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Opinion: Act locally to save forests globally, and help slow climate change

Changing some of our personal and commercial habits can reduce incentives to cut down carbon-capturing forests

It’s no secret that we’re having another hot summer in Colorado. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2021 was the fourth-hottest year on record, and 2022 is shaping up to be similar.

Ellen Montgomery

Extremely hot summer days make Colorado outdoor activities like hiking, biking and climbing less appealing and safe. But worse, extreme heat is bad for farms, increases the threat from wildfires and can cause serious health problems, including respiratory problems and heat stroke. 

To reverse course, we need fewer global warming pollutants in our atmosphere. Colorado can take action: We can reduce tailpipe emissions by switching to public transportation and electric cars. We can reduce power-plant emissions by increasing wind and solar power. We can use less energy by switching to energy-efficient appliances and equipment.

But there’s another strategy to accompany these actions that’s even simpler: leave our forests standing.

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Forests serve as a natural carbon sink, absorbing and storing carbon for hundreds and even thousands of years. In fact, our planet’s forests absorb enough carbon dioxide to offset 1.5 times the United States’ annual emissions. When forests are removed or degraded, much of the carbon they were storing is released into the atmosphere. And we’re losing our forests at an alarming rate: In 2020 alone, 2.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide was added to the atmosphere from tropical forest loss. That’s “about two and a half times as much as emitted by passenger cars and light trucks in the United States each year,” according to the New York Times.  

In addition to the climate crisis, we’re also facing a biodiversity crisis, and forests can help here, too. It’s estimated that 80% of the world’s land biodiversity is located in forests. Tropical rainforests cover less than 10% of our planet’s land but host two-thirds of the world’s biodiversity. Deforestation has brought many more species to the brink of extinction, including the Sumatran and Bornean orangutans of Indonesia, where more than a quarter of the forests have been lost in only 25 years. In Canada, fragmentation in the boreal forest has contributed to endangering the iconic woodland caribou herds.

Keeping forests standing is a global issue that demands local action. Here in Colorado, as in the rest of the United States, most forestland is managed by federal agencies. Our federal forests, especially the oldest and largest trees, need more protections from logging. That’s why Coloradans should call on the Biden administration to enact strong, durable protections for our nation’s federally managed forests.

But a lot of deforestation and forest degradation is happening in other countries. What can Coloradans do about that?

It turns out that many of the products we consume, including everything from hamburgers to toilet paper, come from countries undergoing rampant deforestation and forest degradation. Consumers here in Colorado can support policies that ensure that the commodities we use are not harvested and produced on deforested and degraded forestlands.

On Earth Day, April 22, Gov. Jared Polis took an important step toward protecting global forests. The governor signed an executive order that encouraged state agencies and departments to give preference to vendors that have instituted best forest management practices that reduce environmental impacts while maintaining or improving the productivity of land.

The order further cautions against vendors that “contribute to tropical or boreal intact forest degradation or deforestation directly or through the supply chain.”

This is significant because the state government purchases thousands of products — whether it’s coffee for the break room, paper for the copy machines or lumber to build new buildings — that come from forests or former forestlands. The state can make a much greater impact on supply chains than any individual consumer can.

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This kind of action is not limited to state governments. Institutions from universities to places of worship and businesses can and should adopt similar policies when it comes to purchasing forest-related products.

By encouraging state agencies to take these important steps, Gov. Polis has moved the state of Colorado toward reducing our global carbon footprint. The next step is to upgrade the “encouragement” to be a “directive,” and we hope that Colorado decision-makers will take this action in the future.

We must strengthen our commitments and decrease our use of problematic forest products to ensure hope for a livable Colorado and a livable planet.


Ellen Montgomery, of Denver, is the Public Lands Campaign director for Environment Colorado.


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