Analysis: American Forests Contain Enormous Carbon Reserves

Analysis Shows American Forests Contain Enormous Carbon Reserves,
But Available Measuring Tools Reflect Gaps in Underlying Data

Report Highlights Importance of Protecting Existing Forests: Lower 48
States Alone Hold Carbon Reserves Equal to 20 Years of U.S. Greenhouse

For Immediate Release:
April 9, 2008
Contacts:        –Ann Ingerson, M.S., Economic Research Associate,
TWS: 802-586-9625
–Dr. Jerry F. Franklin, Professor, College of Forest Resources,
University of Washington
–Bob Perschel, Northeast Region Director, Forest Guild: 508-756-4625
–Chris Mehl, Communications Director, TWS: 406-581-4992

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A report released today by The Wilderness Society
emphasizes the enormous carbon reserves held by forests in the
contiguous states – roughly equivalent to more than 20 years of
current United States greenhouse gas emissions from industrial and
other sources.  Across the U.S., public and protected forests
generally store the most carbon.  The analysis also cautions that
existing carbon measurement tools have significant limitations due to
gaps in the underlying data: old growth forests, in particular, may
be undervalued.

“This analysis shows that public forest land, and especially reserved
lands, typically store more carbon per acre than private forests,”
noted Ann Ingerson, an Economic Research Associate at The Wilderness
Society and co-author of the new study.  “While it is evident that
protecting and restoring forests promotes carbon storage, some common
carbon measurement tools use data designed primarily to track timber
supplies and may not fully reflect important stores like dead and
down wood and soil carbon.”

[Note:  The full report and a summary can be found at

State-by-state breakdowns of rough carbon storage estimates are
attached and available from Chris Mehl,]

While the existing forest carbon modeling tools can be improved,
several broad trends important for future public policy development
already are apparent:

o        On average, public forest lands such as National Forests and
State Forests appear to hold more carbon per acre than private lands.
Also, reserved forest lands, where timber harvest is prohibited such
as in Wilderness, National Parks, and National Monuments, typically
hold more carbon per acre than non-reserved lands.

o        Existing measurement tools are based on models of intensively
managed forests and may underestimate carbon stores on older or
unmanaged forests; while also not accounting for old growth forests
often being more resilient in the face of climate change.

o        Distribution of carbon varies across the landscape, but, in
general, the amount of carbon stored above ground in trees – what we
can measure with the most confidence – is less than half the total.

“Mature and old growth forests can store or sequester extraordinary
amounts of carbon, such as in the forests of the Pacific Northwest,”
said Dr. Jerry F. Franklin, a Professor with the University of
Washington’s College of Forest Resources.  “An analogy would be that
older forests can be viewed as having very large capital reserves,
whereas younger forests have high cash flow, or carbon uptake, but
contain very little capital, such as sequestered carbon.  There’s
also a high ‘transaction cost’ when you ‘liquidate’ this stored
carbon by harvesting the forest.  The harvested sites are significant
carbon sources leaking carbon dioxide to the atmosphere for many
years to decades following the harvest.”

Policy makers at every level recognize the importance of forests in
the global carbon cycle, and there is a growing consensus that
protecting forestland and enhancing its carbon stores will be a
component of climate change mitigation policy.  As regional and
national climate initiatives unfold, we need accurate measures of the
carbon stored in forests and the changes in those stores over time.

“This report highlights three important policy issues,” said Bob
Perschel, the Northeast Region Director of the Forest Guild.  “One,
we need to keep forests in forests and not allow them to be converted
to other uses.  Two, reserve forests and wildlands are doing an
excellent job of storing carbon and should remain intact.  Three, we
need to manage our working forests in ways that increase carbon
storage and sequestration.”

The Wilderness Society report, Measuring Forest Carbon: Strengths and
Weaknesses of Available Tools, is authored by Ann Ingerson, M.S. and
Dr. Wendy Loya, Ph.D.  The report examines the four widely available
carbon measurement tools; identifies five important trends concerning
carbon stored on American forests; and makes several recommendations
for improving the accuracy of future carbon reserve measurements.

Note: Additional Background on Carbon Cycling: A primer on the carbon
cycle, especially the role of forests, and how forests will respond
to climate change (along with several landscape graphics) provides
useful background on the role forests will play in climate change:

Also, an mp3 of Wednesday’s media teleconference will be posted with
the Report and Summary.


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