CLEARCUTTING AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Undisturbed forests are crucial for a healthy climate, continuously taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in trees, shrubs and soil. But logging can transform a swath of forest from a carbon “sink” into a carbon source, not only destroying CO2-absorbing trees but emitting tons of new greenhouse gases in the process. Clearcutting — the most CO2-spewing logging method of them all — is meanwhile devastating to wildlife, habitat and water quality.
Law requires state agencies to consider and counter greenhouse gas emissions from all projects before those projects are approved. But some agencies don’t always follow the law. Notably, in summer 2009 the California Department of Forestry failed to carry out any project-specific analysis of the emissions that would come from clearcutting projects it approved for logging giant Sierra Pacific Industries. So the Center stepped in to uphold environmental laws in court.
We filed three lawsuits against the Department of Forestry over its approval of three clearcutting projects that would have collectively devastated more than 1,600 acres of Sierra Nevada forest. Our suits showed that the agency flouted the California Environmental Quality Act and the Forest Practice Act by not addressing the projects’ CO2 emissions. Less than a week after our last two suits were filed, Sierra Pacific withdrew all three logging projects in a big victory for California forests and the global climate. But the fight’s not over. Sierra Pacific plans more than two dozen similar logging projects, which are now awaiting approval and would clearcut more than 12,000 acres. The Center is poised to oppose those, too.
In response to a letter of opposition submitted by the Center, in February 2010 the California Air Resources Board withdrew its illegally adopted “forest offset protocol,” which would give carbon credits to forest projects involving clearcutting and other destructive practices that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions instead of helping reduce them. Also in early 2010, we filed lawsuits against the California Department of Forestry for illegally approving 15 clearcutting projects without properly analyzing the climate consequences. Unfortunately, later that year the Air Resources Board approved the forest offset protocol after outsourcing its development to a timber industry-influenced nongovernmental organization.
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