The White House “Plan to Conserve Global Forests” is the first of its kind by the U.S. government.

It sets forth what it calls “the U.S. approach” to conserving forests. The Plan focuses on three forest ecosystems: Amazon, Congo, and Southeast Asian.

According to the document, the Plan “leverages [U.S.] domestic leadership”. And highlights “efforts in the Pacific Northwest and Tongass”.

The Plan essentially sets out a blueprint for the foreign involvement of the United States in the governance of tropical forest resources.

But is the U.S. really a leader in tropical forest conservation?

Questioning the “U.S. approach” to tropical forest conservation

The Plan, and the policies it sets forth, need to be questioned. Who has lobbied for them? Do they create market advantages for some, while limiting the economic growth of others? What have their results been thus far? And what credibility does a “U.S. approach” have? There are lots of holes in the argument that U.S. agencies are somehow leaders in forest conservation.

For example, timber sales by the U.S. Forest Service in the Tongass National Forests were not “managed in accordance” with the agencies’ own policy.

…the timber sale cruising, appraisal, sale preparation, and contracting program fro the Big Thorne Stewardship Contract and Kosciusko Good Neighbor Authority Agreement were not always managed in accordance with the terms of the agreements and Forest Service policy.

FINAL REPORT – ALASKA REGION TIMBER SALES PROGRAM AUDIT. USDA FOREST SERVICE.

And just down the road from the White House, timber is being clearcut.

Slide the control to see Culpepper County in August of 2017 (left), versus the same area in May 2021.

While companies in the Amazon practice selective logging that retain almost all forest cover.

A timber tract in the Amazon after logging.
Slide the control to see this Amazon forest in August of 2017 (left), versus the same area in May 2021. Timber was harvested in 2018 from this tract.

And there is evidence that the “U.S. approach” to conserve “global forests” has already failed.

A Plan that has already failed in Peru

In Peru, in terms of forest conservation, the “U.S. approach” has been a failure.

The U.S. government committed about US$ 90 million in USAID forest projects in Peru from 2010 through 2019. This is according to data from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Bar chart of USAID funding obligations for forest projects in Peru 2010-2019.

But by 2020, the area of tree cover loss in Peru jumped substantially when compared to 2016.

Bar chart of tree cover loss in Peru from 2016 through 2020.

While in Brazil, over the same time period, the area of tree cover loss decreased.

Bar chart of tree cover loss in Brazil from 2016 through 2020.

In fact, Peru’s tree cover loss in 2020 was among the highest in the region when compared to 2016.

Bar chart showing the change tree cover loss in Amazon countries in 2020 versus 2016.

This is despite exports of Peruvian timber dropping like a rock, falling as much as 51%.

(All of this drop in exports occurred after 2015 when a large shipment of Peruvian timber was confiscated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.)

Tropical forests cannot be conserved from D.C.

Washington was unable to administer timber sales in its own National Forests in accordance with its own policy. Forests in the Washington suburbs are being clearcut and replaced with pavement. A decade of USAID forest governance programs in Peru have been followed by an increase in forest loss that’s higher than neighboring countries.

Blindly following a “U.S. approach” to tropical forest conservation comes at a high cost. Specifically, the cost of ceding the next decade to an approach that has already failed. The conservation of tropical forests will require a radically different approach than this “U.S.” one. And one that certainly doesn’t start in the offices of Washington, D.C.