Duncan Knowler

Saving forests saves money

September 17, 2008

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A new SFU study concluding that in many cases it’s more economical to conserve forests than cut them down generated considerable national media attention recently.

The study, led by Duncan Knowler, an associate professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management (REM), used sophisticated computer modelling. It examined three different forest-management 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 research team concluded that if the forests’ value as carbon storehouses, recreation sites and sources of products other than timber is considered, then increased conservation wins out over logging in 72 out of 81 model scenarios. In the remaining cases where logging did appear to have an economic edge, it only held true if log prices remain high and the forests’ value as a carbon sink remains low.

"We see clear evidence that conserving these forests is economically worthwhile," says Knowler (above), who has appeared several times on TV and radio and been quoted extensively in print. "What’s more, we’ve been conservative in our approach. We valued carbon at between $20 and $150 per tonne, versus some estimates as high as $350 per tonne. And we have yet to consider other important roles our forests play, such as conserving and purifying water. Once that is done, we believe the case for conserving more forests will be even stronger."

This type of study has been done elsewhere – in the Brazilian Amazon, for example – but never in B.C. Knowler says it has been a valuable exercise because it offers a way to move beyond the endless emotional debate over nature versus jobs.

"There are ways we can think about making the best and wisest use of our natural resources that are a little more rigorous and a little less emotional," he says.

The study was sponsored by Ecojustice, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Wilderness Committee. To read the study visit:
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