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Carbon Credits and Proper Silviculture

It has been two years since I heard that forest carbon credits exist. At first glance, I dismissed it as a west coast environmental initiative to prevent timber harvesting. Naively, I thought it would stay out west and not affect our eastern forest area. Then six months later, I was part of a presentation given by employees of a specific carbon exchange program. The program is available to small landowners. My initial reaction was emotional, and I was convinced carbon credits were a conspiracy to destroy the timber industry. Since then, a cooler head has prevailed, and I am now on a mission to understand forest carbon credits as well as I can. 

What is a forest carbon credit? A forest carbon credit is a sale a forest landowner makes to a carbon exchange company where the landowner promises to sequester more carbon in their forest over a future period of time. In most cases, this means not harvesting existing timber on their property or meeting the harvesting parameters set forth by the exchange company. The carbon exchange company then sells this landowner promise to, in most cases, another company that, through its business practices, emits carbon into the air. The carbon emitters either directly release carbon into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels or have operations that use large amounts of energy generated by burning fossil fuels. By purchasing the carbon credit, the emitter uses the exchange company’s mathematical calculation to determine how much carbon has been sequestered on the property from which the credit was obtained.

In the two years I’ve spent learning about carbon credits, none of the accrediting organizations give credit for performing proper silviculture. Helm (1998) and U.S. Forest Service (2004) state that,“Silviculture is the art and science of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health, and quality of forests and woodlands to meet the diverse needs and values of landowners and society on a sustainable basis.” Kretz Lumber Company forester Andy Roelse describes silviculture as, “Giving the site what it wants while considering the land, soil, and current stand conditions to dictate silvicultural practices to be utilized.” Reading these definitions of silviculture says that when it is practiced, we promote a healthy forest. Science has proven that healthy young forests have increased carbon sequestration over old forested timber lots. Also, a well-managed forest is converted into high-quality products that are placed in homes where the carbon is forever sequestered.

In the hardwood lumber industry, we compete against imitation wood products like laminated vinyl time (LVT), ceramic tile, plastic, melamine, and others that emit carbon into the atmosphere during manufacturing. I suspect that some entities purchasing carbon credits are the same groups manufacturing imitation wood products.

Closing this article, I do not know everything there is to know about carbon credits, However, I haven’t found a carbon exchange that encourages good forestry practices. Wouldn’t it be more logical to incentivize active forest landowners and the log and timber industry to continue harvesting timber the way we have been? Scientifically, our method will prove time and again that it will sequester more carbon than letting trees become old, suppress young timber, and eventually die. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. If you have strong feelings one way or another, share them here

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