Oregon's climate change and carbon plan lack data and fiscal responsibility

Originally appeared in The Register-Guard on September 18, 2021. Shared with permission. 

The Oregon Department of Forestry has developed its Climate Change and Carbon Plan, which will be incorporated into every program and division of the department. Regrettably, it misses the mark by ignoring the greatest opportunity to combat climate change through natural and working lands: building with more wood.

The forest products sector is a circular economy. According to a Dec. 2018 NCASI Fact Sheet, “The Circular Economy is ‘a regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing, and narrowing material and energy loops’ (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2015). The principles of the Circular Economy are intrinsic to the forest products industry: all parts of the tree, a renewable resource, can be used efficiently to manufacture products of high quality; products are recyclable; and residuals can be used for energy production or other purposes.”

Mass timber has reliable engineering properties that allow it to be used in buildings that are larger and taller than ever before. Currently, 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from construction materials and operation of buildings. As soon as a building is stood up using mass timber, emissions are immediately avoided by reducing the need for carbon intensive non-renewable building materials like steel and concrete. 

New research from Yale shows when these wood innovations are used, our urban environments can actually act as carbon sinks that are long-lived, less risky and far more permanent than the forested environment. Research from the CORRIM suggests sustainably managing and harvesting forests substantially improves carbon mitigation. The best uses of wood provide a “carbon negative technology” with the ability to displace fossil emissions.

Oregon should be maximizing its use and production of durable wood products to maximize climate change solutions from our natural and working lands. 

Unfortunately, the state has ignored this opportunity in its CCCP. Instead, it has chosen to propose reduced harvest in order to store carbon in the forested ecosystem through what the department terms “climate-smart forestry.” 

The state isn’t trying to maximize climate benefits because it chose to develop the plan without any modeling, limited pertinent research, few references and without any understanding of economic viability. 

Additionally, wildfires continue to jeopardize forest carbon permanence and increase biogenic carbon emissions. Above all, climate-smart forest operations must focus on creation of landscape resiliency on all lands in the state and on long-lived storage of carbon in durable wood products.

The department should be proposing in its CCCP a focus on research into biomass markets, engineered wood products and a lifecycle assessment of the timber industry in Oregon similar to the work being done in Washington. 

The harvested wood products pool is a major component of any accurate and fully contextualized forest carbon lifecycle assessment. According to Hennigar et. al, “[N]ot accounting for the carbon in wood products underestimates the environmental services provided by forest plantations and may result in spurious optimization of forest management practices that seek to maximize climate change mitigation.” 

This type of data-driven process is severely needed in Oregon.

Amanda Astor is forest policy manager at Associated Oregon Loggers and a monthly contributor to The Register-Guard. She holds degrees in forest management, forest biology, and forest carbon: science, policy and management.



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