Cutting down trees inevitably leads to more carbon in the environment, but deforestation’s contributions to climate change are vastly overestimated, according to a new study.
Deforestation for timber and farmland is responsible for about 92 billion tons of carbon emissions into the environment since 1900, found a study led by researchers at The Ohio State University and Yale University.
“Our estimate is about a fifth of what was found in previous work showing that deforestation has contributed 484 billion tons of carbon – a third of all manmade emissions – since 1900,” said Brent Sohngen, a professor of environmental and resource economics at Ohio State.He said that widely accepted estimate didn’t take into account the planting of new trees and other forest management techniques that lessen the environmental burden. The model used in this study did take those factors into account, which made a significant difference considering the intensive forest management happening in many parts of the world and the less-intensive, but not inconsequential, management that is happening elsewhere.
The study appears today (Nov. 4, 2019) in the Journal of Forest Economics.
“There was a significant shift toward treating forests as a renewable, rather than nonrenewable, resource in the last century, and we estimate that those reforestation and forest management efforts have led to a far smaller carbon burden on the environment,” Sohngen said, adding that the previous estimate was based on trees’ natural regrowth without any human intervention.
The Nature Conservancy has begun using a drone to aid its reforestation efforts in northeast Minnesota.
By Cody Nelson and Jiwon Choi
To understand the health of a forest, conservation workers typically hit the ground and survey the land acre by acre.
It can involve trudging through the woods with hiking boots or snowshoes, looking for gaps in the forest canopy that need restoring.
But this summer, the Nature Conservancy’s Minnesota branch found an easier way to survey the large swaths of forest that comprise some of the over 60,000 acres it manages in the state.
The conservancy began using a drone to aid its reforestation efforts in northeast Minnesota. It has helped in several ways from making highly detailed maps to providing flyover video in key areas.
“It’s almost like another staff member,” said Chris Dunham, the nonprofit’s forestry manager. “We’re a small, small forest team here and we can use every advantage we can get.”
While the forest may look quite thick from the bird’s-eye view, the vantage point can be misleading. The nonprofit has estimated hundreds of thousands of acres of North Shore forest is in need of some help.
One of the Nature Conservancy’s focuses in Minnesota is on restoring riparian gaps — or places along rivers and streams in the forest where trees have died or been cut down.
Restoring these gaps is good for preventing erosion into the river, sequestering more carbon in the forest and creating better wildlife habitat.
There’s still ground-truthing to do once the drone footage in hand, Dunham said, “but you can be way more efficient if you’ve already taken a cruise above the trees and know where you’re headed.”
By Theresa Davis
BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT – Pinecones hang from tree branches and scatter the forest floor near Los Alamos. At first glance, they are nothing special. But inside those cones are seeds that can help bring a forest back to life.
This year, ponderosa pine trees in New Mexico are producing more pinecones than they will for the next 10 to 15 years – an event scientists call a “mast seeding.”
The Nature Conservancy, Santa Clara Pueblo, the National Parks Service, the Institute for Applied Ecology, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and Highlands University are collecting the abundant seeds to plant in areas that have burned in severe wildfires.
The groups set a goal of gathering 1 million seeds in New Mexico and Colorado this fall, according to Sarah Hurteau, urban conservation director for the Nature Conservancy.
“Mast seeding is an evolutionary process,” she said. “In these years, trees will produce enough seeds that animals can’t eat them all, so more seeds get the chance to germinate.”
Last winter’s above-average precipitation helped make this year ideal for a mast seeding. Ponderosa pines currently have more viable seeds per cone, which means the groups get a better selection of potential trees for reforestation.
Wildfire is a natural part of the life cycle in northern New Mexico forests. Many trees need fire to germinate. But the size and severity of recent forest fires is unusual, said Kay Beeley, a natural resource manager with the National Park Service. She referenced the forest damage done by Los Conchas Fire in 2011. The blaze consumed 156,000 acres and burned for more than a month in northern New Mexico.
By Michelle Ma
About 450 nonnative, plant-eating insect species live in North American forests. Most of these critters are harmless, but a handful wreak havoc on their new environment, attacking trees and each year causing more than $70 billion in damage.
The problem is, scientists often don’t know which insect will emerge as the next harmful invader.
A team led by the University of Washington, drawing largely on the evolutionary history of insect-plant interactions, has developed a way to understand how nonnative insects might behave in their new environments. The team’s model, described in a paper appearing Oct. 17 in the journal Ecology and Evolution, could help foresters predict which insect invasions will be problematic, and help managers decide where to allocate resources to avoid widespread tree death.
