REPORT: The harmful climate impacts of industrial tree plantations in North Carolina

Asheville, NC – A new report from the Center for Sustainable Economy and Dogwood Alliance puts a spotlight on North Carolina, and shows just how big of a climate catastrophe logging is in the state. The report finds that industrial logging is the state’s third most carbon intensive sector, just after electricity and transportation and for the most part goes completely unaccounted for. For example, North Carolina’s recently released Greenhouse Gas Inventory fails to accurately account for a significant amount of emissions from logging, forest degradation, and the biomass industry.

Forests are a critical climate solution. They store enormous amounts of carbon in their trees and soils, and buffer communities from climate impacts like flooding and storms. With Hurricane season here and North Carolina already witnessing the flooding, property destruction, and loss of life from Hurricane Dorian, this is now more critical than ever. But they are being destroyed and degraded at an alarming rate — and even shipped overseas to be burned for electricity. The US South is ground zero for destructive industrial logging, and North Carolina is the largest wood pellet exporter in the country.

“Our latest research is conclusive proof that now more than ever, we need to be protecting forests, not cutting them down and burning them,” said Danna Smith, Executive Director of Dogwood Alliance. “Governor Cooper should see this as evidence that forest destruction in North Carolina is contributing to the climate emergency that must be addressed. If North Carolina can turn their serious logging problem around, it will send a huge signal to leaders across the region and around the world.”

In addition to finding that logging in the state is a climate catastrophe, the report shows that compared to natural forests, tree plantations are far inferior at mitigating climate change and storing carbon. The report authors also looked at the best path forward and propose adopting climate smart forestry practices that eliminate clearcutting and instead focus on protection, restoration and lighter impact logging. This research replicates findings from a report on the Oregon forest products industry by the Center for Sustainable Economy that found that the logging industry is the most carbon intensive sector in that state.

According to Dr. John Talberth, lead author of the report, “Contrary to the timber industry disinformation, conventional wood products are very carbon intensive. And just like fossil fuels, we need to dramatically reduce our consumption. But the good news is that climate smart forest practices – like long rotations and alternatives to clearcutting – can meet all of society’s demands for wood products while capturing and storing the equivalent of over twenty years of North Carolina’s greenhouse gas emissions. To make climate smart practices the norm and not the exception, lands owned by clearcutting corporations should be transferred back into the hands of skilled foresters who know how to log and leave a climate resilient forest behind.”

The report found that because of short rotation timber plantations for paper, pellets, and low-quality timber, 7.5% of North Carolina (2.6 million acres) is a carbon sequestration dead zone. When forests are clearcut, instead of removing CO2, they release it for up to 13 years and even when left standing, plantations store 50% less carbon than native forests. Essentially, natural forests catch and store carbon, and even in a best-case scenario, plantations catch and release it.

Key findings include:

  • Logging in North Carolina releases 44 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, making it the state’s third most carbon intensive sector.
  • North Carolina forestlands store far less carbon than the natural storage capacity of native forests, with plantations storing 50% less carbon than native forests.
  • A focus on protection, restoration in places like wetlands and forests along rivers, and climate smart forestry that ends the most destructive practices have the potential to remove nearly 3 gigatons of CO2.
  • 2.6 million acres of North Carolina’s forestland — or 7.5% of the state — are carbon sequestration dead zones because of short rotation tree plantations.
  • 500,000 truckloads of timber are removed from North Carolina forests every year and clearcutting releases the CO2equivalent of 582,900 tanker trucks of oil each year.

“The world has been watching North Carolina. Last year, Governor Cooper pledged to make the state a climate leader, and recently made headlines with the release of the state’s Clean Energy Plan,” continued Smith. “The Governor can be a national leader on forests and climate, setting an example for the entire country. But instead forest destruction is on the rise as his administration continues to greenlight the rapid expansion of Enviva, the world’s largest wood pellet producer.”

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Center for Sustainable Economy straddles the divide between a think tank and a do tank. They conduct peer-reviewed research on the full range of sustainable development challenges humanity faces, including climate change, deforestation, extinction, inequality and poverty. They are also vocal advocates for change, using legislative and administrative processes, the courts, and grassroots mobilization to achieve their goals. Learn more at https://sustainable-economy.org/

Dogwood Alliance mobilizes diverse voices to protect Southern forests and communities from destructive industrial logging. They utilize community and grassroots action, hold corporate and government decision-makers accountable, and catalyze large-scale conservation. Learn more at https://www.dogwoodalliance.org/or on Twitter – @DogwoodAlliance

Read the report here

Read the New Scientist article on the report here

 

1 thought on “REPORT: The harmful climate impacts of industrial tree plantations in North Carolina”

  1. Can’t wait to see Part 2 of this report! I’m currently working on a report on ALL types of water withdrawal in Lincoln County for the Midcoast Water Partnership, a pilot project of OWRD. Industrial forestry will be one of the major topics. Although the Partnership will not accept the report (acceptance is based upon consensus), the report will alert local residents to many current practices that need to be changed in order to keep local rivers from having zero stream flow at times every summer. A report I prepared in 1999 mentioned the extremely high loss rates (over 50%) of water distribution systems in Newport and Lincoln City. As a result, citizens have pressured the city councils of both towns to allocate funds to reduce the losses, and both towns are now losing about a quarter of the water that enters their systems–still huge, but an improvement. Eighty percent of the Siletz River basin is managed for industrial forestry, reflected by the river’s zero streamflow reported several times during the past five years.

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