2008 conference
Peak Forests
Old Growth
Forest Biofuels
Helicopter Herbicides
Selective Forestry


Clearcutting the Climate conference is an archive of "Clearcutting the Climate," a conference held in Eugene, Oregon in January 2008 co-organized by Josh Schlossberg, Shannon Wilson, Samantha Chirillo, and Mark Robinowitz. We brought together forest scientists and climate experts to highlight the climatic impacts of deforestation.

Slowing climate change would need to include bans on clearcutting and allowing tree plantations to grow back into forests. Deforestation disrupts rainfall patterns that are a key factor in the greenhouse effect.

Clearcutting the Climate videos (partial list)

graphics from Professor Olga Krankina showing carbon storage in Douglas Fir forest after a clearcut. Even long rotation forestry cannot capture the original forest's carbon storage. Rotting stumps emit stored carbon for decades after logging in greater levels than the regrowth can absorb. Tree plantations also store much less carbon in the soil than old growth.

The first graphic shows carbon storage for an individual forest plot, the graphic below shows the carbon storage on a landscape level (many cuts averaged together). Forty year rotation clearcuts store less than half the carbon of old growth. Even hundred year rotations (rarely done by timber companies) store much less carbon than the original forest.

3. If allowed to mature, Pacific Northwest forests can capture and store more carbon per acre than any other major forest type on the planet. Old growth forests in western Oregon can store over 1,000 tons CO2-e per acre.

The Intergovernmental Panel and Climate Change (IPCC) has produced carbon storage metrics for 13 forest biomes within four global forest types: tropical, subtropical, temperate, and boreal. Pacific Northwest forests are part of the cool temperate moist biome, which is the most carbon rich biome on Earth with mean storage of 233 tons carbon per hectare (tC/ha).18

This biome "default" value, however, includes both cutover and old growth lands and various forest types. Old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest store far more.

Forest carbon density in Oregon's ancient forests has been found to top 1,000 tC/ha. For example, throughout the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forests, Seidel et al. (2012) found mean carbon storage in old growth to be 724.5 tC/ha, with maximum values over 1,200 tC/ha. The mean value is equivalent to 1,076 tCO2-e per acre (Appendix N).19


Biofuels and Deforestation

Biofuel production plans threaten to worsen the climate crisis. Large scale biomass proposals would require enormous amounts of forests to be consumed.

The timber industry is promoting forest biofuels as a green and renewable fuel source for electricity. Electric utilities like burning trees because they are baseload power that can augment naturally variable solar panels and wind turbines. Privately, many utilities probably know that the concentrated fuel sources for the power grid are near or at their "peaks."

Forest Solutions


Exports: raw logs and wood chips

Coos Bay used to export vast volumes of old growth timber. But since there was not an infinite supply, and the trees were cut much faster than they can grow back, this flood of forest products has ebbed and now the exports are smaller logs (often unmilled) and wood chips.

In 1998 I took a picture of the former mill on the Coos Bay waterfront, it had a sign stating “Products for Japan.” The mill, by then, was empty of equipment and the building was just a shell. Down the road, another site was transformed into a casino to fleece those who did not do well in math in school. Now, wood chips - a very low grade product - are exported from Coos Bay.

Exporting raw lots without milling them here in Oregon is a form of exporting jobs and money. It’s a “third world” approach to natural resources -- send the raw ingredients elsewhere to be turned into useful products.

The Oregon Coast Range was one of the most productive and amazing forests on the planet. A century of industrial deforestation has converted this region into a giant monoculture tree farm. Maybe one percent of the original forest remains and much of that is in the small “wilderness” areas. The timber companies have liquidated nearly all of their holdings and now that they only have second and third growth trees the financial value of these forestlands are much less.


If we really wanted to mitigate climate change, we would let these tree plantations grow back into old forests.

If we were concerned about a forest economy, raw log exports would be banned and we would think about value added products from milled logs (and non-timber products from forests) instead of treating the landscape as a raw material for a globalized market. (Oregon’s annual sales of furniture is less than the cost of a highway interchange.) Selective forestry can make more board feet in the long run than short rotation clearcuts, but this conflicts with corporate requirements for maximum short term profit.

If we wanted to mitigate unemployment, we could recreate the New Deal era Civilian Conservation Corps to restore clearcuts and tree farms into forests.

If we were concerned about cancer and birth defects, we would prohibit timber companies from spraying poison from helicopters that drifts downwind for miles and increases up the food chain.

And if we wanted to protect biodiversity, carbon storage, air and water quality, scenic vistas, recreation and the hydrologic cycle, we would convert Oregon’s National Forests, BLM Oregon and California lands, and State Forests into protected parks for future generations of all species. Cascadia National Park!



Because without the rain forests, we're going to have deserts. The food supply will dwindle. As a matter of fact, there's even the possibility that we're going to lose all kinds of valuable substances we know nothing about. Those rain forests have an incredible number of species of plants and animals that we know very little about. Some of them may produce chemicals of great pharmacological and medical importance. If properly cultivated, some of the plants might be new food sources. In addition to that, nothing produces the oxygen of the atmosphere with the same intensity that a forest does. Anything that substitutes for it will be producing less oxygen. We're going to be destroying our atmosphere, too.
-- Isaac Asimov


"Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed, chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones. Few that fell trees plant them; nor would planting avail much towards getting back anything like the noble primeval forests. During a man's life only saplings can be grown, in place of old trees -- tens of centuries old -- that have been destroyed. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods, -- trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries since Christ's time -- and long before that -- God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods, but he cannot save them from fools, -- only Uncle Sam can do that."
-- John Muir


Thomas Jefferson’s Remarks on the Destruction of Forests

A friend of Thomas Jefferson wrote, in describing the new Federal City:

