By Allison Chinchar
When you think of Florida, beaches and palm trees come to mind. But what if those palm trees were slowly replaced with other trees? That could happen over time because of climate change, and communities in South Florida are trying to save the world from the climate crisis, one tree at a time.
“Palm trees do not sequester carbon at the same rate as our native canopy trees and do not provide shade, cool down streets and sidewalks to help counter the urban heat island effect that canopy trees do,” said Penni Redford, the Resilience and Climate Change Manager for West Palm Beach.
With atmospheric carbon dioxide levels today higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Earth needs to remove it or humans have to stop adding it. In fact, the last time carbon dioxide concentration was this high was more than 3 million years ago.
Scientists are working on solutions to capture and safely contain atmospheric carbon. One approach is called “terrestrial sequestration” — which is essentially planting trees. A tree absorbs carbon during photosynthesis and stores it for the life of the tree.
But Florida’s beloved palms are the least effective at carbon sequestration. The average palm in southern Florida only absorbs 5 pounds of CO2 per year. Compared to other trees — oaks, mahogany, pines, and cedars — that can sequester more than 3,000 pounds of CO2 over their lifetime, it may be best to exclude palms in favor of more broadleaf trees or conifers.
Miami is also joining the initiative to shift planting priority to a variety of trees — just not palms. Miami Beach’s Rising Above program to combat the climate crisis includes an urban forestry master plan which details the environmental benefits of planting shade trees, including species such as oak, ash, elm and sycamore, in place of palms.
President Joe Biden is joining other world leaders in highlighting the importance of preserving forests as a force against global warming. He spoke about the issue at the climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland on Tuesday.
by Lynda V. Mapes
CAPITOL STATE FOREST, Thurston County — Older than Washington state, the biggest Douglas firs on this patch of state forestland have stood through more than a century of logging.
Part of a 180-acre timber sale auctioned off for $4.2 million last November by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), their next stop was a plywood mill. Then, something unusual happened.
Hilary Franz, state commissioner of public lands, pulled back nearly 40 acres with most of the biggest, oldest trees from the sale.
Now, this timber sale named Smuggler (sales are often whimsically named by state foresters) also is swinging open a door to a broader conversation in Washington, home to the second largest lumber producer in the nation, to rethink the value of trees on state lands not as logs, but as trees to help address the twin crises of species extinction and climate warming.
Franz is kicking off an examination over the next three to four months of all older forests on DNR lands west of the Cascades not already in conservation status — about 10,000 acres.
But that is nothing compared to positions staked out by two of her predecessors: Jennifer Belcher, commissioner from 1993-2001, and Peter Goldmark, commissioner from 2009-2017. They have launched a proposal to gradually stop all commercial harvest of state forests west of the Cascades, for what they see as a higher purpose: combating the climate crisis.
Nothing we currently know of works better than allowing trees to suck carbon from the atmosphere when they are living, and store it in their branches, roots and the forest soil for centuries after their death. Trees — especially mature forests — are the cheapest, fastest, most reliable form of carbon storage.
So-called proforestation is the leading edge of new science that finds intentionally leaving forests to grow bigger helps blunt the worst effects of the climate catastrophe. Of course, fossil fuel emissions must also be drastically reduced.
Franz said she opposes her predecessors’ proposal. She is concerned about preserving local timber supplies, mills, jobs and payments made from timber revenue to state trust beneficiaries for school construction and local government needs. State trust lands contributed more than $155 million in net revenue to those beneficiaries in 2018, most of it from timber harvests.
But she does want to take a new look at older trees. Not the old growth the state already protects, sprouted before 1850, among other characteristics. The older trees that are the giants of tomorrow.
Franz sees an opportunity to take a broader, more holistic view and create meaningful change that extends beyond the Capitol State Forest, she said in an interview.
They are iconic to Florida, but palm trees offer little shade to urban heat islands and capture very small amounts of carbon, a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.
South Florida’s palm trees are postcard promises of sighing sea breezes and sandy beaches, but the icon of the tropics may be an impractical adornment in an era of climate change.
From the regal royal palm to the sometimes shabby cabbage, the perennial symbol of the Sunshine State offers little shade to baking urban heat islands and captures minimal amounts of carbon — a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.
