In October 2018, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 80, calling on the state to protect its environment and expand clean energy technologies. As part of this executive action, Governor Cooper directed the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to work with stakeholders to create a comprehensive climate mitigation and resiliency plan.
A year and a half later, North Carolina has produced this plan, which the state calls its “most comprehensive effort to date, based on science and stakeholder input, to address North Carolina’s vulnerability to climate change.” Importantly, the report makes clear the positive role that forestry and the wood products industry play in storing carbon and fighting climate change.
While some activist groups oppose all forestry – opposing even the use of wood products to replace plastics and other carbon-intensive materials – the North Carolina DEQ report highlights the necessary role the forest products industry will play in protecting the environment. The report notes that North Carolina’s over 18 million acres of forests are a pivotal component of the state’s economy, with forestry and agriculture accounting for one-sixth of the state’s income and employment. Critically, 85% of forests are held by private individuals and families – meaning that the future for North Carolina’s forests depends on incentivizing these landowners to maintain and expand forest area.
The North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan concludes that in order to grow forest area – which captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – the state must have a vibrant wood products economy. The report explicitly recommends the support of wood products markets as a means to encourage landowners to grow forests and store more carbon:
Recommendation 10: “Support the wood products markets. Landowners need a strong wood products market to provide financial incentives to actively manage their forestland. Trees store about 80 tons of carbon per acre when they are actively growing. When trees are turned into products, much of that carbon stays in those products and out of our atmosphere. Access to strong and diverse markets for forest products, especially in long-lived products such as furniture and building supplies, provides incentives for forest landowners” (344).
The report also calls for sustainable forest management as a means of sequestering carbon.
“Important actions the state can take in building community and ecosystem resilience and sequestering carbon include: 1. Sustainable management and financial support of the 14 million acres of privately-owned forests through new policies and economic opportunities” (33).
This report’s findings echo the latest research on forest product markets and forest growth, which finds that a vibrant market for forest products creates the necessary incentives for landowners to plant more trees.
For instance, a recent report from leading researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Maine, and The Ohio State University found that strong wood bioenergy markets increase net forest stocks because high prices from greater demand for trees “provide a market signal to landowners, who will take steps to increase their forest stocks via expanding the area in managed forests and/or improving management activities.”
This is notable because North Carolina has quickly become one of the leading bioenergy-producing areas in the world, providing nearly $200 million in economic output alone in the state.
You can read more about how wood bioenergy markets protect and grow forests here.
North Carolina recognizes the positive role that wood products play in combating the climate crisis, and if history is any guide, North Carolina’s strong forest products sector will continue to protect and grow North Carolina’s essential forests.