U.S. Climate Legislation Presents Golden Opportunity to Conserve Birds

Washington State. Photo: Steve Holmer.
Old Growth forests, which contain giant trees such as this cedar, sequester more carbon than younger forests. Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington State. Photo: Steve Holmer.

One of the highest priorities of the 111th Congress will be passing legislation to curb global warming by placing a cap on heat-trapping carbon emissions. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has announced that a bill is being developed and a vote in the House of Representatives will take place this year.

 

To ensure that habitat conservation is enhanced by the legislation, American Bird Conservancy has been working with the Forest Climate Working Group, a coalition of 30 forest conservation organizations, forest landowners, and timber companies, to develop consensus on the need to include measures supporting forest conservation and sustainable management. The coalition is seeking to include private forests in the global warming bill by creating incentives for projects that sequester carbon, and providing adaptation funding to mitigate impacts to forests caused by rapidly shifting climate zones.

 

The global warming bill may make available significant new funding to help forests and wildlife adapt to rapidly changing conditions. These funds could be used to expand effective conservation programs such as the Joint Ventures and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act.

 

California, Illinois, and Wisconsin recently reached agreements to include forest protection projects in Brazil and Indonesia as part of each state’s carbon reduction program. Bird conservation advocates are calling for forest-protection carbon credits created by the federal global warming bill to include international projects as these three leading states have done.

 

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Mike Parr, Vice President of American Bird Conservancy, which recently began its own carbon finance program. “Storing carbon by protecting forests reduces emissions caused by deforestation, and has the added benefit of conserving essential wildlife habitat – we can help solve our climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis at the same time.”

 

Negotiators recently included forest conservation in the United Nations Climate Agreement, which will take effect when the current Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Under the Agreement, countries can be rewarded for avoiding deforestation and replanting denuded areas. However, there still remains no provision for conserving biodiversity as part of these activities.

 

“There is concern that without consideration of birds and other wildlife, projects could be rewarded that replace native forests with fast-growing but biologically barren tree plantations,” said Parr.