Forest Policy Looms Over Oregon’s Climate Change Debate.. Or Does It? Oregonian Story

Steve posted this story on forest carbon in Oregon in the comments here, but I thought it was worthy of its own post.

The article says..

As lawmakers gear up to make another attempt to pass a climate change bill in 2019, new data suggests that the forest sector is not only a factor in Oregon’s carbon picture, it is THE factor and one of national and even international importance as lawmakers look to reduce the concentration of heat trapping gases in the atmosphere

I’ll come back to the italics later at the end of this post.

What is the “new data”? I wrote Ted Sickinger, the author of this article, and he said via email “I linked to the global warming commission’s draft report, which I’ve attached. But the paper linked below also addresses it. It’s also the one giving the industry conniptions.” Now I don’t know what industry he’s talking about for sure. But based on the abstract, if I were a grass grower who was asked to stop making money from grass crops, grow trees and not cut them, so that other people can claim a carbon reduction for the state, I would be a bit cranky. Unless the state were to compensate me (and the downstream folks who provide agricultural products and services) for the loss of income..

Here is the abstract of the paper his is talking about linked here:

Strategies to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions through forestry activities have been proposed, but ecosystem process-based integration of climate change, enhanced CO2, disturbance from fire, and management actions at regional scales are extremely limited. Here, we examine the relative merits of afforestation, reforestation, management changes, and harvest residue bioenergy use in the Pacific Northwest. This region represents some of the highest carbon density forests in the world, which can store carbon in trees for 800 y or more. Oregon’s net ecosystem carbon balance (NECB) was equivalent to 72% of total emissions in 2011–2015. By 2100, simulations show increased net carbon uptake with little change in wildfires. 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. Converting 127,000 ha of irrigated grass crops to native forests could decrease irrigation demand by 233 billion m3⋅y−1. Utilizing harvest residues for bioenergy production instead of leaving them in forests to decompose increased emissions in the short-term (50 y), reducing mitigation effectiveness. Increasing forest carbon on public lands reduced emissions compared with storage in wood products because the residence time is more than twice that of wood products. Hence, temperate forests with high carbon densities and lower vulnerability to mortality have substantial potential for reducing forest sector emissions. Our analysis framework provides a template for assessments in other temperate regions.

This study was funded by DOE and USDA-NIFA.

But this analysis reminds me of the California studies of thinning.. perhaps Oregonians could save water by doing more thinning rather than converting grass crops to trees? Was that analysis included in the study?
Here’s a link from an NSF funded study:

Forest thinning has increased in recent decades in an effort to stave off disastrous wildfires fueled by dense forests. This study shows that restoring forests through mechanical thinning or wildfire can also save California billions of gallons of water each year.

“The need for forest restoration is being driven largely by the need to lower the risk of high-intensity wildfires and restore forest health,” said University of California Merced scientist Roger Bales, director of the Southern Sierra CZO and study co-author. “Downstream users who benefit from the increased water yield are an important potential revenue stream that can help offset some of the costs of restoration.”

Forested areas needing restoration are large, Bales said, but potential changes in water availability are significant. The total effect of wildfires over a 20-year period suggests that forest thinning could increase water flow from Sierra Nevada watersheds by as much as 10 percent.

But back to the discussion draft, DISCUSSION DRAFT_OGWC Forest Carbon Project Report_v10_CLEAN_061818. I noticed that most of the references were from Harmon and Law. Which is fine, they work at OSU and OSU is the Oregon State University. But it makes me wonder whether other scientists have equally relevant ideas or points of view or research that might be relevant. If I were the State Legislature, I would have asked for a report that included a variety of different thinkers and stakeholders and scientists from all parts of Oregon, and asked “what are the environmental and social pros and cons of different approaches to forest carbon in Oregon?” That indeed might be an effort/paper worth funding.

PS After all that reading, nowhere did I find anything comparing the emissions of the timber industry to other industries, as alluded to by the first paragraph in the post “it is THE factor”. Or am I missing something?

11 thoughts on “Forest Policy Looms Over Oregon’s Climate Change Debate.. Or Does It? Oregonian Story”

  1. The abstract of the paper the Oregonian article mentions is one we’ve discussed here, such as at

    Dave Atkins wrote about the paper on TreeSource, “Analysis: In zeal to restrict logging, advocacy groups exploit dubious research.”

