The Center for Biological Diversity has filed lawsuits against the California Department of Forestry for allowing clear cuts. The suits have been filed in Modoc, Shasta, Tahema, Amador, Eldorado, Trinity and Calaveras counties. Brian Nowicki, California policy director for the group, claims clear cutting is "an abysmal practice".
Last November the group released a statement saying:
"Clearcutting damages forest ecosystems, water, and wildlife habitat, while releasing greenhouse gases in the short term and reducing a forest’s natural ability to clear the air of carbon pollution over the long term," said Center attorney Kevin Bundy. "By allowing clearcutting under this policy, the Air Resources Board is encouraging the worst kinds of forest management while doing little to address the immediate impacts of climate change."
The group points out what many people have already noticed: clear cutting is a poor idea, leaving the soil exposed to bake and run off in the wet season. Clear cutting is often followed by the spraying of pesticides and the planting of clone trees which have little or no genetic diversity. Ecosystems are complex, multi-scaled systems reaching down into the soil where microbes break down nutrients and up to the sky, where the canopy of trees shade and cool the soil and built up a mulch of dead needles and leaves. When those systems are broken, trees will grow again, but trees alone are not a forest. What returns is often a same-aged, genetically identical tree plantation, divest of the rich web of life which helps clean air and water and replenish the soil.
However, clear cutting, particularly when coupled with artificial growth enhancers, can result in a rapid consumption of carbon. Sierra Pacific Industries, one of the largest timberland owners in the state, is also one of the biggest clear cutters.
SPI has already signed contracts for carbon sequestering, and the company stands to make a significant profit, and will likely eventually set or at least strongly influence the price for carbon sequestering for the state. When the land is clear cut, light reaches the soil and small trees and bushes grow. They consume carbon in the form of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, when the carbon in CO2 is chained together to make cellulose and other sugars.
The group claims that rapid sequestering of carbon is only part of the equation. It matters what happens to the biomass that is removed. If, for example, all the biomass went to houses, that would mean the carbon in that would is locked up for at least several decades.
But, right now, very little timber is going to make lumber. After the tree dies, the cellulose begins to break down, through the action of bacteria, molds, and oxidation. Dried lumber, in the structure of the house, releases CO2 very slowly. Wood left to rot releases carbon more quickly, but still relatively slowly. Burning the biomass in a cogen plant releases carbon dioxide more quickly. Burning large, damp bulldozed piles releases the carbon very quickly. Wildfire, of course, releases huge amounts of carbon most efficiently.
As there is no market to speak of for lumber, where will the trees harvests go? Even when lumber is made, much of the tree, including bark and branches, are disposed of, typically through open burning or, more preferably, cogen.
The announcement of the suit was answered by Mark Pawlicki, spokesperson for SPI. His response was typical for the company, complained that the plaintiff is from out of state, implying that the science where they come from is different. He said the group wanted to take "away every forest-related job" in the state, as though SPI were primarily a job creation corporation, and not one that uses the forest and the labor force as it wishes, to make a profit. Pawlicki’s speech is intended to distance Center for Biological Diversity from the mainstream, and to make it seem that the center either targets jobs or doesn’t care about timber jobs.
That is not what the lawsuit claims. It claims clear cutting is bad for the environment and has a negative carbon benefit.
Dave Bischel, President of the California Forestry Association, said that growing trees does so sequester carbon, but did not discuss the rest of the carbon cycle. He pointed out that 40% of California’s saw mills had closed down in the last ten years, but did not indicate how this data was related to the claim that clear cuts are bad for the forest ecology.
It is possible that both Pawlicki and Bischel are motivated by money, not necessarily a bad thing, but not the basis for a statewide carbon management system, or a way to value the environment.
However, the Center for Biologic diversity might also be motivated by money. Like most non-profit corporations they rely on general supporters and they ask for money on the front page of their website. Many organizations do use lawsuits to generate funding, not only by settling out of court or actually winning, but also by using the actions to stimulate supporters.
The Center for Biological Diversity is located in Tuscon, Arizona and claims 220,000 members in states as diverse as Oregon and Vermont.
Other national and statewide "environmental" groups have been working with timberland owners and local governments to facilitate the transition to an economy based not on exploitation, but sustainability. These groups have worked with SPI and the California Air Resources Board to try to work out the carbon cycle, leaving as much wood as possible as wood, turning waste biomass into electricity instead of using sulfur heavy coal or non-renewable natural gas. Sierra Forest Legacy, a statewide "environmental" group, has had meetings on the down-low in Sierra County trying to facilitate a beneficial forest carbon cycle, and the jobs which would attend a strong biomass industry.
Still, clear cutting is not necessarily a part of that system. Simply sucking up carbon isn’t the point; if it were, a far better way to sequester carbon is to grow hemp, which grows quickly, gobbling carbon, and leaves no residue to burn, since all parts of the plant are used.
Instead, it’s about managing the forests for carbon, for clean air and water, for jobs and industry.
Governor Schwarzenegger feels SPI is doing that, and recently sent a love letter to SPI about its carbon program:
I'm extremely proud of the work Sierra Pacific is doing as a California company in leading the nation with the United States' largest carbon sequestration project. This is exactly the way it's supposed to work: the state sets rules that even the playing field and protect our economy and our environment, and a private company takes the ball and runs with it. I could not be more excited to think that this project will result in sequestering enough carbon dioxide that it will effectively take 300,000 cars off the road for a year. I look forward to hearing more from you and from Equator as this project moves ahead over the next five years. The fight against global climate change is an important one to me, and this is exactly the kind of action we need to see if we're going to be successful.
With warm regards,
Governor of California
Indeed, SPI now reports how much carbon they’ve sequestered on their home page HERE
Still, CBD has successfully dissuaded SPI from clear cutting 1600 acres, or so they claim. Most likely their previous legal actions have been part of a mix of reasons the megaland owning corporation decided not to cut. A poor market is sufficient justification.
The suit might bring the state closer to finding a carbon sequestering plan which is systemic, and considers carbon throughout the cycle. In any case, lawsuits seem to be a part of timberland management the modern America.
The Center for Biological Diversity might be revealed to be a money grubbing pseudo eco group, but in the meantime, they have a cool ringtone site with rare animal sounds here: