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Trees are the answer to climate change

I am writing in response to Paul Herrmann’s Jan. 30 Adirondack Daily Enterprise letter to the editor.

I would like to respond to the self-described “tree-hugging, flatland, liberal” Paul Herrmann and his questioning why we cut trees.

Paul is correct that the over-harvesting of trees by land barons and loggers in the Adirondacks resulted in the creation of the Forest Preserve and the eventual preservation of over 4 million acres in New York state, 3 million acres in the Adirondacks. Since 1993, the state of New York has purchased over 317,791 acres in fee and another 803,720 acres was purchased as conservation easements (where the state bought the recreation and development rights to give the public access and to prevent development).

To answer your question: Why do we continue to cut trees when carbon is building up in our atmosphere? Aren’t we putting more carbon into the air when we harvest trees and use the products in pulp, pellets and firewood (and I’ll add lumber)? The answer to his question is that growing and harvesting trees is the key to slowing down and eventually halting climate change. What? How can this be?

As most children and some adults know, trees are the greatest sequester of carbon on earth. Trees will absorb carbon from the atmosphere through their leaves in the process of photosynthesis, producing oxygen, glucose (sugar, used as maple syrup from some trees) and water. Trees scrub the air of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and, in the process, sequester (absorb and hold) this carbon in the roots, stem, branches and leaves of the tree. When foresters write management plans to produce income for the landowner, the process is normally to have a logging contractor harvest trees to produce this income, but really the goal is to regenerate the forest with new, vibrant growth. These seedlings will eventually take the place of the harvested trees, absorbing carbon and producing the byproducts of photosynthesis at a rate significantly higher, theoretically, than its parent.

The trees that are harvested are converted into sawlogs for lumber and furniture. Pallets are made for carrying large quantities of “bulk” material. Pulpwood as a product can be for newsprint, magazines and toilet paper, and yes, even firewood. All of these products have sequestered carbon in them and will last various lengths of time, depending on their use. For example, lumber is put into homes and buildings, and can last (has lasted) hundreds of years until a building burns down. You don’t want me to get into mass timber; that is another HUGE benefit to using wood in commercial structures. (Producing steel and cement is a HUGE consumer of energy and producer of carbon in the process.) Pulpwood can produce paper, and studies show that paper found in landfills 50 years later has not experienced any biodegradation, so it hasn’t released its carbon yet. Pulpwood can also be converted to pellets, which can be used for burning in pellet stoves, displacing geologic carbon (fossil fuels). Or, more importantly I think, this product can be used to produce biopharmaceuticals and biofuels, displacing, again, the need for fossil fuels.

I use firewood to supplement my use of heating fuel in my house, as many Adirondackers do. I do this for multiple reasons, but the old Henry Ford quote works for me: “Chop your own wood, and it will warm you twice” (not to mention all the times you might move it). I consume significantly less heating fuel because of my use of firewood as supplemental heat.

In closing, growing and harvesting trees is one of the answers to slowing down and ultimately stopping climate change. By harvesting trees, we continue to sequester carbon in the products that we convert the trees into, or we replace geologic carbon that we used to make these products with, thereby lowering our carbon emissions. The new trees that replace them, after harvesting, are absorbing carbon at a significantly higher rate than their predecessors did. Not to mention that forest management minimizes the destruction of devastating forest fires on the environment and the inevitable release of carbon when trees burn.

To quote the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks (the number of trees in the forest), while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre, or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit (reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere).” That’s what the smartest scientists in the world and most peer-reviewed research has to say about it, too!

We don’t need more Forest Preserve; we need to promote the forest products industry in the Adirondacks, and the rest of New York state and New England. We don’t need to restrict it more and take away productive forestland, never to be harvested and grown for the benefits of the people of the state of New York. I agree there is a place for the Forest Preserve; we just don’t need a lot more of it. The professionals in this industry need our support and, yes, admiration, for working in the outdoors doing a job that many of us don’t find desirable, producing a product that we can’t live without. We need better markets for our wood products to help make land ownership not so arduous, which makes landowners more apt to subdivide and fragment their lands rather than keeping it in forest production. Land is a limited resource; we don’t need to further restrict this resource by putting it into Forest Preserve.

Thanks for “teeing up” a great opportunity to tell people the benefits that my profession and industry provides for you, and the people of the United States and the world.

Timothy P. Burpoe lives in Saranac Lake and is a certified forester and landowner.

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