Business as usual not a wise response to climate crisis

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Published: 3/21/2020 1:33:11 PM

The title of John Blasiak’s March 7 My Turn is “Let Loggers Work and Sawmills Thrive.” Yes, it would be great if business as usual would solve our climate emergency. However, the claim that logging for more wood products will help reduce atmospheric CO2 is not consistent with recent scientific research. Specifically, the only comprehensive peer reviewed study (Nunnery and Keeton, 2010, “Forest Ecology and Management”) that examines this question, concluded that forests with “no management” capture and store from 39% to 118% more carbon than forests subjected to any of a variety of “active management” (logging) scenarios. Moreover, this study took into account the carbon stored in persistent wood products or ending up in landfills. Left alone, our forests can capture and store more and more carbon far into the future.

The Nunnery and Keeton study considered only the carbon in above-ground woody biomass and harvested wood products, but carbon stored below ground in roots and soil also accumulates far into the future in undisturbed forests. A logged area continues to emit more carbon than it absorbs for 10 to 20 years after it is logged as soil organisms and root systems continue to decompose.

Not surprisingly, the oldest forests in the world store more carbon each year than younger forests. A study lead by Dr. Steve Sillett, showed that a single 704-year-old redwood tree sequestered 2,811 pounds of above ground biomass in a single year (2014). Were this year’s worth of biomass burned, it would release 5,150 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Recent studies have also shown that the biggest and oldest trees in the forest not only store the most carbon, but continue to do so at a much faster absolute rate than younger trees. According to this study (N.L. Stephenson et al., Nature 2014), of the 403 surveyed tree species, for 97% of them “the mass growth rate (and, hence, rates of carbon gain)” — literally, the amount of tree in the tree — kept increasing even as the individual tree got older and taller. It has also been confirmed that these larger trees hold a disproportionately large share of the total forest carbon as compared to smaller, younger trees. A 2018 study in Global Ecology and Biogeography by James A. Lutz and over 90 other scientists “found that the largest 1% of trees constitute 50% of the biomass (and hence carbon)” and go on to conclude that “The conservation of large-diameter trees in tropical and temperate forests is therefore imperative to maintain full ecosystem function,” including carbon capture and storage. It is of inordinate importance to protect the largest trees we now have because it will take centuries to replace them, centuries we don’t have in the face of the Climate Emergency.

Finally, Mr. Blasiak argues that “Management practices should not facilitate recreational use of forests” as this might negatively impact wildlife. Quite frankly one of the few ways we can gain more support for conservation of our public forests is to encourage people to enjoy them in a responsible way, for hiking, bird watching, spiritual enhancement and many other purposes. Restricting forests primarily to use by 70,000 lb feller-bunchers and other gigantic logging equipment is not likely to endear these forests to the public.

Bart Bouricius is a resident of Montague.


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