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Report: Climate legislation must include Big Timber

climate legislation big timberCarbon sequestration dead zones are expanding. Clearcutting is Oregon’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Millions of acres of industrial tree plantations present huge public health risks because they are far more susceptible to fires, floods, unhealthy water temperatures and droughts than the natural forests they’ve replaced. But there are numerous options Governor Brown and legislators in Salem have to fix the problem and catalyze climate smart practices that can employ thousands of workers in the woods and enroll Oregon’s forests in the fight against global warming.

These are some of the key conclusions from a new Center for Sustainable Economy report conveyed to Governor Brown and legislators this week as they continue to deliberate options for moving ahead on climate change legislation in the 2018 session, which begins in early February.

The report –  entitled “Oregon Forest Carbon Policy: Scientific and technical brief to guide legislative intervention” – is a synthesis of scientific and technical information about the effects of industrial forest practices on climate change and climate resiliency and a discussion of legislative options for moving forward. It builds on a 2015 report published with Geos Institute that helped lead to a reconvening of the Commission’s forestry task force to revisit their assumptions – published in their Interim Roadmap to 2020 report – that forestry’s effects on climate were an unqualified benefit. Today’s report paints a drastically different story.

According to Dr. John Talberth, who authored the study for CSE, “Any climate change legislation moving forward would be seriously deficient without taking on Oregon’s largest carbon polluter and the number one threat to our water supplies, fish, and wildlife as climate change unfolds. Fortunately, there are multiple ways forward based on sound science, efficient markets, and fairness.”

The report reviews three legislative options. The first option is to include major carbon polluters in the timber industry as entities regulated under the proposed cap-and-invest bill – SB 1070 – now moving toward reconsideration in 2018. As it now stands, the timber industry is exempted. Proposed amendments to SB 1070 have been drafted and submitted to Representative Helm, Senator Dembrow, and other legislators, and have strong support from the environmental community.

The second is a carbon tax and reward approach that taxes emissions from clearcutting and short rotation timber plantations and uses funds to reward foresters who know how to log and leave a healthy forest behind. Legislation for this was drafted last year, but has yet to be introduced.

The third would require corporate forestland owners to develop and adhere to long term climate resiliency plans that set hard targets for accumulating lost carbon from the land. Carbon densities on industrial forestlands are less than a third of what existed before they converted native old growth forests into plantations. The Oregon Global Warming Commission is on record supporting the general approach of setting carbon density standards and targets.

“Inaction is inexcusable given humanity’s urgent need to draw down atmospheric carbon as fast and efficiently as possible, Talberth continued. “And passing legislation to flip industrial forest practices in Oregon to climate smart alternatives is one thing Governor Brown and legislators can do that has global significance.”

Read:

How Industrial Forest Practices are Subverting Oregon’s Climate Agenda

ccabClearcutting and use of forest chemicals and fertilizers on industrial forestlands could represent Oregon’s second largest source of global warming pollution and are subverting the State’s climate agenda by making landscapes more susceptible to wildfires, landslides, floods and warm waters that kill salmon. And despite legal requirements to do so, the Oregon Global Warming Commission has failed to track and evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from forest practices or follow through on commitments to develop and promote alternative management techniques that can transform these lands from a net source to a net sink for atmospheric carbon. The key culprit: a flawed international greenhouse gas accounting protocol that lumps all forest owners into one aggregate “forest sector” and allows the timber industry to take credit for carbon sequestered on forests protected by non-profits, small landowners, and public agencies.

These are the key conclusions of a new report released today by Center for Sustainable Economy and Geos Institute. The report – Clearcutting our Carbon Accounts – is an analysis of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions estimated from State and private lands in western Oregon between 2000 and 2014. The report considered emissions associated with timber harvest, which removes carbon stored in forests for decades, clearcutting beyond the rate of forest regrowth and forest chemicals like Atrazine, 2,4 D, and Glyphosate. Oregon has 1.08 million acres less forest cover than it did in 2000 due to controversial clearcut forestry practices that not only degrade water quality, fish and wildlife habitat but also impede attainment of Oregon’s ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets.

After taking into account carbon stored in longer lived wood products and carbon absorbed by residual forest cover, these emissions were estimated to be 9.75 to 19.35 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (MMT CO2-e) per year. This represents between 16% and 32% of the 60.8 million MMT CO2-e “in-boundary” emissions estimated for the State by the latest (2012) GHG inventory. The timber industry’s operations on its lands in western Oregon are likely one of the State’s largest sources of GHG emissions – second only to transportation. According to Dr. John Talberth, President and Senior Economist at Center for Sustainable Economy, “Oregon’s climate agenda is taking a big hit from industrial forest practices. Yet decision makers continue to look the other way and buy the industry’s rhetoric that since they grow trees, the State should ignore their greenhouse gas emissions and look elsewhere to meet pollution goals for 2020 and beyond. The reality is that reducing the overall rate of timber harvest and promoting alternatives to clearcutting and chemicals are some of the most effective strategies for meeting Oregon’s emissions targets and will help rebuild our forests’ resiliency to fire, floods, and disease.”

In 2007, the Legislature adopted targets for reducing Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions and charged the Oregon Global Warming Commission with developing strategies to achieve them. Yet the Commission, to date, only tracks emissions associated transportation, electricity use, natural gas use, agriculture, businesses and homes and ignores what happens on timber industry lands altogether. This is despite clear legislative requirements to track and evaluate emissions from all important sectors as well as “carbon sequestration potential of Oregon’s forests” and “alternative methods of forest management that can increase carbon sequestration and reduce the loss of carbon sequestration to wildfire.” Moreover, the Commission’s Roadmap to 2020 merely assumes that “Oregon’s forests are a carbon sink, capturing more carbon than they release. As such, Oregon’s forests and its forest sector have and will continue to contribute to the goal of achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by remaining a robust and sustainable sector in Oregon.”

The CSE-Geos report tells a dramatically different story. According to Dr. Dominick DellaSala of Geos Institute, “Oregon’s clearcut forestry practices are polluting the climate with the equivalent emissions of over 2 million vehicles or 7 coal-fired power plants making forestry one of the biggest polluters in the State at a time when Oregon is seeking to drastically cut its global warming emissions. It’s time for forestry to be proactive like numerous other businesses in the State in being responsible for a safe climate and ecologically healthy future.”

The report was submitted to the Oregon Global Warming Commission, Governor Kate Brown, the Board of Forestry and key legislators. In a letter transmitting the report to the Commission, CSE and Geos have requested a meeting to review the report’s findings and begin the process of enrolling the timber industry in Oregon’s climate agenda.

Please click here for a copy of our report, “Clearcutting our Carbon Accounts.”

Please click here for a copy of the transmittal letter to the Oregon Global Warming Commission.

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