Logging of forests releases more carbon, even if replanted

A recent letter to the editor responding to a commentary objecting to timber sales in Snohomish County, promulgated outdated ideas about forest ecology that have been categorically disproven by scientists.

The author states that there is no shortage of old growth forest. I suppose that is a matter of opinion, but according to the 1993 Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team report, historically 65 percent of westside Pacific Northwest forests were mature and old growth. In 2004, 70 percent of those westside forests were less than 80 years old.

According to Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild:

“Logging mature forests will exacerbate global warming because mature forests already store substantial amounts of carbon, a large fraction of which would be transferred to the atmosphere if logged. Mature forests cannot be converted to young forests or wood products without losing the vast majority of carbon to the atmosphere. In the century preceding 1990, converting vast areas from old growth to plantations on the westside of Oregon and Washington caused 100 times more carbon emissions from land-use activities compared to the global average for similar sized areas. Of the vast amount of carbon removed from forests via timber harvest in Oregon and Washington from 1900 to 1992, only 23 percent is contained in forest products (including landfills); the other 77 percent has been released to the atmosphere; so, for every ton of wood-based carbon in our houses and landfills, there is another 3 tons in the atmosphere.”

Furthermore, these calculations don’t account for the carbon emissions generated by the activities of road construction, logging, transporting the trees to mills, and milling of lumber. In addition, mature and old growth forests provide crucial benefits on climate, including a large cooling effect on maximum temperatures, regulating climate extremes and protecting biodiversity.

Mature forests are next in line to become old growth, and are invaluable for this reason, but also provide essential ecosystem services in their present state. Younger forests can provide us with wood, and numerous alternative materials exist for many of the products historically made from trees.

Kathy Johnson


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