Comment: Using forests for carbon credits may defeat purpose

By blocking some state forests from timber production, the project limits an effective climate tool.

By Nick Smith / For The Herald

Everyone agrees Washington’s forests are key to helping the state reach its climate goals. Thanks to the continuous cycle of forestry, which includes the planting, growing, harvesting and manufacturing of wood products, our working forests already achieve net-zero carbon emissions. They also support thousands of green jobs and prevent the conversion of forests to non-forests.

Unfortunately, the Department of Natural Resources’ new carbon-offset project disregards international consensus around forestry and wood products. It may have the unintended consequence of enlarging the state’s carbon footprint, because it discourages harvest of Washington-grown wood. This effectively promotes wood imports and greater use of concrete and steel.

Ultimately, it will be rural communities that pay the price for a policy that will have a negligible impact on global greenhouse gas emissions, while providing a fraction of the revenue for public services.

The DNR manages 2.2 million acres of public working forests known as state trust lands to harvest timber and provide revenues for defined beneficiaries including schools, counties, fire districts, ports, hospitals and other community service providers. Every year, sustainable timber harvests on these working forests generate nearly $200 million annually for public services.

As working forests, these lands are managed under modern forest practice rules and a State Lands Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that is supposed to ensure a continuous timber supply, while also providing for clean water, habitat for wildlife and recreational opportunities. All of these policies were developed through a public process.

As a result, nearly half of DNR trust lands in Western Washington are no longer available for sustainable timber management because of conservation plans and past decisions to protect old and mature trees. These policies promised to provide certainty for the continuous management of the remaining forest lands.

DNR’s carbon project was not developed through a public process. There are many unanswered questions of how it will work, whether it will lead to actual carbon emission reductions, and how it will impact state trust land beneficiaries and the rural communities that are likely to be impacted through reduced jobs, economic activity and access to public services.

The Herald’s April 12 editorial likened the project to getting “an oil refinery, for example, to pay to leave a forest standing to do its work for the climate and fund schools and more at the same time.”

This political decision presumably benefits the oil refinery because it maintains the status quo and allows the refinery to continue doing its business. But it is troublesome for those Washington companies that need wood from these working forests to make the only building material that is renewable, requires fewer fossil fuels (oil) to produce, and one that actually stores carbon.

Whether we are producing cross-laminated timber or traditional lumber, Washington state needs a forest sector with viable logging and milling capacity to remain competitive, provide affordable wood products and create family-wage jobs in rural communities. With timber volume on state trust lands already in decline, further reducing timber harvest puts this industry and the jobs at risk.

Without a strong forest sector, Washington loses its leadership in green building and sustainable forestry. We lose our ability to make Washington-grown wood products, treat at-risk forests and we increase our carbon footprint by replacing these products with those produced from other countries that do not share our high environmental standards.

The DNR carbon project may seem like a political winner, but it fails to take the long view toward solutions that are already working to sequester and store carbon, while providing green jobs as well as economic activity and revenues for public schools and community services.

Nick Smith is Public Affairs Director for the American Forest Resource Council, representing Washington’s forest sector that depends on timber management on DNR state trust lands.

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