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Carbon clarifications

Forests fix and store huge amounts of carbon. Forestry is also B.C.'s biggest source of carbon emissions. Yet the province's forest carbon strategy seems to be that our forests will all soon burn up, fall to beetles or blow down.
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Forests fix and store huge amounts of carbon. Forestry is also B.C.'s biggest source of carbon emissions. Yet the province's forest carbon strategy seems to be that our forests will all soon burn up, fall to beetles or blow down. We should quickly log much more, store carbon in long-lasting wood products and landfills, use logging debris for biofuel, and promptly reforest to take up more carbon.

Here are seven forest carbon myths tied to this strategy.

1) Forestry is carbon neutral. It could be but usually isn't. Logging and converting wild forests to managed forests releases large, unrecoverable amounts of CO2, even when off-site storage in wood products is factored in.

2) Young forests take up more carbon than they emit and are carbon sinks. Old forests take up less carbon than they emit and are carbon sources. Most old forests fix more carbon than they emit and store much more carbon than do young forests.

3) Forests are impermanent carbon banks doomed by wildfire and insects. B.C. forests will not disappear overnight. Currently stored carbon has much greater time value than uptake by juvenile forests or storage recouped over 75+ post-logging years.

4) Warmer wetter, CO2-enriched conditions will enhance tree growth and forest productivity. Productivity constraints include increasing moisture stress, wildfire, pests, diseases, short-lived CO2 boost and reduced forest resilience.

5) Forestry slows global warming because logging shifts carbon to long-lasting products, and replacement forests rapidly absorb more carbon. Most forest carbon is lost as logging and processing residues. Wood production and storage result in increased net emissions, despite carbon uptake by young forests.

6) Intensive plantation forestry maximizes carbon storage by fixing lots of it and substituting wood products for fossil-fuel-intensive products. It takes a long time for reforestation to offset emissions. Short-rotation stands incur a permanent carbon debt. Presumed benefits of substituting wood for concrete/steel would exceed carbon storage of unlogged forest only after many decades, if ever.

7) Generating energy by burning woody biomass is both renewable and carbon neutral. Wood pellets help fight climate change. Large-scale production of bioenergy from forests is not carbon neutral, sustainable, or environmentally friendly. Wood is renewable but trees grow slowly. Wood also has low energy density. For equal heat, you must burn more woody fuel than fossil fuels, giving off more CO2. Burning wood pellets will not help reduce atmospheric emissions by 2050.

Jim Pojar

Smithers