The Climate-Smart Forestry (CSF) approach aims to manage forests to mitigate climate change by preserving and, if possible, increasing the carbon sequestration of forests. Most countries are committed to finding solutions to maintain a certain level of carbon sink, and sooner or later, attention will turn to forests. In this blog, we will cover the basics of Climate-Smart Forestry in Finland and highlight practices that could be applicable elsewhere in the boreal zone.
In Finland, a deeper understanding of LULUCF-commitments has sparked an ongoing debate between stakeholders, such as private forest owners, the forest industry, and environmental organizations. The main question in this debate is whether intensive forest management increases or decreases the carbon sink. Some want to justify protecting more forests, while others want a strong argument for increasing logging.
The Carbon sink
So, what happens to the carbon sink if we do more logging? The answer is that it depends on the timeframe, starting point of calculations, and which components of the forest we focus on. It can be proved both ways if the data and scenario are carefully selected. However, after numerous studies and strong debate, we now understand that intensive forest management with lots of clear-cutting will decrease the carbon sequestration and carbon storage of forests in the long run. The arguments against this are usually based on the fact that old growth forests are no longer carbon sinks and will start to emit carbon dioxide as they slowly decay.
Thus, it would be better to perform regeneration cuttings before the growth has stopped and plant new trees to absorb CO2 more effectively. While it’s true that trees in their fastest growth stage will absorb CO2 most effectively, the fact is that the soil consists of 60% of the carbon sink of forests. If clear-cutting is performed, the soil starts to lose carbon sink almost immediately due to decay of the organic layer. This loss accumulates over time, and that is why intensive forest management decreases the carbon sink in the long run. It takes many years after regeneration before the stand is acting again as a carbon sink.
Toolbox of the CSF
We can divide actions into three categories:
- 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. The European Forestry Institute (EFI) has put the CSF nicely in a nutshell, and Metsähallitus, a company that governs the state-owned forests in Finland, has a great website about the subject. The goals of Climate-Smart Forestry are to reduce or remove greenhouse gases, build more resilient forests, increase productivity, and preserve the multi-uses of the forests.
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 in the stand to continuously absorb carbon dioxide. This is a viable option, especially for peatlands.
Prolonging the rotation period is a great way to bind a little more carbon and preserve the carbon sink a little longer. We can add some 20 years to the rotation time and gain the benefits of added carbon absorption.
Preventing forest fires is extremely important in areas where 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 forest regeneration. Forest fires can be prevented by removing excess wooden material with thinnings and harvesting logging residues for energy.
In case of underproductive peatlands, where the decaying peat emits more CO2 than the trees will absorb, there is also the option of rewetting the peatland by raising the water level back to its normal state. When the water levels are high, the peatland will start accumulating peat and absorbing carbon dioxide again. This can be achieved through ditch blocking, which means blocking or partially filling in drainage ditches, or through the construction of dams or other water-retention structures.
Increasing the carbon sequestration
In clear cutting, regeneration operations must be quick and thorough to minimize the downtime of carbon sequestration and prevent the decay of the organic layer of soil. Using effective methods of site preparation and larger seedlings can hasten the growth process and turn the stand into a carbon sink faster.
Forest growth can be significantly increased by fertilizing them. More growth means more bound carbon dioxide. Wood ash primed with some nutrients can be used on peatlands, while ordinary nitrogen-phosphorus fertilizers can be used on mineral soil. Fertilizing is possibly the best investment that can be made in forests.
Underproductive forests, due to the wrong choice of species or improper natural regeneration, must be regenerated with proper thought to prevent the same problem from occurring again.
Afforestation of unused fields or peat bogs is one of the easiest ways to increase the carbon sink.
To achieve optimal growth, every forest must be managed properly, and necessary silvicultural actions must be taken at the right time. Precommercial thinning, thinning, or selective cutting are mandatory to get the most production out of a forest stand. Proper forest management increases growth, carbon sink, and is very beneficial for the health of the forest.
Building resilience and the health of the forests
Maintaining a healthy forest is crucial for its resilience against various diseases, insects, and the effects of climate change. One way to achieve this is through thinning and selective cutting, which can help create a vibrant and robust forest ecosystem.
However, a monoculture of trees can be disastrous if a specific insect or disease outbreak occurs. Additionally, the changing climate may render growing conditions unsuitable for certain species. To mitigate these risks, managing mixed species forests can provide protection against pathogen outbreaks, and increase the probability that one of the species will be more tolerant to changing conditions.
As summers become hotter and drier, and winters warmer and rainier, trees face increased stress. Therefore, when regenerating forests, it is essential to consider what the climate will be like in the future, possibly up to 60-100 years in advance, to choose the right species and provenance that can withstand the changing conditions. This will help create a healthy and sustainable forest ecosystem that can withstand the challenges posed by climate change.
In conclusion Climate-Smart Forestry can help mitigate the effects of climate change by:
- Sequestering more CO2 by accelerating growth
- Taking care of the health and resilience of the forests
- Preserving the existing carbon storage
At BCon, we offer services to help your business apply the Climate-Smart Forestry approach and make improvements to your forestry practices. We are committed to helping you mitigate the effects of climate change and make a positive impact on the environment.