OSU Forestry: Saving our planet by letting US forests burn and rot

Here is a follow-up to yesterday’s post regarding the persistent and well-funded (by taxpayers) effort to make the climate “better” by not logging our nation’s forests and continue letting them burn and rot instead, as we have been doing the past 20+ years: http://forestpolicypub.com/2013/09/26/forest-modeling-global-warming-academic-job-security/

This is the kind of irresponsible nonsense that made me develop a safe distance from “conservation biologists” in the first place. Oregon State University — including much of its College of Forestry, sadly — has brought in millions of taxpayer dollars during the past 20 years catering to this type of “science” while promoting Global Warming scare stories. Quite the racket.

From: Society for Conservation Biology
Published September 25, 2013 06:24 PM

Climate Change Insurance: Scientists Call on President Obama to Protect Public Forests

WASHINGTON – Scientists specializing in forest ecosystems and climate change called on President Obama today to protect public forests from logging and development in efforts to forestall global warming and compliment the president’s recent proposal for tighter restrictions on coal-fired power plants.

New forest inventories show that the nation’s forests absorb nearly one-quarter of our greenhouse gas pollutants if left undisturbed. In contrast, logging releases most of the carbon stored as carbon dioxide, a global warming pollutant.

The scientists discussed the role of carbon in forest management and climate change mitigation at a presentation at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.

“The nation’s older forests cleanse the air we breathe, help regulate our climate, and provide clean drinking water for millions of Americans, said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist of the Geos Institute and president of the Society for Conservation Biology North America Section. “Cutting these forests down is no different than releasing carbon dioxide pollutants from coal-fired power plants.”

In June, President Obama announced a bold Climate Action Plan that builds on his 2009 pledge to reduce America’s greenhouse gas pollution by 2020. The plan specifically refers to the importance of forests in climate change, noting that the conservation and sustainable management of forests helps to remove carbon from the atmosphere and that the Administration is working to identify new approaches to protect and restore forests and other critical landscapes in the face of a changing climate.

Pointing to forests in the Pacific Northwest, Dr. Bev Law, a forest carbon scientist at Oregon State University, said that forests play a critical role in mitigating climate change. Forests in this region and the Tongass rainforest in Alaska store more carbon acre for acre than nearly any ecosystem on earth.

“Protecting carbon stored in these forests and reforesting abandoned fields would help mitigate global warming,” Law said.

Forests are a critical part of the global atmospheric carbon cycle that contribute to climate stabilization by absorbing (sequestering) and storing vast amounts of carbon dioxide in trees (live and dead), soils and understory foliage. As a forest ages, it continues to accumulate and store carbon, functioning as a net carbon “sink” for centuries. Ongoing carbon accumulation and storage have been measured in forests more than 800 years-old.

“Approximately half of the carbon stored in an old-growth forest is emitted as CO2 when it is converted to a tree plantation, via decomposition of logging slash, fossil fuel emissions from transport and processing, and decay or combustion (within 40-50 years) of forest products, often in landfills,” said Dr. Mark Harmon, a forest carbon scientist at Oregon State University. “Planting or growing young trees does not make up for this release of CO2 from a logged forest.”

Globally, deforestation and forest degradation contribute about 17 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas pollutants, more than the entire global transportation network, which is why many countries are seeking ways to reduce greenhouse gas pollutants from logging. Part of the solution to global warming must come from reducing emissions from forest losses, as recognized by the United Nations REDD+ (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) Programme in developing countries. The U.S. can provide these countries with a leadership example by conserving its own older forests.

“If we manage the planet like the linked biological and physical system that it is, we can reduce potential climate impact to a significant degree,” Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, Biodiversity Chair at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, said.  “Forests are critical to this and U.S. leadership would be exceedingly welcome.”

President Obama has not announced specific measures on limiting forestry related global warming emissions or protecting carbon stored in older forests on public lands and, according to these scientists, has a unique opportunity to leave Americans with a legacy of climate change insurance by enlisting older forests in efforts to curtail global warming.

