Carole King

The future of America’s national forests is being shaped now. The Biden administration is developing a system to inventory old-growth and mature forests on federal land that the president wants to be completed by next April. But given the immediate threats facing many of these forests and their importance to slowing climate change, bold action is required immediately to preserve not just old-growth and mature trees but entire national forest ecosystems comprising thousands of interdependent species.
President Biden should issue an executive order immediately directing his secretaries of the interior and agriculture to take all steps available to them to stop commercial logging on public land. We can’t wait a year.

8 thoughts on “Carole King

  1. shinichi Post author

    It Costs Nothing to Leave Our Trees as They Are

    by Carole King
    Ms. King is a singer, songwriter, author and environmental advocate.

    My career as a songwriter began in Manhattan, not far from where I was born. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1968, I became part of the singer-songwriter community that coalesced around Laurel Canyon. I thought California would be wild in the sense of nature. It turned out to be wild in the sense of drugs and parties. I wanted to live close to the kind of wild nature that must exist somewhere on a large scale. Somewhere turned out to be Idaho.

    In 1977 I moved to a mobile home on Robie Creek, a 40-minute drive from Boise. For the next three years, I lived in the backcountry northeast of McCall in a cabin with no running water or electricity. After that I lived adjacent to the Salmon River for 38 years, with a national forest as my nearest neighbor.

    The future of America’s national forests is being shaped now. The Biden administration is developing a system to inventory old-growth and mature forests on federal land that the president wants to be completed by next April. But given the immediate threats facing many of these forests and their importance to slowing climate change, bold action is required immediately to preserve not just old-growth and mature trees but entire national forest ecosystems comprising thousands of interdependent species.

    President Biden should issue an executive order immediately directing his secretaries of the interior and agriculture to take all steps available to them to stop commercial logging on public land. We can’t wait a year.

    One of the best technologies to store carbon is an unlogged forest with minimal human intrusion. Forests sequester vast amounts of carbon in the trunks, leaves and roots of trees of all ages and sizes and the soil beneath them. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and water from the air and ground and through the process of photosynthesis release oxygen into the air. It costs nothing to leave them as they are. Allowing commercial logging to continue in our national forests would also be a catastrophe for the biodiversity they contain.

    The order I propose would bring about a significant reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide. And it will help the United States meet the requirements of the Paris agreement, which Mr. Biden rejoined on the first day of his presidency. Even with the climate provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, he will fall short of his promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 52 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Cutting more forests isn’t going to help hit that mark.

    Last fall, over 200 climate scientists from around the country sent Mr. Biden a letter underscoring the consequences if timber harvesting continues in the national forests. They wrote that “greenhouse gas emissions from logging in U.S. forests are now comparable to the annual” carbon dioxide “emissions from U.S. coal burning.” Protecting federal forestlands from logging, on the other hand, would remove 84 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year, they wrote.

    My experience in Idaho led me to become involved as a volunteer in the ongoing effort to protect a bioregion of 23 million acres of nationally owned public land in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Wyoming by means of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.

    That legislation would designate corridors for the safe passage of wildlife between existing wilderness and roadless areas on federal forestland. It was proposed by scientists in the late 1980s who understood that protecting and connecting large-scale forest ecosystems is necessary for species to thrive. Despite the legislation receiving some bipartisan support in past years, it has not been enacted in the nearly 30 years since it was introduced.

    Forest preservation is a climate solution. That’s why we need action to safeguard the forests on the public lands we all share. Federal law requires that most public lands be managed for multiple uses, such as recreation, gas and oil development, mining and logging. But this longstanding policy is running headlong into efforts to slow the warming of our planet.

    Forests on federally owned land are being destroyed at breakneck speed by heavy equipment that can saw through a tree, strip its branches and set that tree on a pile of logs in the time it took me to type this sentence.

    The effects of the climate crisis are undeniable. People are suffering, and the scale of the problem sometimes makes us feel helpless. But the public can do something right now by asking Mr. Biden — in numbers too big to ignore — to use all of his powers to stop the logging of the nation’s mature and old-growth forests.

    In 1970, my collaborator Toni Stern wrote the lyrics to my most popular song, “It’s Too Late.” That title should not refer to the climate. That’s why, at age 80, I’m using my voice to call on Mr. Biden to stop commercial logging in our national forests. Please add your voice to mine.

