A sophisticated new study by researchers at Simon Fraser University shows that in the vast majority of cases it makes more economic sense to conserve forests than it does to cut them down.
The study uses computer modeling to assess three different conservation scenarios in old-growth forests near Vancouver that are home to highly endangered northern spotted owls. The scenarios range from present-day, relatively low levels of forest conservation to two future scenarios, each involving more forest conservation and less logging.
The researchers conclude that when a conventional, narrowly focused valuation of forests is broadened to assess the value of forests as carbon storehouses, recreation sites and sources of products other than timber — wild mushrooms, for example — increased conservation wins out over logging in most cases.
In 72 of the 81 scenarios considered, the researchers find that increased conservation and less logging delivers higher economic returns than current levels of logging and conservation. And in the nine cases where status quo logging appears to have a slight economic edge, this only holds if log prices do not fall and if little value is given to the role that forests play in capturing carbon from the atmosphere.
“We see clear evidence that conserving these forests is economically worthwhile,” says lead author Duncan Knowler, an associate professor at Simon Fraser’s School of Resource and Environmental Management. “What’s more, we have been conservative in our approach. We value carbon at $20 – $150 per tonne, while other studies have pegged the future price of carbon as high as $350 per tonne. As well, we have yet to consider other important roles our forests play, such as purifying water or protecting fish habitat. Once that is done, we believe the case for conserving more forests will be even stronger.”
“As BC begins to price carbon and participate in a market for carbon credits, Dr. Knowler’s work demonstrates the economic role forests may play as carbon sinks,” said Keith Ferguson, Staff Lawyer at Ecojustice, which sponsored the research, with the David Suzuki Foundation and Wilderness Committee.
“The BC government has always said that the economic costs of protecting forests and the critical habitat of endangered species are unacceptably high,” says Gwen Barlee, Policy Director at the Wilderness Committee. “This study shows that the opposite is true: not only do endangered species benefit from increased conservation of our remaining old growth forests, but it makes economic sense as well.”
“We are excited by these findings, and keen to see what further research on the economic value of forest conservation shows when the full spectrum of forest values, such as protecting water supplies is considered,” adds Dr. Faisal Moola, Science Director at the David Suzuki Foundation.