Letter to the editor: There’s more to the carbon story

I am writing to request clarification to a sentence in the article written by Marin Howell and published on June 22, 2023, under the headline “Efforts to decarbonize local homes faces hurdles.

Howell writes: “Decarbonizing the energy use of county homes is one of the recommendations included in CEAC’s (Climate Economy Action Center of Addison County) Climate Energy Plan for Addison County. The Plan, published this past July, identifies the three major contributors of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Addison County in 2017: agriculture and forestry, transportation, and buildings and energy.”

The second sentence suggests that agricultural and forestry use of our private and public lands result is a net source of carbon emissions. This is not so on our forest land, certainly not over a typical average harvest cycle in an uneven-aged forest management strategy — the most commonly used silvicultural practice in Addison County and in Vermont. 

Keeping forest land forested using science-based silvicultural methods allows and promotes continued carbon sequestration on those lands. The silvicultural techniques used are intended to increase growth rates (aka carbon sequestration) while also attempting to satisfy a myriad of other landowner (and public) objectives — forest age class structural diversity, wildlife habitat development and maintenance, invasive plant control, aesthetics, recreational use, forest product income from the sale of sap, residential firewood, sawtimber used to manufacture boards for flooring and furniture, and a myriad of other products … just look around wherever you are reading this fine paper! And, yes, this newspaper. 

There are fluctuations in carbon sequestration rates across tree age classes similar to there being variation in “productivity” in human age classes. Former Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael Snyder was heard to say wisely: “We need to keep forestland forested.” Period.

Seedling and sapling-sized trees growing so densely together you can’t see through them to run, pole-sized trees competing valiantly for space, mature trees standing tall and pretty and valiantly through all sorts of Vermont weather. 

Too bad that the CEAC Plan lumps agricultural and forestry use together and then the Plan — and then your article — suggests that science-based use of our forest land has a net increase in carbon emissions. Just not correct. 

Certainly other uses of each of the agricultural or forestry acres will likely have an even greater impact on the increase of GHG emissions.

Chris Olson


Editor’s note: Mr. Olson was formerly the Addison County Forester and currently works with A. Johnson Lumber Company in Bristol and sent this letter in late June. Unfortunately, it was lost in an email shuffle, and just found. While the reporter’s reference to carbon emissions in the county’s energy plan does lump agriculture and forestry together as one of three primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions, Mr. Olson is right to point out the unique role for forestry and forest land silvicultural management.

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