Everyone’s talking about forests and carbon

As we reported last week, West Coast Environmental Law, along with the other members of the BC Working Group on Biodiversity, Forests and Climate, has released A New Climate for Conservation, a report calling for a comprehensive and integrated provincial Nature Conservation and Climate Action Strategy to address the impacts of climate change and the role of BC’s globally significant natural heritage in fighting climate change. 

The report received good coverage, including in the Vancouver Sun and the Globe and MailNew_Climate_Report_Cover_1.jpg

But we’re not the only ones talking about nature and climate change.  Last Wednesday, before we released our report, the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity filed 7 lawsuits in California against plans to clearcut 5,000 acres of forest.  The complaint?  The California government did not “properly analyz[e] the carbon emissions and climate consequences.”  Brian Nowicki, California climate policy director for the group, explains:

Properly analyzing, and ultimately reducing, the carbon emissions from forestry are essential if California’s efforts at addressing greenhouse emissions are going to be effective.  But by continuing to rubberstamp Sierra Pacific Industries’ clearcutting plans, the Department of Forestry is chopping a gigantic hole in the credibility of California’s climate policy.

Most of the media coverage of A New Climate for Conservation focused on the report’s call for 50% of BC’s land based to be managed to help fight against climate change; however, in addition to the question of where we log, how logging is managed also has a huge impact on how much carbon is released by the logging. As the report notes in its Executive Summary: “The consensus of scientific opinion appears to be that clearcut logging old-growth forests for wood products and converting the primary forests into industrially managed forests, especially plantations, releases large and not fully recoverable amounts of carbon to the atmosphere.” Claims by logging companies (that the new trees they replant will remove more carbon from the air than the trees they cut) ignore this fact and are comprehensively rebutted in the report.  This is not least because clearcut logging exposes the soil, which is a disaster in terms of releasing carbon stored in the soil.

But logging can btreetall.jpge done differently. So-called “ecosystem-based” management, which focuses on what to leave behind rather than what to take from the forest has the potential to avoid emissions from clearcut logging and protect the soil while continuing to take carbon out of the air. 

This is why A New Climate for Conservation calls for “New Tools, Legislation and Incentives” and “Incentives for Stewardship in Every Sector”, to require and encourage appropriate  forest management in the face of climate change. 

But the Center for Biological Diversity lawsuits in the US got me thinking.  The Center’s position is that California’s forest laws require proper analysis of the impacts of climate change on BC’s forests.  Until 2002 BC’s Forest Practices Code required the Ministry of Forests to determine if a forest plan “adequately managed and conserved forest resources,” which certainly allows, and perhaps requires, consideration of whether the forest resources are adequately managed in light of climate change.  

But what about BC’s current forest laws – such as the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA)?  Well, the Act says that the Ministry of Forests must approve any plan that contains strategies that are “consistent” with the objectives set by government (sections 5 and 16).  Unfortunately, there are no FRPA objectives related to climate change, and the objectives related to protecting soils and biological diversity are weak, and were not set with climate change in mind. 

So not only do BC’s current forest laws not require the Ministry of Forests to consider climate change – the Ministry may not be allowed to consider it. 

Which takes us back to our recommendation that the government create new tools, legislation and incentives to ensure that forest management considers climate change.   Hopefully soon. 

Related Post: Climate change changes everything in our forests

Andrewblogphoto.jpgBy Andrew Gage