California: Managing Forests for Green Energy
With carbon accounting errors in the spotlight, the value of woody biomass has come under question recently. A recent opinion piece argues that forest management for biomass can be a good thing and keep carbon in the ground.
Forest carbon accounting errors have been in the spotlight recently with APA introduced in the Senate and a group of scientists writing a highly-publicized letter to leading lawmakers and Obama Administration officials (see Climate Legislation and Bioenergy Accounting Errors).
Enter William Stuart, co-director of the Center for Forestry at UC Berkeley’s Blodgett Forest and former chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Fire and Resource Assessment Program, who writes in an opinion piece featured in The Sacramento Bee that forest management can lead to cleaner air, safer communities, and lower firefighting costs.
But investment in forest management is on the decline in California. Stuart explains:
California is under-investing in forest management. California taxpayers spend more than $1 billion annually to fight wildfire and almost nothing to reduce fuels at the source. More than 400 trees per acre stand in many Sierra forests where about 70 stood before the Gold Rush, tree mortality is extremely high and dangerous fuel accumulations clutter millions of acres.
Managing forests provides immediate dividends:
Fewer fuels means less-intense wildfire, greater firefighter safety, lesser environmental consequence and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. There’s great carbon benefit right there – emissions avoided and standing carbon protected – by capturing the thinnings that might otherwise have gone up in smoke and using them to generate energy can be an added plus.
Still, forest management’s greatest value, Stuart notes, may lie in addressing climate change and what it keeps hidden underground:
Research has shown that active forest management can provide significantly greater carbon benefits than management strategies that set forests aside in reserves. While young reserved and managed forests sequester, or remove from the atmosphere and store, roughly the same amount of carbon in standing trees, actively managed forests can provide the additional benefit of offsetting fossil-fuel use by producing low-carbon energy from forest and sawmill residues.
Stuart argues that the most effective way to sequester more carbon in California forests is to restore resiliency to the forest landscape by enacting forest management policies that reward performance over time and create investment opportunities that put people back to work, leverage renewable energy, and reduce severe wildfire.
Stuart offers recommendations for how policies could improve forestry management practices in the state:
Stewardship contracts that leverage lumber and biomass energy production to reduce fuels across greater areas could be extended. Carbon policy should address that. Forestry regulations that create longer-term investment windows are needed to justify the capital expenses required to achieve sustainable climate benefits. Tax policy should level the playing field for biomass energy, which receives a fraction of the incentives that wind, solar and geothermal garner.
More on William Stuart’s opinion piece about forest management and green energy.