Climate change and the battle for Canadian forests

In British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada, forests dotted with hundreds of years of history have become a battlefield for two schools of thought to curb climate change: one is to use its biomass for green energy, and the other is to rush to protect and absorb carbon. Trees.

Scientists and activists are putting increasing pressure on the provincial government, especially to protect ancient woodlands, which are often rich in biodiversity and major carbon storage.

However, the escalating climate issues have also promoted the development of the biomass industry in British Columbia, where wood pellets produced are regarded as “carbon neutral” fuels.

Major producers include the power company Drax, which has sought Reinvent It is a generator of clean energy. The British listed company last year acquired Pinnacle, a Canadian wood pellet producer, and plans to double the production and sales of wood pellets by 2030.

Although biomass fuels have become an important source of energy in the European Union and Asia, some scientists are increasingly skeptical Environmental certificate for burning wood as energy.

In British Columbia, some wood from old trees is finally made into pellets. Although this is still legal, activists worry that this practice is unsustainable and say it undermines the argument of biomass advocates that pellets are a responsible alternative to fossil fuels.

Some producers worry that the provincial government will issue stricter logging quotas to reduce the amount of old forest land that can be felled.

A protest camp set up on Vancouver Island against felling of old trees © Cole Burston/AFP/Getty

British Columbia “should not issue login permits [old] Forest,” said Michelle Connolly, head of the advocacy organization Conservation North. “They have power, and they should know more,” she added.

Rachel Holt, a member of the independent old tree technical advisory group convened by the provincial government last year, said that the scale of felling old trees is “crazy.” “These are extremely rare and extremely valuable forests… You can’t cut and harvest 200-year-old trees in a sustainable way,” she said.

According to official data, about a quarter of all forests cut down in British Columbia each year are classified as “old trees”-this usually refers to trees older than 140 or 250 years, depending on location.

The province’s pellet industry has grow rapidly Since the early 2000s, related activities such as paper production have decreased. The market has attracted investment from companies that want to convert coal-fired power plants into biomass power plants. Manufacturers say that pellet mills usually source wood from surrounding areas—mainly from leftovers and residues from trees harvested for other purposes.

According to Conservation North’s analysis of government data, all seven Pinnacle factories in British Columbia are surrounded by woodland, including “primitive” forests-native and usually old trees that are not disturbed by human activities.

One Recent reports commissioned by Drax It was discovered that due to the provincial government’s efforts to protect the ancient forest, the supply to the two Pinnacle factories may be reduced.

Drax said that its Canadian pellets are “made from waste fibers that are burned, landfilled or left to rot on the roadside. 80% of these waste fibers are from sawmill residues and 20% are from harvest residues.”

Map showing the forestry area around Houston, British Columbia

The area around the Pinnacle plant in British Columbia, the Houston plant (roughly in the center). Green is virgin forest, red is degraded forest or land converted to other uses, such as roads, and white is no data. The radius of the area shown is approximately 50 kilometers © Conservation North

Under pressure to rethink how to manage ancient forests, the provincial government commissioned an independent review in 2019. The report was released in 2020, Summarize The economy “heavily relies on trees harvested from ancient forests” and outlined suggestions such as delaying development of sensitive areas.

The lead author of the report, Gary Merkel, a member of the indigenous Tartan people in the region, said that ancient forests are “critical” to the health of the ecosystem and are “non-renewable”, adding: “We must be more like mining.”

The British Columbia Forest Department stated that it is “committed to improving the way we protect forests” and will implement the report’s recommendations.

The forest industry in the region is closely watching whether there will be stricter restrictions.

A report on Pinnacle plant supply commissioned by Drax in 2020 stated that the government’s measures to protect biodiversity and old growth “resulted in the withdrawal of part of the land from the timber harvest… Logging is banned in some areas, while in others. It may be done on a modified basis.”

The report said that further restrictions may be “coming soon.”

Canfor, a timber company and Pinnacle supplier, implied in the document that it was harvesting old tree species, and pointed out that “the transition from mainly harvesting old tree species to harvesting managed forests [of trees]”Occurs after the first two decades of logging in a specific area.

Canfor stated that the company is “committed to practicing world-class sustainable logging and forest management practices” and follows the “comprehensive licensing system of the British Columbia government”.

Drax has converted four of the six units of its power station in Yorkshire, England, from coal to woody biomass. However, due to its high “carbon intensity” score, it was removed from the S&P Global Clean Energy Index in October. At the same time, an analyst report from Citi last December stated that “we fundamentally do not believe that biomass is a sustainable energy source”, reflecting people’s concerns about treating wood pellets as environmentally friendly.

The British Columbia Forest Industry Council stated that the province has “world-leading sustainable logging and active forest management practices.”it says Timber company By selling leftovers (whether old trees or new woodland) to groups such as paper mills and pellet mills, waste is minimized.

But forester Merkel said that even this method would deplete the ecosystem, adding that “there is no such thing as trash in nature”.

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