Forests give us so many reasons to celebrate. They supply us with clean air and water, offer shade and peace on a hot summer day, and they provide habitat for a vast variety of species of plants and animals.
Forests are also a critical climate solution, storing enormous amounts of carbon in their trees and soils and buffering communities from climate impacts like flooding and storms. But our forests are being destroyed and degraded at an alarming rate — and even shipped overseas to be burned for electricity.
Now, our new report with Center for Sustainable Economy puts a spotlight on North Carolina and tells the story of just how big of a climate catastrophe logging is in the state. We hope to replicate this research for all of the states in the US South, where logging rates are some of the highest in the country.
The evidence shows that forest destruction is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and is making climate change worse.
Key findings from the report include:
- Logging in North Carolina releases 44 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, making it the state’s third most carbon intensive sector.
- North Carolina forestlands (forests grown for harvest for products) store far less carbon than the natural storage capacity of native forests, with plantations storing 50% less carbon than native forests.
- 2.6 million acres of North Carolina’s forestland — or 7.5% of the state — are carbon sequestration dead zones because of short rotation tree plantations. Though these areas are considered “forests,” the impacts of industrial logging have negated their ability to effectively store carbon.
- Afforestation, reforestation, and proforestation (letting forests grow to maturity) have the potential to remove nearly 3 gigatons of CO2 in North Carolina.
Logging in North Carolina releases more greenhouse gases than the waste management, agriculture, and “residential, commercial, industrial” categories established by the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) — combined.
Emissions from logging fall just short of emissions associated with transportation and are only 15% less than emissions from electricity use in the state. But this problem is flying under the radar: North Carolina’s recently released Greenhouse Gas Inventory fails to accurately account for a significant amount of emissions from logging, forest degradation, and the biomass industry.
Not only are logging and wood products releasing tons of climate-warming pollution right now, they’re also hampering the ability of our forests to be carbon sinks for years to come. Thanks to short rotation timber plantations for paper, pellets, and low-quality timber, 2.6 million acres of North Carolina forestland — or 7.5% of the state — is a carbon sequestration dead zone. That means that when forests are clearcut, those lands become net emissions sources for an extended time, releasing CO2 for up to 13 years after cutting.
Even when left standing, plantations store 50% less carbon than native forests.
Instead of further industrializing the landscape of our region, we need to dramatically scale up forest protection, restoration, and proforestation.
Privately owned forestlands in NC make up 83% of total forests in the state, but they also represent a serious gap in our carbon storage potential.
If we reduced logging and forest destruction, they could begin storing an amount of carbon equivalent to 20 years worth of NC’s current CO2 emissions.
It’s pure and simple: if we stop logging NC’s forests, we meet and exceed our climate goals.
North Carolina needs to fix its logging problem, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
North Carolinians and our neighbors across the South are already suffering from the burdens of climate change. In recent days, after wreaking untold devastation on the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian swept across the Southeastern coastline and brought heavy rain, flooding, storm surge, and wind across the region — including North Carolina’s coast and Outer Banks, where the storm made landfall over Cape Hatteras. Many of these communities are still recovering and rebuilding from last year’s Hurricane Florence and from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Last year, in the wake of Hurricane Florence, Governor Cooper pledged to make the state a climate leader by signing an executive order on climate action. Executive Order 80 set the goal of slashing North Carolina’s greenhouse gas emissions and making our state more resilient to extreme weather. Now Governor Cooper recently made headlines with the release of the state’s Clean Energy Plan. At the same time, forest destruction is on the rise, and his administration continues to greenlight the rapid expansion of Enviva, the world’s largest wood pellet producer — along with other dirty developments like fracked gas infrastructure.
The world is watching North Carolina. Governor Cooper can be a national leader on forests and climate, setting an example for the entire country — or he can continue to turn a blind eye to forest destruction, at the risk of undermining the state’s climate goals and resiliency.
Our latest research is conclusive proof that now more than ever, we need to be protecting forests, not cutting them down and burning them. If North Carolina can turn their serious logging problem around, it will send a huge signal to leaders across the region and around the world.
How do we move forward?
- Stop the expansion of forest-destroying industries like biomass.
- Reforest, proforest, and protect existing forestland in NC as essential, life-saving powerhouses of carbon sequestration.
- Rapidly transition traditional forestry practices to “climate smart” practices: those that retain the majority of forest cover, enhance carbon sequestration, build long-term carbon storage, and improve resiliency of the landscape to climate change.