Left to right Drs. Dominick DellaSala, Mark Harmon, Beverly Law and Tom Lovejoy presented at “The Role of Forests in Mitigating Climate Change” at the Heinz Center for the Science, Economics and Environment on Sept. 25, 2013

Logging in the Tongass rainforest releases vast amounts of CO2 as global warming pollutant

The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) is an international professional organization dedicated to promoting the scientific study of the phenomena that affect the maintenance, loss, and restoration of biological diversity.  The Society’s membership comprises a wide range of people interested in the conservation and study of biological diversity: resource managers, educators, government and private conservation workers, and students make up the more than 4,000 members world-wide.

Contact Info: Nathan Spillman
202-234-4311 (x114)


  1. Problems:

    Re: “Cutting these forests down is no different than releasing carbon dioxide pollutants from coal-fired power plants”

    a) So what is the difference between that and when they die from old age or are eaten by beetles or are consumed by wildfire?

    b) So that means that we should consume non-renewable resources instead and release even more pollutants by using metals and plastics instead of wood?

    c) Sounds counter productive to “In June, President Obama announced a bold Climate Action Plan that builds on his 2009 pledge to reduce America’s greenhouse gas pollution by 2020”

  2. BobZ complains about those who want to “make the climate “better” by not logging our nation’s forests and continue letting them burn and rot instead.”

    This is counterfactual and confusing because there is a well-established inverse relationship between carbon storage and disturbance. Both logging and fire disturbance reduce carbon storage. In western Oregon, the evidence shows that logging disturbance removes vastly more carbon each year than fire disturbance.

    During “typical” fire years in the late 1990s, forest fires in western Oregon removed only about 1/50th as much carbon as logging did (0.1 TgC/yr emissions from fire vs. ~5.5 TgC/yr emissions from logging). Logging in western Oregon transfers more carbon out of forests _every_year_ than the 2002 Biscuit fire which comes along once in a very long time (~5.5 TgC/yr from logging vs. ~4.1 TgC from Biscuit fire).

    In addition, forest growth (not fire) is still the dominant process driving the carbon cycle in western Oregon forests. Carbon emissions from the Biscuit fire in 2002 erased only about half of the net carbon absorbed via photosynthesis in the forests of western Oregon (~4.1 TgC from Biscuit vs. ~8.2 TgC/yr uptake from forest growth), so even during an extreme fire season forest growth still off-set 25% of Oregon’s fossil fuel emissions (~4.1 TgC uptake from forest growth vs. 15.6 TgC/yr fossil fuel emissions).

    CITE: Law, B.E., Turner, D., et al 2004. Disturbance and climate effects on carbon stocks and fluxes across Western Oregon USA. Global Change Biology (2004) 10, 1429-1444. http://wwwdata.forestry.oregonstate.edu/terra/pubs2/GCB_822_eparegionalC.pdf

    There is also a very telling graph in the forest carbon report of the State of Oregon’s Global Warming Commission, showing that harvest removes MUCH more carbon than fire. Peter Kelly 2009. A Greenhouse Gas Inventory of Oregon’s Forests. Oregon Global Warming Commission. October 20, 2009. DNV Climate Change Services. http://www.keeporegoncool.org/sites/default/files/meeting-supporting-files/A%20Greenhouse%20Gas%20Inventory%20of%20Oregon%E2%80%99s%20Forests.pdf

    And don’t tell us that carbon exported by logging ends up in long term storage in wood products. That is true of only a small fraction of the carbon exported. Harmon et al (1996) show that of the 1,692 Tg of carbon removed via timber harvest in Oregon and Washington from 1900 to 1992, only 23% is contained in forest products (including landfills), the other 77% has been released to the atmosphere, so, for every ton of carbon in our houses and landfills, there is another 3 tons in the atmosphere. Also, the carbon store in landfills is growing faster than that stored in buildings. Harmon, Harmon, Ferrell and Brooks. Modeling Carbon Stores in Oregon and Washington Forest Products 1900-1992. Climate Change 33:521-550 (1996). http://www.springerlink.com/content/u51867621j8307m7/

    • Tree

      By not logging you are choosing to use non-renewables to make products and produce energy rather than using renewables like wood? Surely you realize that using non-renewables releases carbon that could have been left in storage for as long as the earth exists.

