All great points. Thanks for making them.
Many countries count the carbon emissions from forest loss as part of their national inventory of emissions. As you probably know, Canada opted out of doing this when it signed on to the Kyoto Protocol. But the international convention is to calculate all forest carbon emissions as though they occurred on the date a tree was cut. If that wasn’t done, then there would be no accountability for the eventual emissions from the parts of forest biomass that are slower to decay, like roots. The stumps and roots of trees cut on Vancouver Island in the 1900s are still decaying, but no one is counting those emissions. There are a whole lot of forest carbon emissions from old logging in BC that will never be counted, including in my own calculation of a carbon subsidy.
Climate and forest scientists have discounted the idea that manufactured wood products store large quantities of carbon for long periods of time. The BC ministry of forests' own research shows that manufactured wood products—from wood pellets for burning, to paper and even more durable building materials—have a relatively short life span and storage capacity compared with the life span and storage capacity of the forests those products came from. The ministry’s graph below shows the short-term nature of those products:
Why is “woody debris” counted? In the photograph below, taken by TJ Watt in the Klanawa Valley area of Vancouver Island, a lot of the material piled for burning is “woody debris”. A much more rapid release of emissions is produced by burning such dead structural elements than would have occurred by slow decomposition in a natural forest. In a natural forest, those elements would also have retained large quantities of water over many years, making those forests more resistant to intense burning by forest fires. Removing them effectively insures the plantation that follows will have a greater risk of being burned by a forest fire.
I think your perception that logging slash is not piled and burned anymore may be coming via the forest-industrial complex. This perception is not based on reality, and as more and more second-growth forests are logged, and rotation periods shorten, a higher percentage of the logged biomass will be un-utilizable and will be burned in a slash pile. For almost all logging in BC, logging companies are required by forest regulations to mitigate fire hazard by piling and burning the immense quantities of above-ground slash they create. If they didn’t do this, forest fires in BC would be an even larger problem than they are. The photo below shows a second-growth slash pile on Quadra Island, piled in 2021 by TimberWest. It, and the other 11 piles in a 5-hectare clearcut, has been piled to be burned, most likely this fall.
There are currently attempts to create a new business that removes “logging residuals” and turns them into pellets for thermal energy. But right now only a small percentage of logging slash is removed for such purposes. The incipient pellet industry appears to need to grind up whole trees, including primary forest—and to receive public subsidies for doing that—to be economically viable. The energy produced from wood pellets is even dirtier than burning coal, according to scientists.