On March 15, 2023

A carbon bomb in our Green Mountain National Forest?

By Howard Jennings

Editor’s note: Howard Jennings, a Bristol resident, is the former research director of Mobility Lab, a transportation think tank in Virginia. He is now working with Save Public Forests, a collective effort of scientists, researchers, ecologists and individuals from many organizations, united in researching and promoting realistic modern-day solutions to climate change, forest degradation and the biodiversity crisis.

I believe that the staff at the Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) are good, well-meaning professionals who care deeply about our forest, but that they are locked into outdated science and policies in a 2006 Forest Plan that works directly against efforts to mitigate climate change. 

I am part of Save Public Forests (savepublicforests.org), a Vermont and Massachusetts coalition of scientists, ecologists, foresters, and other citizens dedicated to contemporary, science-based solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises worsened by forest degradation. We want you to know what’s at stake, and to propose a new forestry paradigm for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to consider.

A proposal has been recently released by our GMNF called the Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project south and east of Brandon, which includes logging 11,800 acres of mostly old and mature forest, an area larger than the city of Burlington. Most of the stands are 80-160 years old, already sequestering vast amounts of carbon and continuously taking up and storing tens of thousands more tons each year.

Cutting them is a huge problem. We conservatively calculate that the Telephone Gap logging will remove at least 446,000 Mt (metric tons) of carbon from the GMNF. For comparison: 446,000 Mt of carbon is equal to the annual emissions of 354,300 cars, 1.6 times the total number of registered passenger vehicles in Vermont (221,936 as of 2021). Or 1.6 times the emissions from the McNeil Biomass Power Plant, Vermont’s largest point source of carbon emissions (about 340,684 Mt in 2022). 

When the trees are cut, some of the wood will make it into durable wood products, but, based on recent sales, much will go for pulp and biomass burning that result in release of CO2. Considering that and the additional emissions from logging activity and processing, the Telephone Gap “carbon bomb” will release an enormous amount of stored carbon that will take decades to recapture. A global climate solution cannot wait that long.

A new paradaigm

Here’s the urgency, and it is personal to us all. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that we may reach the tipping point of 2.7 degrees F. above the pre-industrial baseline as early as 2030 to 2040. The Global Carbon Budget Tracker report of 2022 reinforces that, saying we only have nine years left before we reach the tipping point. The IPCC says mass starvation, forced immigration of a hundred million people, and global economic instability are virtually inevitable beyond 2.7 degrees. 

Today we are at 2 degrees, and we are seeing almost daily accounts of climate disasters here and abroad causing billions of dollars of damage and untold misery. It is easy to see 

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