Open for Business—Community Forestry as a Boon for Oregon Logging Towns

I live in Oregon where forests weave together people and place, connecting urban and rural, past generations and present. Forests underpin the economic health of the state, and are at the center of long-standing conflicts between loggers and environmentalists.  Having grown weary of this conflict, and because I want solutions instead of the doom and gloom messages about the environment, I turned my attention to efforts to end forest-based conflicts across the globe.  What I found was, project by project, community-based forest management is being used to solve forest-based environmental and economic problems. Overall, the goals of community forestry are: community well-being, sustainable livelihoods, and forest stewardship. In a time when federal harvest subsidies are ending for Oregon counties this combination of strategies makes sense. I really see how these international models apply to Oregon.

Tree harvest has been the legacy of Oregon. The logs bring money but, as Oregonians are now finding, once the forest is depleted and the logging stops, people in forest-dependent communities find themselves trying to live in a clear-cut economy. On land left bare by logging, it is hard to survive.

If you live in Oregon, you’ve likely driven through this landscape. First, on descent from the mountain pass or just as you cross out of an urban center, you notice the bare patches where trees once stood. A few miles down the road, you slow in approach of a town. The mill is boarded up, the grocery, hardware store, and curio shops are closed. If you are lucky, there is a coffee stand. Maybe a restaurant. Maybe a quick-mart. Maybe a gas station. It’s pretty likely you’ll find a tavern or two. No matter the reason for the drive in Oregon, one is driving through forest land.

I roadtrip around the state often, to hike, photograph, or just plain get out of the city. And for a brief while, I lived on the dry side of the Cascades, in Central Oregon. Since most of my life was still in Portland, I made frequent trips, taking the Willamette Pass or heading over Mt. Hood.  On many of these high desert to city runs, I stopped at the Deschutes River Crossing Café in Warm Springs, at the bottom of the canyon, and literally at water’s edge. I stopped not for the food, but for the walls adorned with old photographs of the logging glory days. Of proud men standing seven or eight across the cut end of a fallen log, of trees so big they dwarf the machinery, of two loggers, each standing on an end of a misery saw, the middle of it stuck in the stump, of log floatillas on the river, of mills in full operation. Pictures of days gone by. Two scenes, one of boon and one of bust. This is the imagery of forests and the forest economy in Oregon.

About half of Oregon is forested. It appears to be a lush, green state, punctuated by high desert and coastlines. Oregonians take pride in big trees, clean rivers, clear skies, and robust salmon runs.  Even so, Oregon forests are suffering the effects of a century or more of over-logging, wildfires, and other forms of degradation.  Most of the old-growth forests are gone. These realities heralded the era of regulatory action. Laws were passed to protect wildlife, and those laws limited logging. The first reductions in harvest came in 1993 with the Northwest Forest Plan. Since then, timber harvests on public lands have decreased 82 per cent. Outcry arose in the populace—loggers versus environmentalists became part of Oregon’s common conversation. Dealing with decreased logging in the face of regulation has shaped the last 20 years of forest history here, to the extent that the status quo of this conflict at times seems irrevocable. Encouragingly, community forestry includes a framework for mitigation of such conflicts.

Community Forestry is a blend of science, policy, and culture, an action plan by which trees can rescue people and landscapes. When this model is followed, the result is that more, if not most, of the money gained from harvesting trees stays in the community near the forest. This eliminates the one-time payment, clear-cut and go model and replaces it with the long view, with sustainable harvests and ongoing revenue streams.

Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro in Mexico is a town comparable in population to the rural Oregon towns of Athena, Banks, Bay City, Canyonville, or Heppner. The community there manages an 800-acre forest. Over nine years, local employment tripled. The result: seventy-nine per cent of working adult males hold permanent jobs in forestry. The timber goods industry improved from a sawmill, carpentry and workshop to include a chip mill, furniture production, and a resin processing plant. A community store and tortilleria, a library, a bus system, farm supplies store, technical advise station, and a recreational facility were built.  Production of seedlings increased from 140,000 to 3,200,000, while protected forest area increased from 155 to 459 acres.

Oaxaca, Mexico, provides another inspiring example. An important outcome of community-based forestry management is that logs and lumber are not the only money-makers. There, forest managers use profits for economic diversification into transportation, agriculture, mushroom-hunting, and eco-tourism.  These other revenue streams decrease pressure to over-log forests. In this rural, poor area, the economic diversification has increased incomes. Better wages have improved nutrition. The forestry union has invested in sanitation and healthcare, which has decreased disease. Previously, this forest was harvested by concessionaires. Now that the community manages it, they run their own sawmills and logging businesses, and a technically skilled workforce is developing.

Baghmara Community Forest in Nepal, a former tiger habitat now denuded of trees, uses money from jungle safaris and elephant rides to improve the local forest.   The government gave over control of this land to the community to start a tree plantation. The forest there has grown from 32 to 4,000 hectares. In turn, residents now have fodder for livestock and fuelwood for cooking, and are able to harvest small amounts of timber for sale.

The Greenbelt Movement in Kenya also began because of scarcity. Dr. Wangari Maathai, the founder, began planting trees in response to government corruption and over-cutting of trees, and as a way to create income, clean water, and fuel for people in her village. She created a work force of women and a funding program. The women villagers then established seedling nurseries. For this work, Dr. Wangari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Both of the Baghmara Community Forest and The Greenbelt Movement provide community well-being and basic needs for daily living. Both communities are making money by rejuvenating clear-cuts.

On Pemba, an island of Tanzania, the main industries are fishing and clove farming. Locals have recently teamed up with Community Forests International. Fourteen Pemban communities are planting trees to grow forests in effort to create new economic opportunities, such as harvest of fruits, nuts, and timber. Pembans are attempting to avoid exhausting their fishery, to improve the natural environment of their island, and to develop rural economies.

The Harrop-Proctor Co-op in British Columbia exemplifies the idea that, even though community forestry takes on a unique configuration in each location, common principles exist, one of which is that economic well-being and environmental stability can co-exist, and should. In 1999 they secured a public-lands tenure contract to manage the forests themselves. The Canadian tenure program shifts responsibility for forest management from government agency to the local community. The community is then responsible for the forest, and is allowed to keep any profits. At Harrop-Proctor, a fully functioning forest is left after harvest. This protects the watershed, ensures that there will be harvestable timber for a long time, and provides jobs. Much community involvement and effort went into building this enterprise; loggers and environmentalists alike pitched in. The Co-op manages the venture; each resident can purchase a lifetime share and gain voting rights, one share per person, one vote per share.  Harrop-Proctor Forest Products does the work, harvesting, producing lumber, paneling, flooring, decking, siding, timbers, fencing, and the T-house—built from trees that are specifically selected for each house.

Burns Lake Community Forest, Ltd., was founded on the belief that rural communities should have a say in how the public forests they live in are managed. Burns Lake, also in British Columbia, shares similarities with many Oregon logging towns: a majority of citizens are employed in the forest industry; there are interconnected but diverse groups involved—tribal, local, state, and federal governments. At the outset of the project there was frustration over outside control of forests, either corporate or governmental; a mistrust of city-slickers who call all the shots without understanding local reality; and an us v. them mentality. In the early planning days, community involvement was greater. Now, a community of 2,700 persons benefits from the efforts of forestry experts who demonstrate that forests can and should be used as a natural resource to meet economic needs, and that those needs can be met while practicing forest stewardship. Burns Lake Community Forest operates as a tenure contract; in fact, it was the original pilot project for the tenure program. Just over 92, 000 hectares of mostly lodge pole pine are managed for sustainable yield timber. Forestry there is more than growing and harvesting of trees; it is community-building. In the first ten years of operation, donations to community programs ran to $3 million. Economic activity—dollars flowing into the community—totalled $103 million. The organization runs a log home building course, logging equipment trainings, and non-timber forest products workshops. Through its community tree program, 10 million seedlings have been planted. What makes this project so successful is a thoughtful system of focus, stemming from clear objectives. Loggers wanted less dependency on outsider big business and more control over management of their forests, and the community wanted their forestry project to operate as a self-sufficient business with jobs and profits.

These forestry management practices are distinctly different than the Business As Usual concession model, in which an outside company leases the land from the forest dwelling community, plants and manages a stand of trees, makes the harvest. In BAU, the forest community serves as a low-paid, expendable workforce, and the profits go to the concession-holder. This system creates the type of dependency on outside economic influence, rather than economic sustainability through forest management.

Instituting community forestry is a process. This message comes through every project story. One of the strongest suggestions given is that early work should focus on social education to help people understand community forestry. With that, it takes citizen participation—civic duty, if you will, and supportive government policy. Expertise in forestry and business management is essential.

I think this is the direction for Oregon; in fact, some such projects are starting to emerge.

The Oregon Coast Community Forestry Association is a fairly new organization, seeking to acquire, restore, protect and manage forest lands in Lincoln County. They are currently looking for 1, 000 to 10, 000 acres to purchase, and are in negotiation for Poole’s Slough.

Oregon Solutions at Portland State University works closely with collaborative groups, promoting a new style of community governance based on collaboration, integration of services, and how to manage sustainability.

Oregon State University’s extension services offers a Master Woodland Manager program, much like the familiar Master Gardeners. Once trained, Woodland Managers volunteer in their communities, helping neighbors with forestry planning. They also take on leadership roles in local government and give public presentations on forestry. This type of community interaction is what started The Greenbelt Movement in Kenya and tree-planting on Pemba.

These are forward-thinking, smart programs for Oregon, and are parallel to community forestry abroad. This work serves to dissolve the conflict of loggers v. the environment in favor of a new vision of healthy and productive Oregon forests and timber towns.

The Bureau of Land Management has a Stewardship Contract program awards 10-year contracts to logging firms and similar organizations for work that improves, maintains, or restores forest or rangeland, water quality, habitat, or reduces fire fuels.

To get a better sense of how these contracts work, I attended a meeting of the Clackamas Stewardship Partners. Forest rangers, sawmill owners, loggers, and environmental groups comprise CPS, and work employment through watershed stewardship. Between 2006-2010, they managed $6 million in projects and created $825,000 in timber sales, through the use of BLM Stewardship Contracts. Getting a contract works like getting a traditional bid. The forest agency, in this case Mt. Hood National Forest, offers up a lot of trees for harvest and sale, and timber contractors bid their price to do the work. In the traditional system, it’s straight dollars. In the stewardship contract system, the bid includes restoration work, so the purchase price is a mix of services and money. One might look something like, for that stand of trees, the contractor will build two river culverts and pay $250,000. Profit comes for the contractor when he sells the end product, either as raw logs or value-added lumber or wood products.

Other examples of groups using stewardship contracting are The Siuslaw Basin Partnership that operates a contract for streamside tree planting. The Central Oregon Partnership for Wildfire Risk Reduction harvests small diameter wood and sells it for biofuels production. They also work to develop new markets for biomass, and to develop long-term community jobs. Southern Oregon Small Diameter Collaborative conducts forest thinning to provide jobs, reduce fire risk, and improve forest health.

The Lakeview Stewardship Group stands as an excellent example of a collaborative operation. Members of the collaborative include The Collins Companies—a logging and sawmill operation, Fremont-Winema National Forest, Lake County Chamber of Commerce, Oregon Wild, the local high school, and others. The Group works with a broader reach than operation of stewardship contracts alone. This collaborative actually began in 1950 as a timber-harvest and mill operation on federal land. After the imposition of harvest limits, the Group reshaped itself in 1998, to become what it is today. Not only does the group work on forest restoration and improved watershed quality, it operates a stewardship contract for small diameter removal and milling. This saw mill also processes logs from private woodlots. The Group provides community workforce training, and has taken a lead, alongside the US Forest Service and BLM in biomass and biofuel research. Lakeview is also part of The Nature Conservancy’s Northwest Fire Learning Network. Lakeview Stewardship Group’s story can serve as an emblem for Oregon. First an aggressive logging operation halted by regulatory measures, now a leadership group in advancing new forestry management in hand with community vitality.

Finding additional ways to profit from forests is a concept that will serve Oregon well. Several groups are marketing salvage wood for biomass energy production.  Other suggestions include finding use for small trees, once considered junk, that are cut to thin growing forest stands. Some collaborative groups are researching new markets for products made from these trees. Governor Kitzhaber, in his November speech to the Oregon Board of Forestry, raised concern over the fact that, currently, most of Oregon’s raw logs are exported to Asia. He adamantly supports finding new uses locally, which will create jobs and profits for Oregon. I envision opportunity for micro-niche economies arising in artisan craftsmanship. Canoe paddles, hunting bows, small watercraft, bowls and even furniture—the types of goods local Native Americans made. As well, forests support the growth of other marketable products, such as mushrooms, huckleberries, and other wild edibles and medicinal herbs.

Oregon can make good use of the community forestry model.  Policy support and direction exists. Our current Governor is sincerely invested in forestry management, as he clearly stated in his recent address of the state Board of Forestry. Our previous Governor, Ted Kulongoski, also worked with the OBF to develop a plan for use of federal forest lands, with the goal of restoration from past over-harvesting and sustainable future management for economic, social, and ecological values. There is rich economic opportunity in restoration work here. Both governors spoke to the need to support emerging collaborative groups. Both speak to the need to move beyond conflicts and to develop a shared vision and community engagement in the process for managing Oregon’s greatest natural resource.

As is demonstrated time and again in community forestry stories, localized control makes the biggest difference. Extending the decision making to the community level key as a rural logging towns work to solve their clear-cut problems. Then, these emerging opportunities can be seized. The idea is simple—the community puts the production value of the forest to work for the community, while holding to what Oregonians value in our forests, in terms of both conservation and economics.

I grew up in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. They are iconic imagery in my mind. It’s fall now, chantrelle mushroom season. For just a moment, I’m carried back to mushroom hunting with my dad and his life-long friend and colleague, both directors at Washington Game Department. Every trip they’d argue, both grinning, about where the best mushrooms were—in this stand of second growth or just down the logging road a bit. There’s nothing better in September than chantrelles cooked in butter with a little sage. I would never buy imported chantrelles. I’ve come to think twice before making all my purchases. I now drive a diesel car and fuel it with Oregon-made biofuel. As I add furniture to my home, I’m committed to purchasing local goods rather than something flimsy from Ikea or Target. In the big picture, the shared vision, of a healthy forest economy, we are all part of the community of Oregon. Each of us consumes wood products, paper, and other goods that come from the forest. Let’s make local habit.

I feel confident that, with the hard work that built such as successful logging industry here in the past centuries, this state will pull through to a new era of healthy forests and a strong forest-based economy, as she has always done—under the power of her own wings. 1  Then, as I drive down that mountain pass and into that small town, I will see Open signs, proudly displayed.

 

 

1 Oregon State Motto

Friends of Trees: Portland’s Urban Foresters

It’s tree-planting season and the Friends of Trees Crew Leader Training begins, here in this warm church basement that is abuzz with caffeinated chatter. I’m surrounded by people in rubber boots and every variety of raincoat, all of us drinking coffee out of small church cups, eating donated baked goods. On tarps set out around the room are two displays. One has a leafy tree in a black plastic pot, its boughs bound by twine, a pair of two-by- two stakes, a shovel, rake, and a post pounder, a hard-hat. The other display holds all the same goods, except the tree is barren. It’s cold and drizzly outside. Fall is turning to winter soon. These are shiny people, all here in good cheer and with a simple purpose—to plant trees.

Friends of Trees, here in Portland, Oregon, is an urban forestry program designed to increase tree canopy cover over the city.  With these shovel-in-hand efforts weekend after weekend, the city becomes more lush and leafy. In fact, Portland has the only increasing urban canopy in the nation, a statistic that is colloquially known as the “Friends of Trees effect.”  As awareness of Portland’s model grows, city dwellers elsewhere are beginning to realize the importance of the interface between developed areas and natural spaces. According to the US Forest Service, “in an effort to maintain and improve the public benefits of trees, more and more cities—Atlanta, Chicago, Baltimore, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Washington DC—are setting tree canopy goals.” Trees are no longer simply aesthetic adornment to homes, but are considered part of the sustainable, green infrastructure of urban development.

A couple of hours are spent sitting inside, learning the procedures to teach our volunteers. Then the volunteer planters arrive, and everyone shares a potluck lunch of warm soups, macaroni and cheese, cookies, and lemonade. Friends of Trees works build community while planting trees—by bringing neighbors together.

As the meal ends, people are divided into small work groups and tromp outside.  Each crew has a set of houses in the neighborhood to visit. At each site, trees have been delivered and the holes for them have been dug. On my crew, I have someone from Environmental Services, a guy who just moved from Las Vegas and is studying horticulture, two young college students, four Hispanic teenagers from a high-school service club, and the homeowner of one of our planting sites. Three hours later, eight new trees are in the ground. Now dirt-covered and exuberant, we laugh and chat our way back to the church, wash the tools and call it a day.

Urban forestry is a blend of social and scientific necessity. With 80 per cent of the US population living in cities, use of city trees as natural resources takes on a much broader context. It includes safe-guarding against tree loss during development; treating trees as part of the infrastructure of the city; putting in place codes and policies to maximize tree preservation; expansion of private and public urban forestry programs; removal of regulatory obstacles; reduction of the heat island effect caused by development. This, for sure, is a new way of thinking. It’s a fresh approach, and aligned with the science of climate change as well as the ideas behind livable cities.

