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Clearwater Carbon Report 2023

Clearwater Carbon Report 2023

Into Thin Air: The impacts of the revised Nez Perce-Clearwater Forest Plan on carbon and climate

Will the U.S. Forest Service keeps its head placed firmly in the sand of climate denial?

In May of 2023 the Center for Sustainable Economy (CSE) released a study, “Climate Impacts of the Nez Perce – Clearwater Revised Land and Resource Management Plan.” The new report, commissioned by FOC and written by CSE Senior Economist John Talberth, finds the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the draft Revised Forest Plan fails to account for life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, changes in carbon sequestration capacity, and changes in climate resiliency due to management activities. You may find this report on our website at ???

Results of the analysis provide preliminary estimates of increases in greenhouse gas emissions associated with logging, road building and livestock grazing, which remain elevated over the long term as compared to natural, unlogged and ungrazed forests.

The greatest source of emissions (64 – 70%) are associated with the removal of CO2 now stored in trees from the landscape, and its eventual escape into the atmosphere as wood products are produced, used, and then discarded. The report relies on scientific studies indicating natural forest areas are converted from being net carbon accumulators into carbon emitters for at least 15 years after logging, degrading their carbon sequestration capacity.

Estimates also include emissions of methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas released by cattle, as well as the CO2 from the fossil fuel energy consumed by livestock feeding operations, transport, downstream processing, distribution of meat to retailers and restaurants, and disposal and decay of waste products.

The report also explains how logging, road building and livestock grazing are likely to amplify the effects of climate change by making the land more susceptible to heat waves, droughts, wildfires, wind damage, landslides, floods, warming waters, harmful algae blooms, exotic species, and biodiversity loss.

The report reinforces FOC’s 2020 comments on the revised Forest Plan’s draft EIS, in which we push the Forest Service to account for the role its management activities play in exacerbating the climate crisis. And unless the Forest Service makes an abrupt change of course and prioritizes a genuine climate friendly alternative, the new forest plan will conflict with the goals of President Biden’s 2022 Executive Order 14072 to “develop… policies to institutionalize climate-smart management and conservation strategies that address threats to mature and old-growth forests on Federal land.”

At this crux in history, with climate crisis worsening seemingly unabated, the Forest Service’s actions will particularly highlight the character of the institution and its leaders. Will they respond to the ultimate challenge by objectively examining the science to become a part of the solution, or will they continue to pretend that resource extraction is sustainable for the ecosystems and the Earth’s climate?

This article was originally published in the summer 2023 Clearwater Defender.