Satelitte image showing a clearcut within a forest

The Quadra Project: A Trillion Trees

Planting a trillion trees would be a major contribution to solving our global climate change crisis, a remarkably simple solution since trees absorb and sequester the excess carbon from fossil fuels that we have been emitting into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

Trees, we know, are one of the best extractors and storers of carbon, presently beating the efficiency of any of the technologies that we have yet devised. Additionally, they moderate temperatures, regulate hydrological cycles, induce favourable weather, and provide critical habitat for plants, insects, birds and mammals. They also happen to contribute to the physical and psychological health of humans, and are one of the major factors making cities liveable. Tree seedlings are cheap to produce, and once growing, they need little or no maintenance.

The problem is that we have been cutting down trees faster than we have been planting them or allowing them to grow. An estimated 10 million hectares per year are being degraded or deforested, not counting areas being lost to the increasing frequency of severe forest fires and storms—ironically the result of not having enough forests. Some countries are alert to this fact, and are trying to restore forests for environmental and aesthetic reasons. Most agricultural land, the majority of which is used for growing feed for livestock, could easily be converted to forests if we could just abandon the inefficiency of a meat-based diet and replace it with a plant-based one.

The global effort to plant a trillion trees is presently both sporadic and weak. While the Amazon and Indonesia are being denuded by logging, southern European and Siberian forests are being burned because of unprecedented heat and droughts. Canada fares little better than the rest of the worst. The problem is even more bleak in British Columbia.

BC’s forests have been traumatized by the mountain pine beetle that has killed nearly 20 million hectares of forests. Forest fires have also had a devastating effect on our contribution to carbon sequestration. Indeed, some calculations place BC’s forests as net contributors to the climate crisis. Government promises to change the antiquated annual allowable cut to ecological management have not been fulfilled, even as the climate crisis worsens.

On our little island in the wholeness of things, logging continues in Tree Farm Licence 47. Mosaic is planning three new cutblocks of trees that have been faithfully sequestering carbon for 90 years. This use of trees to remedy the climate crisis is still not a consideration in the planning and use of our island’s forests. And even when abuses do occur on a woodlot, the transgression is responded to with ineptitude.

As an example, before long-time resident Rod Burns left Quadra Island to live in Nova Scotia last year, he filed a complaint with the Forest Practices Board against Okisollo Resources Ltd., a woodlot operator of W2031 at Hummingbird Lake in an area north of Clear Lake. Burns charged that Okisollo was cutting old growth trees, in violation of their responsibility to preserve and nurture such stands for ecological reasons in Special Management Zone 19 on Quadra Island. The Board conducted its investigation and found no violation.

Satellite image of the same clearcut depicted at the top of the page, a few weeks later. Only 15 of the 50 old growth are still standing – courtesy David Broadband,Land-use planning on Quadra Island has been undone by the Ministry of Forests

A subsequent analysis of the Board’s decision by David Broadland, another Quadra resident, determined that the finding that Okisollo Resources had set aside “all existing old growth stands” had occurred without any visit to the site by members of the Board, that drone and satellite photographs showed clear-cuts in old-growth stands, and that the detail was sufficient to actually count the numerous trees that had been cut. (See Land-use planning on Quadra Island has been undone by the Ministry of Forests for a detailed account of Broadland’s findings.)

Aside from the incompetence of the Forest Practices Board and the egregious violation of principled logging practices by Okisollo Resources, we are confronted with a global climate and ecological crisis that Quadra Island is not mitigating. Studies have shown that within a year of logging trees, 65% of their carbon has been released into the atmosphere, and about half the carbon stored in the soil of a clear-cut has also escaped. Of the 35% of the tree’s carbon that is claimed for “permanent” storage, almost all of that has been lost to the atmosphere within 25 years. This is what we get in exchange for the continuous service of carbon absorption and sequestration for centuries if the trees are left standing and kept healthy.

If we on Quadra Island cannot be an example to the rest of the world, then who are we, and what do we expect will happen to the planet’s climate and ecosystems that support the precarious human structure that we call civilization? If the changes that are needed everywhere cannot occur here, then where can they occur? On a round Earth, everything is interconnected, a painful lesson that we are beginning to learn the hard way.

We are at, close to, or over the tipping point at which we lose control of the entire environmental stability that has allowed human civilization to flourish for 12,000 years. Our situation is actually too serious to exaggerate. Each and every tree we plant or save is a contribution to the security of our future.

A trillion trees is merely a thousand billion, a small number for a species that prides itself on great ingenuity and grandiose accomplishments. To reach this target, all we have to do is begin everywhere at once, before it’s too late.

Ray Grigg for Sierra Quadra

Top image credit: Satellite image taken August 15, 2019. showing 50 old-growth trees left standing in one of Okisollo Resources cutblocks – courtesy David Broadband, Land-use planning on Quadra Island

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