5 Things We Took Away from “Working Forest, Changing Climate, New Investments?”
At our recent Seed & Feed, Seattle Times Environment Reporter Lynda Mapes interviewed an investor, professor, timber harvester, journalist, corporate sustainability manager and conservation director about working forests, climate change and investment opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.
Here are the top five things we learned:
#1: Climate change has made our region’s forests especially vulnerable
A decreasing snowpack and more intense summers are having serious consequences for our forests, said UW forest ecologist Jerry Franklin, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Franklin cautioned that already furious wildfire seasons may worsen. And he warned that our region’s Douglas fir could be vulnerable to a devastating pest outbreak.
#2: Forests of a certain age can be part of the answer to climate change
There’s a magical moment in a forest’s maturation, remarks Professor Franklin, when biodiversity and carbon uptake are both at their maximums. Today, we often cut trees as they’re about to go on a CO2-sequestering binge. His question: couldn’t we wait a little? Panelist John Davis of Hancock Timber Resource Group recognized that it’s a hard commitment to make, since companies like his have a fiduciary commitment to maximize returns. Still, he said his company hews to responsible forestry practices, and as understandings evolve, those practices can change. Panelist Charlie Raines, Forterra Forest Conservation Director, suggested that lands could be “community forests” managed with additional values in mind, not just profit. John Davis urged giving standing trees more value by enacting more carbon trading.
#3: Local wood is good — or not
We buy local food; what if we all bought local wood? Moderator Lynda Mapes argued she’d be willing to pay more for wood that she knew was grown and harvested from our local forests. “I want to see a picture of the forester with my tree the way I see the farmer with his radishes (at the grocery store),” she said. Jerry Franklin, agreed, asserting that “there’s no reason we couldn’t have local ‘wood sheds’.” Panelist Court Stanley of Port Blakely Tree Farms noted that there’s little sense in sending a log more than a hundred miles to be milled. But he also asked if it’s so wrong that the resulting lumber should then go to Indiana, where they don’t have trees like us, but still need wooden things.
#4. Giving our rural timber communities a lift can pay off in healthier forests, lowered C02, and stronger communities
Observing that many rural communities have never recovered from logging cutbacks and mill shutdowns, Charlie Raines pointed out the potential for a new, engineered wood product, Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT). CLT can be made from a wide variety of sizes and kinds of trees, including trees that are fire-and pest-damaged. The CO2 in the wood stays locked in a (beautiful, see for yourself) building for decades to come. And rural communities get a promising new industry. Raines also suggested that new investment vehicles be created that would provide a reasonable financial return, but also put some of the profits back in to the land in the form of longer rotations, preserving key habitats, or providing public recreation access.
#5: Northwest companies care about being green. But it’s complicated.
Jaqueline Drumheller, Sustainability Manager at Alaska Airlines, commented that “we use over 1 million gallons of fuel a day” — a lot, but a third less than rival airlines because of an up-do-date fleet and a lot of attention to the shortest possible routings. Drumheller said the airline wants to be responsible and would love to get away from fossil fuels. Though expensive, Alaska Airlines explores biofuels as it looks to establish sustainable fuel sources. In fact, The Seattle Times wrote about this this week – “Alaska Air flights using fuel made from fermented corn.” Drumheller said the company may at some time look at buying carbon offsets. John Davis of Hancock Timber remarked that his company has recently “sold carbon” in big quantities in both New Zealand and Australia, where it manages large forests. Charlie Raines added a plug for Forterra’s Evergreen Carbon Capture program.