Time for county to stop logging its forests
We know that Clackamas County's rare and priceless temperate forests sequester large quantities of carbon. We can risk releasing this carbon via logging, or we can save trees to withdraw and store more carbon. We also know that our county, like others, is warming and that Oregon's greenhouse-gas reduction goals are not likely to be met with existing and currently planned actions. We have important choices to make.
Forest conservation, or proforestation, represents the greatest potential gain in addressing climate change in Oregon. Increasing carbon capture could move Oregon toward overall carbon neutrality by the 2030s. What is needed are pragmatic changes in forest management and harvest practices. Past logging practices have helped create the climate crisis. We need to change that.
Clackamas County's Molalla area Family Camp Timber Sale of 1.615 million board feet from 50 acres, even with new, improved techniques, will seriously damage forest ecosystems, soil, watershed and habitat. Removal of 6-12 loads of logs on average per day, between February and April of 2020 will kill many trees, and will release a large store of carbon into our atmosphere. Shovel-logging to swing logs to the road is better than dragging them, but it's still ground-based logging that will do significant long-term damage. This is not sustainability. This is blatant deforestation.
Logging, including the inherent energy costs of cutting, removal, transport and milling, remains the major source of carbon emissions in the Pacific Northwest, particularly on the west side of the Cascades. Scientists have found that areas with the most logging are also where forest fires are the most intense. Fire suppression is becoming a catastrophic expense. Adopting newer, proven wildfire management tactics, including the preservation of older, larger trees which are the most fire resistant, and mixed-growth stands could actually save dollars while saving soils and forest habitats, as well as minimizing health and environmental problems of ever more wildfires at the wildland-urban interface.
We must find ways to lessen the unavoidable, adverse economic impacts of climate change without destroying the very oxygen-producing mature trees that are our best allies to improve air quality, soil and water conservation, and habitat biodiversity. Even with modern modifications, logging is a destructive extraction industry. We thought timber was a renewable resource and believed the land had decades to repair itself. Who had heard of carbon capture or seen wildfires rip through small towns?
Now, however, we need to quickly make large changes. We need urgent, constructive collaboration, between and beyond government entities to create viable economic alternatives to logging. Our forests' "greatest value" now is not for cash, but for our very survival. We have only about nine years left to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid the worst effects of the climate emergency feedback loop. Clearcut logging causes devastating damage to fragile forest ecosystems as well as releasing major carbon emissions. We can no longer risk that peril.
Together we need to galvanize all of our resources toward the common goal of environmental survival. "Forests are the most powerful and efficient carbon-capture system on the planet," Han de Groot, CEO of the Rainforest Alliance, wrote for the Scientific American in December 2018.
Limiting this timber sale would be a wise start toward recognizing and acting upon the accelerating consequences of the climate crisis, here, in Clackamas County, right now. We need enlightened leadership to protect our forest lands and to move forward rapidly with a comprehensive Climate Action Plan.
Mary Baumgardner, Tina Buettell and Gail Cordell are longtime Clackamas County residents and members of the Clackamas Climate Action Coalition. This opinion piece includes excerpts from a presentation to Clackamas County commissioners on Dec. 5.
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