Wildfires Threaten to Reverse Forest Carbon Offsets Gains


In 2022, the Financial Times reported that wildfires had almost completely depleted the carbon credits that had been set aside in reserve by forestry projects in the U.S. to protect against the risk of trees being damaged over 100 years, as estimated by the non-profit research group CarbonPlan. This amounted to between 5.7mn to 6.8mn tonnes of carbon being released since 2015.

The same year, Oregon Public Broadcasting highlighted the Green Diamond timber company, which had promised to slow logging on 570,000 acres in exchange for millions of dollars in payments from Microsoft and other companies seeking to offset their carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels.

However, in 2021 the Bootleg Fire burned through nearly 20% of the company’s Klamath project lands, releasing around 3.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – the equivalent of the greenhouse gases produced by more than 785,000 cars driving 11,500 miles in a year.

In addition, wildfires have also caused significant losses in two other Pacific Northwest forest tracts that had been used to offset fossil fuel pollution. In Northeast Washington, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville have suffered repeated fires, and in Central Oregon, the Lionshead Fire torched most of the acreage of a carbon offset project developed by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, likely leading to its termination.

Moreover, in June 2021 Bloomberg reported that Canada’s explosive wildfire season had resulted in millions of tons of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere, a portion of which came from a carbon offset project.

Currently, there are 149 forest carbon projects on 5.5 million acres in 29 U.S. states.

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