Forest management in the climate context

I thought the graphics from this research article did a good job of illustrating the role of forests and forestry in climate change mitigation.

Even if there is a lot of uncertainty in the assumptions and modeling, forest management is likely where the greatest opportunities are for land management to contribute to climate mitigation.  (Note that fire management is a relatively minor contributor.)  (AFOLU – the new acronym of the day – is Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use.)

Thus, ecosystems have the potential for large additional climate mitigation by combining enhanced land sinks with reduced emissions…  We describe and quantify 20 discrete mitigation options (referred to hereafter as “pathways”) within the AFOLU sector …  We refer to these terrestrial conservation, restoration, and improved practices pathways, which include safeguards for food, fiber, and habitat, as “natural climate solutions” (NCS).

Improved forest management (i.e., Natural Forest Management and Improved Plantations pathways) offers large and cost-effective mitigation opportunities, many of which could be implemented rapidly without changes in land use or tenure. While some activities can be implemented without reducing wood yield (e.g., reduced-impact logging), other activities (e.g., extended harvest cycles) would result in reduced near-term yields. This shortfall can be met by implementing the Reforestation pathway, which includes new commercial plantations. The Improved Plantations pathway ultimately increases wood yields by extending rotation lengths from the optimum for economic profits to the optimum for wood yield.

Work remains to better constrain uncertainty of NCS mitigation estimates. Nevertheless, existing knowledge reported here provides a robust basis for immediate global action to improve ecosystem stewardship as a major solution to climate change.

Unfortunately, the major role of forests in NCS mitigation strategies is pretty minor with regard to overall climate change mitigation needs.  (I.e. planting a trillion trees won’t do the trick; we need significant emissions reductions.)


4 thoughts on “Forest management in the climate context”

  1. The weird thing about these international “rife with generalized global assumptions studies,” is that these actions have to take place in specific places which often bear no relationship to the generalized .. so for example we can’t “reforest” the Great Plains despite great potential carbon benefits, we have no idea how much fire will be in the future in say, California, (because after all it’s unprecedented) and so on. My favorite part of the study, though, was this..

    “Uncertainty Estimates.
    We estimated uncertainty for maximum mitigation estimates of each pathway using methods consistent with IPCC good practice guidance (63) for the 12 pathways where empirical uncertainty estimation was possible. For the remaining eight pathways (indicated in Fig. 1), we used the Delphi method of expert elicitation (64) following best practices outline by Mach et al. (65) where applicable and feasible. The Delphi method involved two rounds of explicit questions about expert opinion on the potential extent (Ax) and intensity of flux (Fx) posed to 20 pathway experts, half of whom were not coauthors (see SI Appendix, pp 38–39 for names). We combined Ax and Fx uncertainties using IPCC Approach 2 (Monte Carlo simulation).”

    It sounds like “we asked 10 other folks to look at our estimates>”

    • Yes… Site specifics is everything! And human land use practices, as well as ocean use is what’s driving climate change not what’s mitigating it. That’s the truth, as well as the biggest failing of these highly generalized and incredibly vague statistical simulations.

      But specific to forestry on federal lands in the US, the age-old rhetoric of how logging / clearcutting simulates natural disturbance regimes is now in a situation where not just the number of natural disturbance regimes go way up, but the cumulative damage done by humans overusing the simulation of natural disturbance regimes starts to combine with it and it all adds up into massive planet-wide trophic failures

      If I was the boss of the person putting together this data I’d ask their research question to be: “What type of land use practices can work to restore and replenish our planet’s living systems (mostly indigenous practices of cultural cultivations that depends on protection) and what type of practices are accelerating the destruction of our living systems?”

      From a forestry perspective this means preparing forest landscapes from inevitable catastrophic wildfires on 100K acres in a single day scale, which happened for the first time in all three westernmost states last year. These are wind driven events that are going to get way worse because climate change is speeding up global average wind speed on a massive scale.

      This means to better prepare for the survival of our forests we need a moratorium on cutting thick barked trees with no ladder fuels, a moratorium on opening up closed canopy forests that maintain moisture in the dry season the longest and most importantly a moratorium on human activity wherever wind speeds in the forest are lowest. These low wind speed areas are the only places that have a chance to survive what’s yet to come.

      With wind driven fires like the Eagle Creek fire in Oregon that jumped one of the widest parts of the Columbia River a few years back, and whole towns like Paradise in California (10% of all housing lost in the county) or Phoenix in Southern Oregon, or the city of Santa Rosa (lost 5% of all housing in the city) we’re no longer living in a era where fuel breaks and defensible space matter because even paved over towns with very little vegetation are burning to the ground.

      Wind speed is the cause of this not fuels management! Firefighters have always measured rate of spread of an active fire by average windspeed not managed or unmanaged areas.

      • Again, the goal is not to stop every wildfire that burns. The idea that ‘mitigation never works’ is wrong. Even though clearcutting was voluntarily banned almost 30 years ago here, the fires are more intense than ever. We already know that ‘doing nothing’ doesn’t mitigate wildfires.

    • It sounds to me like they “follow(ed) best practices outline by Mach et al. (65) where applicable and feasible.” As I’m sure you know, the Delphi method is respected structured method of collating expert opinions. It sounds like this is the “best available science” for such circumstances.


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