A healthy life and healthy climate are tied to healthy forests

Take a walk down a tree-lined path in just about any park, and within minutes you can feel your blood pressure dropping. Whether it’s a fragrant pine, a tall cottonwood, or a majestic oak, there’s just something about trees that connects you with nature, inspires wonder, and brings about a sense of peace with the world.

Trees also play a critical role in our quest to preserve a livable world and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, thanks to the fact that they absorb and sequester carbon dioxide that traps heat. As a climate solution, there are a few things that can beat trees. US forests currently pull 12% of our carbon pollution out of the atmosphere. By protecting, expanding, and managing our forests in a way that is climate-smart, we can reduce emissions up to 21% by 2030. The use of wood products in place of fossil carbon intensive materials can further reduce emissions.

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In addition to helping us preserve a livable climate, trees benefit our health tremendously. Each year in the US, 12,000 people die from heat-related causes, a figure that can be significantly lowered with the addition of trees that reduce temperatures by 10 degrees. By reducing heat, trees also lower the risk of power failures caused by high demand for air conditioning. Other benefits of the tree include reducing anxiety and depression and helping us breathe easier by absorbing air pollution.

In urban areas, poorer neighborhoods have significantly fewer trees than more affluent neighborhoods. As we work to increase urban forests, special attention must be paid to reduce inequalities like this.

In our efforts to expand and improve tree cover in the US and throughout the world, there are a number of steps the federal government can take to facilitate healthy forests everywhere. We can start by curtailing and halting the decision of forests through illegal clearing of trees.

In the previous Congress, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and seven other senators introduced the Fostering Overseas Rule of Law and Environmentally Sound Trade Act of 2021, otherwise known as the FOREST Act. This legislation addresses the problem of illegally deforested land for agricultural use – palm oil, soy, beef. This practice, especially in tropical regions, has a devastating impact on the climate. Rainforests that normally serve as carbon sinks, pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere, become carbon emitters. If deforestation was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The FOREST Act would ban access to US markets for goods produced in illegally deforested land. The legislation would also use market leverage to encourage better monitoring of illegal deforestation and protect more trees.

This directly impacts Montana ranchers, farmers, and foresters. We produce canola and sunflower oil, raise millions of heads of cattle, and produce timber. Implementing the FOREST Act will reduce competition from beef and palm oil and timber products from foreign countries, benefiting Montana ranchers, farmers, and foresters and our economy.

We hope Senators Daines and Tester will sign on as cosponsors when this bill is reintroduced. A companion bill is likely in the House, and we hope Representatives Zinke and Rosendale will support that, too.

Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed strong support for employing trees as one of the solutions for climate change, and we hope that all members of the Montana congressional delegation will get behind these measures.

Putting an end to illegal deforestation and planting more trees will help us to preserve a safe climate for future generations. It will also provide a cooler, healthier environment for everyone. Now, who’s up for a walk in the park?

Madeleine Para is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). Alexandra Amonette is a volunteer with the Montana Range chapter of CCL and David Atkins is a volunteer with the Missoula chapter of CCL.

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