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Every year 24,000 people die prematurely because of pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Every year 38,000 heart attacks occur because of pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Every year 12,000 hospital admissions and 550,000 people suffering asthma attacks result from power plant pollution.

Every year, coal-fired power plants release 48 tons of mercury nationwide.

Power plants release over 40% of total U.S. C02 emissions, a primary contributor to global warming...

...and yet the coal industry wants you to believe that building more coal fired power plants in Michigan is a good idea!

...and now utilities want to burn (as biomass) our trees that capture and store harmful carbon dioxide and produce the oxygen we need to live

 

Myths & Facts about Forests and Global Warming
Appendix to “The Straight Facts on Forests, Carbon, and Global Warming,” an Oregon Wild report (original).

Myth: Fast-growing young forests are better carbon stores than slow-growing old forests.

Fact: An honest accounting reveals that logging and industrial forestry release vast amounts of carbon that is not captured and stored in wood products. Young forests continue to release carbon for decades after harvest due to the decomposition of rich carbon stores maintained by the previous stand1. Scientists discovered that old forests continue to absorb CO2 even after tree growth appears to have slowed. This may be explained in part by the fact that old-growth trees are sending a lot of carbon into the soil to support the below-ground ecosystem that helps sustain them (e.g. symbiotic relation between old growth trees and mycorrhizal fungi)2.  Also, traditional tree farming models breakdown because they fail to view old forests as complete ecosystems, instead of just old trees. Old forest ecosystems continue to absorb and store carbon because they harbor a diversity of plants and because these well-developed ecosystems constantly recruit new plants that help maintain, on an ecosystem basis, a productive ratio of leaf area (where photosynthesis occurs) to sapwood (where respiration occurs)3.

Myth: Wood products store carbon. Some argue that logging is helpful because carbon is sequestered in wood products.

Fact: It turns out that well-conserved forests, on average, store carbon more securely than our throw-away culture does. First, only a small fraction of the carbon removed from logged forests end up as durable goods and buildings - most ends up as slash, sawdust, waste/trim, hog fuel, and non-durable goods like paper4.  Second, wood products have short “life spans” compared to forests that are well-protected from logging. Most wood products are essentially disposable. Wood products which can reasonably be considered durable (e.g. buildings) may in fact be less durable than the wood retained safely inside an old-growth tree that could live to be hundreds of years old. 

Myth: Forest fires release carbon stored in forests so forests are not good places to store carbon. Managing forests for carbon storage requires that we continue to practice aggressive fire suppression.

Fact: Forest fires do release CO2 to the atmosphere, but only a small fraction of the total forest biomass is lost to the atmosphere. Due to the incomplete combustion of large wood, 70-80 percent of the carbon in tree stems remains after forest fires, and globally, 23 times more carbon is captured by photosynthesis than is emitted by fires5.  Even after a forest fire, most of the carbon remains in the forest and contributes to carbon sequestration6.  Salvage logging however would exacerbate the release of carbon from the fire. Taking a long-term view, forest fires represent a temporary localized dip in the landscape carbon pool that should eventually return to high levels with proper management. So called “salvage logging” would tend to exacerbate the carbon released by the fire because it would (a) disturb soils and release soil carbon, (b) convert the largest, longest-lasting logs into short-lived wood products, and (c) reduce the piece-size of the remaining material resulting in higher rates of decomposition. 

Myth: Tropical forests are most important. Forests outside the tropics do not contribute significantly to global carbon storage.

Fact: Because of their high biomass and continuous growing season tropical forests are one of the most significant living terrestrial stores of carbon. However, tropical forests are being lost at an alarming rate while temperate forest are expanding7.  In developing countries tropical forests are too often used for firewood which results in the immediate release of stored carbon. It is true that many temperate and boreal forests have shorter growing seasons, lower biomass per acre, and lower evapotranspiration. However, our northwest “seasonal rainforests” compare favorably to tropical forests. The northwest’s low-elevation old-growth forests have long growing seasons due to the maritime influence of the Pacific Ocean, and they can store more carbon per acre than many tropical forests, so they too play a significant role in global carbon storage. Because they occupy such large geographic areas, other boreal and temperate forests cannot be dismissed (e.g., Canada, Russia, Scandinavia).

