to buy protection from climate disruption. That’s what land acquisition is all about, and that’s why 52 national, regional and state land conservation and outdoor recreation groups released a report on Tuesday that documents the decline of two major federal land conservation programs and the need to restore federal funding to protect American’s public lands. The report, Conserving America’s Landscapes, urges Congress and the Obama Administration to fully fund LWCF.

The land our forests, grasslands, open spaces are the lungs of America. They will collapse if we allow them to be divided into small unconnected pieces.

Fortunately, President Obama is sending Congress a budget that assumes the passage of a cap-and-trade climate protection program. If you’re not familiar with the concept, the premise of such a system is to ensure that those responsible for polluting our atmosphere are required to pay for the damage they cause.

That money would be invested into a wide variety of projects — to protect the vulnerable, to accelerate clean energy options, and to protect the land that protects us by purifying our air, cleaning our water, protecting habitat for wildlife, and providing our favorite hunting and fishing areas for escaping outdoors.

Some of the money generated by a cap-and-trade system should be directed to the LWCF so that it can acquire lands that accomplish all of these objectives while also helping to defend us against the perils of global warming. Every acre of forest saved, every tree that remains upright, act as filters that suck carbon dioxide out of the air and prevent it from trapping greenhouse gases that fuel increased temperatures.

Historically, Congress has chronically come up well short of the intended authorization for LWCF. The fund is supposed to receive $900 million a year. In 2008, it saw only $130 million.

You don’t have to be a mathematician to recognize that is a stifling shortage. A deficit that this Congress and all Americans now have real hope to overcome.

photo: Resurrection Roadless Area, Chugach National Forest, Alaska. Photo by John Schoen.