Letter to the editor: Things to remember this year for National Public Lands Day

Tom Koehler

This past Saturday marked the 27th National Public Lands Day. Over the years, I have been a dedicated volunteer steward maintaining trails, repairing our riparian zone and making the recreational assets we love in good, safe shape for all. In 2019, $15 million worth of work by volunteers on over 2,000 sites was completed, according to the National Environmental Education Foundation.

Is this magnificent work enough? In addition to heavy use, we battle climate change. We need nature to work to combat climate change. Analysis from The Wilderness Society’s climate change tools found that the lifecycle emissions from the production and combustion of fossil fuels produced on public lands as a result of the federal leasing program are equivalent to over 20% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

High rates of development of these leases could result in lifecycle emissions that equate to more than half of the annual emissions of China — by far the world’s worst emitter according to The Wilderness Society. 

There is hope, though, with a bill recently introduced bill in the House in December, the American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solutions Act, that has ambitious goals. It aims to make federal public lands a net-zero source of emissions by 2040. 

It is encouraging that there is real recognition that our valuable natural assets are being ill-managed against the health and intent of most of the public and that action is being taken. 

As wildfires ravage the West, releasing massive carbon, we need to encourage policies that recognize our natural assets as a powerful ally in our fight against climate change.

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