We have long known that forests are an integral part of the solution to climate change. In the Pacific Northwest, our forests are globally unique in their capacity to capture and store immense amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.
Climate-smart forestry requires a long-term view of forest management and an appreciation for the array of economic, social, and ecological benefits forests offer to communities. Depending on the ecological composition of a forest, climate-smart forestry practices may differ on the ground, but the results are the same: natural ecosystem processes at work. Active management should mimic natural disturbances, maintaining the function and integrity of the forest ecosystem.
To move the needle toward wide-scale adoption of climate-smart forest management, we need new policies that support the wide array of goods and services forests provide and new market connections that link forest to frame, bridging the gap between builders and the raw materials from forests managed with our rapidly changing climate in mind.
Making the case: FSC as a model
The guidelines for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and those that regulate many of our federal forests in the Pacific Northwest are among the best proxies for climate-smart forestry. FSC is a globally-recognized voluntary certification program whose guiding principles and permitted forest practices offer the best example for what climate-smart forestry can look like on the ground in private forests. Some of the specific practices that help position FSC as climate-smart forestry include:
Encouraging longer rotations (growing trees for longer periods of time between harvests) and limiting average harvest sizes to no more than 40 acres, to ensure a diversity of sizes, ages, and native species that make up multiple forest conditions and habitats.
Protecting water quality and aquatic habitats with larger buffers around streams and wetlands than state forest practice rules.
Tightly restricting the use of chemicals and prohibiting particularly hazardous chemicals.
Safeguarding High Conservation Value forests, recognizing unique old-growth forest characteristics and protecting and restoring habitat for threatened and endangered species. (Learn more about High Conservation Values.)
Honoring and restoring the rights of indigenous people to access and shape the future of the places — including forests — they rely on and call home.
Ecotrust and partners at the University of Washington recently published a study that compared forest management outcomes in Douglas fir forests expected under “business as usual” (compliance with Oregon and Washington forest practice laws) to climate-smart management scenarios based on two key FSC certification requirements. We quantified the outcomes of these different forest management approaches on 64 properties spanning western Oregon and Washington for a 100-year period. And here’s what we found: FSC scenarios always stored more carbon than business-as-usual approaches.
We would produce more timber AND store more carbon if we allowed trees to grow for a longer time before harvesting them.
FSC-certified wood carries an embedded carbon benefit. In addition to the benefits it provides to drinking water, native fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational and employment opportunities in rural areas.
“By choosing climate-smart wood, builders can help scale the market for responsibly-produced forest products — increasing carbon sequestration, enhancing water quality, and ensuring a robust economy for rural communities at the same time.”
Our study also found that changes to the market must occur for climate-smart forestry to grow. Leaving more trees standing to protect streams, provide better wildlife habitat, cultural resources, or to store more carbon comes at a financial cost to forest owners — conservation isn’t free. We found that FSC management scenarios would be as financially attractive as “business as usual” if landowners were rewarded $37 per extra ton of CO2 they stored or if they received a 10 percent price premium on timber they sold, either through carbon policy incentives or premiums for certified wood.
Finally, we must remember what this study does not capture: that forests are worth much more than timber, carbon, or cash. If we want clean drinking water, cool streams to sustain salmon and other aquatic resources, habitat for wildlife, beautiful places to connect with nature, or more jobs in our mills and in the woods, it’s time for us to get to work expanding the adoption of climate-smart forestry.
Connecting forest to frame
About 28 percent of the nation’s softwood lumber production comes from Washington and Oregon’s forestlands. These lands represent only eight percent of the total U.S. forestland, but contribute nearly double that proportion (15 percent) to the national carbon stock in live trees. And peer-reviewed science shows that our region’s forests are currently sequestering and storing about a third of their potential on private lands. The carbon benefits of building with wood — a renewable resource (whereas, the sand and lime that make up concrete are finite resources) and a contributor to drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — are well known. Yet not all wood stacks up.
By choosing climate-smart wood, builders can help scale the market for responsibly-produced forest products, while helping increase carbon sequestration, improve the resiliency of our forest ecosystems, enhance water quality and quantity, and ensure a robust wood economy for rural communities at the same time.
Our Director of Forests and Ecosystem Services, Lizzie Marsters, shares what she's focused on as we support the growth of climate-smart forestry throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Tradeoffs in Timber, Carbon, and Cash Flow under Alternative Management Systems for Douglas-Fir in the Pacific Northwest
Read the 2018 peer-reviewed study in which Ecotrust and University of Washington researchers analyze the carbon storage potential of two key components of FSC management.
Building with Climate-Smart Wood
Learn more about the effects of climate-smart forestry, and what you can do to help build a market for climate-smart wood.
Explore our tool, built to help landowners meet the challenges of managing forestlands for their many benefits — from wildlife habitat, carbon storage, clean water and other ecosystem services, to timber products