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  • Fact check: Is developing a "bioenergy economy" in BC key to reducing emissions?

    David Broadland

    The BC logging industry can be relied on to mislead in the push toward reducing carbon emissions.


    IN A RECENT op-ed in Business in Vancouver, Linda Coady, president and CEO 0f the BC Council of Forest Industries, wrote that “forestry is key to growing a resilient bioeconomy in BC”.

    “Globally, the shared challenge of moving towards a net-zero economy and reducing emissions is vital”, Coady wrote. “In British Columbia and Canada, we have a unique opportunity with a sustainable and regenerative natural resource like forestry.”

    But Coady’s argument was based on a misleading account of how much of a logged forest is utilized in BC.

    She wrote: “The Canadian forest sector has a critical role to play in meeting this challenge. The forestry industry in BC strives to use virtually 100 per cent of every tree. Almost half becomes lumber for high-value wood products, with the balance becoming residual wood chips used to create pulp and paper, packaging, novel bioproducts and bioenergy—a growing part of the bioeconomy.”

    Coady is mixing up “trees” with “merchantable logs”. These are two very different things, and the difference just disappears into thin air in her half-baked bioaccount of what happens to BC forests after they are razed by logging. Here’s a more realistic account:




    Coady wants us to believe that logging can somehow reduce carbon emissions. But lets consider the premature forest carbon emissions caused by logging. The merchantable portion of a tree contains 0nly 41 percent of the carbon in a humid BC forest and 39 percent in an arid forest (see “The relative size of pools of carbon in a logged BC forest”, here). Coady ignores the other 60 percent.

    When a forest is logged, over 80 percent of the forest carbon that was left in the clearcut takes a shortcut back to the atmosphere compared to what would have happened had the forest not been logged. The carbon in branches, undersized tops, unmerchantable trees, rotten wood, waste, breakage and coarse woody debris that are piled and then burned goes straight back to the atmosphere. Understory plants are killed and their carbon quickly returns to the atmosphere. The same applies to small and fine woody debris that lay on the forest floor before logging.



    Western Forest Products burn piles in a logged area of humid old forest near the Klanawa River on Vancouver Island. (Photo: TJ Watt)



    TimberWest burn piles in a logged area of humid second-growth forest near Granite Bay on Quadra Island. (Photo: David Broadland)



    Tolko slash piles ready for burning in an arid forest near Peachland (Photo: Taryn Skalbania)


    Logging regulations require a certain amount of coarse woody debris to be left in the clearcut. The carbon that debris contains, along with the carbon in stumps and roots, returns to the atmosphere more slowly, but faster than would have been the case if the forest had not been killed by logging. In the meantime, during fire weather, all of the debris left lying in the clearcut makes the fire hazard associated with that clearcut higher than it had been in the mature/old forest that preceded it. As a result there is a higher likelihood of this residual logging debris becoming part of a forest fire, an event that would quickly release much of the remaining carbon in the clearcut or plantation to the atmosphere. Lastly, with the forest cover removed, the forest floor is exposed to the sun and soil temperature rises, causing a higher rate of decomposition and a quicker release of soil carbon to the atmosphere than would have otherwise occurred.

    And what about the approximately 40 percent of the forest carbon that was trucked out of the clearcut as merchantable logs? The Ministry of Forests’ own research (see graph below) shows that about 50 percent of the carbon in BC forest products has returned to the atmosphere after 28 years. After 100 years that rises to 80 percent.



    BC Ministry of Forests’ graph


    Coady says BC and Canada have a “unique opportunity” for reducing emissions in the global push to get to “net zero”. She’s right, but the “opportunity” isn’t what her industry hopes it will be. The industry and the Ministry of Forests want the public to subsidize a tiny, token cleanup of the mess it leaves after logging, and then to be able to greenwash themselves with claims of an imagined “bioeconomy” that will reduce emissions. But with logging being the largest single source of carbon emissions in BC, the only realistic path to substantially reduce those emissions is to reduce the volume of forest cut in BC each year.

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