The Transylvania Times -

Local Resident On A Forest Protection Mission - Brevard, NC


September 28, 2017

Courtesy Photo

Danna Smith is the founder and executive director of the Dogwood Alliance.

Brevard resident Danna Smith is on a mission to put forest protection at the forefront of the national climate agenda.

Smith is the founder and executive director of the Dogwood Alliance, an Asheville-based environmental nonprofit with a current focus on the U.S. wood pellet industry and the European market.

Smith was just at Yale University for a discussion about the role of southern U.S. forests in the fight to remove carbon from the atmosphere, for which she says we already have the best and most advanced technology: trees.

"Around the world, people are recognizing the valuable roles that forests play in the fight against climate change, but in the U.S. we barely talk about forests in the context of climate change," she said during a recent interview. "Almost 100 percent of our focus is on fossil fuels, which is essential, but not enough."

Smith has a law degree from Emory University and spent a few years working for Greenpeace before starting the nonprofit.

She said part of her work reflects the goals of the Paris Agreement, the common goal of 196 representatives at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to address the rising temperatures that have been recorded.

"The good news on climate change is that people all around the world are coordinating in an unprecedented fashion," she said. "Paris was a moment in time where everyone agreed to work toward a common goal, which was to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees over the next century. So, scientists have been hard at work figuring out what we need to do to hit that goal. The good news is that we know what we need to do. One is we've got to rapidly drive down the emissions that are going into the atmosphere. We're getting it here in the U.S. that we need to get off fossil fuels. The other thing that we're not talking about is emissions from the forests – from logging essentially."

According to Smith, the U.S. is the world's largest wood producing and consuming nation, and forest logging rates in the southeast region alone are four times that of the South American rainforest. Smith said these emissions are not being accurately reported in greenhouse gas emissions calculations and the forest industry is essentially getting a free pass on climate change in the U.S.

"And now, for the first time this year, scientists recorded that the concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere have exceeded 400 parts per million," she said.

Bill McKibben and his group,, built a movement out of 350 parts per million because most scientists have agreed that the safe level of carbon in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million.

Smith said we are currently at 410, and we need to get back to safe levels.

We have already reached a point, she said, where the carbon already present is going to continue to cause temperatures to increase if we don't start removing carbon from the atmosphere.

"As we learned in third grade, trees suck up carbon and they give off oxygen," Smith said. "Trees can not only remove carbon, but they store it long term and they keep it out of the atmosphere as long as they are standing. In order to solve the climate crisis, we have to have a major scale up of forest protection around the world. That includes the southern U.S."

Private landowners in the southern U.S. have been selling their trees to companies that make wood pellets, which are then shipped to Europe.

Smith said that in the past five years, parts of the southern U.S. have become the largest exporter of wood pellets.

Smith said she has documented where logging companies are destroying old growth wetland forests, which, she said, also serve as the best sedimentation and flood control in addition to soaking up carbon in the atmosphere.

"This has been big controversy in Europe, the destruction of wetland forests," she said. "We have been on the front page of the Daily Mail, we've been on the BBC news. It has been a huge issue in Europe and they are in the process of revising some of these issues."

Smith's work involves more than just climate change. What she called "a fight for climate justice" is going on in the eastern part of North Carolina in Richmond County, where a company is trying to construct a new wood pellet facility.

She is working with the Southern Environmental Law Center and the local community to stop its construction.

"This community is already at the bottom of expected health outcomes," she said. "They are rural African Americans, and this facility will produce particulate air pollution. We have seen the American South take the brunt of the most devastating storms in recent history, with flooding in Baton Rouge and Hurricane Matthew, and with the storms this year scientists are expecting this to become the new norm."

Smith said that while the law for this type of facility requires public notice, the company did not use the correct address when they filed for the permit, so the local community had no idea.

"Making wood pellets is not a clean process," she said. "This community is already at the bottom of the state because of other industries that are polluting their community. Whether it's oil or gas or an other industry, this is how this stuff works. They come in to these communities that are poor and take advantage of people whose voices are already marginalized," she said. "To bring it back to Brevard, we all know we are so blessed that we live here, surrounded by forests that are owned by the public where the public has a say. There are laws in place that say we have to protect wilderness, and the public has a say. But if you go to Richmond County, there are no public lands and the public has no say. Meanwhile, these communities are in the coastal plain, which is being hit the hardest by these extreme weather events."

Smith questions accelerating the destruction of one of the best systems for natural flood control and calls for scaling up the protection of the forests of the river. Silviculture, she said, is largely exempt from the Clean Water Act. In North Carolina, there is no limit to how much landowners can clear-cut and no requirement to regenerate the forest. But, she said, there are plenty of incentives to replant in pine plantation, which, she said, is not helping ecosystems.

"We need a new layer of policies that match the 21st century," she said.

Smith noted the community is coming together and compared their efforts to the proposed biomass plant in Penrose a few years ago, where locals raised their voices to keep the community as it is.

"I was really struck by how the community really came together to stand for our natural environment, which is as critical to our happiness but also to our economy in Brevard," she said. "Biomass is what's driving this wood industry market in Europe, switching from coal to wood and calling it green energy. But burning wood has been proven to produce more carbon emissions than burning coal. Pellets are taking us backwards on economic development and backwards on racial justice issues. Those that are the most profoundly impacted are the most vulnerable, the old and the poor, but in the coastal plain most of them are black. It's not just a climate science issue but it's also a climate justice issue."

Smith said the science is pretty clear.

"Economists around the world, at the World Bank and others, they recognize that the global economy is on a path this isn't sustainable," she said. "If we degrade and destroy our natural resources, we are degrading our natural assets.

"We're in this mode of measuring our economic success. When resources and the planet are finite, that is a fundamentally flawed model. People are starting to figure out new economic models that will lead to clean water, clean air and better mental health around the world. What's good for nature is good for people and the economy."

For more information about Smith and her work, go to


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