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Pacific Northwest forests act as massive carbon banks

Carbon forests map

The thick, wet forests of the Pacific Northwest are the carbon storage powerhouses of the U.S. -- in fact, they store more than 1-1/2 times as much carbon as the entire amount of carbon dioxide burned in fossil fuels throughout the country each year, a new study shows.

Two analysts for the Wilderness Society looked at data compiled by the U.S. Forest Service and identified 10 national forests, from the Tongass in southeast Alaska to the Siskiyou in southern Oregon, that together store about 9.8 billion metric tons of carbon on a total of 19 million acres.

By absorbing carbon dioxide, forests accumulate and store carbon in trees, roots and soil -- a valuable depository for greenhouse gases that, if released into the atmosphere, might contribute to climate change.

"To get a better idea of how much carbon this really is, we could compare it to the CO2 equivalent contained in the fossil fuels burned n the U.S. each year, about 5.8 billion metric tons," said Ann Ingerson, an economist for the Wilderness Society who co-authored the analysis with Mike Anderson, a senior resource analyst at the organization.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 11% of greenhouse emissions are offset each year in forests, urban trees and agricultural soils. States such as California increasingly are looking to preserve and expand their forests to counteract the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

While forests act as carbon banks, logging, past studies have shown, often results in a large portion of a forest's stored carbon to be emitted back into the atmosphere, either through the burning of excess vegetation or the decay of what's left, Anderson said.

That was one of the points of the study: about 1 million of the 19 million acres of forests named as the heavyweight carbon banks have no formal protections in place against logging or other development.

The top 10 forests with the highest carbon density also include the Willamette, Umpqua, Siuslaw and Mt. Hood national forests in Oregon, and the Olympic, Gifford Pinchot and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie in Washington.

And while tropical forests typically have the most robust carbon storage capacity on Earth -- usually 360 to 460 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per acre, compared to an average of 230 metric tons for forests in the Pacific Northwest -- some of the towering old growth stands of the Western Cascades appear to top the competition.

One study of the Wind River old growth forest in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, cited in the Wilderness Society report, found carbon stocks of more than 900 metric tons per acre.

-- Kim Murphy

Map credit: The Wilderness Society

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This is true even on other places. The usage of fuel and logging of forest trees can contribute big impact in global pollution. We should make a way out of this. Homes should start to use renewable energy such as wind or solar or any other energy sources that will not harm the environment.

The Tongass National Forest does not have forest fires. It is one of the wettest places on the planet. CO2 is released when logging occurs. Stop logging and the CO2 remains in the live woody tissues, slowly decomposing organic matter and soil. Trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere and generate oxygen. The other valuable service the Tongass, a coastal temperate rainforest, performs is absorbing water from storms that come in off the Pacific and slowly release it through evaporation to fall as easy rain over time. Without the big trees the storms move inland with more water and create floods. Logging coastal temperate rainforests causes floods, landslides and droughts. Droughts bring on insect infestations which destroy boreal forest that create fire hazards. Logging the coastal temperate rainforests has created a domino effect.

This entire report is nonsense. Eventually there will be fires, and when that happens the CO2 is released into the atmosphere. For the same reason, purchasing carbon offsets from companies that "promise" to plant trees is ridiculous. When the trees burn, they get to resell another tree to be grown in its place - offsetting absolutely zero CO2. Wake up, people.

They forget to mention that forests arent immortal and are vulnerable to fire, pathogens, and insects. Logging recoveres the trees before natural modes of forest replacement occur.

The Wilderness Society should take a forest science class

Thank you for this article. I live in Oregon and these forests are amazing and precious resources. I have always felt they are very special and I hope we can protect them so that they can continue to support us in this way.

Another reason why not one more tree should be logged in the national forsts!


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