B.C.’s coastal rainforest is the best carbon storehouse of the province. Other forest lands, too, have great potential as allies in the fight against climate change—if we nurture and maintain their carbon-absorbing capacity.
Right now, B.C.’s forest lands are actually a major source of emissions: they release more carbon dioxide than they absorb. (In fact, if emissions from forests were properly counted, B.C.’s total emissions would be 77 percent higher!)
The trees, of course, are still doing what trees do: storing carbon in their spreading trunks. It is our logging practices that are at fault: taking too much old growth, clearcutting large tracts (which releases the carbon from churned-up soils) and burning the slash.
Wood products can be a climate friendly alternative to materials like concrete and steel. They store up to 20 per cent of the carbon removed from the forest after harvesting, some of them long-term. Forestry in the era of climate change has the potential to be a key part of a low-carbon economy providing new jobs, but we have to take a close look where it is done, how it is done, and how much gets logged and left behind.
Sierra Club BC and our allies have identified three priority areas to reduce emissions from forests should be:
- Increase the area of old forest off-limits to logging. Emissions from harvesting are much higher when logging occurs in old growth forests compared to younger forests. This is particularly true for coastal forests with little natural disturbance and massive carbon storage accumulated over thousands of years. Shifting harvesting from old to second growth will immediately reduce emissions from logging. It will also help species that depend on old growth forest, particularly where old forest is in deficit.
- Improve logging practices. Heavy logging with massive loss of canopy cover warms the soil surface and increases the rate of decomposition and release of carbon. Improved management practices like selective logging, longer rotation and increased retention contribute to maintaining and enhancing carbon storage. Improved forest management can also contribute to better habitat protection for species that require natural, undisturbed stands of trees.
- Reduce wood waste and slash burning. A 2009 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that millions of cubic metres of usable logs are left behind at logging sites. Regulation and incentives, combined with better reporting and oversight through government audits, would not only reduce waste and emissions but also create new jobs.
B.C. must set targets and create a plan to reduce emissions from logging in the same way it did with emissions from fossil fuels. In order to avoid catastrophic climate change, it is mandatory that B.C.’s forests become carbon neutral as soon as possible.
Featured image by Jens Wieting