Defending the Pacific Northwest Protects the Planet

By
Friday, June 5th, 2015

USFWS FLICKROver the next few weeks and months, EPIC is going to focus in depth on the Northwest Forest Plan revisions for the U.S. Forest Service. Each week we will bring you a new topic. To catch up on what EPIC has previously written, click here.

Big, old trees are our local solution to global climate change. The Northwest Forest Plan, the landscape-level plan for our federal forests in the Pacific Northwest, not only protects local wildlife, water quality, and recreation, but also helps our forests act as a climate buffer, slowing the impact of global climate change.

Let me explain: as trees grow, they suck up carbon dioxide from the air and trap it in their trunk, limbs, roots, and leaves—or to use the fancy science term, this carbon is “sequestered.” As a tree grows, it becomes a carbon “sink,” storing more carbon than it emits. And the bigger the tree, the more carbon can be stored away. When trees are cut, however, they become a carbon “source.” Deforestation creates carbon emissions, from the heavy equipment, to disrupted soils, to burning unmerchantable piles of limbs and branches (called “slash” piles). After accounting for carbon stored in wood products, logging releases approximately half the carbon that was sequestered. This is especially important in regards to old-growth forests. If a tree had been pulling from the atmosphere for 700 years, as many old-growth redwoods on the north coast have, then if that tree is cut down, it will emit significant amounts of carbon that had been stored for hundreds of years. Just like fossil fuels, this carbon had long ago been removed from the carbon cycle; like stepping on the gas pedal in your car, logging these high-carbon forests will only speed up global climate change by releasing a sudden influx of long-stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Recruiting and preserving big, old trees is like hitting the brakes, slowing our rate of carbon emissions by keeping carbon in the trees.

Before the Northwest Forest Plan was implemented, our federal forests in the Pacific Northwest were on the whole, carbon sources. The Northwest Forest Plan was designed to protect old-growth dependent species like the northern spotted owl. Since its implementation, logging on federal forests in the Pacific Northwest has dropped by 82%. Incidentally, by protecting forests, the Northwest Forest Plan has turned our federal forests from carbon sources to carbon sinks. By some estimates, Pacific Northwest forests have a greater economic value being left alone, to continue to absorb and hold carbon, than they do as lumber!

The federal government is contemplating revisions to the Northwest Forest Plan. Big timber interests have their eye on these revisions as a way to get their hands on our public forests. EPIC and our allies are ready to stop them. In forest plan revisions, EPIC will champion the important role our forests play in carbon sequestration and climate change.

EPIC is part of the Federal Forest Carbon Coalition, a broad-based national coalition that encourages federal forest management agencies to manage forests in ways that protect the Earth’s climate. Find out more here. Critical National Forest Carbon Sinks   Carbon Management Choices