Sunday, December 12, 2010

B.C. forests now a polluter, thanks to pine beetle

Not a good situation:
A government report says B.C. forests, often hailed as a giant sponge soaking up harmful air pollution, have become a net producer of carbon dioxide.

The report says the mountain pine beetle, which has killed millions of trees, and massive forest fires in recent years, have transformed the forests from a carbon sink into a polluter.

From the Star. The thing is, the beetles have become much more lethal to forests due to milder winters, so this is an example of a positive feedback with regards to climate change. Dealing with the problem may involve some hard choices, because the best way to mitigate the damage done might well be to harvest all those dead trees before they burn or rot (since either process will release an unacceptable amount of CO2). The idea of clearcutting huge areas is far from appealing from a biodiversity point of view, since a forest that is clearcut will not return to its natural state for a long time, if ever. However, it is far from normal for such a wide area of forest to die off like this; I suspect it won't return to its natural state regardless. In effect, the forest has already been clearcut; it's just that the trees haven't fallen down yet. Whatever replaces those trees, whether they're removed or not, will be different from what's there now, so maybe they should be harvested and made into furniture, building materials, or biochar.

Just to make things more difficult, this comes at a very awkward time, since with the crash in housing in the US and elsewhere (including here to some extent) the market for timber is way down, and isn't likely to recover in time to use all that material. Perhaps the BC government should be actively harvesting it and making it into biochar, returning much of that material to the soil so as to keep the nutrients in the ecosystem. After all, they just brought in a carbon tax; maybe they should be devoting that money to trying to actually mitigate climate change. But maybe that would make too much sense...

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