OSU study: Carbon benefits in forest management change

OSU press release: “CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon could eliminate an estimated 17 percent of carbon emissions from its forest ecosystems in the next century by increasing the amount of forested area and lengthening times between harvests, according to a new study from the University of Idaho, Oregon State University and EcoSpatial Services LLC.”

The full text of the study is online and free, from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors consider substitution:

“While product substitution reduces the overall forest sector emissions, it cannot offset the losses incurred by frequent harvest and losses associated with product transportation, manufacturing, use, disposal, and decay. Methods for calculating substitution benefits should be improved in other regional assessments.”

4 thoughts on “OSU study: Carbon benefits in forest management change”

  1. Thanks, Steve. This makes a good carbon case for leaving these forests on public lands alone:
    “Reforestation, afforestation, lengthened harvest cycles on private lands, and restricting harvest on public lands increase NECB 56% by 2100, with the latter two actions contributing the most. Resultant cobenefits included water availability and biodiversity, primarily from increased forest area, age, and species diversity.”
    Alterations in forest management can contribute to increasing the land sink and decreasing emissions by keeping carbon in high biomass forests, extending harvest cycles, reforestation, and afforestation. Forests are carbon-ready and do not require new technologies or infrastructure for immediate mitigation of climate change. Growing forests for bioenergy production competes with forest carbon sequestration and does not reduce emissions in the next decades.”
    It also discounts the idea of storing carbon in wood products: “Carbon stored in buildings generally outlives its usefulness or is replaced within decades rather than the centuries possible in forests…”

    • Jon, I don’t understand, folks have been building buildings with wood for a long time and I don’t see then replacing these buildings in “decades”..

      I’m also wondering where the afforestation opportunities are in Oregon and how they determined that trees increase water availability over no trees.

      And “growing trees for bioenergy” seems like a straw person since public timberlands are probably happily growing trees for higher value wood products, and public lands would probably do the same unless they are removing small material for fuels treatment. Then they are just lucky to sell to anybody rather than burn. And if you look at that simply, burning piles into the air or burning that replaces fossil fuel usage, it seems like that would need more specifics to determine the carbon and other environmental benefits.

      • One must consider a bigger picture. “Leakage,” or the increase in CO2 emissions via increased harvesting in some areas when harvesting is decreased elsewhere, is one factor. California has wrestled with leakage in its cap-and-trade program. For background, see the 2008 report, “Forest Carbon Markets: Potential and Drawbacks” (https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34560.pdf). We’re not discussing GHG markets here, but the same thing happens when production of a resource is limited in one area but not in others.

        One question to ask is, If the US or the world uses X cubic meters of wood, where is the best place to harvest it? These days, the market answers that question in the US: the Pacific Northwest and the South. If we decrease harvests in the PNW, the South will happily produce more — and so will Canada, Brazil, Russia, New Zealand, Europe, etc. I argue that the west-side PNW is the best place to grow timber ecologically, since our forests are among the most productive in the world. Take an acre out of production here and 1.x acres will be harvested somewhere else, and that place is likely to have lower management standards.

        I’m not advocating for harvesting old-growth, but for consideration of the array of ecological, economic, and social effects of forest-management policy.

  2. A fair analysis of this modeling effort would probably require almost as much effort as the study itself.
    So my analysis below is only a starting list of hypotheses that I would want to test to be sure that they had properly dealt with these potential problems. Looking at the report itself we quickly see that it is a stand alone study that does not consider the many objections that would occur by implementing these four idealistic “Create Carbon Storage Farms” ideas taken in isolation from a total system analysis:

    Digging deeper into the four recommendations:

    (i) “reforestation (growing forests where they recently existed)”
    a) Sounds like a no-brainer but would it be done by natural unaided regeneration or by planting or seeding? The difference would have a significant impact on the slope of the carbon accumulation curve.
    b) Consider the complaints of various environmentalists often discussed here, there would be many who would object to the lack of diversity for Black Backed Woodpeckers and etc. In fact, a practice of filling all of the voids has no more place in our national forest than does turning them into plantations dedicated solely to maximizing annual harvest. So once again, “One size does not fit all objectives”

    (ii) “afforestation (growing forests where they did not recently exist)”
    Same comments as “(i)”

    (iii) “increasing carbon density of existing forests”
    Haven’t we had this discussion here a time or two? 🙂
    a) There is a happy medium considering the exponential curve shape of a graph of risk/stand density. The authors even imply this themselves when they state that “The largest potential increase in forest carbon is in the mesic Coast Range and West Cascade ecoregions. These forests are buffered by the ocean, have high soil water-holding capacity, low risk of wildfire”.
    b) “Future NEP increased because enhancement from atmospheric carbon dioxide outweighed the losses from fire. Lengthened harvest cycles on private lands to 80 y and restricting harvest to 50% of current rates on public lands increased NECB the most by 2100, accounting for 90% of total emissions reduction”. Mandating rotation ages on private forests sounds like a great incentive for private land owners to convert their forests to more profitable non-forestry uses. Also sounds like we haven’t learned that more harvesting is required to keep stand density at lower risk levels for fire, insects and disease thereby minimizing health threats to downwind humans and minimizing infrastructure loss and deterioration of water quality.

    (iv) “reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation”
    Same as “(iii)”

    So in conclusion:

    “(i)” and “(ii)” are already being done by responsible private forest land owners but the enviro’s and many of us foresters would strongly object to them being applied carte blanche to our federal forests as discussed in countless posts on this site.

    “(iii)” and “(iv)” are what is wrong with our current federal forest lands. More of the same will result in less.

    Computer modeling maybe fun and it sure does allow for fast, sweat free studies for publication but unless it is grounded in the fundamentals of the appropriate science it is very easy to get GIGO.


Leave a Comment

Discover more from The Smokey Wire : National Forest News and Views

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading