Healthy Forests for a Healthy Climate
Let’s keep things growing - and plant trees where they’re needed most.
The Benefits of Healthy Forests
✅ Trees Support America’s Emissions Reductions Goals
America’s forests are special places that are cherished by our communities. They’re also hard at work, pulling the equivalent of 12% of America’s carbon pollution out of the air each year. We can increase the amount of carbon our forests pull out of the air by planting new forests in places where it makes sense. Young forests pull carbon out of the air at a very high rate as the young trees grow larger. By protecting, expanding, and managing our forests in a way that is climate-smart, they can reduce emissions up to 22% by 2030. Read more on why healthy forests are important for mitigating climate change.
✅ Trees Save Lives in Cities on Hot Days
Extreme heat threatens the lives and health of people living in American cities during the summer. 12,000 Americans die prematurely each year from heat-related causes. Due to historic discriminatory policies, trees are often sparse in neighborhoods with more low-income families and people of color. On a hot day, these neighborhoods can experience temperatures more than 15°F hotter than wealthier neighborhoods in the same city. Planting trees is the cheapest, fastest, and most effective way to directly lower temperatures and save lives in cities. Adequate tree coverage can reduce temperatures as much as 10°F.
✅ Trees Lower City-Wide Grid Strain
A heat-triggered power outage in a major city could leave millions at risk of heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Because trees help keep things cooler, they reduce air conditioning usage and the risk of a major power failure. Learn more about urban forests.
✅ Trees Create Vibrant Communities
Spending time around trees reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves mood, and helps us live longer. It’s no wonder people love camping in healthy forests! Meanwhile, in cities, urban forests bring these natural benefits to people who haven’t had them in years. New trees support the economy, too. One study on green infrastructure found that for every dollar invested, nearly two dollars were spent throughout the economy. And a $1 million investment in urban forests created about 24 full-time, living wage jobs for the surrounding community.
Healthy Forests 101: How can we preserve American forests?
America’s natural resources like forests, grasslands, and oceans are natural climate solutions that pull carbon out of the air, reducing the impacts of climate change. We can manage all of these natural resources in urban and rural areas to maximize their ability to prevent climate change.
The good news is everybody loves trees and wants to help them grow. 90% of Americans are supportive of more trees to absorb carbon emissions. Forest health is the place to start fostering bipartisan collaboration on climate solutions.
The best forest solutions have two parts: planting new trees (in cities and rural forests) while protecting existing trees. There are a few ways we can preserve American forests while maximizing their climate change-fighting impacts:
1. Increasing tree populations
Our existing forests are threatened by climate change, which has made them more vulnerable to droughts, wildfires, and pests. Western forests in particular are shrinking as a result, with up to 30% of California’s Sierra Nevada forestland lost to other types of vegetation in the past decade. And when forests die, they release the large amounts of carbon that they’ve been storing in the soil and trees into the air. To get more healthy trees in America, we need to plant new ones while protecting those that already exist (better forest management).
2. Incentivizing private landowners
Over half of America’s forestland is privately owned. Today, landowners have limited incentives to manage their forests in a way that benefits our climate. By providing financial incentives, we can encourage private landowners to preserve healthy forests and protect them from other uses.
3. Fighting deforestation worldwide
The world is currently losing 25 million acres of forests per year to deforestation. Most deforestation is occurring in tropical countries like Brazil and Indonesia, often to grow crops and livestock to sell on the international market. We can stop importing products produced on land undergoing illegal deforestation.
4. Using durable wood products
Trees from forests can be sustainably harvested in a way that keeps carbon locked up inside the wood products instead of being released into the air. Homes and buildings nationwide should be made with durable wood instead of concrete, steel, or plastic.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How can planting trees help to reduce climate change?
Compared to older trees, younger trees pull more carbon out of the air like an efficient, natural vacuum cleaner. Less carbon in our atmosphere means we can slow the effects of climate change.
2. What is an urban forest?
All the trees planted in a particular urban area make an “urban forest.” That includes trees planted on streets, in homes, in parks, in gardens, and those heroic trees that beat the odds and end up growing on their own in empty lots or out of your gutters. Learn more about CCL’s urban forests policy here.
3. What are the health benefits of urban forests?
Adequate tree coverage can reduce temperatures as much as 10°F, which saves lives in cities by reducing temperatures and preventing power outages. Plus, trees make us happier and reduce stress, making our cities a more pleasant place to live.
4. What is the urban heat island effect?
When cities remove trees and natural surfaces and replace them with concrete, pavement, buildings and other structures that absorb and retain heat, heat concentrates in the city, creating a “heat island” with higher temperatures than surrounding areas. Urban heat islands cause premature deaths, power failures, and air pollution. They can be combated by planting new trees and preserving existing urban trees.
5. What kind of forestry policies does CCL support?
We support policies that:
- Help to increase urban forests
- Help to preserve existing forests nationwide
- Focus on neighborhoods that suffer from a lack of tree equity
Oftentimes, the best urban forest and tree equity policies are local or state initiatives. To bring this issue to light, CCL advocates for increasing urban forests by supporting local groups and community leads with tree planting initiatives and helping local communities take advantage of available funding for tree planting.
We support the following policies currently in Congress:
- The FOREST Act – Fights deforestation worldwide by restricting the importation of products made of commodities produced on land undergoing illegal deforestation.
- The Growing Climate Solutions Act – Facilitates the participation of farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners in voluntary environmental credit markets.
See our other policy initiatives: