Why is Managing Forests for Their Climate Benefits Important?

Few people realize that forests play a critical role in regulating the Earth’s climate. Worldwide, forests sequester more than 80% of all terrestrial aboveground carbon and more than 70% of all soil carbon. According to the EPA, in the U.S. over 90% of net CO2 sequestration occurs on forestlands totaling about 200 teragrams of carbon a year, which is about 10% of total U.S. emissions (Birdsey et al 2006). Consequently, numerous scientific organizations say that increasing the capacity of U.S. forests to sequester carbon is a key element of any strategy to avoid runaway climate disruption. President Obama’s climate plan released in July 2013 also acknowledged the role forests must play in climate solutions. Although federal agencies are quantifying the carbon held by federal forests, no formal administrative rules, procedures, or practices have been adopted to optimize sequestration. At the same time, timber harvest, road building, biomass, and other energy developments are accelerating on many forests that would not only diminish their capacity to sequester carbon, but also release more CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Formal administrative policies and procedures are needed to rectify this situation.

What Federal Forests Sequester Carbon?

In 2002, National Forests and other public forestlands contained an estimated 10.3 gigatons (Gt ) carbon in nonsoil carbon pools, comprising approximately 43% of the total U.S. forest nonsoil carbon stock while making up just 37% of the land base (Smith and Heath  2004). However, sequestration potential varies by geography and forest types (e.g., PNW vs. SE forests), as do management options.      

This map describes the total forest carbon stocks across the U.S. and indicates that federal forests are important locations for carbon sequestration. 


This map describes the total forest carbon stocks across the U.S. and indicates that federal forests are important locations for carbon sequestration. 


For more information email: forestcarbon@trig-cli.org


Image source US Forest Service