People question the importance of forests in dealing with climate change because they do not understand the vital role of trees and plants—especially big trees—in capturing and storing carbon, cooling climate, and providing the ecology necessary for life. This makes us vulnerable to the influence of an industry that profits off exploiting this vast resource.
Herb Hammond, a Registered Professional Forester for 35 years, understands this influence: “The timber industry regrettably sees forests as logs standing vertically, which is one of those assumptions of convenience that gets forests, and all of us who depend upon them for essential services, into trouble” (Interview, Nov. 5). He explained the role of old growth forests in protecting us from worsening climate change, saying, “We do know they provide the highest quality water filtration, the best water storage and flooding retention, … and carbon retention, yet we cut them.”
Dr. Jim Pojar, a forest ecologist with 25 years in the B.C. Forest Service, is concerned about ecologically damaging forestry practices and industry influence. He devotes a quarter of his latest report, Forestry and Carbon in B.C. February 2019 (PDF), to dispel seven myths, including:
- the timber industry is carbon neutral
- new growth sequesters more carbon than old
- old growth is wasted to rot or infestation if not cut
- and wood products are substantial stores of carbon storage (as if wood isn’t porous!)
The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FNLRORD) stands behind many of these assumptions. Pojar explains:
“The mantra goes like this. Our forests will all soon burn up, fall to beetles, or blow down anyway. So we should quickly log much more, store the carbon in long-lasting wood products and landfills, use the logging debris for biofuel, and promptly reforest to take up more carbon.1″
There isn’t much old growth and primary intact forest left. Old growth forests cover “about five per cent of the province’s total forested area.”2 Low elevation old growth forests have the big profitable trees in high demand. The recent UVIC Environmental Law Centre report says that, across the province, in high-productivity areas such as valley bottoms, less than 10 per cent of the original old growth remains and an even smaller amount is formally protected.”3 Why aren’t we protecting what’s left? Back to myths and assumptions of convenience…
Perhaps the most damaging and influential is that new forests sequester more carbon than old forests. Dr. Richard Hebda of the University of Victoria explains the global importance of our old-growth forests in storing and sequestering carbon in this short video. An excerpt:
“We have some of the most amazing forests on earth, and these forests—I am standing in one here in Francis King Park—store a 1000 tons per hectare of carbon. One of the most carbon-rich forest ecosystems in the world are here in British Columbia and on Vancouver Island, and we need these forests because it is these trees that, essentially for free, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into living carbon, which then dies and becomes dead carbon on the ground. As we remove those forests, especially the old-growth forests with such huge amounts of carbon stored in them, we contribute to climate change through that activity because somewhere in the range of 25 to 30% carbon going into the atmosphere… comes from the disruption of global forests, including the forests of British Columbia… (January, 2018)”
B.C.’s temperate rainforests are among the most bio-dense on the planet, and they store massive amounts of carbon—the bigger the trees, the more carbon stored and sequestered. Logging releases massive amounts of carbon from trees and biomass under the ground. Slash burning releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide as does blasting and clearing for road building. The following excerpt from B.C. Forests Wake Up Call: Heavy Carbon Losses Hit 10 Year Mark (PDF) shows how forestry practices changed our forests from being a powerful carbon sink to a carbon emitter. If it’s too much information, focus on content in bold:
“B.C.’s forest functioned as a carbon sink until 2002, likely since the end of the last ice age.
The analysis for [2003-2012] shows net B.C. forest emissions of 256 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Net emissions from provincial forests are the result of logging (after accounting for carbon stored in wood products), wildfires, slash-burning and the reduced carbon sequestration capacity of B.C.’s forests as a result of the Mountain Pine Beetle outbreak. The 10-year net forest emissions are equivalent to four times the official annual emissions of the province (63 million tonnes in 2013).
Combined, these factors have turned B.C.’s forests from a carbon sink to a carbon source for the last 10 years. In contrast, B.C.’s forests were still a net carbon sink in the previous 10 year period, from 1993 to 2002, in which they absorbed 441 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. During this period, B.C.’s forests absorbed the equivalent of 70 percent of the cumulative official emissions of the province (629 million tonnes of carbon dioxide).
