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Samuel Rutzick: The GOP wants to use trees to fight climate change

Utah’s Rep. Blake Moore among the supporters of efforts to use forests and technology to deal with climate.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) This Aug. 1, 2011, photo, shows whitebark pine that have succumbed to mountain pine beetles through the Gros Ventre area east of Jackson Hole, Wyo. U.S. officials say climate change, beetles and a deadly fungus are imperiling the long-term survival of the high-elevation tree found in the western U.S.

America is a beautiful country. Sea to shining sea isn’t just a bit of poetry, after all. The vast expanses of forest throughout the west, tall groves of Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pines, Red Maples and Silver Birches — there is a solemn dignity to them.

These trees are at a central position in the American environment. It’s our forests that provide a home for countless natural species. It’s the natural lifecycle of forests that help curb devastating forest fires. It’s those humble trees that serve as the core of the critical U.S. timber industry — and, as we can see around us right now, as the price of lumber skyrockets — as the core of a critical part of the U.S. economy.

But they also serve as a crucial part of the fight against climate change. Trees are natural carbon sinks. They take carbon dioxide in, and excrete oxygen. Each one, individually, doesn’t do that much — only 48 pounds, or so, of carbon. But as a mass — as the great fields and waves of trees that blanket the American west? Then, it’s a major weapon against the greenhouse effect.

This is exactly why congressional Republicans, led by Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas and Rep. Blake Moore of Utah, have introduced two critical bills that will be valuable aids in reforestation. Their leadership, and the efforts of other Congressional Republicans and grassroots activists, are adding a valuable voice to our climate conversation.

Westerman, along with a slew of other congressmen on both sides of the aisle, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, recently introduced the Trillion Trees Act of 2021. It is, in a way, almost self-explanatory.

It “is a bipartisan bill that will solidify the United States as a global leader of the One Trillion Trees Initiative to conserve, restore and grow 1 trillion trees worldwide,” according to House Republicans. The Trillion Trees Act would reauthorize several existing programs, along with raising the cap on the existing Reforestation Fund that the Forest Service has.

But it’s real meat comes in a less noted provision. The bill authorizes the creation of a Trillion Trees Challenge Fund, essentially a prize for private entities that engage in reforestation projects. No serious, long-term conservation project can exist without engaging private industry in the project. Government action is inherently limited. Even if federal policy didn’t essentially flip 180 degrees every two to four years, there is — as economist Friedrich A. Hayek famously noted — a knowledge problem.

Central planning fails, regardless of whether that’s economic or environmental, because no individual can ever have a full grasp of the complexities of the market. What the Trillion Trees Challenge Fund does that is so significant is that it just creates an incentive for private industry, and then lets the brilliant minds and powerful mechanisms of American innovation get to work.

In fact, Moore’s Forest TECH Improvement Act would direct the use of the products of that innovation. It’s 2021 – we have technology that we couldn’t even imagine a decade ago. It’s time to use that technology.

The Forest TECH Improvement Act would create a pilot program to direct the use of mapping geographic information systems and LiDAR measurement systems to better figure out just where, and how, forests need to be replanted. Moreover, it would encourage the use of drones to actually do that replanting — letting one person do at the push of the button what it would otherwise take dozens hours to do.

Neither Forest TECH nor Trillion Trees will be a silver bullet on climate change on their own. But they are critical steps forward in that fight. Despite what you hear on TV or Twitter, the GOP is fighting for the environment, too. So call your representative and your senators. Let’s get some real, bipartisan climate action done.

Samuel Rutzick

Sam Rutzick is a graduate of Columbia University and the editorial associate for the American Conservation Coalition. His writing has appeared in Reason Magazine, the Washington Times, Real Clear Energy, the Baltimore Times, and more.

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