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Old growth forest preservation has climate benefits

Healthy old-growth forests are important carbon sinks.

Research shows logging cuts in Pacific Northwest increase carbon sequestration

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Researchers at Oregon State University and the Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station have used satellite sensing and other high-tech mapping tools to show that a 1993 plan to preserve old-growth forest habitat had a powerful and unintended consequence – increased carbon sequestration on public lands.

When forest harvest levels fell 82 percent on public forest lands in the years after passage of this act, those lands  became a significant carbon “sink” for the first time in decades, absorbing much more carbon from the atmosphere than they released. At the same time, private forest lands became close to carbon neutral.

“The original goals of the Northwest Forest Plan had nothing to do with the issue of carbon emissions, but now carbon sequestration is seen as an important ecosystem service,” said David Turner, a professor in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society.

“Forests provide many services, such as habitat protection, recreation, water purification, and wood production,” he said. “Carbon sequestration has now been added to that list. And our approach can provide the kind of spatially and temporally explicit data that will help evaluate the potential trade-offs associated with management activities.”

Previous estimates of forest carbon balance had suggested a significant loss of carbon from Pacific Northwest forest lands between 1953 and 1987, associated with a high rate of old-growth timber harvest. Those harvests peaked in the mid-to-late 1980s.

Forestfire is also an issue in carbon emissions, but researchers said in the study that the magnitude of emissions linked to fire was modest, compared to the impacts of logging. Even the massive Biscuit Fire in southernOregonin 2002 released less carbon into the atmosphere than logging-related emissions that year, they said.

The findings are of some interest, researchers said, because the value of carbon sequestration is now something that can be better quantified in economic terms, and then incorporated into management decisions and policies.

This study was just published online in Forest Ecology and Management, a professional journal. The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and the interagency North American Carbon Program. The area analyzed included westernOregon, westernWashington and northernCalifornia.

In earlier work, Turner and other researchers had found that carbon sequestration inOregon, much of it from forests, amounted to almost half of the state-level carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Nationally, forest carbon accumulation offsets about 15 percent ofU.S.fossil fuel emissions.

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2 Responses

  1. Good story.

    Here is a slide show clarifying many misconceptions about forests, logging, and carbon:

    http://www.slideshare.net/dougoh/forest-carbon-climate-myths-presentation/

    Here is a link to a more detailed foot-noted report on forests, carbon and climate change:

    http://tinyurl.com/2n96m5

  2. Thanks for the links.

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