FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Logging is the Lead Driver of Carbon Emissions From US Forests

Clearcut, Oregon Coast Range. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Climate change is having a growing impact on Americans and, as the crisis escalates, communities face growing challenges. The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underscores that we have eleven short years to make “rapid transformation across all industrial sectors.”

Protecting forest ecosystems is critical in the fight to limit global warming — when forests are disturbed they release carbon, but when left to grow they actively pull carbon out of the air and store it. When left standing, forests also provide optimal natural protection against extreme weather events, like flooding and droughts.

As the Trump Administration and industry allies push for increased commercial logging of America’s forests, we feel compelled to call attention to the elephant in the room: the profound ways in which industrial logging not only decimates ecosystems but also exacerbates climate change.

Many people are aware of the importance of protecting rainforests in Brazil to help mitigate climate change, but few realize that more logging occurs in the US, and more wood is consumed here, than in any other nation globally. The rate and scale of logging in the Southeastern US alone is four times that in South American rainforests.

The Trump Administration and industry have been aggressively promoting misinformation about forests and wildland fires, while advocating for large increases in logging under the guises of “forest health,” “fuel reduction,” “renewable energy,” and reducing carbon emissions. A version of this industry narrative was on display during the recent climate change hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee.

But the promotion of logging to supposedly curb carbon emissions is just part of the Administration’s ongoing alignment with industry and troubling pattern of climate science denial. Carbon emissions from logging in the US are ten times higher than the combined emissions from wildland fire and tree mortality from native bark beetles. Fire only consumes a minor percentage of forest carbon, while improving availability of key nutrients and stimulating rapid forest regeneration. Within a decade after fire, more carbon has been pulled out of the atmosphere than was emitted. When trees die from drought and native bark beetles, no carbon is consumed or emitted initially, and carbon emissions from decay are extremely small, and slow, while decaying wood helps keeps soils productive, which enhances carbon sequestration capacity over time.

On the other hand, industrial logging — even when conducted under the euphemism of “thinning” — results in a large net loss of forest carbon storage, and a substantial overall increase in carbon emissions that can take decades, if not a century, to recapture with regrowth. Logging also tends to make fires burn faster and more intensely while degrading a forest ecosystem’s ability to provide natural protections against extreme weather events.

Consider this: About 28 percent of tree carbon is contained in branches, and this is emitted when they are burned after logging operations. An additional 53 percent of the carbon in trees removed from forests is emitted as waste in the manufacturing and milling process. Overall, about two-thirds of the carbon in trees that are logged for lumber quickly become greenhouse gas emissions.

When trees are cut down and burned to generate “biomass” electricity under the guise of “renewable energy,” 100 percent of the carbon is emitted. Incinerating wood for energy emits even more CO2 than burning coal, for equal energy produced. Yet, the expansion of US production of wood pellets to fuel power stations in Europe has been spreading like wildfire across the Southeast, accelerating the destruction of some of our nation’s most ecologically-important forests and putting the health of some of the nation’s most vulnerable communities at increased risk.

The Administration’s efforts to demonize standing dead trees (“snags”) in forest ecosystems is also factually challenged. We have considerably less fire now on the landscape than we did historically, and the “snag forest habitat” created in some places by fire and native bark beetles is an ecological treasure — comparable to old-growth forest in terms of native biodiversity and wildlife abundance. Woodpeckers and shrub-nesting birds flourish in forest ecosystems following fire, as do elk and deer because of the abundance of nutritious understory vegetation that rapidly grows there.

To effectively mitigate climate change, we must stop burning carbon for fuel and greatly increase forest protection. If we take ambitious steps to protect vastly more of our forests from industrial logging, we can avoid emissions while also actively absorbing large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and storing it back on land in the forest where it belongs.

Now is the time for such bold action. We can protect our National Forests and scale-up protection on private lands, while ensuring a just economic transition by redirecting logging subsidies into green jobs that help create fire-safe rural communities in the West and restore natural flood control in the Southeast. We must create new incentives for landowners who protect forests instead of logging them. This approach has recently been endorsed by over 250 climate change and conservation organizations, scientists, and policymakers. We simply cannot solve the climate crisis without reducing the climate impacts associated with the large-scale industrial logging of America’s forests.

