Does a longer rotation leads to more CO2 storage?

This blog post from Edie Sonne Hall of Three Trees Consulting is aimed at Washington State, but offers an informed look at proposals to lengthen harvest rotations on federal forests, or to set aside vast areas of forest with little or no management to boost carbon sequestration (the “Strategic Forest Reserves” proposed by OSU’s Law, et al, for example). Too long to post here, but worth a look.

I am constantly asked about whether it is better to let a tree grow or to use wood products. There is a perception that this is an either/or, but it is not. You can grow more trees and use more wood products. However, as with anything, the devil is in the details. Forests are complex and so is climate change. This post attempts to lay out some considerations to a question that is of particular importance to Washington State regarding the best strategy to help meet a net zero GHG target for our state’s greatest asset- our evergreen trees.

11 thoughts on “Does a longer rotation leads to more CO2 storage?”

    • Longer rotations can lead to greater wildfires. How much carbon was stored by the “longer rotation” federal trees during the 2020 Labor Day Fires? Active management is the key to reducing the severity (generally, not quantified) and extent of these events. Also, I think the fad of managing a forest for its ability to store carbon is going to die out at some point. Carbon is really common and a “building block” of life. And its cheap. And flammable. Why have it the focus of forest management, or even an important concern? (Unless you somehow believe this is a way to manage the weather?)

      • “Longer rotations can lead to greater wildfires.” There seems to be lots of research showing that rotation lengths for commercial forests should be shortened in response to increased fire risk, and it makes sense that the longer a forest stands, the greater the probability it will burn some day, but I’m not finding any support for this quote (whatever “greater” means).

        • Jon, can you link to some of those studies? Because I think the way (in my memory) economists analyze rotation length, they assume that fire suppression will work. So I’m curious as to what assumptions such studies might have made.

            • So what I didn’t say was that the only people I hear talking about “rotation length” these days are industrial landowners (ILs).

              So we’d have to talk to the subset of ILs that are experienced with fires and see how they consider it in planning. Certainly “get them out of there before they burn up” would have to be considered with other economic factors. How much? How IL economists think about it? It would be interesting to find out.

              • My experience has been that the industrial landowners rarely worry about wildfire because it isn’t a major problem, unless your land is adjacent to federal land that is likely to burn. Immediate salvage and replant is the typical response when lands unexpectedly burn.

                Same with “climate change” in the Douglas Fir Region. These trees grow from Mexico to Canada and from the Pacific Ocean to the Rockies, so claims of vast “tree migrations” that were popular in the 1990s have never taken place, and are unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future. Pollen studies going back thousands of years and including a number of changed climates are the best guides for considering possible future native plant distributions.

    • Hmm.. is it a “serious question” whether or not western Oregon forests can burn and thereby release carbon? Because it seems we have evidence that suggests that they can and have.

      • Well, the Biscuit Fire burned on the west side of the west side of the Cascades. When I worked on the Biscuit Fire salvage, there were areas of high intensity fire, despite the proximity to the coast. The “Not One Stick” campaign was a failure, and there was also extreme bark beetle activity after the fire.


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