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County council member: Climate change calls for balanced policies

Blocks on timber sales don't equate to meaningful carbon cuts

By Kathy Kershner, Guest Writer

Whatcom County is fortunate to have working forests that are managed under the strictest environmental laws and regulations and the most advanced forest practices in the world. Our working state trust lands provide wildlife and aquatic habit, reduce net carbon emissions, provide climate-friendly wood products, and generate critical funding to support education and other public services.  

Thanks to balanced policies, Whatcom County already “has it all” when it comes to utilizing our working forests and natural landscapes to combat climate change. Thanks to the cycle of sustainable forestry — the continuous planting, growing, harvesting and replanting of trees — Washington’s working forests and wood products are estimated to mitigate an equivalent of 12% of the state’s carbon emissions.

As the world experiences impacts of climate change, it’s understandable local citizens and elected officials call for bold and immediate action. However, it’s important we find solutions that are effective and provide real results.

Recent efforts seek to stall or block timber harvests on local state trust lands. Also, some are trying to close these working forests so polluting industries far from Whatcom County can purchase carbon offsets. Most recently, some budget writers in Olympia proposed $80 million in state funding to effectively shut down forest management on public working forests. 

Each of these proposals, however well-intentioned, will all fail to meaningfully reduce global carbon emissions. When sustainable timber harvests are blocked locally, that timber will be harvested elsewhere, including places that don’t share our high environmental standards. When we protest the harvest and use of wood, we promote the use of concrete and steel that require more fossil fuels to produce than wood-based building materials.

According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fiber or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.”

We lose that benefit when we shut down working forests in Whatcom County where climate-smart forestry already occurs. When forest management is prohibited, we also lose our ability to keep forests healthy and accessible while reducing the risks of wildfires that emit large amounts of carbon. 

According to a study published by researchers at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, managed forests sequester carbon from the atmosphere at a greater rate than unmanaged forests and have significantly lower natural mortality.

On average, Washington’s privately managed forests grow 70% faster per acre than unmanaged national forests. While managed forests lose about 14% of their annual growth to natural tree mortality, disease and fire each year, unmanaged federally owned forests lose 71% of their growth due to tree mortality from insects, disease and fire — resulting in carbon emissions. 

Whatcom County is home to managed, working forests that are mitigating climate change. Its most environmentally sensitive lands are set aside from management — including more than 8,000 acres of state trust lands around Lake Whatcom that were transferred to Whatcom County as a park. To mitigate climate change, we need balanced policies that are effective, while working together to find solutions that will help make a difference globally. 

Kathy Kershner is a Whatcom County Council member representing District 4.

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