The Forestry sector can help address climate change:
Sustainably managed working forests and the forestry sector as a whole is an important part of the state’s response to climate change, according to Washington state lawmakers, state agencies and 48 nationally recognized environmental and business leaders.
During the 2020 legislative session, the Washington State Legislature passed and Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law legislation that recognizes the essential role Washington state’s forestry industry and working forests play in removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. HB 2528 and SB 6355 formally established a state policy recognizing and supporting the complete forest products sector – which includes landowners, mills, bioenergy, pulp and paper, harvesting and transportation infrastructure necessary to continue sustainable forestry, production, and transportation of the state’s wood products – as a climate solution.
In Summer 2020, the Washington State Department of Commerce and its Green Economy Work Group published a report identifying forestry and building materials as one of the key sectors of the green economy that could simultaneously boost the economy and address environmental challenges associated with climate change.
Specific to the forestry sector, the report noted that “Washington state has more than 22 million acres of forestland that provide important resources for economic development in rural economies, recreational opportunities, as well as environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration.”
And in Fall 2020, leaders from 48 environmental, conservation and forestry organizations announced that private working forests and forest products are an important part of mitigating climate change. Among the signatories are Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) members Green Diamond Resource Company, Hancock Natural Resource Group, Port Blakely, Rayonier, Sierra Pacific Industries and Weyerhaeuser Company. Environmental and conservation groups including American Forests, Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy also signed onto the letter.
Including the forestry sector in the state’s and national climate change discussion makes sense since sustainably managed forests and building materials made of wood help improve air quality by absorbing greenhouse gases. Trees naturally sequester carbon from the atmosphere as they grow. The wood products continue to lock that carbon throughout the life of the timber product. Washington working forests and the forestry industry are among the most effective and natural ways to sequester carbon (12% of the state’s carbon emissions).
The shortage of home-use consumer paper products during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic brought to bear the importance of maintaining the forest products supply chain. As news outlets reported on grocery stores struggling to keep in stock toilet paper, paper towels and other disposable paper products, it was soon recognized that the shortages were due in part to early coronavirus-related restrictions that paused home construction, dramatically reducing demand for lumber and other wood-based construction products.
The temporary halt demonstrated to policymakers and the public just how integrated the timber industry operates. Advocating to keep the supply chain open, paper industry leaders and newspapers urged Gov. Inslee to modify his list of essential businesses to include home construction. The pandemic and paper shortage underscored that more must be done to help everyone – consumers, policymakers and regulators – better understand the inter-connectedness of this vital industry.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced in a memorandum that the forest products industry is vital to our nation’s infrastructure and is an essential industry. The DHS memo, signed by then-Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher Krebs, underscored that because the forestry industry and its workers are crucial to the “continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security” that it has a “special responsibility to maintain [its] normal work schedule.”
The letter pointed out that wood building products are the “principal building material used across a myriad of infrastructure projects, including emergency medical and lodging structures, temporary buildings, as well as timely refurbishing or repurposing of existing facilities for immediate use.”
The 2020 wildfire season was among the most destructive seasons on record, according to Department of Natural Resource (DNR) wildfire data. The blazes that dominated headlines in late summer claimed a life, burned 713,328 acres, razed homes, created unhealthy air quality conditions, and tainted the sky with smoke throughout the Pacific Northwest. The fires also reignited the conversation on the importance of forest management and support for activities like thinning, selective harvests, controlled burns, aerial spraying and other proven-effective measures that promote healthy, resilient forests that are more resistant to wildfire, infestations and drought.
WFPA executive director Mark Doumit, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and The Nature Conservancy in Washington director Mike Stevens penned an opinion piece published in Crosscut urging lawmakers to enact policies and provide consistent, dedicated funding to programs that advance forest health. The three authors cautioned lawmakers that catastrophic wildfires are no longer once-in-a-lifetime occurrences due to hotter, drier summers and an overabundance of fuel in historically unmanaged forests.
In addition to helping reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires, proponents of managed forested lands say that healthier forests benefit air and water quality, wildlife, the environment, recreational spaces, public safety and the state’s economy. Cross-laminated timber manufacturers, for example, are able to convert smaller diameter tress removed during the thinning process into wood panels large and strong enough to build multi-story buildings.
Looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, researchers and scientists continue to search for new applications made from wood-based materials and innovative wood products. Mass timber continues to gain in popularity as consumers, builders and architects look to more sustainable buildings and designs.
In January, One Voice reported that the Port of Seattle set a goal to have at least 10% of its fuel come from sustainable sources within eight years and along with The Boeing Company, Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines are testing aviation fuel made from converted wood waste and forest floor debris to make air travel more carbon neutral. The airline industry has sought renewable aviation fuel for nearly two decades, responding to pleas to make air travel less carbon-intensive.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Products Lab reported over the summer that researchers are exploring see-through wood and computer chips constructed on cellulose wood fiber. The clear wood could one day be used in lieu of glass in building construction, with the see-through wood reportedly more durable, lighter and an even more transparent material than the glass itself. The wooden computer chips could one day lead to electronic components that are flexible, foldable, bendable and wearable.