New Report: Logging is North Carolina’s Third Largest Carbon Emitter

NOTE: Previously on this blog we’ve discussed a report that timber harvesting is by far the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 10, 2019 9 am EDT

NEW REPORT: Logging is North Carolina’s Third Largest Carbon Emitter

New report outlines the impact that industrial logging has on our climate and the need for change if we are going to address the climate crisis; Governor Cooper can ensure his climate legacy by taking action and stopping further forest destruction

Asheville, NC – A new report from the Center for Sustainable Economy and Dogwood Alliance puts a spotlight on North Carolina, and shows just how big of a climate catastrophe logging is in the state. The report finds that industrial logging is the state’s third most carbon intensive sector, just after electricity and transportation and for the most part goes completely unaccounted for. For example, North Carolina’s recently released Greenhouse Gas Inventory fails to accurately account for a significant amount of emissions from logging, forest degradation, and the biomass industry.

Forests are a critical climate solution. They store enormous amounts of carbon in their trees and soils, and buffer communities from climate impacts like flooding and storms. With Hurricane season here and North Carolina already witnessing the flooding, property destruction, and loss of life from Hurricane Dorian, this is now more critical than ever. But they are being destroyed and degraded at an alarming rate — and even shipped overseas to be burned for electricity. The US South is ground zero for destructive industrial logging, and North Carolina is the largest wood pellet exporter in the country.

“Our latest research is conclusive proof that now more than ever, we need to be protecting forests, not cutting them down and burning them,” said Danna Smith, Executive Director of Dogwood Alliance. “Governor Cooper should see this as evidence that forest destruction in North Carolina is contributing to the climate emergency that must be addressed. If North Carolina can turn their serious logging problem around, it will send a huge signal to leaders across the region and around the world.”

In addition to finding that logging in the state is a climate catastrophe, the report shows that compared to natural forests, tree plantations are far inferior at mitigating climate change and storing carbon. The report authors also looked at the best path forward and propose adopting climate smart forestry practices that eliminate clearcutting and instead focus on protection, restoration and lighter impact logging. This research replicates findings from a report on the Oregon forest products industry by the Center for Sustainable Economy that found that the logging industry is the most carbon intensive sector in that state.

According to Dr. John Talberth, lead author of the report, “Contrary to the timber industry disinformation, conventional wood products are very carbon intensive. And just like fossil fuels, we need to dramatically reduce our consumption. But the good news is that climate smart forest practices – like long rotations and alternatives to clearcutting – can meet all of society’s demands for wood products while capturing and storing the equivalent of over twenty years of North Carolina’s greenhouse gas emissions. To make climate smart practices the norm and not the exception, lands owned by clearcutting corporations should be transferred back into the hands of skilled foresters who know how to log and leave a climate resilient forest behind.”

The report found that because of short rotation timber plantations for paper, pellets, and low-quality timber, 7.5% of North Carolina (2.6 million acres) is a carbon sequestration dead zone. When forests are clearcut, instead of removing CO2, they release it for up to 13 years and even when left standing, plantations store 50% less carbon than native forests. Essentially, natural forests catch and store carbon, and even in a best-case scenario, plantations catch and release it.

Key findings include:

• Logging in North Carolina releases 44 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, making it the state’s third most carbon intensive sector.

• North Carolina forestlands store far less carbon than the natural storage capacity of native forests, with plantations storing 50% less carbon than native forests.

• A focus on protection, restoration in places like wetlands and forests along rivers, and climate smart forestry that ends the most destructive practices have the potential to remove nearly 3 gigatons of CO2.

• 2.6 million acres of North Carolina’s forestland — or 7.5% of the state — are carbon sequestration dead zones because of short rotation tree plantations.

• 500,000 truckloads of timber are removed from North Carolina forests every year and clearcutting releases the CO2 equivalent of 582,900 tanker trucks of oil each year.

“The world has been watching North Carolina. Last year, Governor Cooper pledged to make the state a climate leader, and recently made headlines with the release of the state’s Clean Energy Plan,” continued Smith. “The Governor can be a national leader on forests and climate, setting an example for the entire country. But instead forest destruction is on the rise as his administration continues to greenlight the rapid expansion of Enviva, the world’s largest wood pellet producer.”

Download and read the full report here.

13 thoughts on “New Report: Logging is North Carolina’s Third Largest Carbon Emitter”

  1. According to North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory report for 2018:

    “For all years, North Carolina’s forestry management practices result in a net sequestration of carbon and are reported as a carbon sink.”

