When forests become the “big polluters” | Don Brunell

We associate air pollution with big cities, but millions of people are feeling the impacts of pollution from wildfires burning from California to Alaska and as far east as Colorado. It is one of the worst years on record for forest fires and we will spend billions to fight the fires and protect people, homes and businesses.

We associate air pollution with big cities, but millions of people are feeling the impacts of pollution from wildfires burning from California to Alaska and as far east as Colorado.

It is one of the worst years on record for forest fires and we will spend billions to fight the fires and protect people, homes and businesses.

Mammoth forest fires have been around for centuries.  In a single week in September 1902, the Yacolt Burn engulfed more than a half million acres and killed 56 people in the Columbia River Gorge and around Mt. St. Helens. The choking smoke was so thick that ships on the Columbia River were forced to navigate by compass and the street lights in Seattle, 160 miles to the north, glowed at noon.

Triggered by a mild winter and low snow pack, this year’s fire season is earlier than normal and could be devastating.  Just as damaging, these fires are releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

Last month, The Vancouver Sun published a Sierra Club analysis showing that, over the last two decades, British Columbia forests have turned from a big absorber of CO2 into a big emitter of CO2.

Between 2003 and 2012, BC’s forests emitted 256 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.  In the previous decade, healthy trees actually absorbed 441 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The main culprit identified by the Sierra Club is the tiny pine beetle. Trillions of these beetles are suffocating healthy growing trees.  Even though the infestation peaked a decade ago, it has turned millions of acres of once lush green forest into a barren moonscape.

Huge swaths of central B.C. and parts of Alberta have been hit so badly that dead and dying forests cover nearly 100,000 square miles.  The Sierra Club wants the British Columbia provincial government to invest more than $1 billion to improve the health of the public forests by reducing clear cuts and focusing harvest levels and fees on carbon storage.

The Sierra Club wants the government to curtail harvests of mature trees, which they say store the most carbon.  But those are the trees most affected by the beetles.

Removing those dead and diseased trees and replanting is the best way to maintain a healthy growing forest that stores carbon and emits oxygen.  In addition, clearing dead trees and debris from the forest floor reduces the risk of massive wildfires that pump millions of tons of CO2 into the air.

President George W. Bush proposed a similar healthy forests initiative a dozen years ago, but groups like the Sierra Club roundly criticized the program as just a way to increase logging in public forests.

On its website, Weyerhaeuser illustrates how growing forests absorb carbon dioxide, store the carbon and emit the oxygen.  When harvested, the carbon remains in the lumber and wood products we use and recycle every day.

Nowhere is the contrast between managed forests and barren forest land clearer than in Mount St. Helens.

After the 1980 volcanic eruption, Weyerhaeuser salvaged 68,000 acres of its damaged trees inside the blast zone and replanted 19 million trees.  In the adjacent 110,000 acre Mount St. Helens Volcanic Monument area, the decision was made to just let nature take its course.

The result?   The unmanaged land remains barren, with alders, willows and some fir growing in stream beds. Meanwhile, Weyerhaeuser’s managed forest is flourishing and reducing greenhouse gases – something barren land cannot do.

Sierra Club, take note: when it comes to pine beetle infestations or massive wildfires, letting nature take its course is not always the best course of action.

 

More in Business

Keep the holiday spirit all year long | Don Brunell

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to giving — not just giving gifts, but donating our time and money to charities, disasters and community programs.

Remember 1993

Twenty-five years ago, business took a beating in Olympia. The swing to the left in the 1992 general election was swift and potent. It drove higher costs to employers and more government regulations.

Remembering Ed Carlson, Vietnam POW

Since last Veteran’s Day, Ken Burns’ in-depth documentary on the Vietnam War has aired. It is a powerful reminder of an unpopular war in which many “baby boomers” fought and died.

Rural prosperity essential to Washington

While Seattle is growing rapidly, our rural areas continue to struggle. They don’t have the corporate giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing creating jobs and economic opportunities. Farms are predominantly family-owned.

Amazon’s plan reminiscent Boeing’s Chicago move

Last year, Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote about the similarities and differences between Boeing’s corporate office move to Chicago and Amazon’s plan for a second headquarters.

LiveLocal98022 meeting cancelled

Bob Green, the night’s speaker, notified the organization he couldn’t attend due to an illness.

Expanded Panama Canal among challenges for Washington Ports

The $5.4 billion spent to expand the Panama Canal is paying off for East Coast and Gulf of Mexico seaports; however, it is putting more pressure on the Northwest to remain competitive.

Players taking a knee hurting the NFL | Don Brunell

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Portland, a young woman stepped onto the playing field at the beginning of the University of Montana vs Portland State football game and started singing our national anthem. She immediately drew a blank on the words and briefly stopped, but as she started apologizing, the fans spontaneously took up the singing.

New metal collecting machine may clean up contaminated waters

There is a new machine being tested in Montana which could decontaminate toxic mine tailings while recovering valuable precious minerals for everyday use.

Workshop will focus on business, social media

All are invited to learn how social media can impact business and how it can be used to create a positive experience for customers.

Impact of Hirst decision must be address

In Washington, the legislative stalemate over permitting new household wells and the state’s construction budget has not only delayed needed funding for public projects, but triggered yet another salvo in the wider conflict over future supplies of fresh water for people, fish and farms.

Mitigate massive wildfire danger | Don Brunell

At last count firefighters were battling 82 major wildfires in 10 western states. The fires have already scorched 2,300 square miles of forests and range lands, dislocated thousands of people, and burned hundreds of homes and buildings.