B.C.’s forest carbon emissions are not counted as part of the official greenhouse gas emissions of the province. Instead these emissions are reported as a ‘memo’ item and tend to be ignored, despite their alarming growth…. While B.C.’s forest carbon loss has been made worse by the Mountain Pine Beetle outbreak and… serious wildfire years, the biggest factors remain poor forest management and destructive logging practices like clear-cutting of old-growth rainforest and slash-burning.
Emissions from logging and slash burning alone were 577 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in the period 2003-2012. This number is close to B.C.’s entire official emissions during the same 10 year period (638 million tonnes). “4
“Forests fix and store huge amounts of carbon, and forestry is by far the biggest source of carbon emissions in BC.”5 Forestry emissions surpass every other industry combined, but they are not accounted for. So, if CO2 from logging and slash burning are close to B.C.’s “official emissions” of approximately 64 million tonnes a year (64.5 in 20176), our true emissions are double. Is any other industry given such license?
As official stats do not include wildfires, real 2017 and 2018 emissions are likely triple anything official.7 Unsustainable logging has exacerbated wildfires: massive clear-cuts and the spraying of glyphosate and other herbicides damage the environment and dehydrate the lush ecology. Forests with thousand-year-old trees will not just grow back. Living carbon turns into carbon emissions when logged and wood products continue to release carbon. We are wiping out wolves and killing cougars to protect dying caribou herds, but we won’t stop logging the old growth their very lives depend on.8
Five years ago, the U.N. predicted 60 years of arable land left at the rate it is being depleted: “Generating three centimeters of top soil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue all of the world’s top soil could be gone within 60 years….”9 Our natural ancient forests have been compacting natural fertilizer from animals, arthropods, fallen trees, and dead plants to build up incredibly rich nutrient-dense moist underground, “thousands of years of living and dying” (Hammond), and now feed tree plantations. For how much longer, nobody knows. That underground wealth is being depleted by plantations that harvest in decades – not the centuries or millennia it took original trees to grow.
Since our temperate rainforests are “globally rare ecosystems covering just one-half of one percent of the planet’s landmass,”10 logic would dictate the necessity of preserving this irreplaceable treasure for tourism, adventure, food foraging and harvesting, forest bathing, wildlife habitat, salmon runs, fresh air, temperate climate, clean water, and future generations. Our old-growth forests are priceless, yet an industry that provides a billion a year in revenue to the B.C. government—$992 million in 2017 and again in 2018, a drop in the bucket of B.C.’s $52 or $54 billion budget—is priority.11 Although the B.C. budget will increase, forestry revenues are expected to decrease.11 Compare this to tourism’s 2017 tax revenue of $1.2 billion and the $9 billion tourism added to our GDP, five times more than the $1.8 billion of “Forestry & Logging.”12 In 2018, Forestry, along with Agriculture, Fishing and Hunting was only 2.36% of B.C.’s GDP!13
Why are we clearcutting rare endangered forests that provide revenue options, climate benefits, and savings? The real costs of such logging—loss of salmon runs, floods, landslides, loss of wildlife, diminished biodiversity, polluted water supplies—are not added up. Nanaimo recently spent $73 million on a state-of-the-art water filtration system. It wasn’t needed when old-growth forests flanked its privately-owned water supply, absorbed downpours, and filtered drinking water. The Comox Valley Water Treatment facility will cost at least $126 million. Taxpayers are helping traumatized Grand Forks citizenry with $50 million dollars towards infrastructure and buying-out homes at post-flood value.14 As for the logging that, at minimum, exacerbated the flooding, it’s business as usual: “British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests… continues to approve high logging rates while doing little to understand their cumulative effects.”15 Please read the Narwhal’s excellent March 2019 coverage of Grand Forks and elsewhere .
Furthering the case for long-overdue change in how forests are managed:
“We learned that some 42 per cent of the province’s forest has not been inventoried since 1990. An astonishing 30 per cent hasn’t been inventoried in more than three decades since 1980. …such fundamental uncertainty about how much forest, of what type, we have standing in B.C.”16
Since our government handed over inventory duties to Professional Reliance nearly two decades ago, we the people have no clue what we really have! What business functions without proper inventory? Compound our lack of understanding of what we have left with the lack of remaining old growth and primary intact forest (secondary forest with old growth characteristics), the need to stop clear cut logging and restore our forests as a main climate change mitigation strategy becomes clear! Yet old growth logging continues at a rate of 140,000 hectares a year, about one Stanley Park or 500 soccer fields a day!17″
The timber industry is our biggest source of carbon emissions, a reality hidden like clear cut forests behind tree-lined roads. Our forests should be storing and sequestering the emissions our province produces. “Not only are forests the linchpin of carbon dynamics in BC, they are also the primary storehouse for the province’s biodiversity, providing multiple ecosystem functions and services that underpin forest resilience and are essential for sustaining human well-being. These days critical thinking about how we manage our forests is at a premium.” 18
An engagement survey on old-growth logging is open until January 2020. Submit your thoughts and email to firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment to speak with the two-person panel, who are to report to Minister Doug Donaldson at the end of April 2020. The public won’t see the results until the end of next year. That is too late. Please, demand sustainable forestry now and an immediate end to clear cutting old growth and primary forest!
