Save our forests, and our economy

COVID-Safe Job Creation 

The scale and pace of wildfires in California will expand as climate conditions change, threatening the West coast and beyond.

Yet, this catastrophe is one of many threats to our forests and human health: insects and disease, and specifically, the potential irreversible spread of invasive plant species that could change ecosystems forever.

Invasive plants, if left unchecked, will constrict forest products, fisheries, agriculture, and tourism industries – and put our human and economic health at risk.

English ivy is not a sensational forest fire, but it’s effects could be permanent if we don’t act soon. Ivy covered 50% of urban forests in 100 years, and seeds are now leapfrogging by bird into regional forests. “Ivy deserts” are useless pollinator habitat – critical to our food supply – so we cannot let ivy become regionally entrenched. Ivy is notorious rat habitat, as all monocultures are vectors for pests and disease.

Other invasive plants, like knotweed, degrade salmon habitat. English holly is spreading at near-exponential rates, doubling every six years and having “the potential to become a dominant species in both number of individuals and area covered within a few decades… (transforming) the region’s native forests on a large scale.” (Dr. David Stokes, UW Bothell).

Invasive plants are a visible illustration of an epidemic, where infected properties go on to infect others at increasing rates. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be. We have no choice but to nip infestations in the bud.

Paradoxically, the invasive epidemic and the COVID epidemic dovetail: People out of work from the pandemic need safe, outdoor re-entry jobs, starting with cutting ivy off trees. These workers can help reboot the restaurant industry, buying take-out food, all with contact tracing.

Restoration jobs should start at $15 per hour, competing with minimum-wage employers who need a little competition. Restoration is meaningful, hard work, and it’s infinitely better than unemployment handouts. That $15 per hour will maintain its “sweat” value, avoiding inflation. Bottom-up injections of public money have better economic multiplier effects than military expenditures or trickle-down tax cuts. Our predicament is so dire we have to get this right.

Still, our army and national guard would be helpful in this battle for our natural security. The problem is that serious. But, such a mobilization would be a waste of tax dollars if we don’t collectively quarantine invasive seed sources across all lands at the same time. Otherwise, seeds just reinfest our hard work.

This will require incentives for all homeowners and land managers. I suggest property tax breaks commensurate with “eco-assessments.” As an optional opportunity, certified assessors could be invited to measure a property’s fire safety, stormwater control (cisterns, raingardens, tree canopy), noxious weed control, soil health, smart-development, and other public benefits. Apply the eco-assessment annually to reduce property taxes and motivate land stewardship.

We can’t just cut taxes – we have to balance revenues, and the super rich should contribute their patriotic share. But, we need a “tax shift” that motivates the entire population to make better choices for our environment and economy.

Beyond stewardship tax breaks, we need carbon tax hikes to balance the equation. Without pollution deterrents, forests will burn, droughts will affect crops, and salmon will suffer. Without a gas tax, our freeways will slow to a crawl, all losses that will impoverish us.

We need a measure of social safety, but let’s not go down the backroad of unemployment subsidies. Let’s raise revenue responsibly to create livable wage jobs, stimulating a working economy. Imagine an economy where employment is guaranteed, housing is earned, transit is free, freeways flow, and people have options to avoid taxes by simply riding a bike or stewarding their land.

This is a tax shift, “off our backs and on our side.”