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.
LANSING – Bird enthusiasts from around the world travel to northern Michigan in hopes of catching sight of a Kirtland’s warbler, a small songbird once poised on the brink of extinction, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Now the species is thriving thanks to decades of effort by a diverse group of dedicated partners. Due to the species’ remarkable recovery, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week announced that it no longer warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“The effort to recover the Kirtland’s warbler is a shining example of what it takes to save imperiled species,” said Margaret Everson, principal deputy director of the Service. “Truly dedicated partners have worked together for decades to recover this songbird. I thank them for their efforts and applaud this historic conservation success.”
“The Kirtland’s warbler was one of the first species in the United States to be put on the federal list of endangered and threatened species, and today’s action by the U.S. Department of the Interior marks the latest chapter in a remarkable wildlife success story,” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger on Tuesday, Oct. 8. “The bird’s recovery provides dramatic testimony to what conservation organizations, governments and businesses can accomplish when they come together for the good of the resource.
“We are grateful for the partnership of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service in this effort. I sincerely believe conservation is a team sport, and today’s announcement is a big win for natural resources in Michigan and for all those involved.”
Historically, wildfires were the most important factor for establishing the natural jack pine forests that Kirtland’s warblers need for breeding habitat, according to the DNR. Modern wildfire suppression greatly diminished the natural disturbance that once generated Kirtland’s warbler breeding habitat. In the absence of wildfire, land managers had to take an active role in mimicking natural processes that regularly occurred within the jack pine ecosystem. This is primarily done through large-scale timber harvesting and human-assisted reforestation.
Today, the sale of jack pine timber on sites where reforestation will occur is critical to managing Kirtland’s warbler breeding habitat. Timber receipts offset the cost of replanting jack pine needed to support a viable population of nesting Kirtland’s warblers that would not otherwise be feasible through conservation dollars.
“Private forest owners are proud partners in this major milestone and committed to the long-term health of the Kirtland’s warbler,” said Dave Tenny, founding president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners. “Private forest owners are an essential part of conservation success – 360 million acres of working forests across the country are privately owned. We proudly work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and conservation partners to develop and implement smart management decisions that support a wide range of wildlife across the country.”
“Collaborative conservation is an effective way of protecting at-risk species and their habitat because it creates a common focus around a shared objective for government agencies, private landowners and the broader conservation community,” said Craig Seaman, senior investment forester, of Timberland Investment Resources, LLC, which manages working forest investments in Wisconsin. “This is another example of how conservation without conflict can produce positive outcomes and we congratulate all those involved, and especially the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for leading the effort.”
Kirtland’s warblers were among the first animals in the United States identified as being at risk of extinction. The species nests only in young jack pine stands in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. It overwinters in the Bahamas. Populations dipped to a low of 167 pairs in 1974 and again in 1987 before starting a steady climb toward recovery.
Prompting the warbler’s slow but steady ascent were long-term efforts by partners such as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service and conservation groups to conserve young jack pine habitat and control brown-headed cowbirds, a primary threat to the species. Cowbirds lay their eggs in warbler nests and larger cowbird chicks outcompete their warbler nest mates, causing the warbler chicks to die while the unwitting warbler parents raise the cowbird imposters.
Year after year, a stalwart group of partners ensured habitat was available and cowbirds were controlled. Due to their efforts, the Kirtland’s warbler population steadily rose. Numbers reached more than 1,000 pairs by 2001, expanding beyond the northern Lower Peninsula to areas in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin and Ontario. Currently, the Kirtland’s warbler population is estimated to be more than 2,300 pairs, more than double the goal identified in the species’ recovery plan. The population has exceeded recovery goals for the past 17 years and continues to increase and expand its range.
The Kirtland’s Warbler Breeding Range Conservation Plan was developed in 2015 and is now the guiding management strategy for the species. Additionally, funding and other commitments to habitat management and cowbird control are in place to ensure continued conservation actions in the absence of ESA protections.
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 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 Peter Aleshire
WHITE MOUNTAINS — Granted, getting up your hopes for the 4-Forest Restoration Initiatives (4FRI) is just a little like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, with Lucy grinning at him like a crazy person.
Still, the most recent developments point to potenial improvements. This might really work out well for the struggling wood products industry in the White Mountains.
