Guest Post By Brianna Cunliffe
North Carolina’s forests are in peril. Governor Cooper and state laws fail to stop destructive logging and dirty bioenergy. The timber industry claims carbon neutrality, evading accountability for the harms it generates. But across party lines, North Carolinians are getting tired of the greenwashing. Dogwood Alliance asked 1,000 people how they felt about the destruction of our forests. The results were astounding: Our communities have had enough of polluting industries ravaging our precious resources. They’ve had enough of devastating clearcuts, enough of harmful air pollution from wood pellet plants. Enough of policies that ignore science and don’t value forests as complex, living ecosystems instead of just dead timber that turns a buck. Enough of communities being treated like dumping grounds. State leaders must listen to the people speaking out against these harmful industries. The people have clearly expressed that they see far more value in forests as beautiful spaces to recreate than resources to be logged.
Governor Cooper and the state legislature must act to keep their commitment to the people of this state. They must stop the rise of industrial forestry and bioenergy before it’s too late, before our priceless forests vanish forever.
Less than a third of state residents believe that logging laws are adequate in NC. It’s no wonder since the logging industry destroys over 200,000 acres of forest every year. The impacts of industrial forestry aren’t even considered in the state’s records of greenhouse gas emissions.
7 in 10 residents believe the logging industry should be held accountable for its emissions (71% agree, 16% unsure, 13% disagree).
Yet this key piece of accountability is still missing from North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan. The US Forest Service has acknowledged that timber harvesting was the largest source of gross emissions from US forests between 2006 and 2010. What’s more logging is the biggest driver of forest carbon loss in the US. That’s five times more than the carbon storage lost from development, agriculture, and fire combined. These problems are critical in North Carolina where logging from the wood pellet sector alone destroys 164 acres of forest each day.
An industry-skewed accounting system obscures harmful emissions by confusing this destruction with questionable claims of carbon benefits from “industrial forests”. Although the logging industry claims to replace the trees they cut, this practice doesn’t solve the problem of lost carbon storage. These tree plantations store 50% less carbon than our irreplaceable natural forests. The timber industry cuts down thriving ecosystems to produce short-lived wood products that will soon end up in landfills. Over 85% of carbon from all wood products, including lumber, is in the atmosphere within 100 years. A majority of North Carolinians believe we should stop supporting industrial pine plantations at the expense of natural forests (17% keep subsidizing, 32% unsure, 51% stop).
So why are we still subsidizing this harmful industry? Why won’t the state government tell us about the emissions coming from the forestry industry and hold them accountable?
Logging doesn’t just harm communities who live near the devastation of clearcuts. The destruction of our forests also harms state-wide air quality and hurts resilience. The more trees the timber industry cuts down, the more vulnerable our communities are to disasters like hurricanes and floods. Young North Carolinians, who fear the future impacts of climate change, are demanding change: 4 out of 5 young adults agree that logging makes matters worse (78%, no break-down for neutral/disagree).
There’s no partisan divide on this issue, either. 7 out of 10 conservatives believe that logging is harmful to forests, climate, and communities, just like those who lean liberal (94% of liberals, 86% of moderates, and 69% of conservatives).
No matter your political identification, it’s clear that our forests are critical. They nourish the air we breathe, the water we drink, the places we recreate, and the communities we call home. But traditional logging isn’t the only threat our forests face. The rise of bioenergy, which burns wood pellets to generate electricity, risks making the destruction even worse.
Forests, Not Fuel: Dirty Bioenergy Isn’t Fooling Anyone
Even as they burn our forests and pollute our vulnerable communities, bioenergy giants like Enviva claim that they “grow more trees” to “fight climate change”. But even without a public debate on the matter, North Carolinians aren’t buying it. Only 1 in 4 residents believe that dirty bioenergy should be considered carbon neutral (26% agree, 26% unsure, 47% disagree). They’re listening to scientists, who agree that biomass from forests actually produces higher carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels. Yet the industry receives handouts and subsidies as if it were a true renewable like solar or wind.
Enviva is even set to expand into a fifth facility without being held accountable for the damage it’s already done. In Lumberton, NC, 90% of the 1250+ comments made by community members opposed a new polluting wood pellet plant. Yet for some reason, the NC Department of Air Quality still approved its permit. Decisions like these override the protests of frontline leaders and go against the will of the people who continue to question, “Where’s Cooper?”
The destruction of our forests doesn’t even truly benefit working people. 20% of jobs in the wood manufacturing industry vanished in the late 2000s because of mechanization and decline in demand. Sudden plant closures, devastating clearcuts, and worsening pollution restrict community economic growth. Climate-driven disasters like hurricanes and droughts will only cause more devastation.
Why won’t Governor Cooper act? He can stop the expansion of dirty biomass and hold the logging industry accountable. As the state fights to achieve its clean energy goals, forest protection is a crucial missing piece of the puzzle. Over ⅔ of citizens favor stronger restrictions, so why wait any longer? (66% in favor, 17% unsure, 16% oppose)
North Carolinians believe scientists: the best thing forests can do for our future is stay standing. Forests are our most precious resource for carbon storage and biodiversity. Their natural beauty guards our health and resilience and makes our state special. When they’re protected, they can flourish, and we will all breathe easier.
Brianna Cunliffe grew up reading books tucked in the branches of a Carolina pine a few miles away from the sea. Now a rising senior Government and Environmental Studies major and department fellow at Bowdoin College, she seeks to blend passionate activism on behalf of the natural world with innovative, justice-centering policy solutions. Brianna previously worked with elected officials on Protect America, organizing state and local leaders to take action to fight the climate crisis. She’s thrilled to join Dogwood Alliance as an intern to work on the issues closest to her home and her heart.