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In Depth

Society
| 05/16/18

British Columbians favour forest rehabilitation, conservation as top option for climate

TCE

A research survey has identified rehabilitation of forests after wildfires or insect outbreaks as the most favoured forest policy for mitigating climate change, but also that the public is largely unaware of a range of enhanced carbon management options.

Rehabilitation of forests after wildfires or outbreaks of insect pests is British Columbians’ most favoured option for mitigating climate change in the province’s woods, according to a comprehensive survey of public opinion. But the public remains largely unaware of a suite of climate strategies collectively termed “forest carbon management,” which could substantially expand the role of forests in the battle to limit global warming.

A number of studies have explored public attitudes in British Columbia towards forestry policies, which have been at the centre of bitter political disputes, such as the “War in the Woods” over logging in Clayoquot Sound, since the 1980s. But no study to date had explored public opinion regarding forest management strategies specifically designed for climate change mitigation.

Forest carbon management aims to increase carbon storage capacity of forest ecosystems, lock away carbon in long-lived wood products such as furniture and building materials, and reduce emissions associated with forest management activities.

In the first such investigation of popular opinion on this subject, researchers with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions’ (PICS) Forest Carbon Management Project surveyed just under 1,500 individuals on their support for eight different forest carbon management strategies, and then analyzed the factors that influence an individual’s support for a particular option.

Rehabilitation, which garnered the highest support according to the research published in the open-access science journal PLOS ONE, can accelerate the rate of carbon removal from the atmosphere. The strategy presented to the public involved planting trees in areas of poor growth due to insects and fires.

Overall, respondents showed greater support for reducing emissions through conservation strategies rather than enhanced forest management strategies such as collecting more wood per hectare to reduce waste or using fertilizer to enhance tree growth.

The researchers found that there is also a lack of awareness of enhanced forest management techniques, and that such options trail in support compared to rehabilitation and conservation. Environmental campaign groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have made forest conservation a signature issue over the last three decades, so there is high public awareness of conservation, while there has been very little discussion by such groups or in the media about enhanced forest management.

In analyzing the responses, the researchers found that environmental value orientations that they describe as anthropocentric (those tend to prioritize economic productivity and development) and biocentric (those who tend to prioritize biodiversity preservation) correlated strongly with which carbon mitigation options they favoured.

Anthropocentric-oriented individuals tended to support strategies of enhanced management and use of harvested wood products such as harvest efficiency, increased harvest, longer-lived wood products, bioenergy and increased growth rate (through planting genetically improved seeds or species, fertilization). Biocentric-oriented individuals tended to back conservation strategies such as reduced harvest and old growth conservation.

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