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Study: Pacific Coast forests store the most carbon

Ecotrope | Oct. 18, 2010 3:45 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:45 p.m.

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Pacific Northwest forests store the most total carbon as well as the most carbon per acre, offering premier value in offsetting climate change, a new study shows.

Pacific Northwest forests store the most total carbon as well as the most carbon per acre, offering premier value in offsetting climate change, a new study shows.

The U.S. Forest Service has new estimates of how much carbon is stored in forests nationwide. The study found forests offset 11 percent of the country’s annual industrial greenhouse gas emissions – equal to taking around 135 million cars off the road.

And the forests’ clout in offsetting global warming gases has grown over the past 20 years, thanks to increases in forestland acreage and the amount of carbon stored per acre.

The Pacific Northwest has a big role to play in this passive fight against climate change.

The wet, temperate conifer forest types growing along the Pacific Coast from northern California to southeast Alaska have a high density of large trees and average around 93 metric tons of carbon storage per acre. That’s three times the carbon stored in drier forests in the Southwest, according to the forest service.

Accounting for the existing carbon storage is the first step toward estimating the potential for additional carbon sequestration, said Ann Bartuska, deputy undersecretary for research, economics and education at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Looking at tree species, ages, forest density, total forest area and other factors, researchers have estimated the carbon storage on forestland nationwide and have sent the data to the Environmental Protection Agency for the past 18 years.

Other interesting findings from this year’s study:

  • National forests store 28 percent more carbon per acre than private forestland and 14 percent more carbon per forested acre than public land such as state forests and national parks – except in the Pacific Northwest, where carbon storage on other public lands exceeds the average carbon storage on national forests by 8 percent.
  • Private forestlands store more total carbon than national forests because they make up a larger percentage of the nation’s total forest area (63 percent) than national forests (22 percent). Other public land makes up 15 percent of the forested total.

“America’s forests play a critical role in combating climate change, collectively capturing and storing significant amounts of carbon that would otherwise pollute the atmosphere,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Forest management on all lands can contribute significantly toward cooling a warming planet, and this new information will assist the public and policy makers as we work to address this significant issue.”

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