This Vox article by David Roberts is the best comprehensive view of CLT I’ve run across, well worth the read. As you know, I’m working on a project about “potential areas of agreement in fuels reduction/restoration efforts”.
It seems, at least from the responses to the Climate Smart Forestry and Ag request, that many ENGO’s put biomass at the bottom and want woody material to go to a higher value product. More on that later. So it seems like CLT has the ability to build bridges between the formerly maligned timber industry and environmental concerns, plus the issue seems to not be partisanized.
If you wonder what makes CLT, how small the material can be and so on, I recommend you read all of this article. There’s even a video of blast testing! And this from the Public Lands Commissioner in the State of Washington.
Forests in the West have become tinderboxes, in part thanks to climate change and in part thanks to years of poor management. They are filled with trees dead or weakened from pine beetle infestations. Decades of overzealous fire protection have left them choked with closely clustered, small-diameter trees. Lately, with all this kindling around, “there’s so much fuel, the intensity of the fire wipes out everything,” says Hilary Franz, commissioner of public lands in Washington state. The land is being permanently scarred.
The forests on public lands badly need thinning, but there’s never enough funding. This has given Franz an idea: use weak and small trees, for which there is no other market, for mass timber. (Logs with tops as small as 4.5 inches will work.) A sufficiently large market for mass timber would create funding for thinning those trees out. As a bonus, Franz wants to use mass timber to build low-cost affordable housing on publicly managed land.
Numerous environmental groups, led by the Sierra Club, signed an open letter to California state officials in 2018, urging caution about mass timber. Notably, they did not oppose it outright. They argued that, thanks to current forestry practices, its climate benefits have been exaggerated. “CLT cannot be climate-smart unless it comes from climate-smart forestry,” they said.
The letter provides a short list of principles that should guide climate-smart forestry, including: “Logging of the world’s remaining mature and primary forests, as well as unroaded/undeveloped and other intact forest landscapes, should cease.” And: “Tree plantations should not be established at the expense of natural forests.”
While it is not perfect, they concluded, “FSC certification of privately owned forestlands can support progress in the right direction.”
“There’s no question that [FSC] is the gold standard,” says Jones, “but it’s all better than not doing anything.”
The principles in the letter sound very much like how the Forest Service manages. Which is not surprising, given studies like this from the Pinchot Institute.
“Therefore, we should permanently protect those forests that are the most carbon-rich, including U.S. federal public forestlands” Except that they are not all (all FS lands) carbon rich, as we know; and doesn’t directly address the fuel treatment/restoration “the alternative is burning in piles” question, as articulated by this WSU Civil Engineering Professor, Don Bender.
And who signed the letter? A bunch of organizations that are the usual suspects in our line of work, as well as others.
Jason Grant, Sierra Club
Rolf Skar, Greenpeace USA
Debbie Hammel, Natural Resources Defense Council,
Jim Ace, Stand
Dominick DellaSala, Ph. D., Geos Institute
Chad Hanson, Ph. D. John Muir Project
Denis Hayes, Bullitt Foundation
Peter Goldman, Washington Forest Law Center
Adam Colette, Dogwood Alliance
Bill Barclay, Rainforest Action Network
Lisa Remlinger, Washington Environmental Council
Randi Spivak, Center for Biodiversity.. and many more
So it seems like support depends on landownership, and not anything to do with the ecosystem or the science. And of course, one of the difficulties with FSC is that it’s ultimately based on a forest management for forest products model, and not a fuels treatment/restoration model. That might require the development of a different certification system. But that might lead to equity concerns in which a broad national system might exert power-over the informed decisions of collaboratives on the ground.
But perhaps I’m misinterpreting the sentence in the letter. I have tried to clarify with folks from the Sierra Club, but have not received any clarifying replies, including the media desk. If anyone has a good contact there, please let me know.