Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is Wood Good? Is it as good as you say it is?

A number of wood products industry associations have just launched a new website extolling the virtues of Canadian wood as enviromentally responsible.

I suppose it's inevitable that, as an environmentalist, there would be claims on such a marketing site that I find problematic. Afterall, my blog almost certainly contains some claims that others would not agree with... probably including my posts on wood products.

But when I come across a site like this I lament the inefficiency of positional arguments and wish instead that we could get together and hash out our perceptions, understandings and evidence so we could at least both be communicating balanced information, and hopefully whatever policies or actions we think should result.

Here are a couple of examples of views from the site that conflict with mine:

Wood products sequester more carbon dioxide than is emitted during harvesting, transportation, and manufacturing. I believe this to be untrue. My understanding is that, if you take carbon stored in wood products into account, it reduces the recorded emission, but it is still a net emission.

As a proud leader in forest management... Canada has the most protected forest in the world. This statistic is misleading because Canada is the second largest country in the world, so it's easy to have more land than anyone else in any category of land use. Canada also has more forest than most other countries. Less than 10 percent of Canada is protected.

What would happen if both sides were to sit down and agree to a bunch of balanced facts and characterizations about the state of Canada's forests and how forestry affects our climate. I think the problems with our forests and the benefits of wood are both real enough that a broadly supported portrayal would still argue for outcomes both sides are trying to achieve. This probably applies more broadly as well, and not just to Canada.


Anonymous said...


You are too kind. While the following statement is narrowly true in the strict legal sense, if harvesting is only construed to mean the cutting of the tree by machinery, however if harvesting is given its usual meaning, then the statement is clearly false and misleading. I view this purposeful delusion as bordering on criminal when we face such huge problems of C emissions and sequestration.

"Wood products sequester more carbon dioxide than is emitted during harvesting, transportation, and manufacturing. "

In fact, in the B.C interior, where 70% of our hwp export originates, every unit of C that is sequestered in hwp releases two additional units of C into the environment.

Here is the calculation:

In the interior of B.C less than 35 percent* of a tree that is logged makes it into hwps. So, in the B.C interior, to get one cubic metre of studs, plywood or other durable products, you have to log, burn, or otherwise liquidate 2 metres of wood. 2 for 1. The more hwp you make the more you release. To this you have to add C release from habitat and soil destruction, which will make the emissions even higher. Then add the processing, transport and manufacture and delivery of the hwp.

* 5% of a tree is limbs and tops, this is left behind on the block, most of which is piled and burned.
15% of the logs are currently being left behind as DWB (decay waste and breakage, including an allowed percentage of grade 1) which is piled and burned.

Of the 70% of the wood that makes it to the mill, if everything is perfect, maybe 50% makes it into hwp, the rest is chips, sawdust and hog fuel. Ergo only 35% on the wood in the forest that is felled by the bunchers ever makes it into hwps.

And believe me, these numbers are conservative, very conservative.

In this discussion we also need to consider the substitution argument as well as bioelectricity and biomass ethanol campaigns, all three of which are being used, along with the hwp initiative, to justify the status quo, converting more and more original forest to managed lands, resulting in degradation and increased Carbon emissions.

Dave Neads

Chris Henschel said...

Hi Dave,

Thanks for your very informative comment.


Neil said...

I concur with your blog posting about getting together and finding out what the common ground I sand what we can really all agree on. Until we are confident about the variation in different forests ability to sequester and store as well as the variety of HWP that come from these forests we are just going to be making generalizations. There are clearly big differences in coastal forests here from boreal forests in general and a “one size fits all” approach is not going to work.

Anonymous said...


I'm as a big of a tree hugger as you will find and make monthly donnations to CPAWS. As an environmentalist, I beleive we should protect our natural woodlands and minimize our impact on the environment everywhere.

Unfortuately the focus has shifted towards debating pseudo-science. CO2 is what trees live on - its NOT a global warming gas. Speaking of which, climates change!!. Northern Alberta has the oil sands because it used to be the bottom of a tropical sea, while hockey was invented in England when it was only recently a lot colder. If anything, the data is pointing towards another mini Ice Age.

Instead of building silly windmills and digging holes to 'capture carbon', why not get back to closing up coal burning electrical plants and stopping logging in Algonquin Park.

Markus said...

Hi Chris,
you made a good point - end of days it's not forests or forest products which can be venerated or which can be blamed for - it's the way how we treat our forests for which we can be honored or blamed for... Forest management and all related duties like harvesting, silviculture, afforestation, engeneering infrastructure ... are of critical path.
And: the products of forests in spite of the environmental view is not the HWP which have been taken out - the products is the timberland... (and how it looks like).
Have a look:

Chris Henschel said...

Thanks for the anonymous post about the rightful focus of our environmental efforts: closing coal-fired power plants and getting logging out of Algonquin Park. I certainly agree with you about the primacy of *acting* to fix such obvious environmental problems.

Having said that, CPAWS does believe that climate change poses a threat to wild ecosystems in Canada... as does poorly designed climate change policy measures (like increasing forest harvest to burn trees instead of coal in those power plants - this is being proposed by the Ontario government).

Take a look at CPAWS' climate change policy. Does it make sense to you?

Chris Henschel said...

Hi Markus,

Thanks for your comment about HWP and for posting the presentation from the Geneva meeting last Fall. Trevor actually works for a chapter of CPAWS as well, so I am familiar with his work!