Many of us think of B.C.’s forests as important carbon sinks, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and helping mitigate climate change. However, according to new provincial data quietly released on a government website, B.C. forests are now approaching a full decade as a carbon source rather than a carbon sink.
Although British Columbia is covered by some of the most productive carbon-storing forest ecosystems on the planet, B.C. forests have been releasing more carbon than they sequester since 2003.
The forests changed from carbon sink to carbon source almost a decade ago partly due to the effects of both Mountain Pine Beetle outbreaks and increasing wildfires, both related to the effects of global warming. Other causes of high carbon emissions in B.C.’s forests include poor forest management practices like slash burning, excessive wood waste and logging of carbon rich old-growth forests.
“What makes this data so alarming is the fact that we are now approaching a full decade of carbon release from BC forests,” says Jens Wieting, Sierra Club BC’s forest and climate campaigner. “Poor forest management and climate impacts are a double whammy for our forests. This means we have to double our efforts to save our forests as part of the climate solution.”
Read a Sierra Club BC backgrounder on B.C. forests’ carbon meltdown.
According to the new data, B.C.’s forest lands emitted approximately 35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2011, equivalent to over half of B.C.’s official emissions that year (62 million tonnes of CO2). However, emissions from forests are considered a ‘memo item’ and are not currently counted as part of the official emissions tally.
Using government data, Sierra Club BC estimates the total amount of carbon emissions from B.C. forest lands since 2003 the first year the provincial forests turned from carbon sink to carbon source at 270 million tonnes, equivalent to over six times the province’s official annual emissions.
Restoring B.C.’s forests to carbon sinks will require increasing old-growth conservation and improving forest management, including ramping up reforestation and measures to control pests and wildfires.
“The signs are clear – our forests and other ecosystems are already severely impacted by climate change at just below one degree of global warming,” said Wieting. “More oil pipelines, coal mines and fracking wells will speed up global warming and result in worst case scenarios for our forests, clean air, clean water and our own survival. Without action our forest will not return to be an ally in the fight against global warming. We need our eyes on the health of our forests now, not more carbon polluting fossil fuels.”
– See more at: http://www.sierraclub.bc.ca/our-work/nature-global-warming/b.c.-forests-are-carbon-sources-not-carbon-sinks#sthash.pelu7K9b.dpuf