In the Southern Sierra-Nevada, the combination of logging, plantations, fire exclusion, and now drought, beetle infestation and a rapidly changing climate have led to the unprecedented die-off that some estimate has claimed the lives of some 100 million trees.
Here in the range of the coast redwoods, past, largely unregulated logging of our old-growth forests and conversion of large tracts to industrial sapwood fiber farm plantations have resulted in the total biomass or live woody material, in our forests being reduced to at best 10-15 percent of historic levels. Redwoods are among the longest-lived tree species on earth, are the tallest trees on earth, and grow in some of the most productive forest sites on earth, both in terms of biomass, and the ability to store carbon dioxide in amounts unparalleled anywhere else on earth. Yet even today, industrial timberland owners in the range of the coast redwoods still employ clearcutting to maximize short-term economic value at the expense of the long-term productivity of our forests, and at the expense of our ability to combat and adapt to global and regional climate change.
On January 17, 2017, the State of California’s Forest Climate Action Team (FCAT) commissioned by Governor Brown, released a public review draft of the California Forest Carbon Plan, which is slated to be used as the state-wide roadmap for reducing forest-related greenhouse gas emissions and increase state-wide carbon dioxide storage to assist in meeting state-wide objectives for reducing California’s overall greenhouse gas emissions footprint to 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.
The Draft Forest Carbon Plan fails to make the grade in several critical ways. First, it continues to perpetuate the myth that manufactured wood products taken out of the forest and run through mills and sent to lumber yards are just as good at storing carbon dioxide long-term as woody biomass and trees left alive, green, and growing in our forests. Second, the Plan relies heavily on the tree mortality crisis in the Southern Sierra-Nevada to justify massive increases in prescribed thinning to remove dead and dying trees and conversion of these into biomass fuel. Meanwhile, the Plan recommends no changes to private lands forest management strategies that have, and continue to contribute to the problems of over-dense, under-productive and unhealthy forest conditions. Finally, the Plan’s regional implementation fails entirely to consider the ability of our coast redwood forests to store increasing amounts of carbon dioxide if managed properly moving into the future; recent research conducted via Humboldt State University confirms that our old-growth coast redwood forests are storing more carbon dioxide per-ace than any other forests on earth. This fact is not considered, and the study is not even included or referenced in the Plan’s analysis.
Tell the FCAT Team you like your carbon dioxide stored in living, breathing, growing trees, not in sapwood fiber-farm fence-posts, decking, and houses. Tell the FCAT Team that forest management changes must be made commensurate with restoration and thinning to reduce die-off and abate fire risk to ensure restoration and maintenance of long-term forest health and diversity. Tell the FCAT Team you want a real long-term plan that ensures regional implementation that takes into the account the unique and critical role our coast redwood forests can and must play in storing carbon dioxide and abating and adapting to global and regional climate change.