“What makes the bad invaders so special? That has been the million-dollar question, for decades,” said Patrick Tobin, an associate professor in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and one of the project leaders. “This has the potential to profoundly change how we predict the impact of nonnative species and prioritize limited resources used to mitigate these impacts.”
The new model can quickly evaluate whether a newcomer insect, even before it gets here, has a high probability of killing a population of North American trees. To use the model, all that’s needed is information about the insect’s feeding method (wood, sap or leaf feeder, for example) and what trees it feeds on in its native range. The model will then determine whether any North American trees are at risk of dying from it.
Whether a nonnative insect takes hold and becomes destructive has more to do with the evolutionary history between the new (North American) host tree and the insect’s native host tree from its home region, Mech explained. Molecular tools that allow scientists to construct comprehensive phylogenies (or maps) of how tree species evolved was key to the team’s breakthrough.
For example, if a pine tree in Asia and another in North America diverged tens of millions of years ago, the North American pine likely wouldn’t have retained defenses against an insect that only lives with the pine in Asia. Alternatively, two pines on both continents that share more evolutionary history and diverged more recently might still share similar defenses.
The new model helps identify the evolutionary “perfect storm” for conifers, where the invasive insect still recognizes the new tree as a food source, but the tree hasn’t retained adequate defenses to keep the invader in check.
By Aaron Labaree
The biggest wildfire in 20 years in Spain’s Catalonia region began on June 26, when a pile of chicken manure, baking in record high temperatures, burst into flames.
Fed by strong winds, the flames spread quickly, igniting dry brush and pine forest. In three days the fire burned more than 16,000 acres, and it took more than 500 firefighters to put it out.
Fires in California and the Amazon rainforest have grabbed attention, but large areas of Europe’s forests also were consumed this summer. Blazes nearly the size of the one in Catalonia tore through Spain’s Canary Islands, the south of France and the Greek islands of Evia and Samos.
From January to mid-October, the European Union has had almost triple the average number of wildfires for the same period over the past decade, with more than 800,000 acres burned so far this year, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.
Heat waves like the ones Europe experienced in 2019 are far more likely to happen because of the changing climate. And hot, dry conditions contribute to making massive fires no longer just a southern European problem: Last year Sweden saw its biggest fires in modern history, and this year the United Kingdom had a record number of them.
Now, like in the United States, firefighters and ecologists in Europe are starting to realize that putting out each fire isn’t possible or desirable. To prevent megafires, experts say, the authorities have to let forests burn naturally — and sometimes even set fires on purpose.
“We need to learn to live with fire, the same way we do with tornadoes or snowstorms,” says Marc Castellnou, chief analyst for a special forest unit of Catalonia’s fire services, known by its Catalan initials GRAF.
The wildfire problem is partly a result of decades of prevention. Fire plays a natural role in a healthy forest, burning away brush, dead trees and plant debris, while leaving many mature trees alive. But to protect human habitation, officials have tried to allow almost no fires to burn. The result is forests that are packed with undergrowth providing kindling and enormous unbroken stocks of trees to burn — megafires waiting to happen.
Europe’s forests have reached this dangerous state for another reason not seen in the U.S.: rural abandonment.
“When I was growing up, all of this was harvest — hazelnuts and olives,” says Rut Domènech, a forest expert who lives in Ribera d’Ebre, the county in Catalonia’s Tarragona province where the recent fires took place, pointing at what is now continuous forest. In the 1950s, the price of these and other crops plummeted with international competition and farmers were forced to move to cities.
Over much of Europe, rural abandonment has led to once-cultivated fields being given back to nature. In the 50 years after World War II, Western Europe’s forest area increased almost 30%. The continent’s land is now more than 40% forested.
Mediterranean shepherds and farmers have been using fire to manage the landscape for thousands of years. But most techniques used by firefighters today were developed in the United States, where the record-setting blazes of the past 10 years have shown the limits of suppression alone. In the U.S. as well as Europe, the change in approach toward fire is just beginning.
“In the scientific community, it’s understood we need to get fire back on the landscape,” says Rod Linn, a climate modeler at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “And most fire practitioners have come to grips with fire having a lot of benefits. But with the public, there’s work to do to get it socialized, to get people aware that just because you see smoke, it’s not necessarily bad.”
By Will Brendza
Jeremy Altdorfer’s day of delivery was hectic, but successful. All day on Saturday, Oct. 5 he was zipping around Boulder in his car, which was loaded to the brim with white pine saplings; making one delivery after the next, dropping off the baby trees wherever they’d been requested. Meanwhile, his brother and other partners from Experience Dental, opening Oct. 30, were doling out more trees at several different locations throughout the county.
