Forest Carbon Coalition – Science Synthesis

Why is conservation of forests on federal lands especially important for combating the negative impacts of climate change?

All forests can reduce the severity of climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the air, through the photosynthesis process, and storing the carbon in trees, shrubs, and forest soils. This capability is especially important in the next few years as average global temperature approaches 1.5°C  above pre-industrial levels, increasing the imperative for rapid and far-reaching actions to remove carbon dioxide from the air. Federal forests generally have not been heavily logged recently so they already are pulling carbon dioxide from the air (in contrast to new trees seedlings, which must grow for several years before they can remove significant amounts of carbon dioxide). The additional carbon stored by a big tree can exceed the total carbon a smaller tree has accumulated over years, even decades.

Because they haven’t been logged recently, the trees on federal forests typically are larger and store more carbon per acre than trees on private lands. Protecting and conserving these forests is especially important because, if they were logged, they would release more carbon into the air, per acre, than occurs with logging on private lands. These older federal forests with diversity in species and other characteristic help combat climate change in other ways as well. They cool the air, water, and ground, reducing the likelihood that wildfires will ignite and burn intensely, increasing flow of water in streams, and providing refugia for species displaced from other lands by climate change.

Key research on the role of federal forests in combatting climate change:

Krankina, O.N, M.E. Harmon, F. Schnekenburger, and C.A. Sierra. 2012. Carbon balance on federal forest lands of Western Oregon and Washington: The impact of the Northwest Forest Plan.Forest Ecology and Management 286: 171-182.

Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2012.08.028.

Key excerpts:

  • “This research estimates the amount of carbon dioxide that would be stored, over time, in a federal forest in western Washington and Oregon, if it were restored to the natural/pre-settlement fire regime as part of conservation-oriented forest management.”
  • “ It then compares this with the amount of carbon dioxide that would be stored if the forest were logged every 60 years.”
  • “ Over the analysis period, 1994–2100, under the conservation scenario the federal forests in western Oregon, on average, would store on site an additional 2.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide per acre per year”.

Climate and Land Use Alliance (Statement signed by 40 scientists), 2018. Five Reasons The Earth’s Climate Depends on Forests.

Link: https://www.climateandlandusealliance.org/scientists-statement/.

Key excerpts:

  • “Forests currently remove around a quarter of the CO2 humans add to the atmosphere, keeping climate change from getting even worse.”
  • “In sum, we must protect and maintain healthy forests to avoid dangerous climate change and to ensure the world’s forests continue to provide services critical for the well-being of the planet and ourselves.”

Moomaw, W.R., S.A. Masino, and E.K. Faison. 2019. Intact Forests in the United States: Proforestation Mitigates Climate Change and Serves the Greatest Good. Front. For. Glob. Change, 11 June 2019

Link: https://doi.org/10.3389/ffgc.2019.00027.

Key excerpts:

  • “Proforestation, a recently coined term for actions that encourage existing forests to grow to their ecological potential, complements the two other initiatives for expanding the ability of forests to remove and store atmospheric carbon dioxide: reforestation (establishing a new forest on land that was previously forested), and afforestation (establishing a forest on land that has not been previously forested).”
  • “ Proforestation is a more effective, immediate, and low-cost approach that could be mobilized across suitable forests of all types. Proforestation serves the greatest public good by maximizing co-benefits such as nature-based biological carbon sequestration and unparalleled ecosystem services such as biodiversity enhancement, water and air quality, flood and erosion control, public health benefits, low impact recreation, and scenic beauty.”