The province’s forests and the forestry industry have a role to play in climate change, says one of the Kootenays’ industry professionals.
Stuart Card, chief forester with Castlegar’s Interfor, said climate change is front and centre in today’s society but a sustainable forest management practice could lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and contribute to the climate adaptation as well.
“Forest management, active forest management, it’s going to assist with the fight against climate change, it’s going to help us minimize and mitigate catastrophic fire years,” he told Nelson City Council at a meeting March 22.
Over the past four decades, forests have moderated climate change by absorbing about one-quarter of the carbon emitted by human activities, including burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
Forests absorb greenhouse gases, regulate water flows and protect coastal communities from extreme events and sea level rise — making them a cornerstone in addressing climate change. As trees grow, they help stop climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the air, storing carbon in the trees and soil, and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.
A healthy forest means a stronger weapon against climate change, said Card.
Councillor Jesse Woodward had asked Card, and other members of the Council of Forest Industries (COFI) representatives who appeared before council, about the battle for perpetual growth in forestry, with the need to re-wild the landscape so it could store carbon.
“How do we balance a healthy forest industry with having year-over-year growth?” he asked.
The misconception in B.C. is that there is year-over-year growth, said Card.
“Our harvest has fallen and dropped significantly since the 1990s, where we are almost half of what we were 20 or 30 years ago,” he said.
“So, that, to me, is a very conscious and sustainable outcome where the harvest levels are constantly evaluated and reviewed and are set at sustainable levels into the long term.”
But the province is dealing with a major GHG emission from decomposing wood, said Councillor Rik Logtenberg, who noted B.C. had an estimated 48 mega-tonnes of GHG emissions (in 2019) from the decomposition from harvested wood products.
“In 1990 our forests were sequestering about 80 mega-tonnes, which more than accounted for our total production, so, overall, our forests were absorbing more carbon than we were producing,” he said.
“Today, our forests were not sequestering any carbon at all, they are actually producing carbon. They are so decayed, they are in such a state of decay that almost 90 mega-tonnes of sequestration has been lost from our forests. How is the industry going to tackle that monumental challenge going forward?”
COFI vice president of government and public affairs, Alexa Young, said multiple things contribute to addressing that problem.
“How do we continuously strengthen what we are doing in the forest to actually make sure we are not leaving stuff from the forest that is susceptible to fires?” she said. “That is going to be a collective effort and that is something that all parties are going to have to be involved in.”
She said the power of substitution — using low-carbon products like wood over high-carbon ones such as steel and concrete — helps with that.
Logtenberg said he wondered about the decomposition from wood waste, the slash piles that would be decomposing on site and in the forest.
“I think this is a practical thing, dealing with the waste that is decomposing and creating a lot of emissions, both at the mills as well as on site,” he said.
Michael Armstrong, COFI vice president of policy and operations, said the industry and government have been working for years to come up with ways to utilize all of the fibre from the bush, with the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. created to help extract that fibre waste wood to be utilized.
“One of the issues is the economics of that, so we are working with government to try and find other opportunities for that fibre,” he said.
The province got rid of beehive burners and slash pile burning years ago, Armstrong added.
Ryan Weltz, operations manager at Interfor, said everything that comes to the mill gets utilized.
“In the bush one of our strongest allies is the pulp mill. If it’s economical to ship the slash piles to the pulp mill,” we do, he said.
They also leave some of that wood to break down and become fertilizer for the next generation of trees.
The industry needs to be more active on that front, there’s no question about it, said Card.
“There’s more that can be done, but leaving the stands to go about naturally is not always the solution and a lot of times we have to be in there actively managing it to protect communities and our forest resources, and the other resources we garner in those areas.”