As city officials look for more ways to cool concrete jungles and balance carbon emissions, the priority for new plantings is often broadleaf hardwood trees, not the idyllic palm.
Live oaks can absorb and store 92 pounds of carbon a year with a mature tree’s canopy spanning more than 100 feet. That’s compared to less than one pound of carbon for a royal palm and its compact crown of 15 to 20 fronds.
“People coming from up north or other parts of the country are expecting to see palm trees, so I don’t see them disappearing entirely from the landscape,” said Charles Marcus, a certified arborist who wrote an urban tree management plan for West Palm Beach. “But it would benefit most communities if they increased the percentage of hardwoods and I think it’s something cities will have to consider.”
Palms aren’t even an option at City of West Palm Beach community tree giveaways, and a 2018 city ordinance puts an emphasis on using more shade trees in new construction, especially parking lots where 75 percent of the required trees must now be shade trees.
“We’re not trying to seek out and replace palm trees with canopy trees, but we are looking at if we have to do a replacement, would a canopy tree fit,” said Penni Redford, resilience and climate change manager for West Palm Beach.
Three years of studies in cities including Baltimore, Richmond, Va., and Washington by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that areas covered in concrete with few trees could be 17 degrees warmer than shaded areas.
The same study conducted in West Palm Beach this past August found a heat-index temperature of 122 degrees near downtown, compared to 92 degrees taken during the same time period near the wetlands area of Grassy Waters Preserve.
“These are samples taken in one time period and one day out of the year, but given the conditions, the difference is staggering,” said Michael Rittehouse, sustainability project coordinator for West Palm Beach.
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 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.
By Dan Kraker
Programs that pay landowners to keep carbon sequestered in forests are beginning to spread, now that California has a cap and trade system designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some say Minnesota should be a bigger player in the carbon offset market.
Money may not grow on trees — but the carbon that trees store could be worth millions, as consumers, companies and governments ramp up efforts to fight climate change.
Earlier this week, a group of land managers and scientists from around Minnesota came together in Duluth to start a conversation about how the state can join in the growing marketplace that pays to keep carbon sequestered in forests.
Minnesota’s climate change-fighting efforts so far have focused largely on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by moving away from coal power and towards cleaner energy like wind and solar.
But there’s been a lot less focus on the other side of the carbon equation: What to do with those greenhouse gases that continue to be emitted into the atmosphere, the heat-trapping culprits that cause global warming?
California is one of the few states that has taken the lead on incentivizing practices that lead to carbon sequestration, and established an official statewide cap and trade system in 2013. Dozens of forestry projects around the country are part of the program, including many on tribal lands.
But none of the carbon sequestration projects that are involved in California’s marketplace are based in Minnesota — at least, not yet. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe is exploring the possibility of creating a forest carbon offset program on 14,000 acres of its reservation in northern Minnesota, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is exploring a 9,000-acre program on its land near Cloquet.
The idea is that polluters in California or elsewhere could then purchase offsets from those programs, as a way to counterbalance their own greenhouse gas emissions.
In Minnesota, land managers and forestry experts are looking for ways to encourage landowners to manage their forests in such a way that sucks more carbon out of the atmosphere.
By Christina Larson
Destruction of the forests can be swift. Regrowth is much, much slower.But around the world, people are putting shovels to ground to help it happen.
They labor amid spectacular recent losses — the Amazon jungle and the Congo basin ablaze, smoke from Indonesian rainforests wafting over Malaysia and Singapore, fires set mostly to make way for cattle pastures and farm fields. Between 2014 and 2018, a new report says, an area the size of the United Kingdom was stripped of forest each year.
Rebuilding woodland is slow and often difficult work. And it requires patience: It can take several decades or longer for forests to regrow as viable habitats, and to absorb the same amount of carbon lost when trees are cut and burned.
And yet, there is urgency to that work — forests are one of the planet’s first lines of defense against climate change, absorbing as much as a quarter of man-made carbon emissions each year.
The impact could be great: A recent study in the journal Science projected that if 0.9 billion hectares (2.2 billion acres) of new trees were planted — around 500 billion saplings— they could absorb 205 gigatonnes (220 gigatons) of carbon once they reached maturity. The Swiss researchers estimated this would be equivalent to about two-thirds of man-made carbon emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Other scientists dispute those calculations, while some fear the theoretical promise of tree-planting as an easy solution to climate changes could distract people from the range and scope of the responses needed.
