This article originally published in
OVEC note: In coal-bearing regions of Central Appalachia, we need to know the
value of the ecosystem services our verdant forests and headwaters streams
provide before they are forever destroyed by coal companies committing
September 28, 2006
Forests Worth Far More Alive Than Dead
BROOKLIN, Canada, Sep 27 (IPS) - Boreal forests provide 250 billion
dollars a year in ecosystem services like reducing atmospheric carbon and water
filtration, but which have gone unacknowledged by governments and industry,
Governments need to begin accounting for those services before allowing timber,
oil and gas and mining to carve up the world's remaining northern forests,
argues the Edmonton, Canada-based ecological economist Mark Anielski.
The globe-spanning boreal forest is the last great forest ecosystem -- larger
even than the Amazon. The boreal is also the largest terrestrial storehouse of
carbon, making it one of the world's best defences against global climate
"The boreal is like a giant carbon bank account. The forests and peatlands store
an estimated 67 billion tonnes of carbon in Canada alone -- almost eight times
the amount of carbon produced worldwide in the year 2000," Anielski told IPS.
Storing carbon and absorbing carbon dioxide are just one of 16 ecological
services the boreal provides.
"We couldn't calculate values for them all -- such as providing food and habitat
for bees that perform valuable services like pollination," said the researcher,
who presented his findings at Canada's 10th National Forest Congress Sept.
Other services like waste recycling and soil formation also went uncounted.
"This 250-billion-dollar estimate is a very conservative number," Anielski
Most of the world's original wild forests have been logged or developed, and
today, only about 20 percent remains, mainly in the boreal and Amazon region.
Canada's portion of the boreal represents more than 1.3 billion acres -- over 25
percent of the remaining intact forest on the planet.
"If these ecosystem services were counted in Canada, they would amount to
roughly nine percent of GDP [Gross Domestic Product]," he said.
That represents more than the GDP contribution of Canada's huge mining sector,
at four percent, or its booming energy industry, at 5.6 percent.
Most of the Canadian boreal is in public hands, but just eight percent is
officially protected. There is growing pressure to expand industrial logging,
hydropower, mining and oil and gas development in the boreal.
"It is high time for everybody to realise that Canada is not an endless sea of
virgin forest anymore. Almost half of the forest is either logged or
fragmented," said Peter Lee, executive director of Global Forest Watch Canada,
an environmental group in Edmonton, Alberta.
Global Forest Watch and the World Resources Institute in Washington are part of
an international effort to map and document the extent of the world's remaining
forest using satellite data. Satellite pictures also clearly reveal forest cover
loss through fires and logging.
New satellite pictures show massive clear-cutting of the boreal forest in the
province of Ontario. Despite a government commitment to sustainable forestry,
photos from space show big holes in the forest cover exceeding 260 hectares in
size, where nothing is left but rocks and broken tree branches.
Ontario allows clear-cutting up to 750 hectares while Russia, home to the
majority of the boreal, allows only 50 hectares.
Concern over the Canadian boreal has grown such that a large coalition of
environmental groups and industry, including some forestry companies, has joined
the Canadian Boreal Framework, which calls for protection of at least 50 percent
of the forest.
"Canada is one of the only countries in the world that still has an opportunity
to get it right, to protect our boreal forest and ensure a sustainable,
conservation-based economy," said Tzeporah Berman of ForestEthics, an
environmental group active in Canada, the United States and Chile.
While efforts gain momentum to preserve existing Canadian forests, the U.S.
could offset nearly 20 percent of its current emissions of CO2 by turning
marginal farmland into forests.
An estimated 115 million acres of land in the lower United States that is poor
for agriculture but good for growing trees could store enough carbon to reduce
the country's current emissions of 7.075 billion metric tonnes by nearly 20
percent, according to the report "Agricultural and Forestlands: U.S. Carbon
Policy Strategies" released recently by the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change.
"There is lots of land out there and we are tapping so very little of our
ability to sequester carbon," says report co-author Ken Richards of the School
of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.
"It would cost about 50 dollars per metric tonne of carbon stored," Richards
Most of the 50 dollars per tonne of carbon cost is compensation for landowners.
"Farmers support the idea but only if they can count on receiving money for this
over the long term such as decades," he said.
Many U.S. government conservation programmes either fail to get funding at all
or are funded for short periods of time. There have been at least nine
programmes that could have stored carbon on farms in the past few years but they
never received the necessary funding, he said.
This re-foresting of the United States would bring many other benefits, such as
erosion control, water quality protection and improved wildlife habitat.
"Over longer time horizons, agricultural and forestlands can produce
biomass-based substitutes for fossil fuels, thereby further reducing emissions,"
the Pew report notes.
It would also be good for farmers in the U.S., where agricultural overproduction
has kept crop prices low for many years.
"The challenge is how to make this (reforestation) happen quickly and
effectively," said Richards. (END/2006)