WASHINGTON'S FORESTS & WOOD ARE A NATURAL CARBON SOLUTION

Healthy, Managed Forests Absorb Carbon.
Wood We Use Stores Carbon.

Science now confirms that growing and harvesting wood from carbon-absorbing trees under sustainable practices is a natural way to create and accelerate substantial net carbon reductions, even more than forests on unattended land.

The use of wood products to substitute for more energy-intensive building materials reduces our carbon footprint as wood naturally stores carbon indefinitely.

Washington’s forest products industry is Below Net Zero, and reduces Washington’s carbon footprint by 12%. While growing, managing, harvesting, transporting and manufacturing wood and paper products emit some greenhouse gasses, growing trees and wood products store significantly more carbon than those emissions. (Source: Global Warming Mitigating Role of Wood Products from Washington State’s Private Forests, University of Washington

And the same practices that ensure sustainable timber harvests in healthy, managed forestlands also reduce the risk of mass carbon emission events such as catastrophic wildfires. Large, unmanaged, and unhealthy forestlands pose a greater risk of mass carbon emission events such as catastrophic wildfires and large-scale treefall in windstorms resulting in excessive, carbon-emitting decay and rot.

Sustainable working forests support goals for reducing carbon in Washington state.

  • The forest industry is carbon-friendly – part of a responsible solution to addressing climate change. In sustainable forestry operations, forest landowners grow and harvest trees in a never-ending cycle which is driven by a demand for wood. The growing trees and harvested wood absorb and store carbon.
  • Using natural wood building products to substitute for more fossil fuel-intensive materials is a natural solution for reducing net carbon emissions. One square meter of wood used in construction prevents the emission of 1.1 tons of carbon when substituted for other building materials.
  • Increasing sustainable forest management: harvesting timber, transferring carbon storage to wood products, and reforestation increases carbon stocks.
  • Working forests achieve carbon reductions at the lowest cost to our economy – the costs are shared through the market for wood instead of through direct demands on taxpayers and businesses – and the family-wage jobs in the forest sector are “green” jobs.
  • Even beyond carbon, modern working forestry as practiced in Washington supports many other environmental benefits we all care about, such as protecting the cool, clean water that salmon need to thrive.
  • For our shared goals, working forests represent a high use of land. Supporting working forests on private and state trust lands prevents the conversion to non-forest uses that would increase emissions.

Demand in Washington for housing will continue to increase. Where the wood used in building construction comes from matters. If it’s not a healthy forest here, it’s a forest somewhere else.

  • By 2050, Washington state needs to hit an ambitious “net zero carbon” target for making meaningful contributions to managing global climate change. During the same time, the state’s population is projected to grow steadily. Wood remains our most carbon friendly building material. Meeting both of those demands requires leveraging the special advantages of Washington’s working forests. 
  • Current demand for wood used in Washington state cannot be fully met by in-state supply – as much as 30% of the lumber sold in Washington is imported. Reducing the ability of Washington’s working forests to meet the demand would increase our reliance on less desirable export markets.
  • The natural abundance of forestland combined with regulated practices requiring environmental stewardship and sustainable forest management here means that Washington state is a great place to grow trees. And being a great place to grow trees means that we are also a great place to mill lumber.
  • High productivity and long growing seasons are why working forests thrive here while in other regions they struggle.

The good news is that Washington state is ahead of the curve. State law already recognizes the special role of the forest sector in reducing overall carbon emissions.

The Forest Products Sector Carbon Bill – HB 2528 – is landmark legislation that recognizes the critical role the entire forest products sector plays in addressing climate change. The bill, signed into law on March 25th, 2020, distinguishes the private forestry sector as one of the most effective and natural ways to remove greenhouse gases from our atmosphere, sequestering 12% of the state’s carbon emission annually.

Sustainably managed forests provide a renewable timber supply of wood-based goods that retain the stored carbon throughout the life of the wood product. The Forest Products Sector Carbon Bill acknowledges that an intact and synergistic forest products sector is vital for forestland owners to continue the rotational cycle of carbon capture and sequestration in growing trees.

University of Washington science describes the role of private working forests in Washington state in mitigating global warming. The results are the total benefit on global warming of wood products and net forest growth (after harvesting) in private forests is about 13% in 2015.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Forest Products and Carbon

No. Although Washington will always need forestland that is set aside – currently more than 75% of all forestland acres are restricted from logging – we derive indispensable benefits from forests that are in a never-ending cycle of growth and harvest, and when we derive the benefit from wood as a substitute for more fossil fuel-intensive materials.

When forests are intensively managed – using silvicultural practices such as planting trees, thinning, and taking preventive action against disease and infestation – they grow faster, and store more carbon than unattended, unmanaged stands. In all of Washington State, private forests provide the highest level of growth, in addition to harvested wood products – which continue to store carbon endlessly.

And unmanaged forestland poses risks. The data on growth versus mortality across all categories of forests in Washington state tells a very clear story: In managed forests, the percentage of tree mass lost to mortality is considerably lower than on unmanaged forestland.

