Magazine article American Forests

Protecting Watersheds as the World Heats Up

Magazine article American Forests

Protecting Watersheds as the World Heats Up

Article excerpt

BACK IN JULY, I spent some time in California visiting with Myra Goodman, the co-founder of Earthbound Farm and a longtime supporter of American Forests, and Jonathan Kusel, an American Forests Science Advisory Board member and the executive director of the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment. Earthbound Farm is headquartered in the prosperous and beautiful community of Carmel Valley, and the Sierra Institute is headquartered in the tiny mountain hamlet of Taylorsville, Calif.

Separated by more than 300 miles, these two rural California communities don't seem have much in common at first glance. The median home value in Taylorsville is $161,000, while in Carmel Valley, the number jumps to $751,000. The Taylorsville business district probably encompasses a half block; Carmel Valley is home to championship golf courses, wineries, upscale restaurants and inns.

But still, these communities are connected in a surprising and important way. The mountain forests that surround Taylorsville supply the watershed that feeds the fertile agricultural lands of Monterey County, where Earthbound Farm is located. The health of these mountain forests has a direct connection to our water supply and, as a result, the food we eat. In fact, 80 percent of the nation's freshwater originates on forestlands, and forests provide a substantial portion of the water used in agricultural food production, along with more than 50 percent of the nation's drinking water.

During my trip, this idea was also being driven home in a much more dramatic way as radio reports detailed how the nation's Farm Belt was suffering through one of the most brutal droughts on record. By the end of July, nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states were experiencing some form of drought, with farm states like Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska being among the hardest hit.

Although it is unclear whether or not climate change is directly to blame for the drought, scientists believe it has significantly exacerbated the problem. 2012 is already looking like a contender for the warmest year on record, with nine of the 10 warmest years on record all occurring in the last decade. So while the drought itself may or may not be a naturally occurring phenomenon, it is occurring within the context of a warmer planet.

Making matters even worse, our country's forests and related watersheds are also significantly threatened by climate change, affecting both the quantity and quality of what comes from forested watersheds. …

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