    Timber harvesting is NOT the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon, and Oregon forests are a NET SINK of CO2. In our discussion of Oregon GHG emissions, I included an excerpt from the Oregon Global Warming Commission’s Biennial Report to the Legislature, 2017:

    Key Takeaway: Rising transportation emissions are driving increases in statewide emissions.
    As the updated greenhouse gas inventory data clearly indicate, Oregon’s emissions had been declining or holding relatively steady through 2014 but recorded a non-trivial increase between 2014 and 2015. The majority of this increase (60%) was due to increased emissions from the transportation sector, specifically the use of gasoline and diesel. The reversal of the recent trend in emissions declines, both in the transportation sector and statewide, likely means that Oregon will not meet its 2020 emission reduction goal. More action is needed, particularly in the transportation sector, if the state is to meet our longer-term GHG reduction goals.

    • “A new study by researchers based at Oregon State University and the University of Idaho corroborates Center for Sustainable Economy’s 2015 and 2017 research demonstrating that logging is by far the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon and that changes in greenhouse gas accounting rules are urgently needed to ensure that the climate impacts of logging are accurately reported. Both the new OSU study and CSE’s 2017 research estimate annual logging-related emissions to have averaged over 33 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent per year (Mmt CO2-e/yr) since 2000. This makes logging by far the largest source of emissions in the state, far larger than the 23 Mmt CO2-e/yr attributed to transportation – the leading source presently accounted for by the Oregon Global Warming Commission (OGWC) and the State’s Department of Energy.”


  2. I guess we’d have to consider the source of these calculations and their possible biases. Here is what the State of North Carolina says:

  3. Steve: you are missing the point… Oregon’s FORESTS are a net SINK (due to reductions in public land logging), LOGGING is a huge SOURCE. I’ve spoken with Catherine Mater, of Corvallis who compiled research data for OR Commission, at length about this.

    • I would bet that forest-harvest-related emissions aren’t increasing — and they’ve decreased markedly since the heavy federal harvests before the 1990s. The point of the Oregon Global Warming Commission’s report is that rising transportation emissions are driving increases in statewide emissions. Therefore, if you want to slow the emissions rate, you’ve got to address transportation emissions.

  4. Here’s what I read about this:

    Key takeaway: “The accounting rules were written by loggers for loggers,” he says. “That’s why you hear of agriculture as a big source of emissions, but not logging and wood products.” Talbert’s accounting includes emissions from burning wood pellets, carbon released as the roots of cut trees rot in the ground and the fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides applied to tree plantations.

  5. so, Steve — it doesn’t make any difference how much logging emissions are, so long as they are stable? if the typical industry logging regime were to change — and look at monetizing carbon, for example — OR forests would sequester even more.
    And ditto Jon’s point about rules written for loggers…

  6. Yes, I suggest that biogenic CO2 is different from fossil CO2. Look at the big picture — not just Oregon’s forests and wood products. In “Global energy growth is outpacing decarbonization,” from Environmental Research Letters, Dec. 5, 2018 (this is a contribution to the Global Carbon Project’s Global Carbon Budget 2018):

    “Fossil CO2 emissions increased 1.6% to 36.2 Gt (billion tonnes) in 2017 after three years of little or no emissions growth (Jackson et al 2017, Le Quéré et al 2018a, 2018b). Emissions in 2018 are projected to grow even faster, at a rate of 2.7% (range: 1.8%–3.7%) (figure 1), reaching a record 37.1 ± 1.8 Gt CO2 (Le Quéré et al 2018b). These emissions place us on a trajectory for warming that is currently well beyond 1.5 °C (figure 2).”

    Note the use of “fossil CO2.” CO2 exists both in the biosphere (air, water, soil, plants, animals, and so on) and below the biosphere (fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas). The concentration of CO2 in the biosphere—in particular, in the atmosphere and oceans—has increased primarily because we humans have transferred large amounts of fossil carbon to the biosphere, largely through the combustion of fossil fuels. As we work toward greater energy efficiency and develop new carbon capture and storage technologies, one of our primary goals ought to be to slow that transfer of CO2.

    So, emissions from the wood lifecycle in Oregon are relatively stable and, in a global context, insignificant, compared to the increase in fossil CO2 emissions.