      By looking at a short term graph over a 20 some year period out of a 200+ year life cycle and jumping from that to a long term conclusion that logging is bad for carbon storage, you ignore the fact that all carbon stored in trees (and any other living organism) will eventually be released whether they die from logging, fire, beetles, old age or from some other reason.

      From these two basic scientific principles which are incontrovertible facts, you can only come to one conclusion and that is that the only way to permanently store carbon is not to extract it from the earth. From that simple fact, you next come to the conclusion that logging to use renewable wood for products and energy is preferable to mining or drilling to extract non-renewables for products and energy.

      Your “counterfactual” second paragraph reveals that you don’t understand the issues involved. Your use of a small segment of a life cycle to come to a major conclusion is not science but Chicken Little grasping at straws in the darkness of a room filled with sharp knives. Your stance against logging is a shortsighted, counter productive, “counterfactual” solution to a long term problem and all of the models/studies that you reference are flawed because they ignore the long term big picture.

      • “In the case of substitution offsets, one cannot ignore addititonality [sic] (the degree the action increases carbon stores in buildings) or permanence (the idea that building stores have to be maintained). Most of the current substitution offset estimates assume either carbon stores in buildings increase forever or that building carbon stores always start at zero, or that non-wood materials are the preferred over wood. None of these assumptions is actually true and as a result substitution offsets have been grossly overestimated.” Maffe 2011. Society of Conservation Biology Review of the Proposed NFMA Planning Rule and DEIS. http://contentanalysisgroup.com/fsrddata/FRD-0288.pdf

        Law & Harmon conducted a literature review and concluded …
        “Most LCA [life cycle analysis] studies rely heavily on wood product substitution for GHG benefits, and these have been grossly overestimated, with many ambiguous assertions that gloss over forest carbon dynamics; for example:
        • Biofuel emissions are assumed to be zero because they are balanced by net growth, yet this would depend on the state of the preceding forest system – they could be positive, neutral or negative;
        • Old forests are assumed to always be carbon sources, while young forests are always assumed to be carbon sinks, contrary to forest carbon dynamics findings;
        • Dead wood and soil carbon stores are either not included or assumed to be constant;
        • In one LCA, dead wood is not present in older forests, contrary to findings in the extensive ecological literature;
        • The wood product pool is assumed to be an increasing carbon stock over time.
        These caveats all suggest that while there is likely to be some building material substitution effect that is valid, it is far lower than generally estimated and as subject to saturation as other forest-related carbon pools. In summary, the substitution effect appears to have been grossly overestimated. Substitution is an offset, not a store. Offsets depend on the use of appropriate accounting rules. Until rules such as permanence, additionality and leakage are followed, the values being presented in many analyses are not credible.”
        Beverly Elizabeth Law & Mark E Harmon 2011. Forest sector carbon management, measurement and verification, and discussion of policy related to mitigation and adaptation of forests to climate change. Carbon Management 2011 2(1). http://terraweb.forestry.oregonstate.edu/pubs/lawharmon2011.pdf

        “several issues need to be recognized regarding these offsets. First, most analyses have presented theoretical maximum product substitution offsets and ignored the effects of additionality (i.e., degree to which practices differ from business as usual or statutory requirements), permanence and replacement of existing wood products, and enduser preferences for building materials. If these factors are included, then substitution effects are substantially lower than the theoretical maximum and unlikely to surpass carbon stores in forests for many centuries if at all.” Sarah L. Shafer, Mark E. Harmon, Ronald P. Neilson, Rupert Seidl, Brad St. Clair, Andrew Yost 2011. Oregon Climate Assessment Report (OCAR) http://occri.net/ocar Chapter 5. The Potential Effects of Climate Change on Oregon’s Vegetation. http://occri.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/chapter5ocar.pdf

        • Tree

          You have missed my point at:

          As I said above, all renewables including forests will eventual release their carbon – so I think that we agree on that. What matters is the total inventory of above ground carbon including that in temporary storage and that in gaseous form. The only way not to add to above ground carbons is not to release new carbons from their permanent underground storage.