Portland’s Grey to Green Initiative works in partnership with Friends of Trees. Its concern is the use of the city’s trees in the control of storm-water run-off. The canopy of leaves of the 50-foot-tall buckeye in my yard catches rain as it falls; a mature tree can capture up to 700 gallons a year. The paperbark maple planted on Saturday, not yet as leafy and large as the buckeye, holds onto water that falls to the ground and uses it for root growth. A tree’s root system holds soil in place. In turn, some of the captured water is stored in the soil to replenish the ground water supply.  As well, much of run-off water in cities contains chemicals like car oil and other debris—that gunk you see in the street drains during a downpour. When that water moves through the soil, some of the debris is filtered out.  With water held in tree fiber and the soil, and with the soil stabilized and working to filter out toxins, significantly less run-off makes it into the city sewage system, to the nearby Willamette River, and out to the sea. A healthy urban forest, one composed of the newest to the oldest trees, slows run-off by about 35 per cent; in Portland, this amounts to 500 million gallons of storm water a year. Trees also allow the city to spend less building and maintaining sewage systems. Portland saves $58 million dollars—or 40 per cent of traditional sewage repair costs—per year because of its street trees. Deciduous, or leafy, trees aren’t doing all the work; evergreens actually help even more with storm water run-off, because they have needles year-round. By providing ecosystem services such as storm-water control, urban trees can be used as a cost-saving component of a city’s infrastructure.

Trees breathe carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gases, most of which—in the city—comes from vehicles. Other sources of the carbon that is emitted into the air by industry, fires, fuel burning, agriculture, and all kinds of human activity. As trees take up CO2 and other pollutants they filter the air—at the rate of 25 million pounds a year here. It takes about 20 trees to offset driving one car for 60 miles each day. The larger and healthier the tree, the more filtration. Think of the old neighborhoods full of maples, cherries, and tulip trees, working hard to help us breathe. And interestingly, researchers have discovered that urban trees begin to store carbon at an earlier age than do rural or wilderness trees.

The economic aspect of air filtration, mainly that of carbon storage, comes in the form of carbon trading. More and more, industries that send the pollutants into the air pay tree growers for the air-cleaning capacity of their trees. Cities are now able to compete in this market. In fact, buyers often pay more for credits that are attached to sustainable projects with local, social benefits, such as urban tree-planting programs.

A full tree canopy provides shade and lowers the overall temperature of a place. In the city, this is important socially—ever step into the shade of a tree on a hot day? Such cooling also works to against global warming. Cooling is particularly important in cities where heat islands occur. The lack of trees and other vegetation combined with pavement, buildings, and other human-made, sealed structures disallow the flow of energy and air. Think of walking on a sidewalk at sundown on a hot day, and passing by a brick or cement building. You can feel the heat wave bounce of its walls. That’s the heat island effect working. A 2006 study of Portland’s July temperatures reported a 20-degree difference between the well-treed Northwest quadrant and an area designated as an urban heat island.

Wildlife fare better in the city when trees provide food and shelter for them. Salmon swim our creeks on the way to the big rivers—Willamette and Columbia and coyotes roam through town. If you live here you are no stranger to the crows, squirrels, and raccoons. The tree canopy keeps river water clean for the fish and helps to moderate water temperature so they can flourish. Fruit and nuts feed many of the 200 species of birds call this city home. Squirrels live in the leafy high-rises. Travel corridors provide safety for larger creatures hoping to sneak from tree patch to tree patch for cover. These habitat resources lower incidents of wildlife encroaching on human habitat; in turn, the city is safer for all species—humans and those with scales, fur and feathers.

All of these ecosystems services add up to a boon for the city. Homeowners also cash in on street tree value. When you drive down a street under its lush canopy with boughs that reach across to make an arc overhead, know that the shade these trees provide lowers energy use, and increase property value by $14,500 per street tree. Storm-water Management credit and Clean River Rewards credit are available on your sewer bill for efforts made on the home front. Crime is lower where there are trees. People walk more in tree-dense areas. Overall livability increases when a city’s canopy is dense.

