A forest of young treetrunks,all the same size

The Quadra Project – Logging’s Carbon – Part 2

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Loggers on Quadra Island are confronted with a dilemma. Whether they cut trees from TFL 47 or from any of the 11 licenced woodlots, the carbon stored in the forests is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, thereby contributing to the climate crisis. But loggers are required by law, as operators of their tenures, to cut an annual amount of merchantable wood—measured as cubic metres—to earn royalties, called stumpage, for government revenue. Because most logged wood becomes the raw material used for making paper, packaging and many other disposable products, most of the cut wood is quickly consumed or discarded, and its stored carbon is released into the atmosphere as CO2 within the first year following logging—only about 20% of the cubic metres measured as forest product is sequestered up to a century as lumber for buildings or as kept objects such as furniture.

An analysis of the carbon dioxide production of logging produces illuminating results. They should inspire an assessment of an industry that is presently under scrutiny because of the unfolding ecological and climate crisis we are currently experiencing. Granted, this is a complex matter, but traditional values and behaviours must be examined precisely because—if we are to live sustainably anywhere—we cannot continue doing what we have been doing, and thinking as we have been thinking. Modern civilization, as we understand it, is at a pivotal point in its history, and we either confront the sobering reality of our situation at both the global and local levels, or we suffer consequences that are looking increasingly bleak. Careful research has supplied detailed calculations that help to outline the extent of the dilemma for Quadra’s loggers specifically, and for Quadra’s residents generally.

A cubic metre of logged wood weighs about 447 kg or .447 tonnes, of which about 50% is carbon, The atomic weight of carbon (C) is 12. When the carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (C02), one atom of the carbon combines with two atoms of oxygen. Each oxygen atom has an atomic weight—an atomic mass unit—of 16, so the atomic weight of C02 is therefore 12 + (2 x 16) = 44. This means that the weight of carbon in a cubic metre of wood, when converted to CO2, increases by a factor of 44÷12 = 3.66. Therefore, the weight of carbon dioxide in a cubic metre of wood is calculated as follows: .447 ÷2 x 3.66 = .82 tonnes.

Research reveals, however, that the amount of carbon dioxide released from a cubic metre of wood does not represent the full amount of CO2 that escapes into the atmosphere as a consequence of logging. Tops, branches, needles and roots are left to decompose and form CO2. Some of this debris is burned. A considerable amount of the plant biota on the forest floor is killed during the logging process. This is stored but uncounted carbon that also escapes into the atmosphere. Indeed, monitoring and measuring reveal that logging releases as much carbon dioxide from the disturbed forest floor, from burning slash, and from the cutting, gathering, transporting and processing of the wood, as from the measured cubic metres that are removed from the forest. This means that the .82 tonnes of carbon dioxide per cubic metre has to be doubled to 1.64 tonnes.

The emission of 1.64 tonnes of carbon dioxide per cubic metre of wood logged is a conservative estimate of the climate impact of logging. Mosaic’s average annual allowable cut (AAC) on its Quadra Island TFL 47 between 2010 and 2021 was 61,300 cubic metres. If Mosaic was given credit for the 20% that is sequestered as lumber, this means their logging contributed 61,300 x .8 x 1.64 = 80,426 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year into the atmosphere.

The annual average AAC from all Quadra’s woodlots for the same 11-year period was 38,600 cubic metres. By a similar calculation, their carbon dioxide contribution to the atmosphere was 38,600 x .8 x 1.64 = 50,643 tonnes per year.

The total annual contribution to the atmosphere of logging on Quadra from both TFL 47 and from the island’s woodlots is therefore 80,426 + 50,643 = 131,069 tonnes of carbon dioxide. This does not account for any other sequestering trees that are cut on Quadra by private property owners.

Given Quadra’s permanent resident population of approximately 3,000, the commercial logging that takes place on our island represents 131,069 ÷ 3,000 = 43.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year. For comparison, this 43.7 tonnes is more than double the annual 19.6 tonnes per capita of emissions for which each Canadian is responsible. We are the world’s highest per capita emitters, and Quadra Islanders—if we accept responsibility for the carbon dioxide emissions that are sourced from here—are considerably worse. So much for any claim to a “green” Quadra.

The Quadra statistics are quite accurate. The provincial statistics for CO2 emissions will vary slightly with different calculations. But approximately 25 tonnes of CO2 per B.C. citizen per annum can be added because of the net emissions from our province’s forests—remember that they are now net contributors of emissions—and another approximately 8.4 tonnes can be added because of the 46 million tonnes from all the provincial logging that occurs. No matter how they are counted, however, the totals are grim.

The unfolding ecological and climate crisis we are in will only be slowed by everyone doing whatever they can to reduce emissions. This includes individuals, corporations and governments. Logging is not exempt from this dilemma. It removes the trees that were once alive to capture and sequester carbon dioxide. Critical decades will pass before logged forests are able to return to their efficiency at storing carbon, as well as moderating climate, stabilizing humidity, regulating hydrology, lowering temperatures and providing vital habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals—including each one of us.

Ray Grigg for Sierra Quadra 

Top image credit: One of Quadra Island’s second growth plantations ‘ supposedly ready to cut’ – Photo by the late Rod Burns

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