          So, for the long run good we want to increase the use of existing above ground renewable resources and decrease the use of existing underground non-renewable resources. I don’t think that we need to get into life cycle analysis when we look at it this way.

          Reductions in logging of renewable resources forces more products and energy to be produced by taking carbons out of permanent storage underground and brings their carbons above ground where they are freed to varying degrees depending on their utilization.

          Logging is an integral part of the answer to minimizing total above ground carbon. Those who oppose logging, are working against the goal to reduce above ground carbons by forcing more products and energy to be produced from carbons formerly, permanently stored underground.

  3. Tree: Sorry for your confusion. Not sure what I claimed (or you think I did) that was “counterfactual.” Whatever the carbon fluxes have been in Oregon forests the past 20 or 200 years, my opinion is that they have nothing to do with global climate. Citing Law and Harmon in your list of flexible statistics and assertions doesn’t demonstrate much of anything in that regard, either. And — for the record — I DIDN’T say anything about “exporting” carbon to wood products, so that’s just putting words in my mouth. On the other hand, you didn’t say anything about all of the stumps and roots and sunlight for new plants left behind after logging, either — or all of the rotting dead trees left behind after a wildfire. I trust Bonnicksen’s figures on these matters more than any others I’ve seen. And no one ever has demonstrated any particular relationship between logging and climate change — that’s all pure speculation. Personally, I’d rather go through another Carboniferous Period than another Ice Age. People, plants and animals always do better when it’s warm, rather than frozen.

    • Tree: In regards to your concerns about exporting carbon from forested environments, I’d like to quote from an email I received earlier today on this very topic from Dr. Mike Newton, a long-time friend and professor emeritus of forest ecology from Oregon State University College of Forestry:

      It is not a scientific question that the “cutting releases CO2” crowd is tossing out.

      If one does not cut or remove accumulated carbon from a forest, it remains in a carbon-equilibrium forever until it burns (emits) or is logged (emits in roughly equal quantities, but spread over a longer period). By managing a forest with removals that are not burned any time soon (stored carbon) and re-planting or other regeneration, the accumulation and harvest of carbon then are in a new and dynamic equilibrium with less stored carbon on-site and more carbon stored off-site, and more carbon absorbed by the vigorous young forests continuously.

      Managing a forests for maximum growth and harvest allows a forest to accumulate carbon that can be stored up to a point on the stump, or exported and stored elsewhere while the system accelerates accumulation anew.

      The idea that old growth is essential for carbon storage is bogus because it does not allow storage off site, and does not continue to accumulate beyond the state that exists when the dominant shade-intolerant species begin to give way to tolerant species through mortality. At that point, storage begins to decline in the woods. For our westside Doug-fir dominant forests, my guess is that max storage may occur by age 150-180. Poor sites take much longer if disease doesn’t take out the intolerant species or where the intolerants such as lodgepole are shorter-lived.

      My data make clear that Douglas-fir on a decent site grows rapidly to age 150 IF stand density is periodically opened up so mortality is in terms of export rather than decaying in the stand. If space per tree is not opened up, mortality takes off and inventory begins to drop, converting to decaying wood that emits CO2. The data are not ambivalent. Bob Curtis, of PNW Station for half a century, and I (on a smaller scale) have invested much of our scientific lives asking just this question when looking at long-rotation even-aged management.

      You are free to share this with reporters or forestry folks elsewhere. There are no secrets here except that I have not inventoried the CO2 emissions from the down wood. I think Harmon has done some of that, but I am not aware of whether he gives equal attention to growth minus decay losses and when this changes with maturation.

      • Even the slower growing western redcedar will grow phenomenally fast, if given enough light and water. I measured and core-sampled one in a plot on the Powers RD, of the Rogue-Siskiyou NF. It was 69 years old and 32″ in diameter! It was one of those smaller trees in a clearcut that was not cut or slashed, along with the rest of the trees. Some logs can even be stored for many years, while the logging site is sucking up more CO2.

        Sure, if you remove other benefits of active management, you’re likely to find a few scenarios where commercial logging isn’t a solution for one of many forest and world problems. That is why we use site-specific science, to weigh all the trade-offs and decide what accomplishes “the greater good”.

    • So, let me get this straight, “stumps and roots” left over after logging” help store carbon, but “rotting wood” left over after fires does not? That’s not inconsistent. You have to use fair and accurate accounting rules.

      • Tree: Rotting wood puts CO2 into the air; growing trees gather CO2 from the air. Yes, the rotting trees are a storage of carbon, but they are also an increased wildfire risk. If they are moved off-site and turned into products the wildfire risk is mitigated to a great extent and the products can be used in lieu of other materials, which typically produce far more CO2 in their manufacture than wood.

        I think that’s right, but either Mike Newton or Tom Bonnicksen might be needed to fine-tune that argument. Or maybe Larry or Gil? I just know about the wildfire risk and severity part — still not a big fan of managing forests for carbon one way or another, so I’ve never looked too deep into it since my EPA report 20 years ago — and that mostly just looked at the predictive models. It doesn’t make sense to me and never has, but that’s just my opinion. Larry? Gil?

        • Rotting trees add more powerful GHG’s to our atmosphere, as they decay. Burning trees add toxic gases, pushing them high into our atmosphere, making it very difficult for plants to re-sequester the massive amounts of carbon from large wildfires. Both results are not optimal for people worried about “global warming” or “climate change”. Additionally, high-intensity wildfires that damage soils cause lands to not be able to support the development of forests that can re-sequester all of the lost carbon storage. For example, when burned soils have lost organic matter, their water-holding capacity is diminished, and the growth is stunted. Burned soils also lose micro and macro-nutrients, including C and N, resulting in additional limits to plant growth. I am glad to see that scientists are placing adequate attention to the soil damages that intense wildfires cause. Re-burns are also a major part of the bigger picture, causing more soil damages when unsalvaged trees fall and burn. Yes, brushfields that endure for many decades are “natural” but, so is cholera and malaria. *smirk*

    • Larry, Forests go in cycles of carbon uptake and emission. You have to look over time and over space to fully understand the forest carbon cycle.

      Also, remember forest carbon storage is inverse to disturbance, whether from logging or fire or drought or a combination. Carbon emissions from fire or drought + logging are worse than carbon emissions from fire alone. This means, if you try to log a forest to reduce or prevent emissions from fire (or drought) you will only make a bad situation worse by accelerating the transfer of carbon from the forest to the atmosphere.

      • Tree: This is only a bad situation if you think it is important for forests to store carbon. It only becomes “worse” if you think CO2 is a bad thing. Personally, I like CO2 a lot (critical for life), and I also like forest products a lot (everybody does), and I like real (“taxpaying”) jobs for our rural communities. The only things worse than a bunch of dead trees or stressed trees, is an unnecessary catastrophic wildfire or a dying community on food stamps. Dead and dying trees left to rot increase the risk of both, and increase the costs of housing, furniture, newspapers, and toilet paper for everyone else. Are you really that afraid of carbon-dioxide? Or is it the horror stories we are told will happen when we reach the “350 ppm tipping point?” Seriously, I think you should read Botkin’s book — it will make you a lot less fearful.

      • I look far beyond simple carbon cycling but, a healthy vigorous forest is much better than one that has been incinerated. Why bother with measuring the impacts of fires, alone, in our forests? We need to measure all the impacts, especially on endangered species. Carbon studies don’t analyze very many impacts, knowingly ignoring issues that affect ecosystems negatively.

  4. Oh, for crying out loud, Dominick and Bev….\
    You have got to be kidding me. Forests are in the open carbon cycle, the carbon goes into the vegetation and comes out when the vegetation dies, either fast or slow.
    Using “carbon” as a management driver is nonsense, utter fluff. Habitat condition, sure. Economics, sure. Carbon? Silly.

    • They make a much better living that either of us, Dave, and have better retirement plans, too. Managing a forest for carbon is insane, of course, and that’s why none of these people are forest managers. Why they have risen so high in OSU Forestry academic ranks over the past two decades is what concerns me. The Global Warming trough is deep, though, and many partake. I think science is being badly compromised in the process, but maybe I’m just jealous.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *