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The Climate Disaster Hidden in BC’s Forests

The Climate Disaster Hidden in BC’s Forests

The province doesn’t count forest emissions in its global warming plan. That’s a big, dangerous mistake, say advocates.

Here are two key words that have been largely left out of the broiling debate around British Columbia’s old-growth forests: carbon emissions.

Even in the recent forest policy update, the provincial government only mentioned carbon emissions twice. And that was to say forests suck up and store carbon, which environmental advocates warn doesn’t tell the whole story.

By B.C.’s own reporting, forests are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the province — 23 per cent larger than the total emissions from the energy sector.

To talk about forests while ignoring carbon emissions is “climate denialism,” says Torrance Coste, senior campaign director for the Wilderness Committee.

When B.C. reports its official carbon emissions, that number excludes emissions from forests. Coste says that’s a huge problem, because “emissions associated with forests in some years surpass B.C.’s total emissions. Which is staggering. It’s like a second B.C. we don’t count.”

Coste says the province has a long history of siloing two ministries — the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development — and acting like they never overlap.

The 2018 provincial climate change strategy, CleanBC, also skates around emissions from forests.

But with the climate emergency it’s urgent the two departments work together to tackle emissions from forests, Coste says.

B.C. counts and reports its annual greenhouse gas emissions in a methodology book.

Where Does Vancouver’s Urban Forest Need to Grow Next?

Where Does Vancouver’s Urban Forest Need to Grow Next?

The city strategy faces a tricky challenge: inspiring the growth of trees on private land.

Over the last decade, the City of Vancouver has focused on growing the urban forest to combat tree loss and foster climate resiliency. But if that’s going to happen, the key will be promoting more trees on private land.

It’s an urgent priority for the city. Fewer trees means more exposure to air pollution, heat waves, flooding and other climate impacts.

Vancouver’s Urban Forest Strategy, launched in 2014, has mostly focused on what it can control — protecting existing trees from being cut down and planting new trees wherever it can — and it has seen some good success, hitting its original goal of planting 150,000 trees by 2020.

But that’s largely happened on public land.

Meanwhile, according to the city, the removal of trees on private land is responsible for reducing Vancouver’s urban forest from 22.5 per cent to 18 per cent between 1995 and 2014. Sixty-two per cent of the city’s trees were on private land at the time, the strategy noted.

2018 update to the strategy showed that while trees have increased on public property, in places like parks and on city streets, growth has still been declining on private land, where a third of the urban forest still remains.

In December 2020, the Vancouver Park Board set an admirable new goal for the strategy: to increase the canopy cover of the city’s urban forest from its current level of 23 per cent to 30 per cent by 2050.

But can that happen while trees on private land keep diminishing?

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New research on forests and oceans suggest projections of future warming may be too conservative, with serious consequences

New research on forests and oceans suggest projections of future warming may be too conservative, with serious consequences

How much will the world warm with ongoing fossil-fuel carbon emissions? It’s a big question that preoccupies policymakers and activists, with important discussions about when the world will hit two degrees, are we really on a path to four degrees of warming with current Paris commitments, and so on.

And the answer is that the world is likely to warm more than current projections, if two recently published pieces of research on the terrestrial and ocean carbon sinks are any guide.

Warming projections and carbon sinks. Future warming projections come from complex climate models, which combine historic data, current observations, equations that encompass current understandings of the bio-geo-physical processes, and some assumptions about processes where direct observation or modelling is more difficult.

About 30% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) that humans are pouring into the atmosphere mixes with the top layer of the ocean (making the water more acidic and posing a growing acidification threat to ocean life), about 30% is absorbed by the terrestrial biosphere (trees and plants), and about 40% stays in the air, heating the planet.

Assumptions about those processes in the future fundamentally affect projections of future warming. If these ocean and terrestrial carbon stores (or “carbon sinks”) become less efficient, then a greater proportion of human emissions will stay in the air, and warming will be faster than currently projected for a given level of emissions.

So the models make assumptions about these carbon stores:

  1. For the terrestrial carbon sink, it has been observed that with more CO2, plants grow faster because there is more CO2 “food” for them to absorb.  This is known as the “fertilisation effect”, and while there are highly divergent sink trajectories from Earth system models, the models “nevertheless agree on continued futures increases in sink strength due to the CO2 fertilisation effect.

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B.C. gives Pacific BioEnergy green light to log rare inland rainforest for wood pellets

Michelle Connolly

B.C. gives Pacific BioEnergy green light to log rare inland rainforest for wood pellets

Prince George plant will grind ancient cedar and hemlock into pellets to be burned for fuel overseas, destroying forest that’s home to endangered caribou and vast stores of carbon.

Sean O’Rourke was hiking in B.C.’s globally rare inland rainforest this spring when pink flagging tape indicating a planned cutblock caught his eye. Finding flagging tape is nothing new, but when he looked closer, he realized the tape had the name of a nearby pellet company on it — Pacific BioEnergy.

The company operates a plant in Prince George where it turns waste wood products — sawdust from mills, tree bark, wood shavings and clippings — into pellets to be burned to produce heat or electricity, replacing coal and fossil fuels. More than 90 per cent of Canadian wood pellets are shipped overseas to Europe and Asia, according to the Wood Pellet Association of Canada.

But the ancient cedars and hemlocks in the rainforest in Lheidli T’enneh First Nation territory, about 60 kilometres east of Prince George, are most certainly not waste wood.

O’Rourke, a field scout with Conservation North, a grassroots organization advocating for the protection of old-growth forests in northern B.C., took photos of the flagging tape to show his colleagues. He later combed through the publicly available harvest data to confirm the province had indeed issued permits to Pacific BioEnergy to log the old-growth forest.

Pacific BioEnergy cutblock

Flagging tape marked “PBEC” — Pacific BioEnergy Corporation — tipped off Conservation North field scout Sean O’Rourke that the area was going to be logged for pellets. Photo: Conservation North

Conservation North field scout Sean O’Rourke

Sean O’Rourke takes a photo of a Douglas fir tree destined to be turned into wood pellets. Photo: Conservation North

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How our food choices cut into forests and put us closer to viruses

How our food choices cut into forests and put us closer to viruses

As the global population has doubled to 7.8 billion in about 50 years, industrial agriculture has increased the output from fields and farms to feed humanity. One of the negative outcomes of this transformation has been the extreme simplification of ecological systems, with complex multi-functional landscapes converted to vast swaths of monocultures.

From cattle farming to oil palm plantations, industrial agriculture remains the greatest driver of deforestation, particularly in the tropics. And as agricultural activities expand and intensify, ecosystems lose plants, wildlife and other biodiversity.

The permanent transformation of forested landscapes for commodity crops currently drives more than a quarter of all global deforestation. This includes soy, palm oil, beef cattle, coffee, cocoa, sugar and other key ingredients of our increasingly simplified and highly processed diets.

The erosion of the forest frontier has also increased our exposure to infectious diseases, such as Ebolamalaria and other zoonotic diseases. Spillover incidents would be far less prevalent without human encroachment into the forest.

We need to examine our global food system: Is it doing its job, or is it contributing to forest destruction and biodiversity loss — and putting human life at risk?

What are we eating?

The food most associated with biodiversity loss also tends to also be connected to unhealthy diets across the globe. Fifty years after the Green Revolution — the transition to intensive, high yielding food production reliant on a limited number of crop and livestock species — nearly 800 million people still go to bed hungry; one in three is malnourished; and up to two billion people suffer some sort of micronutrient deficiency and associated health impacts, such as stunting or wasting.

Forest cut down for an agricultural field
A large soy field cuts into the forest in Brazil. (Shutterstock)

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Towards a great forest transition – part 2

Towards a great forest transition – part 2

P & G Palm Oil Supplier in Kalimantan
Greenpeace© Ulet Ifansasti

A fundamental sea-change is required in the global approach to tackling deforestation, and it requires a new focus on engendering institutions of cooperation rather than competition.

The ‘boycott palm oil’ approach has become a staple strategy in parts of the global environment movement, especially in the West. The idea is that by ceasing consumption of palm oil, Western consumers can directly contribute to reducing deforestation by alleviating the demand that is driving the expansion of palm oil plantations.

The problem is that several studies in recent years have shown that this strategy is not only unlikely to work, it is instead likely to have devastating environmental consequences.

Read: Towards a great forest transition – part 1

University of Bath scientists recently showed in Nature Sustainability that banning palm oil could drive greater rates of deforestation, by switching demand to less efficient edible oils like sunflower or rapeseed which use more land, water and fertiliser, and have lower productivity and shorter lifespans. These other oil crops also store less CO2, and require up to nine times as much land to produce than palm oil.


In the near to mid-term, the scientists found, policy should be directed at ensuring the sustainability of production because import restrictions would be ineffective in stopping deforestation or protecting the environment

The study confirmed years of previous research from scientists at the University of Oxford and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature

A major study in Annual Review of Resource Economics published this year has provided further corroboration for these findings. The Annual Reviews study led by German scientists is worth noting as it is one of the most authoritative analyses of the best scientific literature to date.

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AFOLU’s warning

AFOLU’s warning 

A second sobering report from  the IPCC again provides solid scientific evidence that the climate crisis cannot be resolved if we continue along our present path. While previous assessments have focused on transportation and industry, the most recent report shows that if the way we misuse and degrade our land does not dramatically improve, there is little chance of keeping global heating within bounds, and the future climate will bring widespread global disruption and spell disaster for millions of world’s most vulnerable people.    

Human use has radically altered more than 70% of the ice-free land surface of the planet. Population growth and increases of per capita consumption of food, feed, fibre, timber and energy have caused unprecedented rates of land and freshwater use. Agriculture now accounts for about 70% of freshwater use. Soils are being decimated. Erosion from traditional forms of agriculture  is more than 100 times higher than rate at which soil is being formed. This degradation not only is destroying habitats, ecosystems and biodiversity, it is exacerbating the forces that are driving the climate crisis. Regenerative agriculture is now a global imperative.

What’s called AFOLU, meaning Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use, is both a source and sink of the greenhouse gases that are driving global heating and intensifying the climate crisis. 

At present, for carbon dioxide, the global sink is larger than the source. Land sequesters more than twice as much of this gas than is emitted. 

Land is a net sink of carbon dioxide

But for methane and nitrogen dioxide, two other major greenhouse gases, the AFOLU sector is a serious global problem: it accounts for over 40% of global emission of methane and over 80% of emissions of nitrogen dioxide.  

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too

Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too

The case for adaptive management by land management agencies has been in the making for a long time, and takes on a new urgency with the changes being forced by the emissions from consumer and industrial combustion of fossil fuels. The case for adaptive conservationby non-governmental organizations takes on its own urgency for the same reason. 

As conceived so far, adaptive management implies adaptation by land management agencies such as the USDA Forest Service. By now, it’s clear as clear can be that, among others, the Forest Service simply must adapt to the new conditions of heat and drought driven by emissions from consumer and industrial combustion of coal, oil, and natural gas. Taken down to cases, the agency must adapt by recognizing which species are unlikely to persist under increasing emissions, and by shifting its management emphasis to species that might hang in there.

At least some in the Forest Service “get it.” For example, consider this November 1, 2016 assessment by Randy Johnson, U.S. Forest Service Research and Development Program: “Forests are changing in ways they’ve never experienced before because today’s growing conditions are different from anything in the past. The climate is changing at an unprecedented rate.” Johnson thus asks, “When replanting a forest after disturbances, does it make sense to try to reestablish what was there before? Or, should we find re-plant material that might be more appropriate to current and future conditions of a changing environment?”

Ya can’t always get what ya want

By forcing change on the set of conditions — temperature, rainfall, snowfall, wind, etc. — that we summarize as climate, we’ve been forcing change on the forests.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Harvest timber without destroying forests

Harvest timber without destroying forests

A prehistoric squirrel, it is said, could have scampered from Norway to Singapore without touching the ground, so dense was the carpet of trees that stretched across the world. Similar forests stretched across North America and many other parts of the world – all of them providing a home to thousands of living things, all of them vacuuming the carbon dioxide from the air and keeping the climate stable.

Most of that landscape was felled for timber and paper long ago, the land given over to crops and suburbia – or to wasteland. Of course, humans need food and houses, but we also need timber and wildlife, and our ancestors would have been wiser to preserve some of those forests for future generations. And sometimes, they did – for at least six thousand years, some humans have used an old technique to continually harvest timber from a forest while keeping it alive indefinitely.

When the evergreen trees around here are cut at the base, their roots die. But many broad-leaved, deciduous trees continue to soak up water and nutrients through their roots. The roots put their energy into creating shoots, which grow into new saplings – and soon you will have several smaller trees where you had one before. In a matter of years or decades – how long depends on the type of tree – you can harvest those smaller trees, called “underwood,” and the process begins again. You can keep doing this as long as the original base continues to live, which can be more than a hundred years.

Commonly coppiced species included ash, chestnut, oak, hazel, sycamore and alder, and most of these created shoot from the cut stump, called a stool. The new trunks usually curved outward from the original stool, and so their naturally bowed wood was often prized for ship-building.

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Why are We Still Logging Our Forests?

Why are We Still Logging Our Forests?

Anyone who accepts true science realizes that today’s big forest fires are driven far more by climate warming than by a lack of “active forest management” as claimed in previous editorial opinions.

Active forest management, more honestly called “logging,” has always been the timber industry’s cure-all for every perceived problem in our forests.Until science confirmed the amazing diversity and value of our old forests, they were deemed to be “decadent,” badly in need of logging and replacement with more efficient tree farms. When there were budworm or bark beetle breakouts, industry said our forests were being decimated and needed logging to “restore” them. Science disagreed, noting that insects and disease were important components of healthy forest ecosystems. When our forests burn, industry claims quick logging and replanting is necessary to salvage their value. Science again exposed their myths, showing the value of leaving burned forests as critical habitat and how forests reseed and recover naturally from fires like the Biscuit.

I kept a cabin within the huge weather-caused and weather-extinguished Biscuit Fire in Oregon. It was years of cutting and burning non-merchantable understories that saved my cabin, not logging. In the aftermath, I witnessed how little difference commercially thinned stands made to fire spread or intensity. I photographed sites where flames consumed thinned stands only to lie down when they hit the cooler, moister, unthinned forest.

To me, as a timber cruiser and broker who’s tracked timber data and sale prices for decades, it’s obvious why industry preaches logging for all that ails our forests. They make grossly unfair profits from logging public timber sales — far more than the environmental attorneys who litigate them. Scorched old sugar pines and Douglas firs from Biscuit salvage sales sold at literally a dime to the dollar of real value. These sales were sold at a net loss to us as the forest owners, as are many federal timber sales.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Forests are the Best ‘Technology’ to Fight Climate Change

Why Forests are the Best ‘Technology’ to Fight Climate Change

The warning from the world’s top climate scientists that carbon dioxide (CO2) will need to be removed from the atmosphere to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is both a due and dire recognition of the great task in front of us. What must not be forgotten, however, is the hope that our forests provide.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said limiting global warming to 1.5C is not only achievable but also critical, given the previously underestimated accelerating risks for every degree of warming beyond that target.

It has also suggested that the amount of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) that will be needed can be limited by significant and rapid cuts in emissions, but also reduced energy and land demand to a few hundred gigatonnes without relying on Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).

This means forests and land use can and must play a key role in efforts to achieve 1.5 degrees, but governments and industry too often overlook why improved forest protection, as well as forest restoration, are crucial alternative solutions to risky CDR technologies such as BECCS.

While greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and the destruction of forests and peatlands contribute heavily to climate change, the growth and restoration of forests can contribute significantly to reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Recent research suggests that forest protection and restoration, together with other “natural climate solutions”, can provide over one-third of the climate mitigation needed between now and 2030.

The IPCC has estimated that between 100 and 1,000 gigatonnes of CO2 will need to be removed from the atmosphere to meet the Paris goals. It has been broadly agreed that the most important natural “carbon sinks” are the world’s forests. To limit climate change, we must urgently adopt an holistic approach to forest and peatland protection.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Tree Teachings: How Forests and Wildfires Are Critically Linked

Tree Teachings: How Forests and Wildfires Are Critically Linked

First in a series about the work of famed botanist .

I have called up Diana Beresford-Kroeger, the famed Irish botanist and bestselling author, to ask about the megafires that carpeted much of North America in dense smoke last summer.

In British Columbia alone, wildfires released between 150 and 200 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2017. That’s more than twice the volume created by human activities in the province.

Beresford-Kroeger, who calls herself a renegade scientist, has been studying forests all her life and is one of the world’s leading experts on the many medicinal properties of trees.

Coming from a strong Celtic tradition, the 74-year-old plain speaker delivers a good dose of traditional knowledge with her science, combining data with old-fashioned wisdom.

The global forest, which keeps the atmosphere rich in oxygen and low in carbon dioxide, “forecasts our future in every breath it takes and every seed it releases into the leaf mold of the forest floor,” she has written.

On the day when I reach her to discuss the megafires that consumed parts of California, Chile, Sweden and B.C. last summer, she says she has both good and terrifying news.

But first Beresford-Kroeger tells me she has just walked into her house just south of Ottawa from her research garden, where native and endangered trees thrive, and is covered in mud.

“You should know,” she begins with a laugh, “that you are talking to a dirty woman.”

And then she plunges into the subject of wildfires, which burned almost 3.4 million hectares of forest last year across Canada — a nearly threefold increase over 2016.

Fires foretold

The first point Beresford-Kroeger wants to make is that the fires consuming places like California and B.C.’s Interior were foretold by Indigenous people thousands of years ago.

