Project Report:
Forest Carbon Tax and Reward
Clearcutting is the number one source of carbon emissions in many states yet is virtually unregulated.

- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Investigates causes tending to destroy or impair the free-market system.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


Center for Sustainable Economy and its partners are advocating for state-level forest carbon tax and reward programs as a way to dis-incentivize high-emissions logging operations and dramatically scale up beneficial practices that result in continuous increases in carbon storage. Industrial logging activities are the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon and many other states yet, to date, climate action plans and policies exclude this sector. A forest carbon tax and reward program is a market based solution for folding this sector in to state climate agendas in an efficient, effective manner.


Project update May 12, 2018:

OSU research confirms that Big Timber is the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon

A new study by researchers based at Oregon State University and the University of Idaho corroborates Center for Sustainable Economy’s 2015 and 2017 research demonstrating that that logging is by far the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon and that changes in greenhouse gas accounting rules is urgently needed to ensure that the climate impacts of logging are accurately reported. Both the new OSU study and CSE’s 2017 research estimate annual logging-related emissions to have averaged over 33 million metric tons carbon dioxide per year (Mmt CO2-e/yr) since 2000. This makes it by far the largest source of emissions in the state, far larger than the 23 Mmt CO2-e/yr attributed to transportation – the leading source presently accounted for by the Oregon Global Warming Commission (OGWC) and the State’s Department of Energy.

But logging related emissions are not counted in the state’s annual inventory of greenhouse gases, primarily because of reliance on a methodology that was “written by loggers for loggers” according to non-governmental organizations monitoring international meetings that birthed the methods almost two decades ago. Rather than disclosing logging related emissions, these methods mask the damage by burying the information needed to isolate such emissions within broad calculations of changes in carbon stocks on forestlands of all types and all ownership categories. The emphasis of these methods is on “carbon flux,” which is merely a measure of the ins and outs of carbon on the landscape during any given period, and the assumption is that if they are balanced – something that can be achieved by mowing a lawn, for example – then there is nothing to worry about and the forest sector as a whole is considered carbon neutral.

But regardless of carbon flux across the landscape, logging-related emissions are substantial and must be part of annual emissions reporting so that appropriate policy interventions can be designed to ramp such emissions down on par with other sectors. As noted in the OSU study, “transparent quantification of emissions from the wood product process, can ensure realistic reductions in forest sector emissions.”

The level of agreement between the two studies was somewhat remarkable considering that both used the same basic data sets but applied two very different methodologies to that data. The OSU study calculated emissions associated with burning wood for fuel, the manufacturing process, and the net decay of wood products after taking into account the potential carbon savings associated with making these products with wood rather than more carbon intensive substitutes like concrete or steel. The CSE study took into account wood products decay, emissions associated with the decay and combustion of logging slash, and the loss of sequestration associated with clearcutting. Despite the different methods, having two studies pointing to the same level of emissions should be worrisome to those who insist on leaving the timber industry out of Oregon’s climate agenda.

The study also highlights four practices that have high potential for significant emissions reduction and increased sequestration including afforestation, reforestation, long rotations and protection for existing high-density carbon stocks. Each of these practices was also highlighted in the 2017 CSE report as an example of climate smart forestry alternatives to short rotation clearcutting and industrial tree plantations. CSE also advocates for thinning of dense tree plantations on state and private lands to expedite their development into climate resilient late successional and old growth forests and other techniques to log commercially valuable timber but leave a healthy forest behind. Developing a skilled workforce in the woods with this kind of know-how would help make Oregon a global center for climate smart practices and enliven communities that now suffer the boom and bust cycles of highly mechanized, export-oriented logging. With so many workable alternatives on the table at a time when humanity needs fast action on climate enacting legislation to make these practices the norm and not the exception is more urgent than ever.

The OSU study represents a milestone in CSE’s efforts and those of its partners over the past three years to convince climate policy makers to fold the timber industry into the state’s climate agenda. Governor Brown, legislative leaders, and the OGWC itself have all resisted various options on the table for doing so, including a system of forest carbon taxes that will raise badly needed funding for investment in climate smart practices or capping the timber industry on par with other sectors in the cap-and-invest legislation expected to be reintroduced during the 2019 sessions.

Other options include long term climate resiliency plans for the largest landowners that commit these owners to long term targets for rebuilding carbon stocks on the land toward natural levels and to stop managing so much of the land base as monoculture tree plantations cut on increasingly short rotations. If managed correctly, Pacific Northwest forests can capture and store more carbon per hectares than almost any other ecosystem on earth. But tragically, these carbon stocks have been severely depleted by industrial scale clearcutting and now exist at a mere fraction of nature’s baseline. For example, carbon densities in some of Oregon’s remaining old growth has been shown to exceed 1,200 metric tons per hectare, while plantations forests now store less than 400.

Enacting legislation to require corporate owners to develop and adhere to long-term climate resiliency plans can be a vehicle for reversing this situation and restoring a landscape that is now more susceptible to fires, insects, disease, water shortages, floods, landslides and heat stress than one dominated by the complex, natural forests that nature built over tens of thousands of years. With so much anti-science sentiment in Trump’s America it is incumbent on Oregon decisions makers to embrace the science firmly and respond to the challenge of transforming Oregon’s timber industry from a major climate threat to one of its most promising climate solutions.


CSE (2017). Oregon Forest Carbon Policy: Scientific and technical brief to guide legislative intervention.

Law, et al. (2018). Land use strategies to mitigate climate change in carbon dense temperate forests

Law, et al. (2018). Supporting data including logging emissions table.

Dominick DellaSala (2018). Our forests can make Oregon the first carbon-neutral state. Oregon Live (4/21/18).


Climate change has been referred to as the most spectacular market failure ever. The market’s failure to incorporate the costs of climate change into prices for fossil fuels or wood and paper products supports a tremendous level of over-production, over-consumption, and wasteful use of these commodities. Putting a price on high-emissions logging operations is a critical market-based solution for internalizing the catastrophic costs associated with climate change and rebalancing markets to support efficient use of forestlands and wood products.


CSE has pioneered the world’s first-ever forest carbon tax and reward program concept, which is now being considered in Oregon. The model program we developed is applicable to any region of the country or world where deforestation, forest degradation, and unsustainable forest practices are prevalent. In 2017 and 2018, we will work with public officials and partners in Oregon and other states to promote this approach.

Information Dissemination

CSE is disseminating the forest carbon tax and reward program concept and technical analysis behind it nationally to NGOs, legislators, state foresters and climate scientists as a multi-state solution. We have presented the concept at conferences and briefings with key decision makers, and continue to use our website and social media to boost uptake.

Project Link

Amount Approved
$53,000.00 on 6/3/2017 (Check sent: 6/14/2017)

Clearcutting-our-Carbon-Accounts (PDF)

1016 Madison Street
Port Townsend, WA 98368

(510) 384-5724
(703) 667-0208
(360) 344-2080


Dr. John Talberth
President and Senior Economist, Center for Sustainable Economy

Posted 3/8/2017 5:20 PM
Updated   9/10/2023 11:00 AM

  • Nonprofit

© 2024 Alex C. Walker Foundation