Their goal: to plant 1,000 trees in Boulder County in a day. Or, at least, to give out 1,000 ready-to-plant trees to individuals, businesses and schools that wanted and needed them. In part, Altdorfer wants to reduce his own business’ carbon footprint, and in part, he wants to help save Boulder’s threatened canopy of trees.
“I thought we were crazy, trying to do 1,000 in a single day,” Altdorfer says. But by the end of the day, they’d met their goal — all 1,000 trees had been distributed.
Altdorfer’s 1,000 white pines are going to help offset what the City of Boulder is calling the “Tree Crisis of 2019.” Boulder’s trees are currently under threat, and while the City’s forestry department plants about 500 new ash trees a year, Altdorfer’s contribution of 1,000 white pines in a single day is a welcome offering and a much-needed addition.
“Planting new trees is crucial to maintaining our urban tree canopy,” says Kathleen Alexander, a forestry worker with the City of Boulder’s forestry department.
According to Alexander, Boulder is projected to lose some 70,000 ash trees to the emerald ash tree borer (EAB), an invasive insect from Asia, over the next 10 years. By 2035, she says, the EAB could destroy 25 percent of Boulder’s urban tree canopy.
It’s why the City is urging residents and the community to take action and plant trees to replace those being killed, and to protect existing trees. It’s why the City has planted more than 2,500 trees on public property since 2013, and why it’s provided more than 3,900 trees to residents for planting on private property.
Having an assorted mix of tree species around the City and throughout Boulder County means the urban canopy is less vulnerable to any one stressor.
“A diversity of tree species is going to help make the urban forest more resilient long-term,” Alexander says.
White pines are good options because they grow fast, they grow large (so they sequester a lot of carbon) and they aren’t at risk from EAB.
By Tony Hall
New York foresters hoped their industry could help the state offset its carbon imprint, but an ambitious climate law does not prescribe biomass energy.
If New York State is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 85 percent by 2050, as required by this year’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, it will need its forests.
But it’s not for wood biofuel, lawmakers decided. By design, the legislation omits wood-fired biomass from the list of officially recognized, renewable energy systems.
Rather, New York is counting on its forests to inhale heat-trapping carbon dioxide; to sequester the carbon that cannot be captured by new technology or significantly reduced by clean energy.
“Some emissions, such as those associated with air travel and from some industrial sources, will be difficult to eliminate,” said Jared Snyder, the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Deputy Commissioner for Air Resources, Climate Change and Energy. “That’s why it’s essential that we identify and take advantage of the opportunities for sequestering carbon in a natural way, in our forests.”
Of course, some representatives of the forest products industry, many of whom attended a conference on the new law and its ramifications in Queensbury at SUNY Adirondack on Oct. 15, appear to have hoped for a more dynamic, lucrative role in New York’s Green New Deal.
“It’s hard not to conclude that this legislation takes a very dim view of the role of sustainably sourced wood as an energy source,” said Charlie Niebling, whose company manufactures wood pellets
There has been considerable debate about the potential for biofuels including wood pellets to help offset the climate impacts from fossil fuels, especially after the European Union embraced wood power as renewable energy. Although burning wood emits carbon dioxide, the industry argument goes, the trees that then grow in its place on responsibly managed forests recapture carbon over time. Canada exports most of its wood pellets to Europe, where they are more cost-competitive because power production is more expensive. Southeastern U.S. forestry companies are also supplying Europe, claiming environmental benefits for using waste wood. But some climate activists, including Vermont-based author Bill McKibben, argue that it doesn’t make sense to count on future trees to offset current emissions when the climate is in crisis now.
“Is there any opportunity for sustainably sourced wood from good forestry operations to play a role in meeting the energy needs of the state going forward?” Niebling asked.
According to DEC officials, the state’s new Climate Action Council and its stakeholder advisory panels will provide opportunities for groups such as the Empire State Forest Products Association to make recommendations that could increase the use of wood products in construction and transportation, among other areas.
The Climate Action Council will also play a role in the preservation and management of the state’s 15 million acres of private forest lands.
By Andy Eckardt and Yuliya Talmazan
HAINICH, Germany — As forester Dirk Fritzlar walks through thick woodland on a sunny September morning, it starts to “rain” spruce needles.
“It is not normal for the trees to shed so many needles. It is far too dry. Many spruce trees are dying,” Fritzlar said as he peeled off a piece of bark. He quickly finds a colony of bark beetles that are a major threat to the spruce — a common species in German forests.
