Could The Carbon Rush Harm Wildlife?
August 16, 2012

Plantation Boom Could Have Adverse Effects On Wildlife

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Australian environmentalists are warning that the rush to plant trees to offset carbon emissions could have a harmful impact on the environment without careful management.

A poorly planned plantation boom could result in needless land clearing, add to invasive species and damage the natural ecological processes.

“It´s what we term ℠bio-perversity´, meaning that something which is done for the right environmental reasons but not thought through, can end up having unintended adverse consequences — especially in Australia´s fragile landscapes,” says Professor David Lindenmayer of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and the Australian National University (ANU) .

"Like it or not, the carbon economy has come to town — and putting a price on carbon is going to drive big changes in how we manage our landscapes, which will probably accelerate as climate impacts grow. We want to make sure these changes benefit Australia´s native species and environment — not add to the destructive pressures on them.  We´re not opposed to plantations — especially if they reduce logging pressure on native forests. But they need to be planned properly and put in the right places.”

A new study, published in the journal Conservation Letters, points out that there is a rising global interest in locking up carbon by establishing tree plantations. Large, carbon-emitting entities worldwide are prepared to pay enormous sums to offset their emissions by creating these plantations, and this is driving major changes in farming and native landscape management.

“We´re at the start of what could well turn out to be a ℠carbon rush´ — a global rush to bury carbon as climate change accelerates and incentives to sequester carbon are increased by worried governments. We´d like to make sure that when this rush happens in Australia, it also serves our national conservation goals."

Lindenmayer and colleagues argue that plantation forestry can have a huge negative impact on the environment through loss of native habitat, the invasions of new species and changes to soil, water and other landscape processes necessary to supporting native biodiversity.

“If the rush to plant trees and establish big plantations for carbon sequestration results in a range of other environmental values being ignored, we expect big problems to follow,” the researchers caution.

In the paper ℠Avoiding bio-perversity from carbon sequestration solutions´, the researchers call for these threats to be dealt with pro-actively in the planning stages of the carbon mitigation strategies.

They have proposed a full ecological risk assessment as well as carbon accounting in every case where a carbon plantation is established. They further argue that incentives to sequester carbon should be re-assessed to create incentives that broaden the goals of plantations beyond merely sequestering the carbon to include positive environmental outcomes. The team also calls for monitoring of carbon plantations to ensure compliance with conservation standards.

A narrow focus on carbon storage could not only harm the wider environment but also fail to curb the human contribution to climate change.

Lindenmayer and his team are not the only scientists concerned about the environmental impact of carbon sequestration plantations. A team from Duke University asked some of the same questions in a 2005 study published in Science which sought to identity those tradeoffs and benefits at locations worldwide thought as likely places where land would be converted from other uses to tree plantations for carbon sequestration.

"I think carbon sequestration with trees will work, at least for a few decades," said Robert Jackson, a professor in Duke's Department of Biology and Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. "But I think we're asking the wrong question."

"The question isn't just 'Can we store carbon in trees and how much do we gain from that?' The question is also, 'What are the other gains and losses for the environment?' We have to be smart about our sequestration policies."