British Columbians need to rethink everything about the way we manage our forests and the products they provide, according to research by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.

If we do, the payoff can be substantial.

Better forest management, more thorough extraction of wood from harvested areas and a focus on long-lasting wood products could contribute 35 per cent of our 2050 carbon-emissions reduction target, according to the PICS Forest Carbon Management Project.

Provincial legislation dictates that B.C. reach a target of 80 per cent of 2007 carbon-emission levels in that time, a reduction of about 52 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalents annually. According to data presented Thursday at Simon Fraser University’s Vancouver Campus, employing multiple carbon-mitigation techniques in the forest industry could deliver an annual reduction of 18 million tonnes.

“The scenarios that we looked at are all very conservative assumptions, but taken together they make a big impact,” said project leader Werner Kurz of Natural Resources Canada’s Pacific Forestry Centre in Victoria. “One involved harvesting two per cent less wood per year, another one was just taking more of the wood that we currently leave behind in clearcuts and using it for bioenergy or manufacturing.”

Change in each area need not be radical, but to make an impact just about everything we do will have to change a little, he said.

Waste wood left in clear cuts is often burned to reduce the fire hazard, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By using that wood instead to produce heat or electricity, it displaces fossil fuels that would have been burned for that purpose for a net carbon savings.

“We produce five million tonnes of carbon each year from burning slash piles without capturing the energy,” he said.

The University of B.C. is pioneering large wood structures, such as the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability and Brock Common, a new 18-storey building constructed mainly of wood, with concrete and steel-core elements.

“Because they are built out of wood rather than all concrete and steel, carbon that was stored in the forest is now stored in the building and a new forest can regrow and take up more carbon from the atmosphere,” Kurz said. “We also avoided the emissions that would have occurred to produce the concrete and steel that would have gone into that building otherwise.”

B.C. has already taken steps to create healthier forests, especially where trees aren’t thriving due to climate-change impacts or Mountain Pine Beetle infestations. The B.C. government announced earlier this year that it’ll spend $150 million to rehabilitate forests by planting tens of millions of trees.

Rather than planting different kinds of trees, forestry scientists can obtain seeds from species similar to the trees in the natural forest, but from locations that are hotter and drier. Subtle genetic advantages from those heat-adapted trees will prepare the more northerly forests to thrive as the Earth’s temperature rises, he said.