Forest management has been a hot-button topic for decades. Sadly, it continues today.
The divisiveness seems to come from the belief that there is a “right” way to manage forests, which of course leads to an us vs. them mentality. “If you’re not with me, you’re against me.”
Fortunately, more and more citizens seem to be re-examining this approach, recognizing that the sustainable growth of forests and the use of wood rather than fossil carbon-intensive materials is a better way to achieve a sustainable society.
I recently completed a chapter and a half for a report on the “State of the Industry North American Mass Timber” https://www.masstimberreport.com/ and I will be moderating a panel at the International Mass Timber Conference 2019 in Portland, Oregon, March 19-21 https://www.masstimberconference.com/.
The panel is focused on wood sources. Where can, or should, we get the wood needed to produce mass timber products? Panelists will discuss certification systems that address sustainably grown forests, including FSC, SFI, ATFS and PEFC, and how they fit into the picture. We will also discuss public land management, including national forests, state forests, national parks and wilderness areas, some of which allow timber harvests and some of which forbid it.
Jason Metnick from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative will discuss the chain of custody process is designed to ensure that the trees harvested are the lumber that goes into the products.
We will also have a panelist who will share a new financing model for accomplishing work on national forests to achieve more restoration work, using Forest Resilience Bonds. https://www.blueforestconservation.com/. The case study will show how downstream water users invest in forest treatments to help protect their watershed and use any wood products derived to reduce the cost of creating the more resilient forest.
Many of the trees are smaller and will go into pulp or wood energy, both relatively low value materials, a smaller percentage will be sawlog-sized trees with higher value.
The point is: Having a range of products that can use the whole array of tree sizes that need to be harvested helps the overall cost of the project.
The book and the conference are examining the entire supply chain, from the trees in the forest to the end user of the building. In my section of the book, I highlight the importance of forests, both those reserved from harvest to accomplish biodiversity conservation goals, and intensively managed lands focused on wood for the marketplace.
Sustainability is the tension point between meeting economic, environmental and social goals. Using mass timber to replace fossil energy-intensive construction materials helps reduce the carbon footprint of humans.
Researchers are helping to illustrate the tension between these essential elements of the sustainability triad.
A recent paper from The EcoTrust and University of Washington highlighted the ability to store more carbon in forests and wood products if West Coast Douglas fir forests are managed using alternative methods.
But the storage comes at a substantial cost.
So part of the analysis calculates the value of carbon storage needed for a forest landowner to justify a longer rotation and alternative management techniques. Interestingly, conventional forest management with a longer rotation provided a reasonable accommodation of both goals.
As with any research analysis, assumptions must be made and parameters placed on the scope of the analysis, influencing the outcome.
Carbon leakage and substitution benefits are significant factors when evaluating policy implications. Substitution benefits were considered outside the scope of the analysis, and they used California’s cap and trade rules for leakage (20 percent). But more recent analysis indicates the leakage can be up to 80 percent. A complete life cycle analysis (LCA) looking beyond the landowner would consider the substitution carbon benefits, which can be substantial and immediate. Therefore, no single study can look at all the trade-offs and benefits.
For me, there is great satisfaction in knowing the debate is about how to manage a forest and its values from wood products, carbon storage, water and habitat – not whether we should be managing forests for these combinations of values.
Many people seem to understand the truism that all forests will not provide all things to all people at all times. And that is what the State of the Mass Timber Industry report tries to help the public understand.