But all agree that trees matter. And in many places around the world, people are working to revive them:
By Evan Bush
Scientists are using cutting-edge research in their efforts to restore Southwest Washington’s Ellsworth Creek Preserve, in hopes of easing the impacts of climate change.
Standing between nearly uniform rows of hemlock trees, scientist Tiara Moore clutched a tiny vial of evidence.
Filled with dirt and no bigger than her pinkie finger, the vial contained traces of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of creatures that had oozed by, crawled past or fluttered into this tiny corner of the Ellsworth Creek Preserve.
The microscopic flecks of DNA — from insects, amoebas and mushrooms — could help tell the story of a forest trying to regrow to its former might.
These forest forensics, part of a fast-growing field called environmental DNA, will tell researchers what’s living here, which, in turn, tells forest managers if what they’re doing is working here.
The soil where Moore dug for DNA was once rooted with old-growth trees common across the coastal Northwest, before decades of clear-cutting stripped them from the land.
Restoring landscapes like these helps take up and store more carbon, part of the solution to reduce the impacts of climate change.
The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit which owns about 8,000 acres at Ellsworth, hopes Moore’s work can help in pursuit of a longtime Northwest quest: to restore its old-growth forests — rich with biodiversity — and fast.
“These are some of the most carbon-rich systems on Earth,” said David Rolph, director of land conservation for the organization in Washington. “Could we rebuild?”
The conservancy’s theory — backed by years of Northwest forest science — was that thinning and mimicking nature would create a more complex, vibrant forest with a diversity of species, more light for trees and less competition among them for nutrients.
“Any modeling you do will show you get bigger trees faster with thinning,” Rolph said. “You can manipulate and accelerate that complexity.”
The larger the tree, the more carbon can be absorbed and stored, making old-growth forests a boon to mitigating climate change.
By Eloise Gibson
Pinus Radiata sequesters carbon at a much higher rate in NZ than much-preferred native trees. So scientists propose an unconventional solution to get the best of both.
To measure how much carbon is in a tree, you first have to kill it.
You slice up the trunk, branches, twigs, leaves and roots and dry the dismembered tree parts in an oven. Then you weigh them.
“It takes a long time,” says Euan Mason, a professor at the University of Canterbury’s School of Forestry. “I did some in 2012 with two students, and in six weeks I think we did 25 trees.”
Sacrificing trees like this is expensive, but researchers need these measurements.
Typically, about half a tree’s dry weight is carbon, which you can multiply by roughly 3.7 to work out how much carbon dioxide the tree has sucked from the atmosphere.
Once enough trees of different ages and species have been dissected, the results are used to help build computer models estimating how much carbon is in a hectare of living forest, or an entire country’s worth of trees.
Forest owners can use models like this to see how much money they can claim for carbon credits under the Emissions Trading Scheme. Similar estimates tell the Ministry for the Environment that New Zealand’s forests removed 24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere in 2017, enough to offset 29 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Most of this CO2 was absorbed by Pinus Radiata, a species much-loved by commercial foresters for its astonishing rate of growth, but seemingly little-loved by anyone in the general population.
Radiata became the nation’s wood crop after most of our ancient Kauri forests were destroyed by indiscriminate logging in the 1880s. (“I wouldn’t call it forestry, because it was just pillaging,” says Mason).
Permanent indigenous forest still covers a much larger area than pine – almost quarter of the country, compared with 6.6 percent in wood plantations. But old-growth forests on conservation land are excluded from the tallies of New Zealand’s carbon sinks and emissions. (This sounds less insane after you find out that mature forests often reach a steady state, sucking about the same amount of CO2 they are losing from dead wood.)
For such peaceful beings, trees have sparked some heated arguments lately: how many we should plant, where and what kind. One point on which no one disagrees is that New Zealand needs to hold on to its old, indigenous forests: mature forest in the conservation estate holds about twice as much carbon per hectare as tree plantations do. After all, our ancient forest has centuries to hoard it.
But the question of what to plant in the next few decades is different, and even forestry scientists can’t agree. The basic points are common ground. We face a climate emergency. The Government, like others around the world, is committed to being carbon neutral by 2050. Trees can help.
But do we want maximum carbon-sucking, fast, or do we value other attributes more, or is there some way to have it all?