Tree mass lost to mortality not only stops absorbing carbon, but it also becomes a much higher risk for inciting mass carbon emission events such as catastrophic wildfires.

Because the goal of ensuring that we have all of the carbon friendly wood we need is entwined with our goals for carbon reduction, it is essential that we look to get as much of that wood from places such as Washington state where working forests check off all of the right boxes. The alternative would be to import the lumber we need from places that do not meet the same high standards. Carbon reduction is global problem. A “not in my backyard” approach would take us further away from a very important goal.

Yes. Building with natural, sustainable and renewable resources is the best way to move to a lower carbon economy. With Washington’s 22 million acres of forests, wood products are the most natural resource, and the forest industry supports more than 101,000 family-wage jobs and rural economies across the state.

Working forests comprise 47% of all forests in Washington State, the rest are conservation areas on private, state and local forests, and federal parks and wilderness areas.

Wood used in long-lived products provides the greatest reduction in fossil fuel use and emissions. On average, when we substitute wood for energy-intensive building products, we offset two tons of carbon emissions for every dry metric ton of wood used. This occurs because we are eliminating fossil fuel emissions that would have been released into the air had we used more energy-intensive materials, thus adding to the net benefit of wood.

The Pacific Northwest, because of our long growing seasons and a legacy of professional forestry reaching back more than a century, is a very special place to grow trees. The region’s access to healthy sustainable forests also makes Washington a natural home to milling operations. Under our state’s comprehensive laws and collaborative forest practice rules, Washington’s working forests are also recognized as meeting the highest standards in the world for environmental stewardship, especially for protecting critical fish and wildlife habitat.

Washington state has set an important and ambitious goal to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. Washington’s forest products industry is Below Net Zero, and reduces Washington’s carbon footprint by 12%. While growing, managing, harvesting, transporting and manufacturing wood and paper products emit some greenhouse gasses, growing trees and wood products store significantly more carbon than those emissions. (Source: Global Warming Mitigating Role of Wood Products from Washington State’s Private Forests, University of Washington)

Here are some of the useful facts about Net Zero, working forests and wood:

  • Net Zero carbon emissions are also referred to as Carbon Neutral.
  • Net Zero Plus means that a system removes more carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere than it produces. This is also referred to as Carbon Capture or Negative Emissions.
  • Embodied carbon emissions in building materials refers to the carbon dioxide emitted during the manufacture, transport and construction of building materials, and their end-of-life emissions, often referred to as Life Cycle Impact.
  • Embodied carbon is responsible for 11% of global GHG emissions and is 28% of the global building sector. Using naturally storing wood products reduces the embodied carbon in buildings.
  • Buildings, construction and operation comprise one of the largest consumers of energy and sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. GHG emissions from buildings consist of the embodied carbon of materials and emissions from operations (NZ18).
  • Buildings generate 40% of the world’s carbon emissions. With an average global population increase of 82 million per year, by 2050 nearly 70% of the population will live in urban environments, doubling the building floor area. Substituting wood for more energy intensive materials lowers embodied carbon emissions.
  • On average, the private forest industry, including growing, harvesting, transportation and milling wood is Below Net Zero as it sequesters 12% of WA state’s carbon emissions (Global Warming Mitigating Role of Wood Products from Washington State’s Private Forests, University of Washington).

Buy local produce in season.

You’ll help reduce the use of fossil fuels in transport costs, as well as fuel to refrigerate food in transit when you buy local. Check your neighborhood farmer’s market to taste what’s in season this week. Mmmm, fresh-picked goodness.

Shop resale instead of buying trendy.

According to multiple sources, the average American discards around 81 pounds of clothing a year. That’s a lot of sweatpants. This year, shop smart and you’ll have pieces to wear for years to come. And we’ll all have a lot less waste in our landfills.

Use public transportation.

Or walk, bike, whatever keeps your car off the road (and emissions out of the atmosphere). Even a day a week can help and it’s an easy way to work towards those 10,000 steps. Bonus: no stressful parking spot scavenger hunts!

Unplug those devices.

“Vampire power,” (the sneaky power drain that occurs even when devices are powered down but plugged in) not only costs billions every year, it contributes to your carbon footprint, even if you’re not actively charging. Also, consider a laptop instead of a desktop for your next purchase and save even more energy.

Green your thumb.

Plant a tree! (We did it 52 million times last year.) Of course, you don’t need a lot of space to grow some green stuff. Even a pot on the back porch or balcony will do. Then, take a deep breath as you take in the oxygen your growing plants release, as they do their part to absorb carbon dioxide.

Turn your water heater down to 120 degrees.

Simply turning that water heater down can save 500 pounds of CO2 a year. If you’ve never adjusted yours, it’s most likely set at 140 degrees. Which means, lowering the temp can not only reduce your carbon footprint, but also your cost and most important, your risk of being scalded.

Build with wood.

The trees that grow on the millions of acres of Washington’s working forests absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Then, when those trees become wood for a house or building, it takes the carbon with it—and keeps it out of our air—for the life of the wood products. Plus, wood products typically require less energy to manufacture than other building materials.