Clearcut carbon calculator
THE EVERGREEN ALLIANCE has developed a tool for estimating the carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions released by clearcut logging, from the entire province right down to single clearcuts. Since forests are logged to feed mills or export of raw logs, we have also estimated the carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions associated with each mill in the province and an estimate for carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions released by cutting for log exports. In the gallery below, click on the appropriate image to learn about the carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions release associated with an area or facility. The methodology we use to make these estimates is shown below.
WHEN AN AREA OF FOREST is clearcut, a premature release of carbon to the atmosphere commences. If that area had not been logged, it likely would have continued to sequester carbon for many years, in many cases for centuries. In this era of a declared climate emergency, in which a meaningful response must be made within a time frame that is much shorter than the expected life of a forest, it’s necessary that the provincial government reshape forest policy to reflect the urgent need to use forests to store and sequester carbon. As the price put on carbon emissions increases, the monetary value of standing forests as carbon sinks will also increase. Depending on the price of carbon, standing forests may have higher monetary value as sinks than as sources of building materials or energy.
To determine the quantity of carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions released by logging, we estimate how much live and dead organic material was in a forest before it was logged. To do that we work backwards from the volume of merchantable wood that was taken from the stand—which is recorded by the ministry of forests Harvest Billing System and other ministry records.
Our re-creation of the pools of carbon that existed in an area before it was logged is based on an account of forest carbon pools determined in a 2020 study by Dr Suzanne Simard and others: Harvest Intensity Effects on Carbon Stocks and Biodiversity Are Dependent on Regional Climate in Douglas-Fir Forests of British Columbia. Simard et al made a distinction between “humid” and “arid” forests. That account is shown below:
To reconstruct the volumes of the pools of carbon before logging from the merchantable log volume, additional details about the “Live trees (above ground)” category are needed. This involves estimating the relative volumes of all the categories of above-ground live tree parts that result from clearcut logging. The proportion of each part is based on a synthesis of data from several sources. This is a work in progress. At this time we are using a conservative estimate of decay, waste and breakage. Our current breakdown is shown below:
We can now refine Simard’s breakdown so that it includes all the different fates for the live trees, along with the other pools of carbon that study identified. That reconstruction is shown below:
From the above we observe that the merchantable volume removed from the forest accounts for around 40.9 percent of the original organic material in a humid forest and 39 percent in an arid forest.
Now we are able to work backwards from the merchantable volume taken from an area to determine how much dead organic material was left behind in the cutblock, transformed by logging into a state that accelerates its decomposition, either by burning or by natural processes.
Simard et al predicted that little to none of the carbon in the mineral soil is released as a result of logging. They estimated 28.5 percent of forest floor carbon was lost. Other researchers have observed that mineral soil carbon falls significantly over time after logging, but for our estimates we are using Simard’s finding of little or no immediate loss of carbon from minerals soils. All other pools are assumed to be returned to the atmosphere over time, some more rapidly than others. Once we include these considerations of carbon loss from soils, we can restate the table immediately above as follows:
From this breakdown, we see that in both humid and arid forests, the merchantable stems account for ~50 percent of the total carbon emissions that will be released to the atmosphere sometime after logging. This means the total carbon emissions released to the atmosphere will be approximately 2.0 times the carbon emissions associated with the volume of merchantable logs reported by the Harvest Billing System. This multiplier (2.0) is included in our calculation of CO2-equivalent emissions below.
How many tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions are released for each cubic metre of wood logged in BC?
We calculate the emissions associated with an average cubic metre of wood logged in BC as follows:
• About one-half (.5) the dry weight of a tree is carbon.
• The decay of one tonne of tree carbon will result in the release of 3.667 tonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions.
• The average density of timber felled in BC (based on 2018 MoF numbers for relative volumes of tree species cut, and their known dry-weight densities) was about .447 tonnes/cubic metre.
So, carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions released by decay of one cubic metre of average wood = 1/2 x 3.667 x .447 = .82 tonnes/cubic metre.
Our estimates of carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions released by the logging of an area, or by the logs processed in a mill, are based on the volume (V) taken from that area, as recorded by the Harvest Billing System, or the annual volume processed by a mill, and are determined by the following arithmetic:
CO2-equivalent emissions = V x .82 tonnes/cubic metre x 2.0 = V x 1.64
The value of the multiplier, 1.64, will no doubt change as further science helps to refine our estimates.
To determine the emissions associated with a specific clearcut, we determine the volume harvested from that clearcut and multiply by 1.64.
In many cases, however, the volume taken from a specific clearcut is not differentiated from volumes taken from other nearby clearcuts; they are lumped together under a common timber mark.
In those cases, to estimate the volume removed from a specific clearcut in a specific tenure requires reference to the Ministry of Forests RESULTS database, which provides many points of information about a given clearcut (ID number, area, timber mark) or a group of clearcuts. That information is then correlated with volume information about that clearcut or group of clearcuts in the Harvest Billing System and an average volume per hectare is estimated.
Associated emissions are then based on that average. Since the density of forest biomass varies from stand to stand, these averages may overestimate emissions from the cutting of lower density stands and underestimate emissions from higher density stands.