For The Register-Guard, July 16, 2016
The recent release of the U.S. Forest Service’s old growth logging plans for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest stalls urgent climate change protections and relies on old school forestry.
What happens in the Tongass is important to Oregonians, and the nation, because this national forest absorbs about 8 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide pollution annually — far more than any other forest. And what is happening in the Siuslaw National Forest can inform the Tongass.
The Tongass plan calls for continued old growth logging, mostly over the next 16 years, threatening 43,000 acres of Tongass rainforest. This long time frame will unnecessarily release the equivalent emissions of 4 million vehicles annually over the next 100 years at a time when nations are looking to cut back on carbon pollution.
Scientific studies by Oregon-based organizations demonstrate that Tongass forests clearcut in the 1950s, which have since regrown as “second growth,” can meet timber demand while leaving old growth standing. In 2015, Mater Engineering Ltd. of Corvallis spearheaded the most intensive timber cruises ever conducted on the Tongass, focusing on 55-year-old second growth stands to meet timber targets of the Forest Service. The conclusion: By 2020, second growth levels reach wood supply levels not seen in southeast Alaska since the 1980s.
It makes dollars and sense to move quickly into second growth. The costs of carbon pollution from increased health and economic impacts would exceed timber revenues by a factor of at least 10 by mid-century. And second growth volume will come from low-controversy acres yielding much lower logging emissions than old growth logging while hastening logs to the mills.
This solution has been working in Oregon’s Siuslaw National Forest since the 1990s, when spotted owl protections prompted a quick transition to second growth not needed by the owl but necessary for an industrial transition. The Siuslaw’s exemplary vision is what’s needed now in Alaska.
But the Tongass logging plan blatantly contradicts U.S.-led efforts on the Paris Climate Change Agreement, which promotes measures to protect carbon stored in forests to help head off dangerous global temperature increases.
On the heels of news that global carbon dioxide levels have rapidly increased to levels that have not occurred for thousands of years, Oregon forest experts from the Geos Institute and Mater Engineering charge the Forest Service with relying on old school forestry that violates the Paris agreement. Nations are now working to store more carbon in trees while the Tongass leads by example with industrial clearcuts.
And just this month, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a joint statement with Norway’s environment minister: “The science is clear: conserving, restoring and sustainably managing the world’s natural forests is critical to achieving a safe, secure, and sustainable world.”
Fortunately, there is still time for the Tongass to embrace a swift transition that will benefit the timber industry while protecting the region’s world-class rainforests. President Obama needs to direct the Forest Service to speed up the transition as part of his climate change legacy. The Tongass needs to get with the climate change program, as other national forests already have, by following the Siuslaw example.
Dominick DellaSala is chief scientist of the Ashland-based Geos Institute and editor of Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World: Ecology and Conservation. Catherine Mater is president of Mater Engineering Ltd. Jim Furnish is retired deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service and supervisor of the Siuslaw National Forest.