To understand what we are losing, watch Suzanne Simard’s How Trees Talk to Us.
And, you can watch these two short videos on natural climate solutions.
1 Pojar, Dr. Jim. https://sierraclub.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/7MythsSummary_jimp2019.pdf. Full report at: https://sierraclub.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/Pojar-7mythsfinal-2019.pdf
2 Hennig, Clare. July 13, 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/uvic-report-old-growth-forest-1.5207730
3 Lavoie, Judith. Sept. 1, 2019, https://www.timescolonist.com/islander/the-old-growth-logging-showdown-1.23932754
4Jens Wieting, B.C. Forests Wake Up Call: Heavy Carbon Losses Hit 10 Year Mark, June 2015, https://sierraclub.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Forest-Emissions-Detailed-Backgrounder_June22.pdf p.1
5Pojar, Dr. Jim. Carbon Black is the new green(wash), Feb.27, 2019, https://www.interior-news.com/opinion/carbon-black-is-the-new-greenwash/
7Hernandez, Jon, and Lovgreen, Tina. Wildfire Emissions Grow to Triple B.C.’s Annual Footprint, August 24, 2017, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/it-s-alarming-wildfire-emissions-grow-to-triple-b-c-s-annual-carbon-footprint-1.4259306;
Jones, Ryan Patrick. B.C. Forests contribute ‘hidden’ carbon emissions that dwarf official numbers, report says, January 28, 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/sierra-club-report-forest-carbon-emissions-1.4995191
9 Arsenaut, Chris. Dec.5, 2014, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/
10 Wieting, Jens. August 9,2018, https://www.straight.com/news/1114651/jens-wieting-clayoquot-sounds-25th-anniversary-most-vancouver-island-still-path
11 Budget 2018 Working for You, Budget and Fiscal Plan 2018/2019 – 2020/2021, https://bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/2018/bfp/2018_Budget_and_Fiscal_Plan.pdf, p. 18-19 Table 1.10 Revenue by Source and Table 1.11 Expense by Ministry: Compare forest revenue on page18 to FLNRORD budget on page 19 to learn costs are close to revenues and on p. 113-114, FLNRORD expenses aren’t much more than forest revenue. Timber industry revenue barely pays FLNRORD operations, and budgeting forecasts more expense than revenue received. Costs of community water treatment, flood mitigation, road restoration, etc. are not accounted for.
Contributing $9 billion compared to logging and forestry’s $1.8 billion and provincial tax revenue of $1.2 billion
13 Statista, GDP distribution of British Columbia Canada 2018, by industry, https://www.statista.com/statistics/608359/gdp-distribution-of-british-columbia-canada-by-industry/?fbclid=IwAR270NoFLN7lA5_o2gZQVOabykjuQNafSIXpZMwgoZLtOXzN3N3Xofm502E
14Lirette, Dominika. ‘We were shocked’: Grand Forks residents brace for home buyouts at post-flood values’, July 3, 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/grand-forks-houses-assessed-post-flood-value-buyout-1.5197831,
15 Parfitt, Ben. March 13, 2019, https://thenarwhal.ca/sprawling-clearcuts-among-reasons-for-b-c-s-monster-spring-floods/. Excellent articles at https://thenarwhal.ca/tag/forestry/
16 Polar, Christopher, and Stimson, Hugh. July 5, 2012, The Interactive B.C. Carbon Map: Lessons Learned, https://thetyee.ca/News/2012/07/05/BCCarbonMapLessons/
18 Pojar, Forestry and Carbon in B.C., February 2019. http://skeenawild.org/images/uploads/docs/Pojar-7mythsfinal-2019_copy.pdf p. 18