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Carbon emissions from B.C. forests ‘alarming’: environmental group

An environmental group is calling on the provincial government to take action as B.C.’s forests continue to emit more carbon dioxide than they absorb.
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Fir and cedar trees in the Vancouver Island forest known as Avatar Grove.

An environmental group is calling on the provincial government to take action as B.C.’s forests continue to emit more carbon dioxide than they absorb.

“We’re concerned this has become a long-term problem,” said Jens Wieting from environmental advocacy group the Sierra Club.

Ideally, a healthy forest will absorb more carbon in the soil and trees than it releases, for example through burning, decomposition and logging. This is sometimes called a carbon sink.

Due to a number of factors — including pine beetle infestation, slash fires, wood waste and clear cutting — B.C.’s forests have not done this since 2003, and are emitting carbon dioxide at alarming rates, the group said.

According to the province’s own data, net carbon dioxide emissions from forestland in 2011 were 34.9 million tonnes, equivalent to more than half of B.C.’s total official emissions for that year. However, only carbon emissions from deforestation and afforestation (new or replanted forests) are included in the province’s official total. As a result, forestland emissions from other sources are “not part of any policy discussions,” Wieting said.

“There’s a lack of policy, planning and awareness all around. Not to mention the lag time for this data and need for more research.”

Dave Crebo, a spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, said forestland emissions are not included in official totals because “emission estimates for this sector have a high degree of uncertainty relative to estimates in other sectors.”

Forestland emissions are also not included in national inventories.

However, an agreement recently reached under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on a new forest carbon accounting framework could change that.

“Canada and B.C. are reviewing this new reference-level based framework,” Crebo said.

Wieting has said the province has gotten away with poor forest management for the past 100 years, in part because of its temperate climate. But climate change could alter that.

Carbon dioxide is the most significant driver of global climate change. The greenhouse gas traps heat from the atmosphere and radiates it back toward Earth.

“We already have climate impacts,” Wieting said, citing the pine beetle infestation, landslides and droughts, which increase the risk of forest fires. “So we have to double our efforts to maintain healthy forests for clean water, for clean air and for our children. This requires government action.”

Wieting is calling on the province to release detailed data about forestland emissions in a timely fashion (the most recent numbers are from 2011). He also wants to see a forest-management plan that reduces carbon emissions, clear-cut logging and wood waste.

“We can do something about this,” he said. “It’s not too late.”