Rep. Westerman, only forester in Congress, wants to see 1 trillion more trees

June 29, 2021
In The News

Could growing a trillion trees be the key to addressing climate change? Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., Congress’ only forester, says yes.

Westerman is the lead sponsor of the Trillion Trees Act. He said one study found a trillion additional trees would sequester 205 gigatons of carbon – two-thirds of the carbon produced by mankind since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

“There’s a lot of different sources of carbon going into the atmosphere, but there’s one major way to take carbon out of the atmosphere, and that’s with a tree,” he told me.

The act would not deploy millions of Americans into the pasturelands with shovels and saplings. Instead, it would provide additional funding for nurseries, work with states and private entities, and provide technical information to other countries. Westerman said there are about 300 billion trees in the United States – roughly 1,000 per American – and 3 trillion globally.

A big part of the act would involve improved forest management practices to allow seeds to fall to the ground and plant themselves.

This has been a longtime focus for Westerman, who did I mention is Congress’ only forester? He’s tried for several years to pass the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which would introduce more aggressive federal forestry management techniques.

He said he’s always run into opposition from certain more radical environmental groups who don’t ever want to cut down a tree. But he said healthy forest management is the key to preventing the types of fires that have been raging in California and billowing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Westerman said the United States doesn’t have to harm its economy in order to conserve the environment. Trees are nature’s way of sequestering carbon. They can be deployed across the globe. They can do it much better than any proposed manmade, mechanical means that would be expensive and difficult to implement on a large scale. They provide economic benefits (including in Arkansas), support outdoor activities and benefit wildlife.

Westerman is not only a forester but also is one of Congress’ few civil engineers, which he said trained him to solve problems.

And when it comes to climate change – this is me writing – there are two of them.

One is the problem itself, which is that the earth’s climate is changing, but humanity and other species depend on the climate we have.

The other problem is that we can’t address the situation because we benefit too much from the status quo, because of politics, and because we’re too busy arguing about questions such as how much of climate change is caused by mankind’s activities, and how much of it is a natural, cyclical occurrence. (It’s both.) What people think about climate change often depends on what they think about other things – for example, capitalism. This issue becomes just another battle in the culture war.

But planting trees addresses climate change without us even having to agree on its manmade and natural causes. We don’t have to argue about anything. It’s just a good thing to do, so who could be against it?

Westerman is the top-ranking Republican on the House Committee on Natural Resources. He recently joined Congress’ new Conservative Climate Caucus.

Can he help forge a problem-solving path between some of the all-or-nothing environmental groups and the do-nothing approach that often has characterized conservatives on this issue? He noted that Republican President Teddy Roosevelt was the original conservationist, and the Environmental Protection Agency was created under President Richard Nixon.

The fact that he is a conservative Republican means some people in our divided country will never trust him. Some Democrats privately say they like the bill, but Westerman said they would be attacked in their districts if they publicly supported it. Of the bill’s 71 House co-sponsors (including Arkansas’ three other representatives), only three are Democrats.

There’s a reason the nation’s 535 lawmakers on Capitol Hill aren’t all lawyers. We want our elected officials to come from all walks of life. On this issue, Westerman is the only member of Congress with the professional training to see both the forests and the trees.

So let’s just pass his bill. We can argue about all the other issues related to climate change while we’re planting trees. And then, someday, maybe our grandchildren can have their own discussions while sitting in the shade.