Forests in the United States are being converted for non-forest uses such as urban development and agriculture at the rate of 1 million acres a year, yet humans need trees to live. City trees provide opportunities. They provide another way for trees to work for us by shaping new economies and new types of forestry jobs. City trees significantly lower the costs of running a city. A tree-planting program costs about $5 per capita. What enthuses me about urban forestry and tree-planting programs is the opportunity for individual empowerment. In all the talk about climate change and environmental degradation it is easy to feel helpless. I have been studying conservation biology for the last two years, during which I’ve come to believe that trees can assuage many of the world’s problems. I volunteer for Friends of Trees and I am hooked.

Saturday morning, and it’s 7 AM. It’s early, but I can’t get my rubber boots on fast enough and get out the door—rain, sun, or freezing cold. I can’t stop global warming, but I can plant a tree.

Planting for Global Cooling

It’s Autumn. It’s a time of change for trees. The growing season is coming to a close, though in walking around one can see some species are just now coming to fruit or seed. Leaves are beginning to turn and fall.  As I watch colors move from green to gold and orange, I’m reminded of what trees do, how they function as part of the system of nature. Humans breathe out, and trees breathe in. It is the most basic symbiotic relationship. Trees breathe carbon dioxide and store—or sequester—it, keeping it out of the atmosphere. Just today, I read another report of someone once again debating, disputing, and attempting to debunk the science of proof of global warming. I’ve moved on; I’m not going to waste my time debating the reality. Instead, I’m going to look at what works to solve the problem. As I reflect on this changing season, I see a solution to climate change—reforestation, planting trees.

The relationship between trees and global warming is much like shade and open areas on a hot day. When the sun is blazing, people and animals become too hot, and seek shade under a tree to cool. Same thing for the planet. The sun is beating down, and trees help with cool-down. The grass under the tree’s canopy remains green; the sidewalks of tree-lined streets are cool, and the homes there stay comfortable even in mid-afternoon. Stream-side trees keep water cool enough for fish to live. City trees invert the heat island effect—that sensation of bricks and concrete giving of warmth at the end of a hot day. While trees are working to cool things down, they are also taking up carbon dioxide emitted by all the driving and industry of humans going about the day.

As trees grow, they accumulate carbon; yet, as they are logged, burn, or die and decompose, they release carbon back into the atmosphere. This process is called the carbon cycle. Carbon sequestration occurs when the carbon taken in is stored in the wood, leaves, roots, and soil of the tree. It is this capacity for storage of carbon that has become the important focus of carbon reduction forestry programs.  Carbon sequestration also helps forests themselves. Global warming creates drier summers that lower the soil moisture available to trees, makes forests more habitable to pests, and increase susceptibility to wildfires.

As it stands now, the earth’s overall ecosystem is taxed by the amount of carbon emitted from driving and industry, using wood for fire fuel, and clearing land for development and agriculture. Without the amount of human-created carbon emitted into the atmosphere, the cycle maintains balance in the amount of carbon released, used, and stored.  Climate change is attributed in part to an imbalance in the carbon cycle. Oregon’s emissions measure about 68 million metric tons per year. This averages to about 17 metric tons per capita, in contrast with the world average of about four metric tons. Changes in forestry management can help create carbon sequestration necessary to counteract climate change caused by excessive carbon emissions. For example, mature trees in forested areas of the United States sequester about 56 per cent of all US carbon emissions.

Oregon State University scientist David Turner and his team have just published a study of carbon sequestration in Oregon’s forests. The study covers the area affected by the Northwest Forest Plan (1993), legislation that requires a decrease in timber harvest to protect habitat, mainly for the Spotted Owl. The NWFP applies to western Washington, Oregon, and California, and includes both public and private lands. Turner’s team remarked, “An unintended consequence of the NWFP has been a change in the regional forest carbon balance [which is] so important in the context of climate change.” The team found that private forests are now close to carbon-neutral, storing about as much carbon as they release into the atmosphere.  The big bonus is that public forests in the study area have become a carbon sink, or storage area, keeping more carbon than they output. Given that 84 per cent of Oregon’s greenhouse gases are CO2, the ability to store carbon quickly and efficiently is an important function of the state’s forests.