The Four Forests Restoration Initiative is the most ambitious forest restoration effort in the country, with the goal of thinning tree densities on more than 2 million acres of ponderosa pine forests in Arizona from perhaps 1,000 per acre to more like 100 per acre. Environmentalist, local officials, loggers and foresters agreed that a combination of prescribed burns and small-wood logging operations restoring the forest and returning low-intensity wildfires to their natural role. In the process, 4FRI hopes to reduce catastrophic wildfires, protecting watershed and saving forested communities. The project include much of the Kaibab, Coconino, Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests. However, the effort has floundered in the past seven years for lack of infrastructure and a market for the wood slash that constitutes half of the material to be removed — the biomass.
Novo Power President Brad Worsley says he’s feeling optimistic the 28 megawatt biomass-burning power plant in Snowflake may stay in business, now that the Forest Services has released the Rim Country request for proposals (RFP) on some 800,000 acres in dire need of thinning.
“I’m happy with the RFP, mainly because they continue to prioritize the biomass – that was really big,” said Worsley.
The wood products industry spawned by the decade-long White Mountains Stewardship Project accounts for hundreds of jobs in an area beset by unemployment and low growth rates. The shutdown of coal-fired power plants combined with the earlier shutdown of mills has thinned the job supply further.
But if things go just right – the Forest Service’s new flexibility and emphasis on getting rid of the could prove an economic boon to the White Mountains.
And that’s in addition to keeping the whole place from burning down.
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?
By Rob Jordan
It costs more than a new iPhone XS, and it’s made out of hazelnut shrub stems. Traditional baby baskets of Northern California’s Yurok and Karuk tribes come at a premium not only because they are handcrafted by skilled weavers, but because the stems required to make them are found only in forest understory areas experiencing a type of controlled burn once practiced by the tribes but suppressed for more than a century.
A new Stanford-led study with the U.S. Forest Service in collaboration with the Yurok and Karuk tribes found that incorporating traditional techniques into current fire suppression practices could help revitalize American Indian cultures, economies and livelihoods, while continuing to reduce wildfire risks. The findings could inform plans to incorporate the cultural burning practices into forest management across an area one and a half times the size of Rhode Island.
“Burning connects many tribal members to an ancestral practice that they know has immense ecological and social benefit especially in the aftermath of industrial timber activity and ongoing economic austerity,” said study lead author Tony Marks-Block, a doctoral candidate in anthropology who worked with Lisa Curran, the Roger and Cynthia Lang Professor in Environmental Anthrolopogy.
“We must have fire in order to continue the traditions of our people,” said Margo Robbins, a Yurok basket weaver and director of the Yurok Cultural Fire Management Council who advised the researchers. “There is such a thing as good fire.”
The study, published in Forest Ecology and Management, replicates Yurok and Karuk fire treatments that involve cutting and burning hazelnut shrub stems. The approach increased the production of high-quality stems (straight, unbranched and free of insect marks or bark blemishes) needed to make culturally significant items such as baby baskets and fish traps up to 10-fold compared with untreated shrubs.
Reducing fuel load
Previous studies have shown that repeated prescribed burning reduces fuel for wildfires, thus reducing their intensity and size in seasonally dry forests such as the one the researchers studied in the Klamath Basin area near the border with Oregon. This study was part of a larger exploration of prescribed burns being carried out by Stanford and U.S. Forest Service researchers who collaborated with the Yurok and Karuk tribes to evaluate traditional fire management treatments. Together, they worked with a consortium of federal and state agencies and nongovernmental organizations across 5,570 acres in the Klamath Basin.
The consortium has proposed expanding these “cultural burns” – which have been greatly constrained throughout the tribes’ ancestral lands – across more than 1 million acres of federal and tribal lands that are currently managed with techniques including less targeted controlled burns or brush removal.
By Charolette Duck
Harvesting trees for energy and commercial use goes against most people’s idea of sustainability. Although lumber practices happening across Austria suggest that this isn’t always the case.
WHEN IT COMES to finding new ways to create energy, there’s an assumption that the solution must come from something new. In Austria, however, experts are showing that this is not necessarily the case. Particularly when it comes to something as elementary as burning wood – which is as old as the proverbial hills.
Wood has been used as a heat source for thousands of years, and a power source for more than a century, but the relationship between deforestation and global warming has caused it to be overlooked as a potential alternative source of energy. However, new forestry production and management techniques trialled in Austria suggest that trees might actually have a key role to play in helping to sustainably satisfy our demand for energy – the key is being smart about how we do it.
With forests covering almost half the country – 47 per cent in fact – you don’t have to go far to find a tree in Austria. So, it’s unsurprising that the nation would look to harness this natural resource for its energy needs. But, sustainable forestry is more complicated than just cutting down one tree and replacing it with another. Some clever thinking is required.
