Winter 2010

Sweetspot for Carbon

Cover of winter 2010 issue featuring illustration of tree
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Tropical rain forests capture our imaginations with their breathtaking beauty and diversity. But acre for acre, when it comes to absorbing and storing carbon from the air, they can’t beat the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. At a time when landowners are beginning to see cash for carbon, that means opportunity.

As our cover story explains, the science of carbon sequestration – the process of absorbing carbon and keeping it out of the atmosphere for long periods of time – is young. OSU scientists Beverly Law and Mark Harmon are among the leaders in that field, but how their work translates into policy is still a matter of hot debate.

Meanwhile, if you want a stake in this arena, you have options. You can support The Climate Trust, the Portland-based nonprofit that is investing in forest-based carbon storage in Deschutes County, the state of Washington and elsewhere. Through the Pacific Forest Trust, Green Mountain Energy will sell you carbon credits for $19.95 a ton, based on a 100-year plan for the Van Eck forest in Northern California (payments for 185,000 metric tons of carbon credits have reached nearly $2 million, according to Christine Harrison, PFT communications director). And if you are a family-forest landowner, you can learn more about Woodlands Carbon of Salem, one of two pilot projects supported by the American Forest Foundation to assemble and sell carbon credits.

OSU researchers and Extension foresters are in the thick of the emerging science. They run monitoring programs and develop computer models. They assist Woodlands Carbon by calculating carbon uptake and conducting workshops on forest planning. They take a leading role in national and international public policy studies for the U.S. Forest Service, the State Department and the United Nations. They focus on economics, land use and carbon monitoring. Their work could contribute to a comprehensive carbon accounting system, which will be a crucial part of an international program known as REDD, Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation, the most successful outcome of the recent climate talks in Copenhagen.

The forest carbon story wouldn’t be complete without wood products and their role in reducing the carbon footprint of industrial economies. As OSU Professor Jim Wilson and his colleagues have demonstrated, wood takes less energy to produce than concrete, plastic or steel. They have shown that over their life cycle, products from sustainably managed forests will be part of a comprehensive solution to climate change.

— Nick Houtman

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