Myth: Forests tend to exacerbate global warming because they have low reflectance and absorb the sun’s energy.

Fact: A recent modeling study looked at the combined effects of carbon and albedo on global climate under hypothetical scenarios of complete planetary deforestation or afforestation8.  Not surprisingly, the model revealed that forests in relatively snow-free latitudes such as the tropics help cool the planet by storing carbon and the model showed that the absence of forests in the polar and boreal regions helps to cool the planet because it allows snow to reflect energy back into space. The implications are that expansion of forests toward the poles (which is expected to occur as the climate warms) may exacerbate climate change because the carbon storage benefit of the “new” forest is more than offset by the warming that will result from loss of albedo when highly reflective snow fields are converted to dark absorptive forests. Where snow is less prevalent and albedo is already low, such as forested areas of the tropics and mild temperate regions, carbon storage in forests is expected to contribute to cooling. Another recent study showed that the loss of carbon in boreal forests (expected due to increased fire occurrence) may not significantly contribute to warming because the loss of carbon is offset by the increase in albedo from snow9. Since maritime NW forests do not have long snowy winters and are already “dark” from an albedo standpoint, it is reasonable to assume that forests are a good place to mitigate climate change with carbon storage. 

Myth: Timber industry representatives are experts on forests and provide reliable information on the effects of logging on climate change.

Fact: The timber industry appears to be advancing a public relations campaign intended to convince policy-makers and the public that “business-as-usual” forestry is good for the climate10.  For instance, the timber industry likes to say that fast young forests are better at sequestering carbon than old forests, when the exact opposite is true, and they leave out important factors such as the loss of soil carbon after logging and the carbon value of retaining old-growth forests. The timber industry needs a lesson in honest accounting. Industry emphasize forests’ role as a carbon sink, but the industry over-states the role of wood products in carbon storage, glosses over the fact that logging causes forests to become a net carbon source, and ignores old forests’ potential as a long-term carbon store. Industry’s analyses make assumptions that are favorable to wood products and biased against alternative building materials.


[1] “[C]onversion of old-growth forest to younger forests … has added and will continue to add C to the atmosphere. This conclusion is likely to hold in most forests in which the age of harvest is less than that required to reach the old-growth stage of succession. The amount of C added by conversion will vary among forests, depending on their maximum storage capacity and the difference between the timber rotation age and the age of the old-growth state within the given ecosystem.” Harmon, Mark E; Ferrell, William K; Franklin, Jerry F. 1990. Effects on Carbon Storage of Conversion of Old-Growth Forests to Young Forests. Science; Feb 9, 1990; pg. 699 http://academic.evergreen.edu/curricular/ftts/downloadsw/harmonetal1990.pdf

[2] “Long-held theory, according to Knohl et al. (2003), maintains that assimilation is ‘balanced by respiration as a forest stand reaches an 'advanced' stage of development.’  Quite to the contrary, however, a number of newer studies are finding this supposition to be as poor a representation of reality as were the early evolutionary theories of aging in animals.

   “In a recent biomass inventory, for example, Cary et al. (2001) found much larger than expected net primary production in multi-species subalpine forest stands ranging in age from 67 to 458 years, while similar results have been obtained by Hollinger et al. (1994) for a 300-year-old Nothofagus site in New Zealand, by Law et al. (2001) for a 250-year-old ponderosa pine site in the northwestern United States, by Falk et al. (2002) for a 450-year-old Douglas fir/western hemlock site in the same general area, and by Knohl et al. (2003) for a 250-year-old deciduous forest in Germany.” "It's Never Too Late" to "Live Long and Prosper" CO2 Science, Volume 7, Number 23: 9 June 2004. http://www.co2science.org/scripts/CO2ScienceB2C/articles/V7/N23/EDIT.jsp

http://www.co2science.org/scripts/CO2ScienceB2C/articles/V5/N6/COM.jsp 

   Stauth, Winner. Old-growth trees still soaking up CO2, study shows. OSU News. Dec 1997.  http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/newsarch/1997/December97/old.htm

