News Updates from Greenwire regarding forest carbon storage
Biden admin may boost carbon storage in national forests
In the latest update to proposed regulations, the Forest Service said it’s weighing a new measure to allow for underground carbon storage on land it manages.
GREENWIRE | The Forest Service is considering allowing greater use of the lands it oversees for sequestering and storing carbon, according to the Biden administration’s latest update to proposed regulations across federal agencies.
According to the regulatory agenda, the Forest Service may seek to allow “exclusive or perpetual” use of National Forest System lands for carbon capture, utilization and storage, a nod to the administration’s efforts to cast forest policies as a tool to mitigate climate change.
A spokesperson for the Forest Service, Wade Muehlhof, said the provision would remove an obstacle to storing carbon underground in national forests. Current regulations for special uses of National Forest System land don’t allow for perpetual use, he said, which would be necessary to allow carbon storage under Forest Service land.
While the proposal being considered wouldn’t authorize any carbon storage itself, it would open the way for such projects, he said. A notice of proposed rulemaking could come in August, according to the regulatory agenda.
There are various methods of carbon capture and storage, but generally, the practice means taking carbon dioxide generated by industry — such as fossil fuel-burning plants — and transporting it to areas where it can be injected into the ground.
National forests’ place in carbon sequestration — and how best to promote that quality — is a point of contention among interest groups, although mainly around cutting trees.
While the Biden administration has lauded national forests for their carbon-saving qualities, some environmental groups have been frustrated by officials’ unwillingness to target commercial logging as a culprit in reducing forests’ carbon stores. The administration launched an inventory of mature and old-growth forests, for instance, but hasn’t taken bold action to protect them, said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist for Wild Heritage, an environmental group in Berkeley, Calif.
DellaSala said he’s seen a “huge gap between pledges and actions” on protecting forests as a climate change policy, which he discussed during a remote appearance at the recent COP 27 climate conference.
On the other side are the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, representing companies that harvest timber in national forests, and others who point to wildfires and millions of dead or dying trees as carbon emitters.
“Failure to rapidly recover damaged trees and replant damaged stands forgoes the opportunity to store carbon in long-lasting wood products and to resume the process of sequestration by establishing new stands of trees,” the FFRC said on its website.
The possible proposal on carbon storage is among a long list of regulations either being revised or percolating throughout federal agencies. The list also notes the administration’s reinstatement of roadless-area restrictions on development in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, due for a final regulation in December 2022, although the rule has yet to be posted.
And the administration listed potential reviews of policies through the National Environmental Policy Act, which appears regularly in the agenda but without specifics.
Other regulations noted for the Department of Agriculture include changes to maximum line speeds in poultry processing plants. The Trump administration backed faster speeds in certain situations, which the Biden administration is revisiting. The administration didn’t place a date on that action.
Additional agriculture-related regulatory updates include a February target date for revisions to worker protection standards for pesticides. Those regulations have been the focus of an ongoing conversation at EPA, including how wide an “exclusion zone” should be required around where pesticides are sprayed to prevent exposure to people other than the handler (Greenwire, June 14, 2021).
The agenda also sets June as the target date for a final rule on annual biofuel volumes as part of the renewable fuel standard.
‘Mature’ forests storing carbon can actually be pretty young, study says
A report by forest preservation advocates adds to the debate on restricting logging in “mature” and old-growth forests.
| 01/18/2023 01:21 PM EST
Mature Atlantic white cedar trees in Brendan Byrne State Forest in Woodland Township, N.J., on Sept. 22, 2021.Wayne Parry/AP Photo
GREENWIRE | A newly published study by critics of logging on federal lands suggests forests as young as 35 years could be considered “mature” and deserving of greater protection by the federal government.
The report by a team of environmentalists said forests achieve mature status at ages from 35 to 75 years, and that relatively young forests accumulate carbon faster than older forests, although the older ones store more carbon.
The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, reflect on a question the Biden administration is tackling: What defines mature and old-growth forests, so that they can be protected as carbon sinks? The Forest Service faces an April deadline to shed light on that question in accordance with an executive order in 2022 from President Joe Biden (Greenwire, Aug. 17, 2022).
According to the study, which focused on 11 national forests across the country, the largest carbon sinks are in the East, where trees reach their maximum carbon storage at a younger age than those in the West. Forests in the West are also more prone to disturbances, such as wildfire, that affect their carbon storage, researchers said.
They also pinned blame on logging for undercutting forests’ carbon sequestration, saying harvesting trees does more damage than natural disturbances and that logged forests take decades to recover as carbon sinks.
Relying on the Forest Service’s detailed forest inventory and analysis, the researchers estimated that the 11 forests together stored 561 million metric tons of carbon, mostly in larger trees in stands that are open to logging. Only one of the forests — the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota and Wyoming — wasn’t a net absorber of carbon during the period studied, they said, on account of natural disturbances and logging.
“This work reinforces how essential mature forests on federal lands are to securing our climate future,” said one of the authors, Carolyn Ramirez of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s now up to the agencies to protect these carbon-storing champions from the chain saw with formal safeguards.”
Other authors included Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist for the Wild Heritage, and Richard Birdsey of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, which advocates for a “just, meaningful impact to address the climate crisis.”
The administration, however, hasn’t said that it sees scaling back logging as the way to protect national forests. In some ways, officials say the opposite is true: that wildfire-prone forests are in sore need of thinning and other work to reduce the threat, in turn generating wood that can be used in a variety of products.
And the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service have called for stepped-up management of fire-prone forests in the West. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was set to announce additional initiatives Thursday in Arizona, including how the department will manage Western forests with funds provided in recent congressional appropriations.
Defining “mature” and “old growth” is inexact and depends on forest type, forest policy groups say. State forestry departments offer somewhat varying definitions, according to the National Association of State Foresters.
Other studies, backed by timber interests, point to forest management as a way to maintain the carbon sinks.
In a study published in November in the open-access journal Forests, authors from the New England Forestry Foundation, the Nature Conservancy and others said New England forests aren’t meeting their carbon-storage potential — and could with a more intensive management approach.
“Improved Forest Management can lead to substantially increased carbon storage simultaneous with increased timber harvests, which allow for additional carbon storage in harvested wood products and reduced GHG emissions from substituting wood for more CO2-emission-intensive materials,” they said. In Maine, forests with greater timber volume showed faster growth, they said.
“The point is that forests offer us a very significant opportunity to address the existential threat we face from climate change,” they said, noting the need to cut emissions, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reflect more solar radiation back into space. “Forests can help on all these fronts, and unlike many other proposed schemes to mitigate climate change, we know how to manage forests.”