  2. shinichi Post author

    To the Editor:

    Re “Leave Forests Alone, Before It’s Too Late,” by Carole King (Opinion guest essay, Aug. 26):

    I love Ms. King’s music and I love the public forests of the American West. As a federal wildland firefighter I spent my career watching those forests burn — including in Idaho, Ms. King’s home state. Climate change has only exacerbated the issue.

    My experience has taught me that older trees are more resistant to fire than younger trees when it comes to wildfires, but only if crowded groups of small-diameter trees are not growing directly underneath or adjacent to them.

    Within the context of climate change, the forests of the West cannot simply be left “as they are.” The landscape is not a museum; it is a dynamic collection of living ecosystems that now require active management to promote their resilience against a climate that is rapidly changing.

    Mike Benefield
    Terrebonne, Ore.

  3. shinichi Post author

    To the Editor:

    Thanks to the musician Carole King for an urgent and cogent call to protect our nation’s irreplaceable forests. Amid rising global temperatures and climate chaos evidenced by persistent droughts and mega-floods, conscientious caring for arboreal wilderness is imperative.

    Writing in 2003, the Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva expressed dismay at the assault on forest lands: “It is a war unleashed by the violence of the monoculture mind, which reduces nature to raw material, life to a commodity, diversity to a threat, and views destruction as ‘progress.’” The American prophet of ecology Henry David Thoreau proclaimed that in pristine purlieus of the wild “is the preservation of the world.”

    These ongoing venal acts of brute commercial exploitation bring humanity inches closer to our own eradication. There is a better and more harmonious way to live in peace with the trees.

    Joe Martin

  4. shinichi Post author

    To the Editor:

    In calling for the government to leave forests “as they are” — an end to active management of America’s 193 million acres of national forests — Carole King is effectively asking us to needlessly condemn millions of acres to the ravages of climate change. She also leaves out critical parts of the story.

    We have tried to exclude all fire — even, in many cases, ecologically beneficial fire — from most national forests for more than a century. Once open, seasonally dry forests that thrived with frequent low-intensity fires have become dense forests with weakened resilience. Trees are struggling to survive the most severe mega-drought the West has seen in 1,200 years — a result of climate change. Working in climate-stressed forests, my colleagues and I see the results of this daily. Massive tree die-offs and uncharacteristically severe wildfires are now common in these unnaturally dense and unnaturally dry forests.

    Climate-smart forestry such as strategic ecological thinning, prescribed burning and climate-informed reforestation can help forests adapt and become more climate resilient. If we do nothing, we will lose many more trees across more acres than will ever be removed through forest management.

    Brian Kittler
    Portland, Ore.
    The writer is the vice president of forest restoration at American Forests, a nonprofit conservation organization.

  5. shinichi Post author

    To the Editor:

    Carole King’s opinion piece is high on emotion but low on the facts. Wood is much less carbon intensive, and better for the environment, than many other materials, such as steel, concrete or plastic.

    If our wood doesn’t come from sustainably managed forests on public lands in the United States, it will come from illegal logging in places like the rain forest. The concept is called “leakage,” where our demands for wood are merely transferred elsewhere, often in places with fewer environmental controls than in this country.

    The way to reduce global warming is to use fewer fossil fuels by changing our lifestyles. Stop flying in airplanes and mowing lawns is a good start.

    Jerry Milne
    Plymouth, Conn.
    The writer is a certified forester who has managed thousands of acres of public forests for over 40 years.

  6. shinichi Post author

    This 500-Year-Old Tree in California Has a Story to Tell

    by Daniel Griffin

    About two hours north of Los Angeles, on the steep slopes of Mount Pinos, stands an ancient grove of big-cone Douglas fir trees. The telltale signs of decades-long droughts from centuries past lie deep within the trunks of its oldest trees. But inscribed just beneath the bark are traces of the worst drought these trees have ever withstood.

    Across California, primeval forests are under threat. Pests are decimating the state’s bristlecone pines, the oldest trees on Earth. Two wildfires in September killed thousands of mature sequoias (the world’s largest trees by volume), a fate similar to large areas of coastal redwood forests (the world’s tallest) the year before. Last week, the Washburn Fire scorched the flank of the Mariposa Grove, a group of over 500 giant sequoias whose protection was a driving force for the creation of Yosemite National Park.

