Pine beetle-damaged forest burns near Eutsuk Lake in Tweedsmuir Park

BC VIEWS: Growing trees for climate change

Pine beetle-damaged forests are recovering quickly, in part because of warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide

Disagreements persist on the extent of humanity’s role in the current changes to B.C.’s climate, and our ability to influence it, as many readers have told me in the past week.

But almost everyone seems to agree that growing more and healthier forests is a good strategy. I would add that harvesting and building with wood preserves its captured carbon, a fact not much discussed in emotional appeals against logging.

The B.C. government is finally spending some money on community fuel load removal projects this year, after an initial flurry following the Kelowna fires of 2003 faded in hard times. But the effects of decades of fire suppression in a fire-dependent forest system remain, as northern B.C. and Alberta are showing us again.

There is some positive news here. A Victoria-based government research team has published a study that calculates B.C.’s pine beetle-damaged forests are regenerating more quickly than expected.

Warmer temperatures, increased precipitation and the “fertilizer effect” of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are factors.

“By 2020, the enhanced growth due to climate change and increased CO2 more than compensates for the carbon loss from dead, rotting trees,” said lead researcher Vivek Arora of the Canadian Centre for Modeling and Analysis.

This recovery even overcomes the projected increase in forest fire loss that comes with gradually increasing temperatures and drier periods.

The federal government is still working on its plan to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets agreed to in Paris last year. But the forest industry has stepped up with its own goal.

I spoke last week with Derek Nighbor, president of the Forest Products Association of Canada, after he announced his industry’s “30 by 30 Climate Change Challenge.”

That’s a goal to reduce the industry’s net carbon emissions by 30 megatonnes a year by 2030. That would be 13 per cent of the Canadian government emission target.

One of the main strategies is salvage harvesting and developing more products that use wood.

“It’s basically trying to use every part of the tree,” Nighbor said. “In forest operations right now, this is where we see a big part of the opportunity. Instead of the residual branches and whatnot just being left aside and slashing and burning, bring more of that out and turn it into something.”

That something might be a console in a luxury car constructed with wood fibre, or an 18-storey wood student residence building planned for the University of B.C.

The other is improving forest growth. Logging operations have long been required to replant areas they cut, not just in B.C. but across Canada.

Another way to improve forest carbon capture is with more productive species, with genetic techniques that increase resiliency as well as wood mass.

A background paper from the B.C. forests ministry responds to common misconceptions about forest carbon, including the idea that logging should be stopped to maximize storage.

“Maximizing carbon storage in the ecosystem would make sense only if society stopped building new homes, acquiring new furniture and consuming in general,” it says.

“If the flow of forest products stops, society will turn to other products with higher greenhouse gas footprints, e.g. plastics, metal or concrete. In addition, if harvesting stopped and we continued to suppress natural disturbances, there is increased potential for larger catastrophic disturbances in the future.”

If Canada wants to make a bigger contribution to reducing greenhouse gases, forests are a good area to focus on. At 348 million hectares from the B.C. coast to Newfoundland, they represent nine per cent of the world’s forests.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Back in Time

Historical Perspective

March 26 road conditions

Stretches of fog on Highway 5

Tickets still available for Clearwater Of the Year Awards

Event celebrates local citizens, employees, businesses and services for contributions to community

Road conditions for March 25

Fog is causing poor visibility on Highway 5

Rockin’ Robin

Another sign spring has sprung

VIDEO: RCMP reveal five kids hit in deadly B.C. crash

The children range in age from six to 17.

Stranger climbs onto B.C. family’s second-floor balcony, lights fire in barbecue

Incident in Abbotsford terrifies family with two-year-old boy

British Columbians are paying more for booze but also broccoli

Victoria’s inflation was 2.3 per cent, a tick above Vancouver’s of 2.2 per cent

UPDATED: Three dead in Surrey crash: police

Single-vehicle crash occurred around 10:30 a.m., police remain on-scene

Eviction halted for B.C. woman deemed ‘too young’ for seniors’ home

Zoe Nagler, 46, had been given notice after living in the seniors complex in Comox for six years

Is it a homicide? B.C. woman dies in hospital, seven months after being shot

Stepfather think Chilliwack case should now be a homicide, but IHIT has not confirmed anything

Coroner’s inquest announced for Victoria teen’s overdose death

Elliot Eurchuk was 16 years old when he died of an opioid overdose at his Oak Bay home

Military officer accused of sexual misconduct, drunkenness in B.C., Alberta

Warrant Officer Jarvis Kevin Malone is charged under the National Defence Act

Harbour Air to convert to all-electric seaplanes

Seaplane company to modify fleet with a 750-horsepower electric motor

Most Read