Reducing Washington’s carbon emissions by promoting Washington’s forest product industry

Washington lawmakers are considering legislation that recognizes the important role the state’s forest products industry plays in reducing carbon emissions. The WNPA News Service reports,

Washington state legislators are organizing bipartisan support for the timber industry amid the realization that forestry draws carbon from the atmosphere and could help the state meet its carbon reduction goals.

House Bill 2528 and companion Senate Bill 6355 intend to support the growth of forestry and promote the production and use of timber products in the state.

Trees use carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as part of the photosynthesis and growth process. Some studies suggest that wood is about 50 percent carbon by mass.

The bill report on HB 2527 says,

The scope of actions that Washington should take in order to continue its leadership on climate change policy is expanded to include maintaining and enhancing the state’s ability to continue to sequester carbon through forest products. The Legislature intends that the state will support industry sectors that act as sequesterers of carbon.

…The scope of actions that Washington should take in order to continue its leadership on climate change policy is expanded to include maintaining and enhancing the state’s ability to continue to sequester carbon through forest products. The Legislature intends that the state will support industry sectors that act as sequesterers of carbon.

It is stated as the policy of the state to support the complete forest products sector, which includes landowners, mills, bioenergy, pulp and paper, and the related harvesting and transportation infrastructure.

The legislation creates a new dedicated account.

The Forest Carbon Reforestation and Afforestation Account (Account) is created in the custody of the State Treasurer. The State Conservation Commission must use all moneys in the Account, less reasonable administration costs, as grants to any private landowner or organization that works with private landowners to advance the state’s carbon sequestration goals. Allowable grant projects are:

  • Ÿ  Funding for reforestation of forestlands after a wildfire for which the landowner was not responsible;

  • Ÿ  Funding for afforestation projects to return fallow land capable of supporting trees to a working forest; and

  • Ÿ  Funding to plant sustainable forested buffers along otherwise nonforested fish bearing streams.

WNPA News service reporter Cameron Sheppard writes,

It is not yet clear how funds will end up in the account, other than through budget appropriations. The bill does include a provision that revenue from a potential carbon tax could be put into the account.

The Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) backs the legislation. From a January 31 post on the WFPA site,

A tree’s ability to capture and store carbon long-term throughout the life of the tree and in wood products can be a significant contributor to our state’s climate change mitigation solutions. In Washington, we are blessed with one of the best places in the world to grow and harvest trees, and manufacture carbon-storing wood products, which all support more than 101,000 jobs across the state.

This week, lawmakers heard from members of the forest products sector, scientists and supporters that a recent University of Washington study shows that together, the private forest sector absorbs 12% of our state’s carbon emissions.

Among those testifying, writes the WFPA,

Court Stanley, Port Blakely President, spoke before the committee on how the bill would promote the forestry carbon cycle by encouraging more landowners to plant and sustainably harvest trees. The bill includes provisions that could motivate private forestland owners to plant and maintain working forests to help the state meet its carbon reduction goals.

Said Stanley:

“Keeping existing forests as forests and planting new working forests is the most effective way to combat climate change, and this bill does that. It incentivizes forestation and planting over burned-over land. And, it has the ability to provide a market-based approach to carbon trading now.”

It would not be the first time lawmakers worked with the industry to achieve environmental objectives. As the Everett Herald editorial board writes, the industry played a key role in preserving salmon habitat.

It’s been 20 years since Washington’s Legislature adopted the Forests and Fish Agreement, a pact among private timberland owners, county, state and federal agencies and tribes that outlined how logging would continue on more than 9.3 million acres of private and state forestlands while protecting salmon habitat on more than 60,000 miles of streams that run through those lands…

Now 20 years on, the Washington Forest Protection Association reports, more than 8,000 culverts and other salmon barriers have been removed, opening up more than 5,200 miles of fish habitat with millions of acres of riparian buffer zones set aside to protect those streams. Unstable slopes have been addressed to limit landslides into habitat, and logging road drainage systems have been improved to cut down on sediments in streams.

With work monitored by the state Department of Natural Resources, WFPA, which represents private forestland owners, says it is closing in on its goal to eliminate 100 percent of salmon barriers on those lands by 2021.

While preserving salmon habitat, the agreement also has protected an estimated 101,000 jobs tied to the state’s timber industry — the second largest lumber producer in the U.S. — generating $5.5 billion in wages.

A lot of climate change proposals have been considered in Olympia in recent years. Working with one of Washington’s anchor industries to reduce carbon emissions while preserving and promoting jobs and forest products is an approach worth pursuing.