Earthly Concerns

WHY WE LIKE OUR JOB

At Wonser Woods we decided early that city life was not our cup of tea. Working with the earth is the way of living meant for us. We frequently revisit the words of St. Francis who said if he only had one day left to live he would spend it tilling the earth, as he did the day before. We were fortunate enough to find our own little piece of heaven on the 622 acres that we manage in the foothills of the Cascade mountain range in Oregon. We recognize that we are stewards of the earth. We love growing Christmas trees and feel that the manner in which we grow them, and all of the decisions that go into managing our trees, are extremely important to the overall well being of the earth. We enjoy having this responsibility, and we feel that we can improve the quality of life for those around us with our managerial decisions.

To understand why we feel trees are so important, we need to talk about carbon.

WHAT IS CARBON?

Carbon is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gasses trap the heat of the sun in the Earth’s atmosphere, producing the greenhouse effect. The two major greenhouse gases are water vapor and carbon dioxide. Other greenhouse gases include methane, ozone, chlorofluorocarbons, and nitrous oxide. Carbon is one of lifeís most important elements and composes about half of the dry mass of all living things. It is stored, or sequestered, in the key components of forest ecosystems and their associated carbon pools.

Carbon Dioxide is a chemical compound of one carbon and two oxygen atoms, and is present in the earthís atmosphere. In its solid state it is dry ice. Humans and animals breath in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Trees and plants take in carbon dioxide, and convert it into sugars through the process of photosynthesis. They use the converted energy to grow, absorbing about half of the carbon converted. The other half is stored in the plant, transferred to the soil, or transferred to other forms of life such as animals that eat plants. The animals then give off CO2 through respiration. Plants take in CO2 and emit oxygen, whereas animals take in oxygen and emit CO2.

The exchange of carbon from one reservoir to another by various chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes describes the carbon cycle. The carbon cycle is usually thought of as a series of four main reservoirs of carbon connected by pathways of exchange. The four reservoirs are the atmosphere, terrestrial biosphere (usually includes freshwater systems), oceans, and sediments (includes fossil fuels).

WHY ARE WE CONCERNED ABOUT CARBON?

The earth receives energy from the sun in the form of radiation. About 70% of the sunís radiation is absorbed by the earth and it is used to warm the oceans, atmosphere, and the land. The other 30% is reflected back. Greenhouse gasses (GHGs) regulate the amount of radiation that is allowed to reflect back. An increase in GHGs restricts the return flow of radiation trapping it on earth. Most scientists believe that the worldís climate is changing because the concentration of GHGs is rising. Carbon is recognized as the most heavily influenced of GHGs by human activity.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution around 1750, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased from about 255 parts per million (ppm), to 380 ppm today. This is approximately 80 ppm higher than the cycle peaks observed over the last 650,000 years, and it is increasing at greater than 90 times the rate observed in past cycles. Projected levels approach 450-550 ppm by the year 2050, with temperatures in the Pacific Northwest increasing by 3-7 degrees. There is fear that climate change could lead to abandoned homes from rising oceans, increasingly catastrophic weather, and expanding deserts.

Increases in carbon dioxide by human activity are primarily caused by the combustion of fossil fuels, deforestation, and the manufacturing of cement which releases CO2 from the rocks used in processing.

Fossil Fuels were created chiefly by the decay of plants from millions of years ago. We use coal, oil and natural gas to generate electricity, heat our homes, power our factories and run our cars. These fossil fuels contain carbon, and when they are burned, they combine with oxygen, forming carbon dioxide. The World Energy Council reported that global carbon dioxide emissions from burring fossil fuels rose 12% between 1990 and 1995. The increase from developing countries was three times that from developed countries. Middle East carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels increased 35%, Africa increased 12%, and Eastern Europe increased by 75%, from 1990-1995.

Deforestation is another main producer of carbon dioxide. The causes of deforestation are logging for lumber, pulpwood, and firewood. Also contributing to deforestation is clearing new land for farming and pastures. Forests and wooded areas are natural carbon sinks. This means that as trees absorb carbon dioxide, and release oxygen, carbon is being put into trees. This process occurs naturally by photosynthesis, which occurs less and less as we cut and burn down trees. As the abundance of trees declines, less carbon dioxide can be stored. As fires are allowed to burn, carbon is released into the air, and the carbon bonds with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, adding to the greenhouse effect. 

The problem of excess GHGs has lead to an amendment to the international treaty on climate change called the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol covers more than 160 countries and 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Countries that agree to ratify this protocol agree to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gasses. If they fall short of their commitment, they agree to engage in emissions trading. The protocol allows the use of carbon dioxide sinks as a form of carbon offset.

HOW DO TREES AND FORESTS HELP SOLVE THE PROBLEM?

