The green-washing of B.C.’s wood pellet industry

Our wood pellet industry is clear cutting the province under the pretense that pellets are a green source of fuel.

Much of the industry is in B.C.’s inland rainforests and it doesn’t get a lot of attention from environmental groups. Not like the coastal rainforests where protesters lay their bodies in front of heavy machinery.

image: CBC

BC’s inland rainforest, which once totalled over 1.3 million hectares, is endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Their study found that if current logging rates continue, inland rainforests could experience ecological collapse within a decade.

From the comfort of my car, it seems like B.C.’s forests go on forever but that’s an illusion. The study from the conservation group looked at forests beyond 100 metres from a road and found them to be in danger. It found that 95 percent of its core habitat had been lost since 1970.

How could our inland forests be under threat when lumber mills are shutting down and B.C. has lost 50,000 forestry jobs since 2000?

The answer is automation and the wood pellet industry.

The Wood Pellet Association of Canada says that B.C.’s forests produce more pellets than anywhere else in the world and Prince George is the industry’s epicentre.

The pellet industry claims that burning wood, unlike coal and other fossil fuels, is “carbon neutral” and helps slow climate change. Their fuzzy logic tries to convince us that when new trees are planted to replace those that are cut, then emissions from burning are balanced by the sequestration of carbon. The Paris Climate Agreement agrees.

But tree pellets burn in an instant and trees take decades to grow. The climate crisis is immediate. We can’t wait decades before tackling the problem.

Many scientists disagree with the fuzzy logic. In an open letter from 500 scientists and economists, they warned that burning pellets “is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels.”

Mary Booth, director of the non-profit Partnership for Policy Integrity, says: “The whole thing boils down to the obvious fact that burning things emits carbon quickly and re-growing things to sequester carbon takes a long time, (Walrus, March 28, 2022).”

The pellet industry makes a number of green boasts; one that that pellets are a sustainable by-product of forests already being cut. This may have been true at first when pellets were made from lumber waste, such as sawdust and slash. But that’s no longer true.

The tiny volunteer environmental group, Conservation North, has discovered stacks of logs at the pellet facility at the Medowbank Facility, 75 kilometers south of Prince George. Most trees were under a foot thick, but some were much larger.

The pellet industry claims that it is not cutting old growth forests. While that may be technically true -old growth trees in the interior are defined as 140 years old- nonetheless, they are very close to that age.

Large swathes of our interior rainforests are being clear cut. Not only are those forests home to flora and fauna but when those trees die, they replenish the soil for future growth.

Our forests are being sacrificed to satisfy some misguided notion that pellets are “green” source of energy like wind, solar and hydro. 

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