Colorado can lead the country in protecting forests

A Colorado executive order encourages state agencies and departments not to purchase products that contribute to deforestation. It’s time to make that a requirement.

Forests

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Forests in Colorado.

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Forests are as variable as they are beautiful. In Colorado, forests are mosaics of aspens and vanilla-scented ponderosa pines, thinning out as they climb higher into the Rockies. In much of California, forests are comprised of towering coastal redwoods ascending into fog. Despite their differences, our forests, whether at 10,000 feet of elevation or along the West Coast, are similar in that they provide us with the same host of benefits: a stable climate, irreplaceable ecosystem services, an inexhaustible supply of recreational and economic opportunities and reservoirs for Earth’s incredible biodiversity.

Unfortunately, since the 17th century, we’ve lost 30% of forests in the United States. Only 5% of old-growth coastal redwoods from the 1850’s are still standing. Colorado has lost 8.9% of its tree cover since 2000. This loss corresponds to an uptick in the greenhouse gases warming our planet; it’s estimated that more than 10% of our planet’s carbon emissions are caused by forest loss. When forests are degraded, habitats are destroyed, which is a leading cause of extinction for many iconic and rare species. Deforestation leads to increased instances of erosion and water pollution, which can lead to infrastructure damages from mudslides and impaired flood buffers, cutbacks in hydropower productivity, unhealthy fish stocks, reduced tourism profits and so much more.

Orangutans have been pushed to the brink of extinction, due in large part to the destruction of tropical forests to cultivate palm oil.

It’s too late to change the history of deforestation in the United States, but there’s still time to protect some of the last intact and greatest forests on earth: tropical rainforests and boreal forests. An anti-deforestation movement is sweeping across the United States, and Colorado became a leader in April, 2022, when Governor Polis signed into action Colorado Executive Order D-2022-016

I encourage [government] Agencies and/or Departments to prefer vendors that: do not contribute to tropical or boreal intact forest degradation or deforestation directly or through the supply chain... Colorado Executive Order D-2022-016

Tropical rainforests cover 8% of Earth’s land surface. Teeming with life, tropical rainforests are more biodiverse than any other terrestrial ecosystem on earth, housing the greatest number of animal and plant species. From bananas to cancer treatments, the biodiversity of tropical rainforests has proven to be an invaluable treasure trove of discoveries. Yet they are being cut down at a rate of 8 million hectares per year—that’s a land area nearly the size of South Carolina.

Boreal forests encircle the Northern hemisphere of our planet. Covering 17% of Earth’s land surface, the boreal region is characterized by spruce, firs, pines and many more coniferous and deciduous trees interspersed with wetlands and some of Earth’s deepest lakes. The North American boreal is a breeding ground for nearly half of all bird species on the continent, and home to mammals rarely found farther south, such as the Canada lynx, caribou and martens. Containing the largest intact forests left in the world, the boreal forest also stores nearly twice as much carbon as is stored in all of the world’s recoverable oil reserves combined. In Canada alone, the boreal holds enough carbon dioxide to offset the emissions of 24 million passenger vehicles

Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest to clear land for beef and leather production.

Despite the innumerable benefits of forests, deforestation and degradation are rampant. For every minute in 2019, we lost the equivalent of 10 soccer fields of rainforest, and 1 soccer field of the Canadian boreal forest. Overwhelmingly, deforestation and degradation are driven by the consumption of products that are harvested from forests or produced on deforested land. These products, which include beef, soy, palm oil and wood products are called forest-risk commodities.

Inadvertently, American consumers contribute to the demand for forest-risk commodities. Standard supply chains lack much of the transparency that would allow consumers to avoid products that contribute to deforestation. Some certification programs, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), provide greater supply chain transparency and promote more responsible forestry and production practices. However, there is little incentive for American retailers to opt into these programs, or alternatively, to promote more transparency by developing internal deforestation-free policies.

That’s why Colorado needs to strengthen its deforestation-free policy. Rather than just be “encouraged,” large businesses that have contracts with the state should be required to ensure that the products they purchase, and that are paid for with taxpayer dollars, do not contribute to deforestation. By encouraging their suppliers to source forest-risk commodities more responsibly and transparently, they’ll also encourage a broader transformation in the way forest-risk commodities are produced and imported into the United States.

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Authors

Sammy Herdman

Save The Boreal Forest Campaign, Associate, Environment America

Sammy runs the Save the Boreal Forest campaign for Environment America, calling on American corporations to stop degrading forests that are critical for the climate, biodiversity and people. Sammy grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but now lives in Denver. She enjoys snowboarding, camping and reading.

Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.

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