Beautiful forest

Climate-Smart Forestry

The main point of Climate-Smart Forestry (CSF) approach is to manage forests to mitigate the climate change. To preserve and preferably to increase the carbon sequestration of forests. Most countries are committed to find solutions to maintain certain level of carbon sink and sooner or later the eyes will turn to forests. In this blog we will cover the basis of Climate-Smart Forestry in Finland and point out what practices could be applicable elsewhere in the boreal zone.

Background

In Finland the deeper understanding of LULUCF- commitments started an ongoing debate between stakeholders like private forest owners, the forest industry and environmental organizations or groups. The main question in this debate is, does the intensive forest management in fact increase or decrease the carbon sink? Some want to have justification for protecting more forests and the other want to have a strong argument for increasing logging.

The Carbon sink

So, what happens to the carbon sink if we do more logging? Simple and a little bit of lame answer is that it depends. It depends on the timeframe, starting point of calculations and which components of the forest are we focusing on. It can be proved both ways if data and scenario are carefully selected. There has been a lot of confusion and it can be seen on Facebook groups and on the pages of newspapers every day.

After numerous studies and strong debate, we finally have an understanding that intensive forest management with lots of clear cutting will decrease the carbon sequestration and the carbon storage of the forests in the long run. The arguments against are usually based on the fact that old growth forest are not carbon sinks anymore and they will start to emit carbon dioxide when slowly decaying.

So, it would be better to do regeneration cuttings before the growth has stopped and plant new trees to absorb the CO2 more effectively. It is true that trees in their fastest growth stage will absorb the CO2 most effectively, but the fact is that the soil consists of 60 % of the carbon sink of forests. If clear cutting is performed the soil starts to almost immediately losing carbon sink by decay of the organic layer. This loss cumulates over time and that is why intensive forest management decreases carbon sink in the long run. It takes many years after the regeneration before the stand is acting again as a carbon sink.

 

Thinning is easily done with cut-to-length method and a harvester
Clear cutting has it´s place in climate-smart forestry

Toolbox of the CSF

We can divide actions into three categories which are

  • Preserving the existing carbon sink and carbon storage
  • Increasing the carbon sequestration
  • Building resilience and the health of the forests

Why Climate-Smart Forestry?

There is a need to manage forests but not to interfere too much with the carbon sink. That is why the concept of Climate-Smart Forestry was invented. European Forestry Institute EFI has put the CSF nicely in the nutshell. Also Metsähallitus a company which governs the state owned forests in Finland has a great website about the subject. The goals of Climate-Smart Forestry are

  • Reducing or removing the greenhouse gases
  • Build more resilient forests
  • Increase productivity
  • Preserve the multi-uses of the forests
Forest fire

Preserving the existing carbon sink and carbon storage

We can negate the effects on soil by refraining from clear cutting. Continuous cover forestry is easier on the soil and leaves growing trees to the stand to continuously absorb carbon dioxide. This is a viable option also for peatlands.

Prolonging the rotation period is a great way to bind a little more carbon and preserve the carbon sink a little longer. Why not add some 20 years to the rotation time and gain the benefits of added carbon absorption?

Prevention of forest fires is extremely important in areas where the fires are a frequent problem. A powerful forest fire can burn almost completely the organic layer of the soil and release all the bonded carbon. Complete burning can also severely hinder the forest regeneration. Forest fires can be prevented by removing excess wooden material with thinnings and harvesting logging residues for energy.

In case of the underproductive peatlands the decaying peat emits more CO2 than the trees will absorb. There is the option of removing trees and closing out the ditches to rise the water level back to normal state. When the water levels are high the peatland will start again accumulating peat and absorbing carbon dioxide.

Increasing the carbon sequestration

When we do clear cutting we have to be quick and thorough with our regeneration operations in order to minimize the downtime of carbon sequestering and decay of the organic layer of soil. Using effective methods of site preparation and larger seedlings will hasten the growth process and turn the stand into carbon sink faster.

We can significantly increase the growth of forests by fertilizing them. More growth equals more binded carbon dioxide. In peatlands we can use wood ash primed with some nutrients and on mineral soil we can use ordinary nitrogen-phosphorus fertilizers. It is said that the fertilizing is possibly the best investment that can be done in forests.

Sometimes we have forests that are underproductive for some reason. It might be related to wrong choice of species or maybe the natural regeneration did not produce a proper stock of valuable species. These kinds of forests should be regenerated with proper thought so that same problem is not occurring again.

Afforestation of unused fields or peat bogs is one of the easiest ways of increasing the carbon sink.

For optimal growth every forest must be managed right, and necessary silvicultural actions have to be done in right time. This increases growth and thus carbon sink and is very beneficiary for the health of the forest. Precommercial thinning, thinning or selective cutting are obligatory in order to get the most production out of forest stand.

Building resilience and the health of the forests

Healthy forest is more resilient to different diseases and insects and can withstand better the effects of the climate change. Thinning and selective cutting are a great tool of creating healthy and vital forests.

Monoculture of trees might be disastrous if there is an outbreak of specific insect or a disease. The climate change might alter the growing conditions unsuitable for certain species. Managing mixed species forests creates protection from pathogen outbreaks and increases the probability that one of the species will be more tolerant to changing conditions.

Our summers are getting hotter and drier and our winters warmer and rainier. This creates lots of stress for the trees. When we are regenerating forests, we should already predict what kind the climate is going to be in 60-100 years, so we can choose the right species and the correct provenance to withstand the future conditions.

Old growth forest

Conclusion

In conclusion by applying Climate-Smart Forestry we can

  • Mitigate the effects of climate change by
    sequestering more CO2 by accelerating growth
  • Take care of the health and resilience of the forests
  • Preserve the existing carbon storage

BCon is offering services to apply the Climate-Smart Forestry- approach in your business. There is always a room for improvement, and we are happy to help you to mitigate the effects of the climate change.

Read more about our services and contact us!