“A forest owner has to determine the total volume of growth in their forest per year, every ten years,” says Christian Rakos of the European Pellet Council. “If 1000 cubic metres of wood are added every year by growth of the trees, this is the volume you can cut each year.” Formulas such as this have helped shaped laws that govern the progressive forestry industry in Austria. The math might be a little tricky, but in Austria, any deviation from this formula is taken very seriously indeed– so much so that there are special authorities who ensure that forestry laws are respected. What’s more, these forest police must approve any cutting that’s larger than half a hectare, and check regularly to ensure that harvested areas are replanted immediately, or will naturally regenerate within five years.
Similarly, endangered species are also carefully monitored, and forestry near their habitats severely restricted. If the worst should happen and a forest is wiped out unexpectedly by natural disaster, say from a storm, disease or pests, then the number of harvestable trees the following year will be reduced accordingly.
They might be strict, but these tactics are certainly working. After all, forty percent of Austria’s annual forest growth remains untouched each year, with the net result being that forests are actually increasing in size.
By Kate Groetzinger
The word wildfire tends to invoke fear, but some wildfires are actually good. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Peavine and Poison Canyon fires currently burning in the Manti-La Sal National Forest will help the environment and act as future fire suppressants.
The Peavine Canyon Fire started July 16, while the Poison Canyon Fire started 10 days later. Together, they have burned around 5,000 acres in San Juan County.
Lightning started both fires, according to Forest Service spokeswoman Heather McLean. But rather than rushing to extinguish them, the agency has opted for a management strategy that involves letting them burn.
“The start was far back in the wilderness where there weren’t any values at risk, like people’s homes or infrastructure,” McLean said.
Firefighters have been helping the flames along, said Monticello District Ranger Michael Diem. More than 100 personnel are assigned to Peavine and Poison Canyons, and they have been lighting small, controlled fires along roads and trails to create buffer zones to stop the wildfire’s spread, as well as lighting small fires inside these boundaries to encourage burning.
McLean said the Forest Service doesn’t expect the fires to grow much bigger. They’ll stop as they approach these buffers and continue to burn internally.
“They will naturally burn themselves out as the thunderstorms go across, and it will actually work quite well,” she said.
Because of the conditions resulting from a wet spring and good snowpack, the fires aren’t destroying everything in their path. They are burning in a “mosaic” pattern, according to McLean, and will leave behind plenty of healthy foliage.
“People have an idea that when fires burn — everything is black,” she said. “But fires that burn naturally in the right conditions don’t burn like that. They just burn in places where there’s fuel.”
Diem said fires like this benefit the overall health of the forest. They open up areas for elk and deer to forage, as well as for hawks and Mexican spotted owls to hunt. The fires are also creating a patchwork of burned out areas that will act as buffers for wildfires later in the season.
By Rob Davis
The university clearcut a 16-acre grove of old-growth trees, drawing scrutiny at exactly the wrong time.
The seedling that sprouted in 1599 in Oregon State University’s McDonald-Dunn research forest was cut down by the public college, along with other trees more than 250 years old. The decision netted $425,000 for the university’s College of Forestry. School officials say the revenue will fund teaching, research and outreach, but it happened at a time when the university’s forestry school has accelerated other timber cuts and dipped into its reserves to fund $19 million in cost overruns on a major construction project.
The forestry school’s interim dean, Anthony Davis, has since acknowledged his mistake in approving the 16-acre cut known as the No Vacancy harvest. He has temporarily halted all logging of trees older than 160 years on the university’s 15,000 acres of research forests.
“Harvesting this stand did not align with the college’s values,” Davis wrote in a July 12 letter to the school community, first reported by the Corvallis Gazette-Times. “Moving forward, we have learned from this matter.”
The felling of the old growth trees raises questions about Oregon State’s land stewardship at precisely the wrong time. Top state leaders are weighing whether to hand over management of the 82,500-acre Elliott State Forest to the university’s college of forestry, a transfer that would quintuple Oregon State’s forest holdings.
Records reviewed by The Oregonian/OregonLive cast doubt on the university’s justification for cutting what it knew were trees as old as 260 years. Records also show the university recently allowed a separate clearcut seven times bigger than permitted under its own management plans.
Taken together, the cuts threaten the credibility of a school that has deep ties to the timber industry but says it can be trusted to do more than maximize timber production in the Elliott.