Danna Smith, JD, is Executive Director of the Dogwood Alliance, based in Asheville, North Carolina. Chad Hanson, PhD, is a research ecologist with the John Muir Project, based in Big Bear City, California. Matthew Koehler is Executive Director of the WildWest Institute in Missoula, Montana.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
November 14, 2019
Laura Carlsen
Mexico’s LeBaron Massacre and the War That Will Not Cease
Joe Emersberger
Oppose the Military Coup in Bolivia. Spare Us Your “Critiques”
Ron Jacobs
Trump’s Drug Deal Goes to Congress: Impeachment, Day One
Paul Edwards
Peak Hubris
Tamara Pearson
US and Corporations Key Factors Behind Most Violent Year Yet in Mexico
Jonah Raskin
Love and Death in the Age of Revolution
Robert Hunziker
Climate Confusion, Angst, and Sleeplessness
W. T. Whitney
To Confront Climate Change Humanity Needs Socialism
John Feffer
Examining Trump World’s Fantastic Claims About Ukraine
Nicky Reid
“What About the Children?” Youth Rights Before Parental Police States
Binoy Kampmark
Incinerating Logic: Bush Fires and Climate Change
John Horning
The Joshua Tree is Us
Andrew Stewart
Noel Ignatiev and the Great Divide
Cesar Chelala
Soap Operas as Teaching Tools
Chelli Stanley
In O’odham Land
November 13, 2019
Vijay Prashad
After Evo, the Lithium Question Looms Large in Bolivia
Charles Pierson
How Not to End a Forever War
Kenneth Surin
“We’ll See You on the Barricades”: Bojo Johnson’s Poundshop Churchill Imitation
Nick Alexandrov
Murder Like It’s 1495: U.S.-Backed Counterinsurgency in the Philippines
George Ochenski
Montana’s Radioactive Waste Legacy
Brian Terrell
A Doubtful Proposition: a Reflection on the Trial of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7
Nick Pemberton
Assange, Zuckerberg and Free Speech
James Bovard
The “Officer Friendly” Police Fantasy
Dean Baker
The Logic of Medical Co-Payments
Jeff Mackler
Chicago Teachers Divided Over Strike Settlement
Binoy Kampmark
The ISC Report: Russian Connections in Albion?
Norman Solomon
Biden and Bloomberg Want Uncle Sam to Defer to Uncle Scrooge
Jesse Jackson
Risking Lives in Endless Wars is Morally Wrong and a Strategic Failure
Manuel García, Jr.
Criminalated Warmongers
November 12, 2019
Nino Pagliccia
Bolivia and Venezuela: Two Countries, But Same Hybrid War
Patrick Cockburn
How Iran-Backed Forces Are Taking Over Iraq
Jonathan Cook
Israel is Silencing the Last Voices Trying to Stop Abuses Against Palestinians
Jim Kavanagh
Trump’s Syrian See-Saw: From Pullout to Pillage
Susan Babbitt
Fidel, Three Years Later
Dean Baker
A Bold Plan to Strengthen and Improve Social Security is What America Needs
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Trump’s Crime Against Humanity
Victor Grossman
The Wall and General Pyrrhus
Yoko Liriano
De Facto Martial Law in the Philippines
Ana Paula Vargas – Vijay Prashad
Lula is Free: Can Socialism Be Restored?
Thomas Knapp
Explainer: No, House Democrats Aren’t Violating Trump’s Rights
Wim Laven
Serve With Honor, Honor Those Who Serve; or Support Trump?
Colin Todhunter
Agrarian Crisis and Malnutrition: GM Agriculture Is Not the Answer
Binoy Kampmark
Walls in the Head: “Ostalgia” and the Berlin Wall Three Decades Later
Akio Tanaka
Response to Pete Dolack Articles on WBAI and Pacifica
Nyla Ali Khan
Bigotry and Ideology in India and Kashmir: the Legacy of the Babri Masjid Mosque
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail