Scientists call attention to 'forgotten forests'
Calling them the forgotten forests, a panel of scientists say cool-weather rainforests like those in Western Oregon store more carbon per acre than tropical rainforests.
"We are all aware that tropical rainforests are important, that their deforestation is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions," said Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke chairman of conservation ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University in North Carolina.
"But these are in many ways the forgotten forests, the places we tend to overlook," he said of the boreal and temperate rainforests of North America.
Pimm made the comments during a conference call based in Washington, D.C., early Wednesday morning to the media with four other scientists, including Ashland-based forest ecologist Dominick DellaSala.
The scientists held the conference call to bring attention to the unheralded rainforests as well as the book, "Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World: Ecology and Conservation," a 336-page book published by Island Press which will be released early next month.
DellaSala, editor and principal writer of the book, brought together more than 30 leading forest scientists from around the world to describe the ecology, conservation and threats to the rainforests.
While tropical rainforests are generally found near the equator, temperate rainforests are in temperate climates. Boreal rainforests are northern latitude rainforests where it is colder but where there is still enough moisture to qualify.
DellaSala, president and chief scientist at the Geos Institute in Ashland, said the conference, one of several being held around the world on Wednesday, is an effort to get the Obama administration to take notice. Other conference calls were held in Australia, Canada and Chile on Wednesday, he said.
"We're trying to get them to look at the endangered rainforests we have right in our back yard," said DellaSala who is also president of the North America section of the Society for Conservation Biology.
The scientists have a meeting scheduled with the administration in the near future to discuss their findings, he said.
The scientists say 35 percent of the world's 250 million acres of temperate and boreal rainforests are found in North America. Those acres store roughly 196 gigatonnes of carbon, which is about six times the annual carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels burned worldwide, they note, citing data published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.
In the United States, the top 10 national forests with the highest carbon storage can be found in western Oregon, Washington and Alaska, the scientists add.
DellaSala said that less than 14 percent of those forests are protected from logging or other activity that would threaten the resource.
"The U.S. should lead by example, and we should expect at least as much of ourselves as a nation that we ask of others, especially those with fewer resources to address deforestation," he added.
Most of the large temperate rainforests of other countries are gone, noted Paul Alaback, one of the book's authors and professor emeritus of forest ecology at the University of Montana.
"The U.S. has some of the most significant remaining temperate rainforests on federal lands in the world and has the responsibility to move swiftly to protect them," he said.
When asked about the economic impact of not logging the temperate rainforests, Pimm, who lives in Florida, replied that not protecting them is too costly.
"We in Florida are massively harmed by global warming," he said. "The cheapest way of taking care of global warming is to protect forests. This is a straight forward economic issue."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.