Column: Grass versus trees – the encroaching debate continues

The debate over what is the best use of land has been going on for some time.

The debate over what is the best use of land has been going on for some time.

When I started with the provincial government in the 1970s there was a healthy debate about the pros and cons of encroachment of trees onto the grasslands around Riske Creek and the conversion of forests into hay or pasture lands.

A new dimension was added with the recent debate over the production of compressed hay for sale to China versus planting of the same land with trees by a foreign company for carbon credits.

An article written by Mike Greig and Gary Bull in 2009 Carbon Management in BC Forests is a good place to start to understand how governments, big business, global markets and environmental concerns all interact in this increasingly complex topic.

The article gives ample illustrations, definitions of terms and history of government agreements and regulations about the concern over global climate change.

Most of the agreements are fairly recent, for example, “In the spring of 2007, B.C. joined the WCI (Western Climate Initiative) a collaboration of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Ontario, Quebec, Oregon, Washington, Utah, and Manitoba, which is developing regional strategies to address climate change in identifying, evaluating, and implementing collective and co-operative ways to reduce green house gasses (ghgs) in the region.

“In the fall of 2007, the province joined European Union countries and the U.S. in the International Carbon Action Partnership (ICAP) to share best practices on global carbon trading systems (International Carbon Action Partnership).”

The report goes onto list numerous agreements signed in 2008 and 2010.

Several pilot forest carbon sequestration projects have been undertaken in B.C. since 2003.

“To the authors’ knowledge, the provincial government has not been directly involved in promoting any of these. Rather, these projects are seen as voluntary and ‘learn-by-doing’ initiatives. Details on many of these initiatives are largely proprietary. In general, they are small-scale projects and act as learning initiatives that demonstrate how trees can play a role in sequestering carbon and contributing to climate change mitigation.”

Some of these include: forest plantations on reclaimed private agriculture lands in Prince George and on reclaimed private lands in the Lower Mainland.

These projects fit the criteria of “additionality and baseline,” which state that: “To create forest carbon credits, the forest manager is required to demonstrate that the carbon generated (in carbon dioxide equivalents) from management actions is ‘in addition to’ what would have occurred had no change in management strategy taken place.”

Unfortunately spending money on the thousands of hectares of public forest land devastated by mountain pine beetle does not fit as well for funding since it may come back naturally or be normally funded under other government programs or be an obligation of the company harvesting the land.

In order to understand the complex issues it is necessary to review other terms like: Cap-and-trade system, carbon credit, carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e,) carbon-neutral and carbon offset, just to name a few.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.