    BTW, It’s not “logging emissions” — Law et al looked at the entire wood lifecycle. I think they underestimated leakage and substitution. In any case, I think we need more and more-active management and more substitution of wood products for fossil-CO2-intensive materials and energy. If we can maintain or enhance the forest-carbon sink too, great.

  7. Steve — I feel like you danced artfully around my question or issue. I don’t think it makes much difference where it originates once CO2 and methane are in the atmosphere, tho I agree that fossil fuels and biosphere carbon sources are notably different. I used “logging emissions” as a euphemism to distinguish between carbon stored in forests vs logged sites. The reason OR forest carbon is “doing well” is that logging has diminished significantly on fed lands since circa 1994, yet logging on pvt industry lands has continued apace. Any reasonable improvement in global climate change dynamics must include reducing fossil carbon release, but enhanced terrestrial storage, forests notably, should also be part of the picture. Mgmt schemes that focus on sustaining mature forest cover while extracting wood are preferred.

    • My reply wasn’t all that artful . I think it is useful to consider the larger picture.

      Jim, you say that:

      “Mgmt schemes that focus on sustaining mature forest cover while extracting wood are preferred.”

      I’d agree if you take out the word “mature” and replace it with “healthy and resilient.” Law et al suggest that “harvest cycles were lengthened to 80 y on private lands and harvested area was reduced 50% on public lands, state-level stocks would increase by 17% to a total of ∼3,600 Tg C and NECB would increase 2–3 Tg C y−1 by 2100.”

      As I and others have argued on this blog, there are good reasons to increase harvesting on federal lands. Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson make the case for this in their “ecological forestry” proposal, which considers multiple forest uses and values, including timber. Carbon sequestration is just one value. An important one, yes, but as we all have learned, managing federal forests primarily for one predominant value tends to have unintended consequences — degradation of some or all of the other values — and that leads to conflict.

      On private lands, what might happen if the 80-year rotation were to be mandated? Leakage, as a significant number of timber producers large and small either shift to producing in other states or nations without such mandates, or sell off their lands (some of which might be developed). The Southern states, New Zealand, Chile, eastern Europe, and others will be happy to make up for lower Oregon harvests. This is not to say that managing on an 80+-year rotation can’t be profitable, but for many landowners it would be less profitable than current shorter-rotation practices.

      One study last year projected that softwood lumber consumption in the US will reach all-time highs by 2030. Where will that timber come from? Much of it from outside North America. The study said:

      “Overseas shipments [excluding Canada] have been, on average, 4.8 percent of total imports over the past decade. This share is likely to increase in the coming decades to reach a projected 6.5% by 2030 in the base demand scenario and possibly as high as 35% of total imports in the high demand scenario.”–where-will-the-wood-come-from-300640479.html

      If Oregon and other states reduce output, imports from Canada and overseas will increase to meet the rising US demand, and CO2 will be emitted somewhere else. Western Oregon is one of the best (most productive) places in the world for growing timber, and we have stronger forest-practices laws than in most other places. We ought to grow more timber here, and make lumber, CLT, etc. here, while minimizing GHG emissions — but also protecting and enhancing the many other values and service forests provide.

  8. Steve: you noted “managing federal forests primarily for one predominant value tends to have unintended consequences” mmmm… yes, BIG TIME. You’ve actually described the “timber at all costs” federal mgmt (and pvt industry, of course) of 1950s to 1990s. The negative consequences to virtually all other forest values has been well-documented, epitomized by the spotted owl issue. I’m not arguing for “carbon only” – c’mon. I still fail to understand the math of maximizing timber harvest – even on pvt lands – with notable losses of so many other resources. Just not good stewardship. I’m willing to be somewhat deferential to pvt industry proclivities, but public land managers should NOT emulate those practices as they sought to do for many decades.

    • I’m not suggesting that federal forest managers ought to emulate private-land practices. “Ecological forestry” is certainly not that.

      In “The 2012 Planning Rule and Ecological Integrity: Maintaining and Restoring the National Forests of the Douglas-fir Region,” an essay in 193 Million Acres: Toward a Healthier and More Resilient US Forest Service, Franklin and Johnson write:

      “A decision for retention harvests and preforest creation in some of the existing plantations [and Matrix areas generally] also will clearly signal both local communities and larger society that the national forests are going to be managed for a broader array of values than wildlife associated with old forests, carbon sequestration, and recreation. Ultimately, it will also fulfill the important charge of managing the national forests to reduce risks from future environmental changes and to increase the management options available to future societies.”


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