Science At Odds With Lands Commissioner Candidate Carbon Proposal

By TODD MYERS  | 
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Mar 16, 2016

Today, Karen Porterfield, a Seattle University professor of management, is expected to announce for Commissioner of Public Lands. Reporting on the announcement, the Seattle P-I had this to say about her platform:

She wants to place the cutting of 2.1 million acres of timberlands, managed by the state Department of Natural Resources, on a 70- to 100-year rotation instead of the current 30 to 50 years, and talks about using forests for "carbon sequestration."

Carbon sequestration is the process where trees grow, absorb carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the timber. Here’s the problem: her strategy would end actually reduce the amount of carbon absorbed from the atmosphere.

The science on this issue is very clear. Here are just a few examples of quotes from leading scientific organizations on how to manage forests for carbon sequestration.

“In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fiber, or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.” - IPCC. 2007. Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC

“By far the most effective use of forests to mitigate carbon is to produce wood products that displace the most fossil fuel emissions from sustainable forest rotations.  Displacing fossil emissions requires growing forests sustainably and using the annual net growth of wood in products, not saving the carbon in the forest.” – Bruce Lippke, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington in Forest Economics

There is a “dramatic decline in growth rates after about 70 years with no substantial reduction in carbon from the atmosphere after about 100 years, as most stands have reached the carrying capacity of the land.” – Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials, University of Washington, December 2013

“After synthesizing the latest available science, the authors challenge the underlying assumptions used to establish most carbon trading mechanisms, including the notion that lightly managed or unmanaged forests will be more effective at sequestering carbon over long periods than would a combination of managed forests and efficiently produced wood products.” – Science Findings, Pacific NW Research Station, Forest Service, August 2013

Longer rotations “would grow more large trees, they would harvest less wood than other Alternatives and use less thinning to reduce within-stand competition and tree mortality. More young trees would die and decay, releasing carbon into the atmosphere. … Harvested trees are likely to be processed into long-term wood products, such as lumber used in building and home construction, and would maintain sequestered carbon well beyond the planning period. [Approaches with long harvest rotations] are projected to produce the lowest harvested volumes. [This approach is] likely to store less carbon in the long term than other alternatives.” – Alternatives for Sustainable Forest Management of State Trust Lands in Western Washington, Department of Natural Resources, July 2004

The University of Washington, the Forest Service, the Department of Natural Resources and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change all agree: longer harvest rotations reduce a forest’s ability to sequester carbon in the long run.

In the article, Porterfield admits she is “not a tree person.” Before she campaigns, she should do more research on what scientists actually say about forests and carbon.