Feature Article

Wood: Is It Still Good? Part Two: Moving from Carbon to Climate

Many people hope mass timber will drive decarbonization—but scaling that up could make things worse. Instead of embodied carbon alone, “climate-smart” practices focus on our increasingly fragile forests.

This is Part Two of a two-part series on wood products. Part One focuses on the embodied carbon of wood products, exploring the origin and veracity of industry carbon-neutrality claims and considering the avoided emissions associated with using mass timber in place of structural steel or concrete. Part Two considers broader climate implications as well as the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of forestry and timber supply chains. Part Two also provides actionable guidance on vetting and procuring better products.

The bugs were everywhere—and there were so many kinds!

No, this isn’t a scene from a Philip K. Dick novel. This story takes place in a tiny woodlot in New Hampshire, where Katrina Amaral of Timberdoodle Farm is about to start cutting down red maples, and where the insect life is booming.

But it isn’t supposed to be.

Aerial view of a bare trees and a snow-covered forest floor. Barely visible near the center is a small logging excavator.

Timberdoodle Farm uses what Katrina Amaral describes as “a quirky set of woods equipment”—like the barely visible logging excavator here, which is aptly named Kitten. Miles Amaral, Katrina’s spouse and business partner, customizes the machinery to achieve the lowest possible impact.

Photo: Joe Klementovich
In the northeastern U.S., red maples usually die young, Amaral explained to BuildingGreen, because they get root rot or other diseases as climax species like red oaks out-compete them. But these red maples were “nearing the end of their natural lifespan,” Amaral continued, and “trees that are naturally nearing the end of their life support a different ecosystem.” The insect life was challenging her prior assumptions about the biodiversity of the woodlot, which she’d walked multiple times before with the landowner as they pieced together a plan for clearing the lot to make way for a new house that would feature wood harvested during the clearing process. “It felt different, and that is not quantifiable at all,” said Amaral.

A career wildlife biologist, Amaral left the conservation world a few years ago, when she and her husband founded a vertically integrated timber operation that specializes in developing and implementing ecologically driven forest-management plans. (She later also co-founded Woodshed Consulting with a business partner on the other side of the continent, Malloree Weinheimer of Chickadee Forestry, another interviewee for this piece.)

Amaral’s science background informs these plans, and she was clear about the implications of the unexpected insect life: “This is one data point, a non-replicable study,” she said. At the same time, though, “I’d be hesitant to embrace any sort of paradigm that wouldn’t allow me to listen to the needs of the woods.” She added, “It doesn’t matter how much you walk [the land] beforehand. The forest almost always tells us something unexpected when we start logging.”

Published February 26, 2024

Melton, P. (2024, February 26). Wood: Is It Still Good? Part Two: Moving from Carbon to Climate. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/feature/wood-it-still-good-part-two-moving-carbon-climate