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Turning Trees Into Enemies. The New War on Forests

Turning Trees Into Enemies. The New War on Forests

The San Marco Square in Florence in 2017. You can see the ancient trees of the square being cut as part of a plan that involved the removal of several hundred trees in the whole city. The action was accompanied by a propaganda campaign against trees that looked curiously similar to that used to justify the invasion of Iraq, in 2003. “Trees are a threat to citizens,”, “There is no alternative,” “Killer Trees,” and the like.

The war on trees seems to be starting. I don’t know about what’s happening where you live, but here, in Italy, we see it clearly, accompanied by all the propaganda tricks normally used to start wars. So, we have seen a string of accusations in the media against “killer trees,” supposed to be a danger for the citizens because they can fall on them or on their beloved shiny cars. The image on the right, here shows the first page of an Italian newspaper in 2014 informing us there are “50,000 killer trees” in Rome. Truly an invading army to be fought with the appropriate weaponry in the form of chainsaws.

One century ago, city administrations were proud of planting trees, today they are proud of cutting them. What happened that changed their attitude so much is hard to say. Maybe it is the general degradation of the ecosystem that has turned trees into monsters, but that doesn’t explain how administrations are starting also a war on forests – surely not threatening citizens or their cars. In a previous post, I commented on a recent piece of legislation in Italy that forces land owners to cut their woods even if they don’t want to. From the comments I received to that post and from what I can read on the Web, I think I can say that the war on trees is not just an Italian phenomenon, it is worldwide.

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The road to the Seneca Cliff is paved with evil intentions. How to destroy the world’s forests

The road to the Seneca Cliff is paved with evil intentions. How to destroy the world’s forests

The oldest stories of human lore have to do with cutting trees and with the disasters that followed as a consequence. Above, Legendary Sumerian heroes Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the guardian of the trees, Huwawa (image source). Several thousand years afterward, we don’t seem to have learned much about how to manage our natural resources.

I expected this to happen, perhaps not so soon and not in this form, but it had to come. With the era of cheap fossil fuels coming to a close, what’s left as low-cost fuel is wood and that had to be the target of the next wave of exploitation. Naively, I was thinking that the rush to wood would have taken the form of desperate people moving to the woods with hand-held axes, but no, in Italy it is coming in a much more destructive way. It is a government decree approved on Dec 1st, 2017 which allows local administrations to cut woods, even against the will of the owners of the land. It is the start of a new wave of deforestation in Italy, probably an example that the rest of the world may follow in the near future.

It is a long story that goes back to the roots of Italian history. Already in Roman times, deforestation was a major problem, believed to have generated the marshes still present in Italy in modern times. During the Middle Ages, woods returned and were cut again in several cycles, the last one coming with the political unification of Italy, in 1861. At that time, the Piedmontese government treated the newly acquired lands as spoils of war, razing down ancient forests without any regrets. The story is reported in a novelized form by the British writer Ouida, in “A village commune.” (1881).
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Foresters vs. Ecologists

Foresters vs. Ecologists

Photo by Andrew Malone | CC BY 2.0

There is a huge difference between the Industrial Forestry worldview and an ecological perspective. Many people assume that foresters understand forest ecosystems, but what you learn in forestry school is how to produce wood fiber to sell to the wood products industry. I know because I attended a forestry school as an undergraduate in college.

Assuming that foresters understand forest ecosystems is like assuming that a realtor who sells houses understands how to construct a building because they peddle homes.

Foresters usually view ecological disturbance from insects, drought, wildfire, and disease as undesirable and indications of “unhealthy” forests. That is why they work to sanitize forests by removing dead and dying trees and attempt to limit with thinning influences like bark beetles or wildfire.

An ecologist sees these disturbance processes not as a threat to forests, but the critical factors that maintain healthy forest ecosystems. Indeed, one could argue that natural mortality processes like drought, bark beetles or wildfire are “keystone” processes that sustain the forest ecosystem.

Where foresters seek to prevent large wildfires through logging/thinning or what can be described as chainsaw medicine, ecologists see large high severity fires as essential to functioning ecosystems.

Where foresters remove shrubs by mastication (chopping them up) to reduce what they call “fuel”, an ecologist sees wildlife habitat. Indeed, one recent study found mastication reduced bird occurrence by half.

Where foresters seek to reduce tree density to speed growth, an ecologist seeks to maintain density to slow growth because slow-growing trees have denser wood that is slower to rot, hence last longer in the ecosystem.

Where foresters justify thinning to preclude wildfires, an ecologist notes that the probability of a fire encountering a thinned stand is extremely low.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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