"Indeed the whole plain was diversified with groves ... of forest trees which gave it the appearance of a fine park. Such as grew on the public grounds ought to have been preserved ... the poorer inhabitants cut down these noble and beautiful trees for fuel. In one single night seventy tulip-poplars were girdled, by which process life is destroyed, and afterwards cut up at their leisure ... Nothing affected Mr. Jefferson like this wanton destruction of the fine trees scattered over the city-grounds. I remember ... his exclaiming 'I wish I was a despot that I might save the noble, the beautiful trees that are daily falling sacrifice to the cupidity of their owners, or the necessity of the poor.' 'And have you not authority to save those on the public grounds?' asked one of the company. 'No!' answered Mr. J., 'Only an armed guard could save them. The unnecessary felling of a tree, perhaps the growth of centuries, seems to me a crime little short of murder, it pains me to an unspeakable degree.'"

-- quoted in Maryland Native Plant Society, Native News, Vol. 3, number 3 (December 1995), p. 6


What is the purpose of the giant sequoia tree? The purpose of the giant sequoia tree is to provide shade for the tiny titmouse.
-- Edward Abbey, naturalist and author (1927-1989)


"Why then," it will be asked, "are the Big Tree groves always found on well-watered spots?" Simply because Big Trees give rise to streams. It is a mistake to suppose that the water is the cause of the groves being there. On the contrary, the groves are the cause of the water being there. The roots of this immense tree fill the ground, forming a sponge which hoards the bounty of the clouds and sends it forth in clear perennial streams instead of allowing it to rush headlong in short-lived destructive floods. Evaporation is also checked, and the air kept still in the shady Sequoia depths, while thirsty robber winds are shut out.
-- John Muir, "Sierra Big Trees," 1901


In the forest between the Middle and East forks of the Kaweah, I met a great fire, and as fire is the master scourge and controller of the distribution of trees, I stopped to watch it and learn what I could of its works and ways with the giants. It came racing up the steep chaparral-covered slopes of the East Fork canon with passionate enthusiasm in a broad cataract of flames, now bending down low to feed on the green bushes, devouring acres of them at a breath, now towering high in the air as if looking abroad to choose a way, then stooping to feed again, the luricd flapping surges and the smoke and terrible rushing and roaring hiding all that is gentle and orderly in the work. But as soon as the deep forest was reached the ungovernable flood became calm like a torrent entering a lake, creeping and spreading beneath the trees where the ground was level or sloped gently, slowly nibbling the cake of compressed needles and scales with flames an inch high, rising here and there to a foot or two on dry twigs and clumps of small bushes and brome grass. Only at considerable intervals were fierce bonfires lighted, where heavy branches broken off by snow had accumulated, or around some venerable giant whose head had been stricken off by lightning.

I tethered Brownie [his mule] on the edge of a little meadow beside a stream a good safe way off, and then cautiously chose a camp for myself in a big stout hollow trunk not likely to be crushed by the fall of burning trees, and made a bed of ferns and boughs in it. The night, however, and the strange wild fireworks were too beautiful and exciting to allow much sleep. There was no danger of being chased and hemmed in, for in the main forest belt of the Sierra, even when swift winds are blowing, fire seldom or never sweep over the trees in broad all-embracing sheets as they do in the dense Rocky Mountain woods and in those of the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and washington. Here they creep from tree to tree with tranquil deliberation, allowing close observation, though caution is required in venturing around the burning giants to avoid falling limbs and knots and fragments from dead shattered tops. Though the day was best for study, I sauntered about night after night, learning what I could and admiring the wonderful show vividly displayed in the lonely darkness, the ground-fire advancing in long crooked lines gently grazing and smoking on the close-pressed leaves, springing up in thousands of little jets of pure flame on dry tassels and twigs, and tall spires and flat sheets with jagged flapping edges dancing here and there on grass tufts and bushes, big bonfires blazing in perfect storms of energy where heavy branches mixed with small ones lay smashed together in hundred cord piles, big red arches between spreading root-swells and trees growing close together, huge fire-mantled trunks on the hill slopes glowing like bars of hot iron, violet-colored fire running up the tall trees, tracing the furrows of the bark in quick quivering rills, and lighting magnificent torches on dry shattered tops, and ever and anon, with a tremendous roar and burst of light, young trees clad in low-descending feathery branches vanishing in one flame two or three hundred feet high.

-- John Muir, Sierra Big Trees, pp. 55-57
"To Wake Up One Day Different"

dialogue with rainforest defender John Seed and Ram Dass, from 1991, best introduction I've read to deep ecology, one of the few that integrates a deep ecology perspective with the inescapable fact that all future generations are stuck being "nuclear babysitters" to keep our radioactive excrement out of the biosphere as much as possible


From the "Guide to the Flora of Washington [DC] and Vicinity,"
Lester F. Ward, A.M., A Bulletin of the US National Museum, 1881
"In many respects the botanist looks at the world from a point of view precisely the reverse of that of other people. Rich fields of corn are to him waste lands; cities are his abhorrence, and great open areas under high cultivation he calls 'poor country'; while on the other hand the impenetrable forest delights his gaze, the rocky cliff charms him, thin-soiled barrens, boggy fens, and unreclaimable swamps and morasses are for him the finest land in a State. He takes no delight in the 'march of civilization,' the ax and the plow are to him symbols of barbarism, and the reclaiming of waste lands and opening up of his favorite haunts to civilization he instinctively denounces as acts of vandalism."


When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood, the thickest and most interminable, and to the citizen, most dismal swamp. I enter the swamp as a sacred place - a "sanctum sanctorum." There is the strength, the marrow of nature.
-- Henry David Thoreau