Greenhouse gases, also referred to as GHG, impact the Earth’s atmosphere by trapping heat within it. One of those greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide. When forests are healthy and sustainably managed, they sequester carbon from the atmosphere. This helps to counteract the impact greenhouse gases have on our planet. Nature’s Packaging supports the use of sustainably sourced North American lumber for wood packaging
The recently signed deal between Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve and Bluesource Canada looks to bring new hope to managing greenhouse gas emissions by sustainably managing 100,000 acres of forest in Ontario, Canada. The forest presently sequesters approximately 8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and with their partnership with Bluesource Canada, they hope to increase this amount by 75,000 tonnes per year. This will be accomplished by increasing the maturity of trees harvested (rotation times), improving the health of the trees, and harvesting less than the annual growth of new trees.
Many new practices tailored to the type of the forest will be applied, including the “single-tree selection system” and the “uniform shelterwood system.” Single-tree selection is a method that prioritizes the elimination of sick trees that most probably will not survive or grow past the aspired maturity. That way, single-tree selection enhances the overall health and condition of the forest over time. It might be a low-impact harvesting technique but is the favored approach for promoting the growth of shade-tolerant species like the sugar maple and is intended to maximize carbon sequestration for this kind of forest.
Harvesting timber and promoting new growth is believed to be best achieved by using the uniform shelterwood system. In this practice, the larger and more dense parts of the forest are thinned. This creates greater gaps in the canopy, which is intended to allow more light to pass through the canopy and onto the forest floor. This practice will promote new growth of shade-intolerant species of trees like White pine, Red oak, and Black cherry.
The combination of these methods promotes diversity in the forest and over time is expected to sequester 75,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Forests absorb airborne carbon dioxide, store carbon in wood, and return pure fresh oxygen to the atmosphere. As that process continues, though, gases in the atmosphere absorb the planet’s heat and radiate it in all directions. When that heat cannot escape Earth’s atmosphere, the planet’s temperature warms.
Scientists estimate that nature is only able to remove about half of all carbon dioxide added to the environment. The good news is that forests, particularly those in North America, are continuously pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it in solid wood. Because these forests are growing more than is being harvested, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that U.S. forests currently serve as a carbon ‘sink’, offsetting approximately 13% of U.S. emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Wood products harvested from forests continue to store carbon throughout their use. According to the Canadian Climate Forum’s Issue Paper #4 from Fall 2015, Canadian timber harvesting practices emit minimal greenhouse gases. Improvements are continually being made to the industry’s lumber manufacturing practices to reduces its carbon footprint.
Energy and greenhouse gas emissions to produce forest products are less than materials wood often replaces, such as metals, concrete and plastic. Canada’s forest products industry has been a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its manufacturing processes. Since 1990, the pulp and paper industry in Canada has reduced emissions by about 65%. This has been accomplished by replacing fossil fuels used for mill processes with low net-carbon emissions energy generated by burning wood residues once disposed of by burning without energy recovery.
The United States has about 751 million acres of forest area, equal to about one third of the country’s total land area. According to the 2010 National Report on Sustainable Forests, forty-four percent of United States forests are owned by local, state, or national governments and the rest are owned by private land owners. Sierra Pacific Industries, a forest products company, is one of the largest private land owners in the country, and is typical of how landowners approach sustainability. Regarding how their land is managed, Mark Pawlicki, the Director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability for Sierra Pacific Industries, states,
“Sierra Pacific manages its forest lands on a sustainable basis. In California, we operate under the state’s rigid Forest Practices Act and Forest Practice Rules which require large timberland owners to not harvest more than they grow. In both California and Washington timber harvests are conducted only after a review and approval by state regulatory agencies. In addition, all of SPI’s 1.9 million acres of forests are certified under the independent Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which ensures that we are managing our lands on a sustainable basis for wood products, wildlife habitat, water quality, and other environmental attributes.”
Voluntary third-party forest certification began in the 1990s in response to market concerns about forest management and illegal logging, primarily in developing countries. Other widely used forest certification programs in North America are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programmme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. Programs like these are all designed to assure consumers that the wood products they purchase have been produced sustainably. They are also assured that these forests are doing their part to offset fossil fuel carbon emissions.
Previous: The Carbon Cycle
Forest ecosystems play an important role in regulating the atmosphere’s chemical composition. Young trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, store the carbon within their trunks while they grow, and release oxygen, giving us clean air to breathe. In fact, trees absorb so much carbon that their chemical composition is about 50% carbon!
Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere depletes the ozone layer and impacts global temperatures. Young, fast growing trees pull carbon from the oxygen during photosynthesis, store the carbon within their trunks, branches, and leaves, and release oxygen back into the atmosphere. When trees, branches, and leaves burn in a forest fire, the carbon stored within them is released back into the atmosphere. However, the emissions are dramatically reduced when forest byproducts are burned in a biomass-fueled electric generation facility. When treated this way, emissions from burning are considered carbon neutral.
Sierra Pacific Industries and the Forest Foundation are pioneers in researching the carbon neutrality of sustainably managed forests. As they explain in their infographic,
“Young, healthy forests absorb carbon more rapidly than older, dense forests. Older forests release carbon at the same rate that they absorb it, neutralizing their effect on global warming. Sustainably managing forests is an effective way to store carbon. As a tree grows, it stores carbon in its trunk, branches, and roots. When trees are harvested, the carbon continues to be stored in wood products.”
Trees reach a point in their aging process when the emissions from the natural decaying process exceed the carbon they sequester. It’s like filling up a cup of water. There’s only so much empty space within a cup for it to hold water. Once it’s full, it overflows. Over-mature forests release excess carbon into the atmosphere similar to how water overflows from a cup when you try to pour too much into it.
However, this does not suggest that mature trees are bad and should be removed from forests. Nor does it suggest that young trees within a forest are the only plants that absorb carbon. Mature trees play an important role in preserving the forest’s ecosystem. Recent studies suggest that certain species of mature trees have ways of passing carbon underground to younger trees as a way to help them grow, adapt, and survive. Moreover, the biodiversity of forests supports carbon absorption from a variety of plant life. Forest ecosystems are incredibly diverse and they rely on that diversity to flourish, survive, and absorb carbon from the atmosphere.