CANADA’S GROWING WOOD PELLET EXPORT INDUSTRY THREATENS FORESTS, THE CLIMATE, AND WILDLIFE
By Suzanne Forcese
“Canada and British Columbia are subsidizing the development of the wood pellet industry as a climate solution based on faulty carbon accounting, poor scientific evidence, weak regulations, and land use planning that is failing to protect old growth forests and threatened species habitat.” Investigative Report, Stand.earth research team
Near Prince George, British Columbia, the only inland ancient temperate rainforest in the world is nestled in the un-ceded Traditional Territory of the Lheidli T’enneh. Old-growth trees, some 2000 years in age, shelter a network of nourishment connectivity. Providing one-third of the world’s oxygen and vast stores of carbon, these giants not only provide other ecosystem services such as clean water and air filtration but also home to endangered caribou herds.
This is part of B.C.’s identity. Now at risk of being clear cut.
Amongst red cedars, Conservation North volunteer, Sean O’Rourke, in designated cutblock.
Photo Courtesy Conservation North
The world of old Western Cedars, Hemlock trees, Douglas Fir and a rich biodiversity of plants, mosses, lichens and fungi are about to be liquidated.
Sean O’Rourke, a field scout with the volunteer-based group, Conservation North, discovered (in publicly available harvest data) that the Province has issued cutting permits to two pellet companies for logging old growth forest.
Planned pellet cutblock to the right; Canfor cutblock to the left. Photo Courtesy Conservation North
Pinnacle Renewable Energy has a long-term contract with GS Global Corporation, a Korean Conglomerate (the world’s third largest importer of biomass); and Pacific Bioenergy has a long-term agreement with Japanese power producers.
The planned cutblock will be logged this winter for pellets.
WATERTODAY had the pleasure of speaking with Conservation North’s Director, forest ecologist, Michelle Connolly.
Michelle Connolly next to bear den in planned cutblock. Photo Courtesy Conservation North
“Logging rainforest for lumber is bad enough, (as we can see in this time lapse of logging since 1940) so we’re flabbergasted about the choice to issue permits to grind rainforest into stuff that will be squished into pellets, shipped overseas and burned for electricity.”
Connolly continues, “The heat map shows so much loss of old growth and biodiversity. We've crossed the threshold. Now it’s time to focus on managing the parts of our province that need protecting.”
One year ago, Premier John Hogan welcomed (news release, October 17, 2019) a long term export for B.C. forest products between Pinnacle Renewable Energy and Mitsui & Co (Canada) that will see Pinnacle export 100,000 tonnes of industrial wood pellets to Japan annually to fuel Mitsui’s biomass power generation plant. “A clean, renewable electricity”-- the news release states.
“Growing the wood pellet industry in Canada doubles down on carbon emissions: first by instantly releasing a forest’s stored carbon at the smokestack; and second by driving the further degradation of forests, which are a critical ally in the fight against climate change.” Stand.earth
“Logging for pellets is not ‘clean’, or ‘renewable’ in any way, shape or form,” Connolly says. “Primary forests are not renewable. We know the best way to keep our rainforest in tact is to hold onto our carbon.”
Ancient trees have pulled tons of carbon from the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years, preventing climate warming. “When the rainforest is logged, most of the carbon goes into the atmosphere.”
Two new reports were released in April 2020, ( one commissioned by the B.C. Government) A new Future For Old Forests – A Strategic Review of How British Columbia Manages for Old Forests Within Its Ancient Ecosystems; and the second scientific report, BC’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand For Biodiversity,( Karen Price. PhD et al).
Both reports support the view that BC’s most endangered old growth forests (those with less than 10% of their area covered in old forest) must be protected now to avoid irreversible damage and biodiversity collapse in this unique ecosystem.
“BC has failed to meet a basic and straightforward recommendation by scientists and their own appointed panel, which is to stop harvesting the rarest old growth forests immediately.” Michelle Connolly
WT reached out to the offices of the BC Government for comment but due to election priorities we were unable to receive a statement in time for publication.
An investigative report by Stand.earth scientific research team, Canada’s Growing Wood Pellet Export Industry Threatens Forests, Wildlife, and Our Climate states:
“Canada is the world’s second largest wood pellet producer and exports the majority of wood pellets to European and Asian markets. A loophole in international climate agreements means that biomass plants do not have to count emissions at the stack, under the premise that emissions are accounted for and offset on the supply side.”
“The accounting now used for assessing compliance with carbon limits in the Kyoto Protocol and in climate legislation contains a far-reaching but fixable flaw that will severely undermine greenhouse gas reduction goals. It does not count CO2 emitted from tailpipes and smokestacks when bioenergy is being used, but it also does not count changes in emissions from land use when biomass energy is harvested or grown. This accounting erroneously treats all bioenergy as carbon neutral regardless of the source of the biomass, which may cause large differences in net emissions. For example, the clearing of long-established forests to burn wood or to grow energy crops is counted as a 100% reduction in energy emissions despite causing large releases of carbon.” (Fixing A Critical Climate Error, Timothy D. Searchinger et al)
The Stand.earth Investigative Report adds:
- At the smokestack, burning wood pellets for power generation is worse than coal in terms of climate pollution
- It can take decades to centuries for forests to regain the majority of their carbon storage capacity compared to pre-harvest levels, where carbon is instantly emitted to the atmosphere when wood pellets are burned
- Serious flaws in emissions accounting and the blanket classification of biomass as a renewable energy resource jeopardize our ability to meet global climate goals
- The industry is only tenable due to massive subsidies, especially in import countries, where resources could be invested in true- low-carbon solutions such as wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, and efficiency.
The growth of the wood pellet industry is also putting forest ecosystems at risk.
“In 2018, the federal government declared that southern mountain caribou herds – the subpopulation of woodland caribou whose habitat includes the Inland Temperate Rainforest – were at imminent risk of extinction.”
These animals signal the broader health of forest ecosystems and their ability to regulate carbon, given that they depend upon large tracts of old and intact forests for their survival.
The map shows a rough outline of forestry roads within the 150 km radius of each of the 3 BC mills that are close to caribou ranges.
Interview requests sent to both Pacific BioEnergy and Pinnacle Renewable Energy by WT did not elicit responses.
“What is most egregious,” Connolly says “is that the BC Government is granting permission for the extinction of our rainforest and the ecosystems within it.”
Conservation North and Stand.earth continue to urge Canadians to send a message to the BC Government to protect our old growth forests on the Take Action page conservationnorth.org
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Conservation North, and do not necessarily reflect those of WaterToday.
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