    The paper is “Land use strategies to mitigate climate change in carbon dense temperate forests,” by
    Beverly E. Law et al.

  2. Here are some data about how forest carbon flux relates to other carbon sources in Oregon:
    From the 2017 Global Warming Commission Report to the Legislature:
    “Transportation remains the largest contributor to the State’s in‐boundary emissions. Residential and commercial activity continues to be the second largest contributor. The industrial sector is the third largest contributor, with about half as much emissions as the transportation or the residential and commercial sectors. Finally, agricultural activity is a distant fourth.”

    Oregon is presently on course to miss its 2020 carbon reduction target by 11 million tons and its 2035 interim target by 22 million tons.

    Here are the GWC’s 2017 figures for Oregon’s principle carbon sources:
    Oregon Emissions by Sector, 1990-2015 (Million Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent)
    Transportation 23.2
    Residential & Commercial Industrial 22.2
    Industrial 12.8
    Agriculture 5.2
    Total 63.4

    So, according to early estimates from the Global Warming Commission’s Forest Carbon Task Force, an Oregon Live article by Forest Carbon Task Force chair Catherine Mater, and the 2017 GWC Report to the Legislature, principle annual sources of Carbon Dioxide in Oregon are:

    1) 24 million tons CO2 Carbon emissions from logging
    2) 23.2 million tons CO2 Transportation sector
    3) 22.2 million tons CO2 Residential & Commercial sectors
    4) 22 million tons CO2 Losses from mortality on federal forests

    The state’s official carbon footprint for 2016 was 63.4 million tons CO2 equivalent- but that figure was created before FIA data became available. FIA analyses indicate that, despite including two of the largest single CO2 sources (mortality on federal forests and logging), Oregon’s forests overall sequester a net of 35 million tons CO2e.

    A previously unrecognized CO2 sink of 35 million tons subtracted from the state’s previously recognized carbon footprint of 63.2 million tons has obvious and extreme implications for the whole discussion about carbon.

    In the working paper Sharon mentions Dr Harmon cites four papers he’s recently written for the Global Warming Commission which employ a Life Cycle Analysis very different from the industry’s viewpoint. Oregon Department of Forestry has been tasked with studying the issue. These questions will not be resolved soon or easily. In fact, applying the lens of carbon flux completely upends traditional concepts of forestry and forest ecology and cries out for a completely new, well-funded discipline. At this point no one truly knows whose version of the carbon flux story is more nearly true. Only sustained, on the ground publicly funded research can begin to shed light on these questions.

    Catherine Mater’s Oregon Live article:

    • In her op-ed, Mater writes that “More alarming, while national forests comprise less than 50 percent of all forestlands statewide, they contribute 70 percent of Oregon’s annual long-term emissions due to tree mortality. In contrast, family-owned and industrial forests comprise 33 percent of statewide forestland but contribute only 16 percent of emissions from tree death.”

      However, the key point is that forests are not a net emission source — they are a net sink. The same goes for all US forests as a whole. Transportation and heat/power production are sources, and always will be.

      • Sure, forests are a sink, because they are growing rapidly after being logged unsustainably for many decades. Measured across the landscape, there is still a huge carbon deficit in our forests. They store far less carbon then they did before industrial forestry took hold.

        AND all of these forests could be much bigger carbon sinks if they were logged less. Logging represents a forgone opportunity to sequester carbon which is functionally equivalent to carbon emissions.

        • Ummmm… “Industrial logging” doesn’t set diameter limits. Another example of applying private logging practices to current Federal policy? How much clearcutting has gone on since the NWFP? I’m sure there is some total available, for every year.

        • I don’t think you can make the global assertion about being logged unsustainably for many decades. Of course we may disagree about the definition of sustainability, but in my lifetime we went from “pick and pluck” silviculture in Central Oregon, tried a bit to do more, but went back to not doing much. I am not critical of this it’s what happened.

  3. Fergus, I can’t find any other emissions estimates that consider “logging” a separate sector. E.g. EPA here

    Maybe that’s one reason the Oregon approach is confusing to me. Is transportation of wood products counted separately from other transportation? When wood is used in construction is that counted in the construction sector?

    So are those double-counted among sectors?

