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Utah lawmakers want to fight climate change with forest management

forest clearing machine in the Manti-La Sal National Forest
Lexi Peery
State employees worked to clear parts of the Manti-La Sal National Forest in October 2020. It’s a practice some Utah lawmakers say could help address climate change.

The Utah Legislature will soon consider a resolution about climate, public lands and carbon sequestration. Conservation groups say it’s a step in the right direction but misses the mark.

The resolution from conserative Utah lawmakers does acknowledge climate change. They say the best way to address it though is carbon sequestration, or capturing and storing carbon dioxide from forests. Instead of focusing on renewable energy in his climate agenda — the lawmakers say President Joe Biden should look to public lands.

Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, is a co-sponsor of the resolution. He discussed it at a legislative committee hearing in November.

“We're placing proper priority and emphasis on the health and maintenance of our public lands to create the minimization of any carbon that is emitted,” he said.

Deeda Seed, public lands senior campaigner for the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, said this is an excuse to continue with business as usual.

“They're trying to use the language to justify a continuation of policies that they've always supported, which is fossil fuel extraction, massive grazing on public lands [and] timber harvesting,” she said.

At last month’s hearing, lawmakers talked about catastrophic forest fires releasing carbon dioxide and the need to clear out vegetation to prevent those kinds of fires. The resolution calls on the Biden Administration to explain why more resources haven’t gone to “forest and rangeland fuel reduction and other fire pre-suppression activities.”

Sheldon Kinsel is president of the Win/Win CO2 Solutions Group, which prioritizes carbon sequestration as a way to address climate change. He spoke at November’s meeting, saying he worked with legislators in 2015 on a similar resolution.

“By not having the forest burn, you continue to use it, it continues to serve as carbon sinks,” he said, referring to areas that absorb more carbon than they emit.

Steve Bloch, the legal director for the conservation group Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said SUWA disagrees with heavy-handed clearing of forests.

“We think that suppressing natural fire [and] mechanical removal of native vegetation are not steps forward in fighting the climate crisis,” he said. “But the resolution makes some significant strides, I think, for Utah politicians to say that the climate crisis is real, that the preservation of natural systems have a large role to play in fighting that crisis.”

Seed and Bloch said the language of the resolution is vague, and they’ll be watching to see what actions lawmakers actually take.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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