Carbon 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.”