    I’m not sure that other sectors include carbon impacts due to what happens on the land. For example, does construction include the fact that constructed areas have plant cover removed that doesn’t grow back for a while? We can imagine that say the construction industry includes residential and commercial development that gets rid of trees also (some reduction plus growing back to a lesser number). Or that Williamette Valley agriculture needs to consider the impacts of not having the land in trees in its carbon footprint. It’s not that I don’t think it might not be a good idea to consider those things, more that businesses should be treated equally in terms of those considerations (changing vegetation and soils)

    And for those of you who follow this more closely, we know that some Oregon forests are pretty similar to (some) Washington, BC, and California forests. Do all these states/provinces calculate emissions the same way? Do they have the same strategies with regard to the forest products sector? I would think there would be some advantage to pooling skills and expertise, although I absolutely believe in states as experimenters and flexibility to try different things policy-wise.

    Also when wood is exported to other states, do the end users pick up the footprint or does it reside with the producers? Perhaps the solution for Oregon is for we importers to get it from other sources preferentially by carbon footprint.. don’t know what that would look like. But I don’t see us switching from wood to another building material.

  4. Sharon, thanks for starting to dig into these vexing questions about forest carbon. Forestry was left out of carbon calculations by Oregon’s Global Warming Commission- assuming they were carbon neutral- up until 2016, when the Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) data panels for 2000-2010 became available, giving us reliable, region-wide data on forest inventory. It was this brand new information which prompted the work of the Forest Carbon Task Force. This rough table was presented at the Task Force’s second meeting in July 2016 I believe:

    Oregon forest carbon stocks and flux in the aughts: a rapid response FIA analysis

    Jeremy S. Fried, USFS PNW Research Station, FIA Portland
    All Oregon in TgCO2e/yr NFS BLM NPS State Other Pub Private Indust. Family Forest All Owners
    Time 2, All OR Live Tree C Stocks (TgCO2e) 1917.8 529.1 23.4 164.9 16.9 622.6 238.7 3513.5
    Gross Growth 33.0 12.2 0.3 4.8 0.6 28.6 8.3 87.7
    Net Growth 17.1 10.3 0.1 3.9 0.5 25.2 7.4 64.5
    Mortality 15.8 1.9 0.3 0.9 0.1 3.4 0.9 23.3
    Removals 3.0 0.8 0.0 2.7 0.3 24.0 3.9 34.8

    Sorry for the format. This was an informal, internal report put together very quickly, and never published anywhere else I know of. The key number you want is in the bottom row of removals- or logging. 3 million tons from logging FS land; 2.7 million from state land; 24 million from private land and 3.9 million from family forests to total 34,8 million tons.

    This information was very sensitive, for obvious reasons, and the report’s author susequently resigned from the task force. The information has never seen the light of day in a processed, accessible format because of the kinds of questions you are asking. Where do you draw the lines when performing a Life Cycle Analysis?

    The logging carbon numbers can be teased out of Catherine Mater’s Oregon Live column, where she mentions that 45 million tons of carbon are removed from Oregon’s forests annually, and 22 million of those are from mortality. The other 33 million tons are from logging.

    Dr Harmon writes in his new June report for the Global Warming Commission,
    “With assistance and guidance from members of the Task Force and other sources, the Commission has developed a preliminary assessment of carbon stores and fluxes1. The results should be treated as interim, subject to additional research the Oregon Department of Forestry has been funded to undertake to answer many of these questions in greater detail.”

    Here’s a key takeaway from that report:
    “Prevailing analysis of the impacts of harvesting and processing forest carbon into wood products suggests that tracking a wood products carbon sequestration pool is important to measuring and mitigating for the loss of carbon stores resulting from harvest, but it is not an effective strategy for maintaining or increasing overall forest carbon storage. Finding ways to better align harvest with carbon goals, such as increasing harvest rotation periods, is likely to be more effective mitigation for harvest-related carbon losses.”

    We are now able to understand forest carbon processes with real numbers, and a whole host of new issues can be addressed which have never really been considered- such as what are the carbon consequences of our entire industrial forest model? Harmon & Law, et al address this theoretical question in their March 2018 National Academy of Science paper. If I’m reading it right, Table 3 indicates the potential for sequestering an additional 220 million tons of carbon annually through alterations in land management practices.

  5. Just one quick question before I read further. In the table, Mortality and Logging are exclusive, in other words, no dead trees are logged in Oregon? I worked in Oregon during the MPB outbreak of the 80’s so…I wondered how much things had changed.

    Or are they counted as dead but not logged or logged but not dead? Thanks!


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