Wayne National Forest must be protected

Many of us love forests, and Marietta has long prided itself on being a tree city, but forests are not just beautiful to look at. Recent news reports have highlighted their importance to humans and the rest of life.

The August report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended tree planting as perhaps the best way to combat climate change; trees sequester carbon and thereby help to neutralize emissions. Reports on the Amazon fires have stressed that tropical rainforest’s role as “the lungs of the planet,” lungs endangered as the wildfires release all the carbon stored in those massive trees. And trees do not only help to counteract humans’ carbon emissions: ongoing research has revealed that more than half of the world’s terrestrial species live in tree canopies, making healthy forests havens of biodiversity. However, deforestation has contributed to the 30% decline in bird populations documented in a study published this month.

The eastern United States has experienced a regrowth of many of its forests since misguided clearcutting in earlier centuries. Appalachia’s forests, home to plant and animal communities found nowhere else, are recognized as one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. Our eastern forests are used by migratory songbirds as rest and feeding spots on their spring and fall migrations. Some, like the climate-threatened cerulean warbler, breed only in mature deciduous forests. Southeastern Ohio’s Wayne National Forest, which since the 1930s has transformed from a stretch of denuded hillsides to a mature forest, is part of this global treasure. So many bird species, including the cerulean warbler, breed in Ohio’s only national forest that the Audubon Society has added the Wayne to its international list of Important Bird Areas.

Besides their importance to biodiversity, the large trees in older forests actually put on more growth each year and remove more carbon from the atmosphere than young trees do; this ability to offset large quantities of humans’ carbon emissions makes the protection of old forests essential in the fight against climate change. The forests of the eastern US are recognized as carbon sinks on par with the Amazon rainforest, absorbing, by some estimates, twenty percent of the country’s CO2 emissions; some of the planet’s “lungs” are right here in Ohio. With large swaths of South American forests lost to this year’s fires, protection of our closer-to-home resource only makes sense.

Unfortunately, for more than two years, the Bureau of Land Management has been leasing portions of the Wayne for oil and gas drilling. Just a few days ago, an auction for coal mining leases began. Drilling and mining endanger the health of a forest that protects the health of humans and other living things. The Wayne deserves protection, not exploitation.

Rebecca Phillips