SALEM — Activists often urge a speedier government response to climate change, but the Oregon Global Warming Commission doesn't want to rush any decisions involving forest policy.
Angus Duncan, the commission's chair, recently told Oregon lawmakers it's better to wait until it's better understood how forest management can offset carbon emissions, which are blamed for climate change.
Up until now, the OFWC has focused on quantifying the amount of carbon absorbed by forests across different regions in the state.
Altogether, Oregon's forest store the equivalent of about 9.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide — roughly 150 times as much as the state emits per year, according to the commission.
Before making forest management recommendations, the commission plans to determine the historical carbon fluctuations in Oregon forests and how they're affected by climate change and human interventions such as logging, said Duncan.
"We don't see anybody else who is doing this type of work," he said.
Improving forest health and preventing wildfires may involve removing trees, but these choices involve a "trade-off" in terms of carbon accrual, Duncan said.
Wildfires in Oregon have been emitting roughly 1.5 million tons to 4 million tons of carbon dioxide a year since the beginning of the 21st Century, but it's unclear whether this level is normal or excessive, the commission found.
The impact of forest fires on carbon emissions is complicated by the extent and severity of fires — in some cases, fires can affect large acreages but the forest will still store carbon in burned trees, he said.
Of the 63.4 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted in Oregon in 2015, about 37 percent came from the transportation sector, 35 percent came from the residential and commercial sectors and 20 percent came from the industrial sector, according to OGWC.
With about 8 percent of the total, the agricultural sector contributed the smallest share of Oregon's emissions.
Oregon is expected to fall short of its carbon emissions-cutting goals in coming years, but Duncan said he expects the output of renewable energy to increase in the state and the nation due to technology improvements and lower costs.
In the future, the energy industry will move away from a "command and control" structure, with utilities buying electricity from a variety of sources as needed, similar to the stock market, he said.
Oregon's contribution to reduce global emissions will depend on a "mutually-reinforcing club" of other states and countries taking similar steps, Duncan said.
"If we do our job and nobody else does theirs, we're toast, and I mean that literally," he said.