   Paw U, K.T., Falk, M., Suchanek, T.H., Ustin, S.L., Chen, J., Park, Y.-S., Winner, W.E., Thomas, S.C., Hsiao, T.C., Shaw, R.H., King, T.S., Pyles, R.D., Schroeder, M. and Matista, A.A.  2004.  Carbon dioxide exchange between an old-growth forest and the atmosphere.  Ecosystems 7: 513-524.

   Guoyi Zhou, Shuguang Liu, Zhian Li, Deqiang Zhang, Xuli Tang, Chuanyan Zhou, Junhua Yan, Jiangming Mo. 2006. Old-Growth Forests Can Accumulate Carbon in Soils. Science 1 December 2006:Vol. 314. no. 5804, p. 1417. 

   A. Knohl et al. Large carbon uptake by an unmanaged 250-year-old deciduous forest in Central Germany. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 118 (2003) 151–167.

[3] Carey, E.V., Sala, A., Keane, R. and Callaway, R.M.  2001.  Are old forests underestimated as global carbon sinks?  Global Change Biology 7: 339-344. http://www.firelab.org/media/gcb_carey_2001.pdf

[4] Of the 1,692 Tg of carbon harvested in Oregon and Washington from 1900 to 1992, only 23% is contained in forest products (including landfills), the other 77% has been released to the atmosphere, so, for every ton of carbon in our houses and landfills, there is another 3 tons in the atmosphere. Also, the carbon store in landfills is growing faster than that stored in buildings.  Harmon, Harmon, Ferrell and Brooks. Modeling Carbon Stores in Oregon and Washington Forest Products 1900-1992. Climate Change 33:521-550 (1996). http://www.springerlink.com/content/u51867621j8307m7/

[5] Guido van der Werf. 2006. Quantifying Global Biomass Burning Emissions Using Satellite Data and Biogeochemical Modeling. PhD Thesis, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. http://www.geo.vu.nl/users/gwerf/pubs/VanderWerf2006Thesis.pdf

[6] Wayburn, L.A., J.F. Franklin, J.C. Gordon, C.S. Binkley, D.J. Mladenoff, and N.L. Christensen, Jr. 2000. Forest Carbon in the United States: Opportunities & Options for Private Lands. Pacific Forest Trust, Santa Rosa, CA, USA.  http://landscape.forest.wisc.edu/pdf/Wayburn_etal2000_PFT.pdf

[7] The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 79 million acres of forest are lost (deforested) in the tropics each year, while 35 million acres are gained (afforested) in the temperate regions. Salwasser, H. 2007. Introduction: Forests, Carbon, and Climate  — Continual Change and Many Possibilities. OFRI Forest, Carbon, & Climate Synthesis citing UN FAO 2005. Global Forest Resource Assessment 2005: Progress Toward Sustainable Forest Management.  ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/008/A0400E/A0400E00.pdf

[8] G. Bala, K. Caldeira, M. Wickett, T. J. Phillips, D. B. Lobell, C. Delire, and A. Mirin. Combined climate and carbon-cycle effects of large-scale deforestation. PNAS | April 17, 2007 | vol. 104 | no. 16 | 6550-6555. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/104/16/6550.

[9] Randerson, J.T., Liu H, Flanner MG, et al. 2006. The Impact of Boreal Forest Fire on Climate Warming. SCIENCE. 314(5802):1130-2. Nov 17, 2006. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/314/5802/1130

[10] For instance see “California Forests, Volume 10, No. 1. http://www.calforests.org/California_Forests-502-Winter_2006.htm. CORRIM, the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials is a wood products promotion group, producing ostensibly scientific reports that are in fact biased in favor of short-rotation forestry.

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