The science of carbon sequestration is now being put to economic use. Newly developed programs pay to leave forests standing, and to create forests on degraded land. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), was launched by the United Nations in 2008.  REDD programs are a blend of forest stewardship and economic development, promoting sustainable forestry by paying for forestry management and harvesting rates that maintain carbon sequestration. Cambodia’s Oddar Meanchey Province is the site of one of the world’s first REDD projects. It spans 58 villages, is run by a collaborative team of government and non-government agencies with guidance from Terra Global Capital, a carbon development company. The goal of the program is to sequester 7.1 million tons of CO2 over the next 30 years, thus providing a 30-year revenue stream to the participating villages. To do this, project managers must slow the historic practices of rapid deforestation and degradation and replace them with practices of conservation, restoration, and sustainable harvesting.

Because extraction of forest resources anywhere is often done for profit by an outside source, efforts to stop deforestation and degradation are often met with opposition—often political, and with great economic power. Without programs like REDD, this opposition is too much for small forest-dependent communities anywhere. As Dr. Mark Poffenberger of Community Forestry International states, “REDD creates a potential management alliance between an important national government agency and hundreds of forest communities.”  With such an alliance in place, forest-dependent communities such as those surrounding Oddar Meanchey can profit from non-timber resources of the forests in which they live and continue to use the forest for monetary gain.

Developing nations are not the only forest-based places making changes in forestry practice with a focus on carbon sequestration. The comprehensive Oregon Greenhouse Plan (2004) includes “biological sequestration measures” in land use planning and economic development decisions. Here in Oregon, we pride ourselves on clean rivers, big trees, and healthy salmon runs, all of which come from healthy forests. Even so, Oregon forests are suffering the effects of over-logging, wildfires, and are generally degraded, just like anywhere else. Programs like REDD but smaller in scale are working the way into Oregon’s forestry management. Several governmental agency programs exist, each with a payment structure for planting trees and restoration work. These alliances are creating a system of ecological and economic renewal in areas of the state hard-hit by the limits on logging through the NWFP.

The Bureau of Land Management Stewardship Program issues 10-year contracts, paying for forest restoration work such as thinning and blowdown removal. Many of these contracts work to decrease fire fuels. The Oregon Forest Resource Trust works to establish forests where there are none through afforestation and reforestation.  Oregon’s Tree Farm Plan is a cost-share program that helps private owners develop and fund long-range sustainability plans for their forests. The Conservation Reserves Program pays agricultural landowners to improve stream riparian areas by planting trees. Oregon forestry leaders are continuously looking for ways to blend forest health, timber harvest, and the economic growth of the state.

These programs, internationally and locally, all operate under the scientific findings that chopping down forests contributes greatly to climate change, by emitting stored carbon, and by destroying the carbon sequestration process. All efforts to leave existing trees standing and to grow more trees—afforestation, reforestation, sustainable harvesting—significantly decrease carbon release into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. All of these actions can create economic benefits to the communities in and surrounding the forests, thus alleviating rural poverty and serving as a vehicle for social and economic development.

As Dr. Turner’s study suggests, the potential for carbon sequestration is a money-making one. Carbon trading, also known as carbon-offsets marketing, is a system in which carbon producers—polluters—pay forest growers for the service of carbon sequestration. The basic idea is that the sequestration provided creates balance with the pollution. On the scale of REDD, industrial nations pay developing nations. This system is increasingly becoming a revenue stream.

In Oregon, The Climate Trust is the only offsets trading firm. It operates as a non-profit to managing partnerships and projects set up to create carbon offset trades. Forest projects must sequester 50, 000 tons or more over the lifetime of the project—this equates to about 150 acres of forested land. Smaller projects or woodlots can participate in carbon markets. TCT works with Woodlands Carbon to aggregate a group of small projects into a large enough package to trade. To date, the Deschutes River Riparian project is the only Oregon project with The Climate Trust. Encouragingly, the Trust has $6 million available for funding projects in the state. Publically owned forests, such as those studied by Dr. Turner and his team, currently cannot participate in the carbon market. Policy-makers are currently debating an offsets program for federal forestlands, and hopefully it will change soon. I asked Peter Weisberg of The Climate Trust about barriers to and the future of carbon offsets. He stated that prices are still low—about $10 per credit is being paid, and one credit represents one ton of carbon stored. Weisberg looks to increase in price as a way to get more projects going.

People and forests are symbiotic in nature. As the moniker of OSU’s Forestry Department webpage reads, “Humans are a forest-dependent species.” This dependency unites us—all of us—around the world, and creates universal hope for global cooling.

As I look out my window, I see foliage that I know will be gone in a month, leaving my view barren and cold. Autumn, and then it’s tree-planting season—November through spring.