In the last two years, Germany has experienced long summer droughts and rising temperatures, both of which are putting the country’s woodlands in peril.
The potential fate of this forest and millions of German trees shows the danger climate change and changing weather patterns pose to biodiversity and raises questions of how states and citizens should protect their local green spaces.
In 2018 alone, 110,000 hectares (about 272,000 acres) of forest area in Germany were damaged and 33 million cubic meters of wood — equivalent in volume to 12 Great Pyramids of Giza — were declared dead, researchers at the country’s Thünen Institute of Forest Ecosystems said.
A preliminary assessment for 2019 shows at least the same amount of damage.
German researchers and foresters have told NBC News the damage is the result of high temperatures and lack of rain drying out the trees, and in the case of the spruce, weakening its defenses against pests such as the bark beetle.
During a heat wave that hit much of Europe in July, Germany was one of several countries to break records, recording temperatures as high as 42.6 degrees Celsius (108.7 F).
By Mary Frost
“Today is a great day for our urban forest.”
The insect that threatened to wipe out tens of thousands of the city’s trees has been squashed.
State, city and federal agencies announced on Thursday that the Asian longhorned beetle has finally been eradicated in Brooklyn and Queens, the last two holdouts in the city.
At a celebration in McCarren Park in Williamsburg, cupcakes decorated with pictures of the distinctive black insect were served to jubilant parkgoers and agriculture and horticulture experts.
“Today is a great day for our urban forest as we announce the eradication of the Asian longhorned beetle,” announced Liam Kavanagh, first deputy commissioner of the city’s Parks Department. “It was a bleak day for forestry in New York City when this pest was discovered. Half of the hardwood trees in New York State are susceptible.”
The successful eradication was the result of a decadeslong collaborative effort by multiple city, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations and private landowners, officials said.
These include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets and Department of Environmental Conservation, and the city’s Department of Parks.
“It’s been a long, hard road,” USDA’s Samantha Simon said. “We knew that if it became established, the Asian longhorned beetle would threaten billions of dollars’ worth of timber [and] the maple syrup industry.”
The insect attacks maple, elm, willow, horse-chestnut, mulberry, birch, green ash, sycamore and London planetrees.
It’s been 23 years since the invasive beetle (technically not a bug) was first detected in Brooklyn. Experts believe it entered the country on wooden pallets shipped to Greenpoint.
The USDA calculated the speckled insect, about the size of a waterbug with antennae as long as its body, has wiped out more than 24,000 New York trees, and 180,000 nationwide. Thursday’s announcement marks the end of a six-year quarantine in northern Brooklyn and Queens.
To eliminate the beetle, APHIS regulated the movement of trees, firewood and woody debris and carried out surveys to find and remove infested trees. In total, APHIS removed 5,208 infested trees and treated 67,609 at-risk trees.
By Alice Richardson
Plans to plant 50 million trees to create a huge Northern Forest, spanning from Manchester to Hull, are well underway.
Northern leaders, including MPs and both Metro Mayors, want the Prime Minister to get behind the project that has already seen 600,000 trees planted.
The Northern Forest is set to span 120 miles and connect Liverpool, Manchester and Lancaster to the West with Sheffield, Leeds and Hull to the East.
With the backing of 120 Northern leaders, including Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham, the Woodland Trust will plant the rest of the trees over the next 25 years.
Now, those leaders have written to Boris Johnson, inviting him to come to the North, give his full support to the project and plant a tree or two himself.
The forest would benefit 13 million residents and could potentially generate £2.5 billion for the regional economy.
Sir Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West, said: “I’m proud to be associated with this exciting project: The Northern Forest is an initiative of international significance.
“We will see millions of new trees planted, bringing economic and environmental benefits for our region. I am delighted at the ambition of these plans.”
Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, said, “We all have a part to play to tackle the Climate Emergency and commit to reforestation on a massive scale as part of the solution.
“Planting a tree is a small step which can benefit our community, while the Northern Forest would benefit our whole region. I will continue to do all I can to call on the government to save our planet form the climate crisis.”
Darren Moorcroft, chief executive officer of the Woodland Trust, added: “The Northern Forest represents the green lungs of the Northern Powerhouse. This pioneering project will deliver millions of new trees planted, and billions of pounds worth of economic, social and environmental benefits to the region.
“If we are to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises the world faces, internationally significant projects like the Northern Forest must be at the forefront of bold, ambitious domestic thinking.”
Currently, only 7.6 per cent of the North of England is covered by woodland, considerably lower than the national average of 10 per cent.