    The rings inside the Douglas firs in the Mount Pinos grove record a continuous climate history stretching back 500 years, nearly five times as far as rain-gauge records. But even though these trees are well adapted to this rugged landscape, they cannot survive without sufficient rainfall and moisture. For some of the trees, their unbroken story may be coming to an end.

    As a dendrochronologist, I examine tree rings to study climate. I hunt for old trees and use a simple hand tool — which does not harm the tree — to bore deep into trunks looking for evidence of ancient drought and deluge. For 20 years, first with my teachers and later with my students, I’ve visited old-growth forests across the American Southwest, watching dry season after dry season pile up.

    These withering years are killing trees. We have watched their habitats shrink, as warmer temperatures pull moisture out of the ground at lower elevations and drive woodlands to higher, cooler slopes. I’ve taken samples from healthy younger trees and returned years later to find them dead or dying. The matriarchs, the largest, oldest and most deeply established trees in many groves, seem to be hanging on for now. But no scientist is sure how much more they can endure.

    A recent study published in Nature Climate Change analyzed the rings of thousands of living trees and architectural wooden beams from around the Southwest to reconstruct a 12-centuries-long timeline of climate extremes. The authors concluded that there was probably not a drought as severe as today’s in the past 1,200 years.

    Our planet produced decades-long megadroughts well before humans had a discernible impact on the climate. Tree rings and weather records make it possible to see how and why today’s megadrought is so different from those that came before: Rising temperatures over the past two decades, clearly attributable to the burning of fossil fuels, have greatly increased the severity of the Southwestern drought.

    We have spiked the climate system, releasing heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than at any other time in at least the past 50 million years. Human-fueled megadroughts like this one will be more frequent and severe in the future. In the Southwest, there will be more years with declining snowpack, more years with water shortages and a more dire mismatch between where water is available and where it is needed.

    A century of successful wildfire suppression has ensured that when the forests of our dry lands finally catch flame, they will burn much hotter than before. Rare, high-intensity wildfires kill trees that the low-intensity fires of the past did not. Tree rings we are able to collect this season might not be around to sample in the next.

    That danger was evident last summer, when our research group pulled off the highway near Mount Pinos to extract core samples from living big-cone Douglas fir trees. Years ago, we wouldn’t have hesitated to bring chainsaws to collect entire discs of tree trunks from fallen trees. But not last year. We would leave the fallen trees where they were. We could not chance an errant spark that could ignite a wildfire.

    The forest was a tinderbox.

    The risk is even more acute at lower elevations, where temperatures are higher. That is the case for the vast oak woodlands that range across the dry foothills of California.

    Blue oaks, named for the color their leaves take on deep in the summer season, are revered among dendrochronologists. They can live for more than 550 years, survive on as little as 10 inches of average annual rainfall and are among the most drought-adapted of any tree species in the state. Kelly Redmond, a leading climate scientist and observer of climate change across the American West, referred to blue oaks as natural rain gauges. They grow at low elevation and early in the season, in tight synchronicity with the rainwater of winter and spring. And they lack the growth quirks of some other tree species that can muddy the signals of heat and precipitation. The conventional wisdom for years has been that oaks never miss a ring.

    But when we arrived at a site low in the foothills, we found dozens of dying trees with sickly branches barren of leaves. Looking at core samples back at the lab, we found missing rings where 2014 and 2021 should have been.

    Blue oaks are drought resistant, but only to a point. As we worked our way up the slope, we found oaks with healthier canopies, surviving despite the intense stress. At higher elevations, the summer California heat is slightly tempered, and the rain falls just marginally more, enough to keep these trees alive.

    Climate change will push the blue oak’s survivable range upslope, like a tidal wave engulfing an island, forcing inhabitants to gather at the highest ground as the dryness rises.

    Across the Southwest, forests are now living on a knife’s edge. If wildfires find groves like these amid this intense drought, they may be deadly — to the Douglas firs and blue oaks that we study, to the plants and animals that live among them and to people who have built their homes near these weakened trees. Will a new forest be able to grow out of the ashes?

    Elder trees should still have many seasons left to grow, saplings to nurse, ecosystems to support and stories to tell. They deserve better.

    So do the future generations of humanity. Our fates are inextricably intertwined.


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