President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, doesn’t have a good track record with forest conservation to say the least.
As governor of Georgia, he killed the green space program, designed with conservation in mind, and replaced it with one that allowed continued harvesting of trees on rural lands where the state had purchased development rights. Georgia is already one of the country’s biggest timber states.
Deforestation not only destroys vital habitats for thousands of species, but the process means there are fewer trees to absorb carbon dioxide. That leaves more of the greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere, exacerbating the life-threatening problem of global warming.
Perdue himself mocks weather deviation as a symptom of climate change, so it’s no wonder he’s ready to dismiss deforestation as he hands over woodlands for profit.
Unsurprisingly, the timber industry has largely backed Perdue. Perdue is a woodland owner himself, and he’s been known to expand forests to markets.
“What’s really happened in the past 50 years is we’ve seen a decrease of over 30 million acres of natural forest in the U.S. South, and an increase of over 40 million acres of pine plantation,” said Adam Macon, of the North Carolina-based forest conservation group Dogwood Alliance. “We’re turning our forests into an industrial crop being grown for Big Timber.”
Republicans and the Trump administration are planning to roll back environmental review processes, so they can put even more federal lands into the hands of the timber industry.
“Conservatives in Congress are looking to ways to incentivize more timber, cutting back regulations and rules that are designed to protect the American public’s interest in making sure those lands are available,” said Alan Rowsome, senior government relations director at The Wilderness Society.
As secretary of agriculture, Perdue would be instrumental to pushing this agenda forward. In fact, he has already discussed opening more federal lands to timber with a senator.
Perdue’s past policies, views on climate change and lingering ties with the timber industry don’t bode well for the 193 million acres under the control of the U.S. Forest Service.