Trees and forests act as carbon sinks. A carbon dioxide (CO2) sink is a carbon reservoir that is increasing in size, and is the opposite of a carbon ìsource.î The main natural sinks are (1) the oceans and (2) plants and other organisms that use photosynthesis to remove carbon from the atmosphere by incorporating it into biomass. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon.

Carbon sequestration is the term describing processes that remove carbon from the atmosphere. Forests sequester carbon and have a positive influence on lowering atmospheric carbon levels. Sound forest management practices such as rapid reforestation, ground conversion to forest land, maintaining riparian borders, and reducing stand densities to promote forest health, help to facilitate carbon storage.

Products made from wood continue to store carbon until they decay or are burned. Wood products can be substituted for fossil fuel intensive products like concrete, and steel, in the construction industry. Wood products used for home building use less energy produced from fossil fuel than concrete or steel, and therefore release less carbon into the atmosphere. Home building with wood products is doubly efficient because the wood products also store carbon.

WOOD AS ENERGY

For thousands of years people have burned wood for heating and cooking. Wood continues to be a major source of energy in much of the developing world. When burned, the chemical energy in wood is released as heat. If you have a fireplace, the wood you burn in it is a biomass fuel. Wood waste can be burned to produce steam for making electricity, or to provide heat to industries and homes. Wood is an extremely efficient source of energy as long as it does not result in deforestation.

Burning wood is not the only way to release its energy. It can also be converted to other usable forms of energy such as methane gas or bio diesel. Using wood for energy can cut back on waste and support forest products and tree farmers in the United States. The burning of wood does release carbon into the atmosphere, but no more than was sequestered in the first place. Biomass plants burn wood in the most efficient way possible eliminating the need to use fossil fuel to produce that energy.

HOW CAN WONSER WOODS, LLC HELP?

We believe that helping to stabilizing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is our responsibility. We work towards upholding that responsibility by growing as many healthy carbon sucking trees as we possibly can on 622 acres. In order to grow these trees and maintain their health, we are sometimes required to use chemicals. Our chemical usage is limited to that which is absolutely necessary to enhance the environment of the trees.

CHEMICALS THAT WE USE INCLUDE HERBICIDES, PESTICIDES, AND FUNGICIDES.

One of the most valuable tools on our farm is Roundup. Roundup is the generic name for glyphosate. Glyphosate is a broad spectrum, non-selective systemic herbicide. It is effective in killing all plant types including grasses, perennials and woody plants. As a herbicide, it works by being absorbed into the plant mainly though its leaves, but also through soft stalk tissue. Glyphosate is inactivated when it comes into contact with soil since it is adsorbed onto soil particles. Because of its adsorption to soil, glyphosate is not easily leached and is unlikely to contaminate ground water.

Since Roundup does not reside in the soil, we use it in place of other chemicals, known as pre-emergents, whenever possible. This year, spraying Roundup twice during the season, allowed us to completely eliminate the use of pre-emergents on over 80 acres of Christmas trees. Unlike neighboring tree farms, we are very willing to tolerate some degree of weeds in our fields. We believe that tolerating weeds is beneficial to the overall health of the trees. Without weeds, the soil will not be able to support the life of worms, and grubs that we feel are important to soil health. It is also important to recognize that the weeds being killed store carbon dioxide and provide additional habitat for wildlife.

Pre-emergents do have their place in forest management. Take a look at the photo below.

What you are looking at is two plots of timber, separated by the top logging road, that were harvested at approximately the same time. The pre-emergent chemical Oust (Sulfometuron methyl), was used on the clear cut in the foreground after it was reforested. The ground in the back of the photo was left untreated after logging and reforesting. Individual clumps of maple where also treated in the foreground photo with Garlon 4 (triclopyr), which is similar to Roundup in that it does not reside in the soil. What you see in the photo is that the ground that was chemically treated has over 400 desirable trees per acre that are free to grow. Chemical was applied for 2 years after replanting, and will never be used again during the life of the trees. In the background, the untreated ground is growing approximately 100 desirable trees per acre. The trees on this plot are growing in the shade of the less desirable maple trees and will soon give up the fight. With the use of chemical applied responsibly, we have been able to increase the productivity of the ground by many fold. We feel the benefits derived from chemicals far out weigh the negatives that accompany their use. These are the kind of decisions we make that allow us to say we are doing the best that we can to uphold our responsibility to society. On a very low level, we have used a small amount of chemical to dramatically increase the amount of carbon that can be stored per planted acre over the life of the trees.

We make other decisions that do not involve chemicals that also promote carbon storage. Decisions to thin or not to thin, to clear cut, or not to clear cut, to fertilize, or not to fertilize are made on a regular basis. We feel it is our job, as stewards of the land, to make each one of these decisions as responsibly as possible. Other things that we might do to assist with carbon storage include lengthening stand rotations, growing mixed species, creating less disturbance when we enter a stand, reforestation, and promoting the use of wood products that store carbon.

