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Forum, Nov. 15: The carbon balance of a sustainably managed forest

Published: 11/14/2019 10:00:24 PM
Modified: 11/14/2019 10:00:14 PM
The carbon balance of a sustainably managed forest

I was glad to see the recent column supporting the wood-fired heating plant that Dartmouth College is considering (“Biomass opposition understandable — and wrong,” Nov. 9). It cleared up some of the misconceptions that have been published, especially the minimal air pollution from a large-scale wood-burning plant and the advantages of making our forests more valuable to keep as forests. The carbon dioxide produced by burning wood could use more discussion.

It is true that if you burn one tree and release its carbon as carbon dioxide it might take 100 years for a similar tree to regrow and resorb the same amount of carbon. But thinking about a forest shows a different picture.

A forest produces a certain amount of wood each year. If you harvest that wood and burn it, that carbon is released into the atmosphere, but the same amount is reabsorbed the next year as more wood is produced. The forest would absorb carbon dioxide even if not harvested, but the wood produced would, in a mature forest anyway, eventually rot and then release its carbon. In a managed forest, extra carbon dioxide is absorbed, as harvesting trees stimulates other trees to grow faster. This carbon balance is even better if the wood burned is from chipping of branches that would otherwise be left to rot.

So, a sustainably managed forest will absorb the same amount of carbon that is harvested each year, resulting in a neutral carbon dioxide balance. And forests in the Northeast are all basically harvested in a sustainable manner: Any harvest stimulates immediate regrowth, without the need to plant more trees.

I hope Dartmouth considers all aspects of the carbon balance of its plans, as even geothermal energy and heat pumps require electricity, which is still one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases.



The writer is a professor emeritus of biology at Colby-Sawyer College.

A chance to heat local

I have followed with interest the debate over Dartmouth College’s proposed biomass plant and want to emphasize one aspect that I don’t believe has been given enough attention. The biomass fuel would be sourced from properties in and around the Upper Valley and would employ many people from the region, including foresters and loggers.

Yes, working in the woods is tough and sometimes dangerous, but these are good jobs and this would have many economic benefits right here in the Upper Valley. In addition, because the biomass would be locally produced, the college would have the opportunity to oversee the harvests to ensure best forestry practices.

We talk about eating local to benefit our local farmers. This is an opportunity to heat local, which would provide many benefits in the region.



Our leaders victimize children

The number of children who have been forcibly separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border is higher than previously thought, totaling almost 5,500, including babies and toddlers, since July 2017. Housing migrant children has become a lucrative business with the Trump administration shifting to privatize the detention of migrant children. Businesses such as Comprehensive Health Services, a Florida-based government contractor, are raking in millions of dollars.

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report warns that childhood trauma has an enormous effect on lifelong health, future violence and victimization. Poor health outcomes include depression and heart disease. The adverse effects of trauma are not just on physical health; people who have experienced trauma are less likely to finish high school or find a job.

What has been shown to alleviate the effects of trauma are nurturing relationships and communities. To help children grow up to lead healthy lives, the CDC urges interventions to lessen immediate and long-term harms and strengthen support for families.

Alleviating the effects of trauma requires leaders who don’t enrich themselves at the expense of tender lives. What is desperately required are leaders who inspire us all to create a world in which every child can get a strong start and thrive.



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