The last few weeks have been big for forests and forest carbon. At COP 26 in Glasgow,Scotland, 110 world leaders including those from Brazil, China, Russia and the United States committed $19.2 billion dollars to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. The commitments made are not binding but signal widespread recognition that forest conservation and sustainable management are critical in helping the world meet its climate goals.
In Oregon, after 18 months of painstaking negotiations, representatives from environmental NGOs and the timber industry signed on to a new Forest Accord outlining proposed changes to the state’s Forest Practice Act. Perhaps most importantly, the agreement addresses long standing community concerns around how current management practices affect water quality. The new agreement recommends expanding no-cut buffer zones around fish bearing streams from 20–25 feet to 100–110 feet. Non-fish bearing streams are recommended to get a 75 ft no-cut buffer zone.
While it is difficult to estimate the carbon impacts of both these potential changes, it is safe to say they would be enormous. The changes proposed in Oregon would protect an additional acre of forest for every 484 feet of fish bearing stream. In the coast range, forests sequester an average of 3.5 mtCO2e/acre per year. If the new regulations affect 5% of the 2.9 million acres of private forest land in the coast range, these newly protected areas will sequester well over 500,000 mtCO2e/year. That is equivalent to taking 108,000 cars off the road for a year. Note that this a conservative impact estimate for just the coast range.
Serious challenges still exist for both these ambitious proposals. World leaders must figure out concrete policy mechanisms for halting deforestation in the face of perverse economic incentives, and Oregon must get the proposed changes through the state legislature. Past efforts have failed on both fronts, but perhaps we have turned a corner in recognizing the critical role forests have to play in stabilizing the climate.
News + Resources
Summary of Oregon forest accord from OPB
Global deforestation commitments at COP26 from the NYT