It is also important to recognize that the use of real Christmas trees, as opposed to artificial trees, are far more beneficial to the atmosphere. Christmas trees store a tremendous amount of carbon. Each acre that is planted provides enough oxygen for approximately 18 people. Granted they are on a shorter rotation but remember that this is a continuous crop for most farmers. As soon as one tree is cut, another replaces it. If the tree is burned at the end of the Christmas season, the carbon will be released back into the air. If the tree is composted, the carbon will reside in the compost until it decays. In contrast, artificial trees use fossil fuels for their production adding to the carbon problem. They also deplete the natural resources used to make them such as oil that is used to make plastic.

Approximately 750,000 acres of Christmas trees are planted in the US. This is enough to supply approximately 13.5 million people a day with oxygen. There is no question that real trees are far superior when looking at benefits to the earth.

Wonser Woods, LLC cooperates with the Oregon Department of Forestry in maintaining 100í stream-side riparian boundaries where no tree cutting is done on any Class 1 waterway. This is an enormous economic commitment. When logging in 2001, this resulted in over 5 acres of timber that was not logged and left strictly for stream-side enhancement. The opportunity cost at the time was over $15,000.

We are also working closely with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, and the Clackamas River Basin Council, to enhance fish passage over the more than 3 miles of streams that run through our property. In August 2007, an underwater bridge that has been in place for over 60 years will be removed from Clear Creek and replaced with a 94í railroad flat car bridge that goes over the top of the water. This will allow easier fish passage for spawning steel-head and salmon, and eliminate water disturbances. Several of the culverts that are present in side streams are also being replaced in order to enhance fish passage.

CARBON OFFSETS

Oregon became the first state in the nation to pass carbon dioxide regulations in 1997. Oregon law requires that a fee be paid by large power generators to offset part of their emissions. The fee is paid to a qualified non-profit organization to fund, or originate, projects that sequester or displace an equal or greater amount of carbon dioxide. We see Oregon tree farms as important entities in this process. Carbon offsetting is a way of compensating for emissions produced with an equivalent carbon dioxide saving. A widely used example of an offset is the planting of trees to offset the emissions from personal airplane travel. Carbon offsets are generally voluntary and are arranged by a commercial offset provider. In Oregon, the Climate Trust was chartered in 1997 to assist business and individuals in the transfer of offsets. The sole mission of The Climate Trust is to promote climate change solutions by providing high quality greenhouse gas offset projects and advancing sound offset policy. At Wonser Woods, LLC we look forward to assisting such entities in carbon offset programs.

In November 2004, Governor Kulongoski of Oregon joined the Governors of Washington, and California, and approved a series of detailed recommendations to reduce global warming pollution that the three states have developed over the past year. They also directed their staffs to broaden their efforts on global warming mitigation strategies in the coming year. This action was taken as part of the West Coast Governors Global Warming Initiative, one of the leading state-level efforts on global warming in the country. The Governors have concluded that the states must act individually and regionally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and that the region can achieve economic benefits from lower dependence on imported fossil fuels, and greater investments in clean energy technologies, the growth industries of the future.

One of the 60 recommendations made by the group is to use renewable energy to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals. To achieve this goal we believe wood can be used in the generation of electric power. Wood can also be used to provide liquid fuels such as methane gas. The plan also suggests that small, energy-efficient biomass heating and electrical systems could be created to provide power throughout Oregon.

In 2004, Wonser Woods, LLC installed an outdoor wood boiler taking to heart the governorís initiative. The boiler burns wood scraps to heat 750 gallons of water which is then circulated into the house, and shop, to produce hot water and heat. This is accomplished through a simple heat transfer process. The wood furnace uses renewable resources to produce savings of up to $500 a month in winter. We also have a wood stove which heats our house entirely anytime temperatures remain above 50 degrees.

SUMMARY

We are not scientists and do not take a position on what the causes of global warming might be. However, we do believe that we should take the most conservative path possible with regards to managing our ground to allow for all possibilities present, and future. Storing carbon is but one simple step we can take to enhance the value of our land. We promise to make the hard decisions and take the steps necessary to accomplish this goal. To do this, we will use chemicals responsibly, thin timber to promote forest health, reforest where trees have been harvested, and afforest where possible. We encourage our neighbors to join us, and ask each of you to treat your own little piece of the world as if it where the entire world by itself. Respect the land we live on, and it will be here for generations, and generations to follow.

Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? They are questions asked by all of us at one time or another. In absence of concrete answers, we believe it is in the best interest of our children to leave the earth in the finest possible condition, so that they might have the same opportunity to ask the questions. With a good deal of help from their ancestors, and a great deal of prayer, maybe they will find the answers.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks to Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) for a report published recently titled Forests, Carbon, and Climate Change: A Synthesis of Science Findings. This report was published in conjunction with Oregon State University College of Forestry, and the Oregon Department of Forestry. It was used to provide the outline, and a great deal of insight, for the contents of this web page.