Our long-term goal: Older forests on federal lands are managed for carbon storage, intact areas are managed for resilience to climate change as climate sanctuaries, and wildfire is maintained for its beneficial role in forest renewal.
Forest Legacies applies a mixture of cutting-edge science and strategic partnerships that influence climate and natural resource policies on public lands. We make use of on an 18-member nationally recognized advisory board of scientists and an online network of over 1,500 scientists that routinely extend our science reach to decision makers in Congress and the White House. We publish in leading scientific journals, play a lead role in scientific societies like the Society for Conservation Biology, and serve as a spokesperson for translating the latest conservation science to the public and media.
When viewed from the window of an airplane, an intact landscape is a living legacy, particularly when it is embedded in a sea of clearcuts and developed lands. Inside an individual forest, its legacies are the sum-of-the ecosystem parts that uniquely define the quality of the forest: large snags (dead trees), downed logs, and flowering plants persist for centuries in the old-growth stage. Ancient trees readily absorb (sequester) and store massive amounts of carbon, helping to stabilize the climate. They anchor soils and prevent erosion, purify drinking water by filtering and slowly releasing it during dry summer months, and provide habitat for imperiled species like spotted owls and hunt-able wildlife like elk that seek sanctuary in dense forests during winter months. When disturbed by a fire, these core elements (surviving or dead) are the building blocks (legacies) for the new forest that literally rises from the ashes as nature’s phoenix.
While much of our Forest Legacy work is focused on protecting temperate rainforests, dry forests provide important and underappreciated ecosystem benefits as well. In western North America, dry forests are born out of fire. With urban sprawl resulting in 46 million homes in fire-prone areas, wildfire-fighting costs have spiraled out of control pitting the needs of fire-dependent forests against the needs and safety of people. Fire is also increasing in places due to climate change, although before Europeans arrived, Native people experienced much more fire than we do today. The Forest Legacies program is working to direct fire fighting and fire risk reduction to where they are needed most – nearest homes – while allowing managing fires for their ecosystem benefits in the backcountry. We are also working to bring the latest science to decision makers in order to support rationale fire legislation that does not replace critical protections for newly fire-created forests with increased and unsustainable logging.