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.
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 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 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 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 Lex Treinen
ANCHORAGE (KTUU) – Scientists have been working feverishly to understand the processes that drive wildfires in the state and in the country, and unsurprisingly there is some worrying news about chance of big fires in the future.
While national agencies offer predictions the data is pretty coarse without nuance to the terrain or ecology of an area.
So researchers like Peter Bieniek of UAF are working to produce better models to increase the accuracy of forecasts and models, particularly on a large scale and in longer time frames. Beniek’s work focuses on analyzing data for future, high-probability fire days, and the results aren’t much of a surprise considering a warming planet.
“Likely looking down the road, especially in these future projections, data show that we’re gonna get more higher fire danger over the next hundred years,” says Bieniek.
One of the main drivers of higher probability is a likely increase in lightning strikes in Interior Alaska, which is caused by a higher likelihood of convective precipitation. Convective precipitation occurs when water vapor rises straight up through the atmosphere to form clouds, instead of moving diagonally like normal weather patterns that bring various forms of precipitation.
That moves the total likelihood of a fire year like 2015 — when five million acres burned — higher by 34 to 60%, according to Bieniek’s data.
Bieniek’s data show that these sorts of strikes are likely to increase as convection precipitation increases. That, in turn, drives up the likelihood of fires.
An interesting finding is that two different models used by Bieniek and his colleagues indicate that while fire danger is likely to rise in the early season–May, June, and July– the models diverge as to whether the fire danger will stay as high in August and September. That means that fire managers could be seeing intense strain on firefighting crews earlier in the season, and have it taper off later in the season. For now, though, they aren’t making any bets.
By Alex Devoid, Arizona Daily Star
As the Amazon burns, a bad situation could get worse for forests in Arizona.
“The relationship is very clear,” said Don Falk, a professor at the University of Arizona.
Deforestation in the Amazon accelerates changes in global climate. And these changes eventually affect forests close to home.
They’re driving longer, warmer and more intense wildfire seasons, he said. And they’ve already fueled unprecedented wildfires in Arizona and across the West.
Tropical forests like the Amazon rarely burn when left to nature, but fire has always had a place in the life cycle of forests in Arizona.
Low-intensity fires in Arizona historically cleared the forest floor, limiting the accumulation of wildfire fuel, while leaving mature trees standing.
In the 1880s, people and livestock started interrupting fire’s place in this cycle, Falk said. Then U.S. federal policies suppressed wildfire for decades staring in the 1920s, allowing fuel to accumulate. Changes to global climate dried it out with drought and higher temperatures.
In the worst cases, flames jumped from the ground to the crowns of densely packed trees.
They engulfed old-growth forests, spreading faster and more destructively through more forest than ever before.
In 2002 and 2003, for example, it happened in the peaks above Tucson on Mount Lemmon during the Bullock Fire and then the Aspen Fire. Since then, hundreds of thousands of acres have burnt this way in Arizona.
The Amazon is an important buffer against the warming climate, which has created the conditions for these unprecedented fires. It absorbs around 2 billion of the 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted globally each year.
At least a quarter of the stored carbon on earth is concentrated in tropical forests like the Amazon, which grow on barely 12% of the earth’s land, Falk said.
Forests fires across the globe may contribute to climate change by burning carbon these forests store, according to a 2015 study by researchers from universities across the country.
As the Amazon burns, for example, it absorbs less carbon dioxide.
Meanwhile, more billows from the flames, warming the planet by trapping heat inside the atmosphere.
“It’s a double hit to the global climate system,” Falk said.
By Evan Nicole Brown
ON JUNE 22, 2013, PAKISTAN’S Sindh Forest Department set a Guinness World Record when 300 people planted 847,275 trees in 24 hours. Three years later, on July 11, 2016, India eclipsed that mark, planting 49.3 million tree saplings (comprising 80 different species) in the same amount of time.
But yesterday, the arboreal record was shattered again—in half the time. A nationwide planting spree in Ethiopia saw volunteers plant more than 350 million trees across 1,000 designated sites—in just 12 hours.
This latest eco-challenge was designed as part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s “Green Legacy Initiative,” a reforestation plan to address Ethiopia’s rapid tree loss. At the start of the 20th century, 30 percent of the country’s land was forested. Now, less than 4 percent of it is.
Ethiopia is not alone when it comes to tree loss. In 2015, 10 African countries launched the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, which aims to restore 386,000 square miles of the continent’s land by 2030.
The benefits are legion.
“Restoring our landscapes brings prosperity, security, and opportunity,” Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s minister of natural resources, said at the time. “With forest landscape restoration, we’ve seen agricultural yields rise and farmers in our rural communities diversify their livelihoods and improve their well-being. Forest landscape restoration is not just an environmental strategy; it is an economic and social development strategy as well.”
As part of this effort, Ethiopia pledged to tackle 57,915 square miles of its landscape. On July 29, Prime Minister Ahmed encouraged millions of Ethiopians to each plant a minimum of 40 seedlings. The citizenry took him very seriously. Some schools and government offices closed to encourage full participation.
By Dean Mosiman
Threatened by infestations, climate change and competing demands for space, Madison’s tree canopy will shrink with “potentially disastrous results” unless the city invests more in its trees, a new report says.
After nearly two years of study, the city’s Urban Forestry Task Force is making a series of recommendations — some with potentially significant price tags — to nurture and dramatically increase the area covered by trees from 23% to 40% of Madison’s 80 square miles.
Already, the city has had to deal with infestation by the emerald ash borer that’s forcing the removal of thousands of trees, as well as disease, climate change, loss of mature trees to development, road salt, and cramped space for planting and growth in the public right of way.
On private property, where most of the trees in the city are located, uneven care is also affecting the urban canopy, the report said.
The task force, created by the City Council on Aug. 1, 2017, has offered a 25-page report and recommendations aimed at elevating the importance of trees in the city’s planning, investments and operations and creating a new city role in expanding the canopy on private property.
“We have a quality urban forest in the city,” parks superintendent Eric Knepp said. “However, there are many opportunities to improve it.”
The 46 recommendations call for a preservation ordinance to protect mature trees; a yet-to-be defined grant program for planting trees on private property; focusing attention on neighborhoods that need trees; written standards for how to care for trees; hiring a forestry outreach and education specialist; revisiting old sites that don’t require much landscaping, such as parking lots at big shopping malls, and bringing them up to current standards; and planting more trees in parks than needed to replace those that are lost.