Updated: Jul 15
Trees marked for logging in Jackson Demonstration State Forest. Photo by Matt Simmons.
John P. O’Brien, PhD (JP to his friends) loves Jackson Demonstration State Forest (JDSF). The forest is practically in his backyard so he regularly gets to enjoy taking long hikes and mountain bike rides through its impressive stands of predominantly coastal redwood forest. So, when he heard that CAL FIRE intended to conduct a series of timber harvest plans in some of his favorite places in the forest, JP was disappointed.
However, disappointment soon grew to alarm when he realized that CAL FIRE’s management of the forest was also harming the climate. You see, JP is a climate scientist. He is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Climate Analysis Section of the Climate and Global Dynamics Division and a research affiliate with the CASCADE research group in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Area at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. So, he brings a unique perspective when it comes to talking about why our forests matter. I recently interviewed JP on an episode of the KMUD Environment show.
“The most important thing is that redwood forests can sequester more carbon than any other type of forest in the world” JP told me when describing the importance of JDSF. What makes redwoods so important is that they both sequester an incredible amount of carbon annually and store it for their incredibly long lifetimes.
I also asked JP about some common misconceptions about managing our forests for carbon storage. One that he dismissed out of hand is the common industry talking point that carbon stored in lumber products (chairs, homes, etc) is part of the solution to fighting climate change. “Ultimately it comes down to 80% of the carbon in a standing tree is lost to the atmosphere; only about 20% makes it into a wood product that has an average lifetime of about 40-70 years.” In fact, timber harvesting itself is the largest emitter of CO2 of any natural or human-caused forest disturbance type.
JP has a vision for the future of JDSF. He sees a carbon and biodiversity reserve that will help combat two of the greatest environmental threats of our time: the climate crisis and the sixth mass extinction. At the same time that JDSF is a fantastic potential carbon reserve, it is also an excellent biodiversity hotspot that hosts many of the forest species EPIC exists to defend. JP has also identified JDSF as necessary to the State’s 30×30 goals because it is already state owned land that has high carbon and biodiversity potential. In JP’s words, “If the State is serious about 30×30 it represents really low hanging fruit”.
JP has written a position letter outlining his position in greater detail. He is hopeful that it will help convince policymakers to change the management of JDSF to be part of the climate solution instead of part of the problem.