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Forest Futures Salon: What’s in it for California Forests? A Policy Rundown

Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation
Published on March 29, 2021

With a new Administration, deeper commitment to stable carbon pricing, a 2022 Climate Bond on the horizon, new Federal agency leadership, the Great American Outdoors Act, Governor Newsom’s recent forest related commitments and 2021 Budget proposals, there is momentum for positive change in our forests. Last month, we heard from two policy experts as part of our Moving Forest Markets track that focuses on biomass and industrial innovations for forest management. Joe Desmond (Advisory Council, Joint Institute for Wood Product Innovation and Former Chairman, California Energy Commission) and Joe Caves (Principal and Founder, Conservation Strategies Group) helped us understand what this all could mean for California forests.

There are more than 240 million bone dry tons of biomass and small diameter wood piled in our forests. This is an enormous cost and growing problem. The state and federal governments have set an aspirational goal to treat 1 million acres per year, which will only add to those piles. We currently treat about 250,000 acres per year. Policy is essential to aligning all forces in the marketplace, providing incentives both on the supply and demand side and attracting capital for proper solutions in order to make this goal more realistic. 

This past year, 112 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon dioxide were emitted from wildfires, nearly 10 times the average of 14 MMT over the last decade. It is time to shift our investments around CO2 emission mitigation towards the biggest problem impacting our climate goals, our forests. California forests are an underused tool to capture and sequester carbon. We have an opportunity to convert the biomass debris to carbon dioxide and sequester it through products or in the ground, which would be worth $150 billion under current carbon pricing. If we accurately price the carbon, we could convert wood waste into usable wood products that can take advantage of that carbon capture and sequester it on a long term basis. If we shift policy towards carbon sequestration and away from wildfire risk reduction, we would drastically contribute to global climate goals.

In order to capture the biomass that is currently waste and put it to use for energy, wood products or carbon capture, there are three key factors that play a role: feedstock supply, stable price and reliable technology. There is currently a lot of uncertainty around these three factors, which makes it difficult to fund long term projects. It is important for local groups to create their own institutions for flexibility in regards to feedstock, with the state taking a more aggressive approach on carbon capture and creating incentives.

Here are some more key takeaways from the discussion:

  • Policy is critical for aligning state and federal efforts around forest management, wildfire management, as well as climate projects

  • Policy and technology go hand in hand, it’s a ‘chicken or the egg’ situation; without policy you wouldn’t have the incentives to build the technology

  • We need to create infrastructure and incentives to deal with complex problems, like we have in the Sierras, and we need investments in order to do so

  • The Four C’s: Consistency and clarity build confidence which in turn attracts capital

  • Stable pricing, predictable supply and reliable technology are critical by both private and public sectors to enter into long term contracts

  • If we don’t start providing scalable and significant solutions for forest management, we’re going to choke our forests, exacerbate wildfire risk and undermine economies of communities in that area

  • We should continue to seek parallels with the renewable sector and forestry

  • There needs to be a new approach to process wood waste, one that doesn’t undermine climate goals like open pile burning does

  • Shifting the focus to carbon capture and sequestration could drastically contribute to global climate goals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

  • Linking carbon sequestration to the forest facilities is an important policy goal to drive forest health and increase carbon capture

A recording of this Forest Futures Salon, as well as information about upcoming events, is available HERE

About Forest Futures
The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation’s Forest Futures work focuses on a Venture Lab model to fuel innovation, cultivate sustainable economies for our region and create new jobs with the ultimate goal of preventing forest fires. We host several events a year as part of the Forest Futures Salon Series to engage in productive conversations with scientists, investors, policymakers, artists and entrepreneurs to work towards a healthier forest.