On Earth Day, Thank A Logger

On Earth Day, Thank A Logger

"More active forest management is great news for those who love Montana’s “clean and healthful” environment and want to improve the global climate."

Just in time for Earth Day on April 22, Gov. Greg Gianforte recently announced the state has placed over 36,000 acres of Montana forest land under active forest management in 2023, nearly triple the total acres actively managed in 2020. More active forest management is great news for those who love Montana’s “clean and healthful” environment and want to improve the global climate.

It’s unfortunate when the average person thinks about the front lines of environmental conservation and addressing climate change, they are probably far more likely to picture an activist like Greta Thunberg tweeting out pictures of protests from her iPhone than a Montana logger hard at work out in the woods. On a daily basis, Montana loggers supporting active forest management are taking practical, constructive steps — as opposed to performative acts — toward making our forests, and by extension our planet, healthier.

Most of the debate we see about global climate change centers on burning fossil fuels, but a large and obvious source of carbon emissions in our backyard is often overlooked: The increasingly frequent catastrophic wildfires torching our federal and state managed forests each season.

Wildfires send billions of tons of emissions into the atmosphere when they burn every year. The OECD notes the harmful feedback loop catastrophic forest fires make for the climate: “wildfires exacerbate climate change, which in turn increases the frequency, size, and severity of wildfire events.

Thankfully, healthy forests are a natural carbon solution. Healthy, actively managed forests are robust carbon sinks that sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A wide consensus of experts, including the United Nations panel on climate change, have long recognized that proactive forest management like mechanical thinning (logging) and prescribed burns to reduce excess fuels makes forests healthier and also more resilient to a changing climate, helping to prevent unnaturally severe wildfires that emit excess greenhouse gasses in the first place.

Montana’s Climate Action Plan released just last month identifies expanding proactive forest management on Montana forest lands as a key strategy for addressing carbon emissions by “cutting harmful air pollution and reversing trends that have made our lands and forests net emitters of greenhouse gases when they should instead be serving the country as significant carbon sinks.”

So, while radical climate activists are throwing soup on the Mona Lisa, the Montana loggers who support active forest management projects throughout the state are out there helping to actually improve the climate in real, tangible ways.

My dad was a logging equipment mechanic when I was growing up in the Bitterroot Valley, and I spent many days tagging along to job sites with him as he repaired big harvesters, skidders, loaders etc. The loggers I got to know understand the importance of environmental conservation, probably on a deeper level than most. Unlike the tourists taking photos of the beautiful landscapes from the side of the highway, those in the forestry industry live, work, and play in the woods. They are the last people who want to see our forests degraded, because those ecosystems are what sustain their way of life. They take pride in the jobs they’ve done, the forests they’ve cleaned up and made healthy again.

Especially at a time when the industry is hit hard with plant closures in Seeley Lake and Missoula, we should take a minute to appreciate the important role the forestry industry plays in improving the Montana environment we all love.

On Earth Day, celebrate expanded active forest management and thank a logger if you meet one.

This column originally appeared in Lee Newspapers.

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