November 21st, 2019
Representative Kathy Castor, Chair
House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
2052 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chair Castor and Members of the Committee;
The below signed organizations and the members we represent from across the United States are pleased to provide this input to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis as it provides leadership in shaping a robust climate agenda for the nation. Our signatories represent scientific, conservation and community organizations concerned with the protection of our forests and climate smart alternatives to forest practices which drive climate change and undermine climate resiliency.
We appreciate the Committee’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis and its interest in leading the charge to create, update and invigorate laws governing the way we use and interact with our environment. Forests are critical and will continue to be critical in any action taken to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We have prepared this brief memorandum to flag what we believe are high priorities for the next President and Congress. The memorandum also addresses what we believe needs to change at the state level.
In three parts, this memorandum identifies the key climate threats posed by continued mismanagement of US forests, policies responsive to those threats, and steps needed to implement the policies. The implementation discussion further divides policy recommendations into those that are new, those that can be based on existing models or proposals, and those that could be implemented with no new authority. Links to key resources are included and we stand ready to supply scientific and technical reports and data to help you explore the issues and policy options in more detail.
Key climate threats associated with mismanagement of US forests
A clear-cut section of forested wetland in North Carolina. The logs were brought to Enviva’s facility in Southampton, Virginia to be made into wood pellets. NRDC
1) Deforestation and carbon sequestration dead zones. Since 2000, over 94 million acres of tree cover has been stripped across the US for wood and paper products or to clear the way for agriculture, urban development and infrastructure. This process has removed the equivalent of over 10.6 gigatons of CO2 from the land. In addition to carbon lost to the atmosphere via the wood products production process, clearcuts emit more carbon than they sequester for up to fifteen years after logging, so these recently stripped forestlands are now CO2 sources rather than sinks.
2) Logging and wood products emissions. The logging and wood products sector is very carbon intensive. Wood is half carbon by weight, and when trees are cut, they begin to emit carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Short term products, like woody biomass, pulp, and paper, emit most of their carbon in a matter of hours to a few years, while longer term products, like structural lumber, lose most of their carbon in about fifty years. Either way, wood products are mostly sources and not sinks for carbon. In addition, significant direct and indirect emissions are generated by logging, application of chemicals and fertilizers, construction of logging roads, and the burning and decay of logging slash. In Oregon, two independent scientific and technical assessments found the logging and wood products sector to be the leading source of GHG emissions. In North Carolina, this sector is likely the third most carbon intensive.
3) Overconsumption of wood and paper products. Solving the climate crisis requires reducing consumption of fossil fuels, conventional wood and paper products and other carbon-intensive goods and services. This consumption is driven, in large part, because the market prices of these goods and services do not reflect climate damages. As a result, in the US, wood and paper products are consumed in wasteful quantities. From oversized houses on our cities’ suburban fringes to the mountains of fast food paper and packaging waste generated each day, there is clearly major room for improvement. Wood and paper waste make up 33% of US landfill waste. The timber industry’s push for tall wooden buildings, wood for energy, and greater consumption of wood products as a “climate solution” is untethered to the reality that conventional wood products are actually more carbon intensive than many non-wood substitutes when the full carbon impact of logging is included. One recent analysis that included emissions associated with soil carbon loss and conversion of native forests into tree plantations found wood-based buildings to have a cradle to grave carbon footprint six percent higher than concrete buildings. Moreover, this analysis did not even take into account the extent to which logging of all types substantially reduces forest carbon sequestration and storage capacity, due to soil compaction and nutrient removal.
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