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Opinion

Amid Unprecedented Deforestation, Colorado Leads the Way on Protections | Opinion

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by Sammy Herdman, Colorado Newsline
December 6, 2022

Last spring, Gov. Jared Polis established Colorado as the nation’s leader in global forest protections by signing an executive order to little note or fanfare. While this order understandably passed under most Coloradans’ radar, with the governor’s signature, Colorado overtook New York and California, which have been striving to pass bills that would protect global forests for the past few years.

In a single clause, tucked away near the end, the governor’s order states that government agencies and departments are encouraged to purchase from vendors that do not contribute to tropical and boreal forest degradation or deforestation, especially forests that are intact (undisturbed by human industry). The clause also encourages the state government to use vendors that protect the land rights of Indigenous groups that live in or depend on forests.

Despite its brevity and flexibility, this clause is a landmark achievement and a promising step toward fulfilling the United States’ pledge to reduce deforestation.

Beyond protecting boreal and tropical forests, Polis’ executive order D 2022 016 also safeguards Colorado’s ecosystems and residents. Alongside the mosaics of pines and aspens that border our hiking trails, ski slopes and campsites, Colorado depends on healthy global forests. Despite their distance, boreal forests and tropical forests are critical to maintaining a healthy environment here in Colorado; global forests are inextricably linked with our climate. By some calculations, 20% of our planet’s greenhouse gas emissions come from tropical deforestation. Boreal forests, which cover much of Canada, Russia and China, store one-third of our planet’s terrestrial carbon.

Coloradans, moreover, rely on biodiversity that our global forests provide. From bananas to tires to cancer treatments, forest biodiversity has proven to be an invaluable source of human advancement. Despite covering less than 7% of Earth, tropical rainforests hold half of the planet’s species. The boreal forest in Canada is a refuge for North American wildlife, including Canada lynx, caribou and nearly half of all bird species that migrate south to our backyards and parks each winter.

Despite their importance, boreal and tropical forests are being destroyed with unprecedented speed. If we don’t slow the current rate of deforestation, tropical forests will be gone entirely in the next 100 years. The Canadian boreal forest, which is the largest undisturbed ecosystem left on Earth, is being logged at a rate of 1.5 football fields per minute. These forests are being destroyed to produce commodities such as beef, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber, palm oil, timber and paper. So many of these commodities are exported to the world’s richest countries that 14% of global deforestation is driven by consumers in wealthy countries, including the U.S.

That’s why it’s imperative to implement state legislation that limits purchases of “forest-risk commodities” that contribute to tropical and boreal deforestation and degradation. California and New York have proposed legislation that would do just that, as well as protect the land rights of Indigenous groups that live in or depend on forests. Unfortunately, various legislative processes and setbacks have delayed these transformative bills from passing. With the governor’s executive order, Colorado has moved ahead. But there is still more that can be done: Colorado’s executive order encourages rather than requires state agencies and departments to source sustainable forest-risk commodities.

Colorado has developed a strong foundation for protecting our planet’s climate and biodiversity. Preventing the state government from buying unsustainably sourced forest-risk commodities is a no-brainer: Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used on items that directly contribute to deforestation and forest degradation.

Now that Colorado is the first state with official guidance on the books, it’s time to build on this framework and push for even stronger protection for our global forests.

This story first appeared in the Colorado Newsline.