Oregon & Washington’s forests are amazing at storing carbon.
Source: Beverly E. Law, et al. (2018). Land use strategies to mitigate climate change in carbon dense temperate forests
The dark blue areas show forest areas that are storing the most carbon. Storing carbon, rather than releasing it into the air, is the key to slowing down climate change.
Oregon’s forests can help us keep our climate stable by capturing and storing vast amounts of carbon, if we protect older forests on public lands and promote sustainable, longer-rotation forestry on private lands.
- Scientists have found that the best way to remove carbon from the atmosphere at a scale that can meaningfully contribute to climate stability is to better preserve the world’s forests (Artaxo et al. 2018). This is especially relevant to our state, where forests can store carbon at a higher density per acre than almost any other ecosystem in the world (Hudiburg et al. 2009).
- As forests grow, trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere and store it in their trunks, branches, and extensive root networks. This natural process, known as “carbon sequestration,” converts carbon dioxide into a solid that remains safely stored for long periods of time.
- In order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we must rapidly reduce fossil fuel emissions while simultaneously increasing the amount of carbon stored in the world’s forest ecosystems (IPCC 2019).
What happens to carbon when trees are cut?
Cutting trees on short rotations releases carbon into the atmosphere, and reduces total carbon stored in soil and trees.
- When forests are cut, a portion of the carbon is stored in wood products while much of the carbon is released into the atmosphere. This chart shows that after clearcut logging, 85% of the carbon is removed the forest and emitted into the atmosphere, contributing to hotter drier weather and more extreme natural disasters. (Hudiburg et al. 2011; Harmon 2019; Hudiburg et al. 2019).
- The best way to keep forest-carbon out of the atmosphere is to keep it stored in mature forest ecosystems. (Hudiburg et al. 2013; Law et al. 2011; Harmon et al. 1990). The carbon that ends up in wood products is only stored for the life of the product, and the average life of all products is around 35-40 years (e.g. paper, newsprint, pallets, dimensional lumber all have different life spans.)
Restoring our Carbon Debt
Extensive cutting on Oregon’s coastal forests over the past century has transferred large amounts of forest carbon to the atmosphere, creating a “carbon debt” that we can recover through improved forest practices.
- Climate-smart forestry involves letting trees grow longer before logging and leaving more trees behind after logging, which results in more resilient forests and greater carbon storage than the current industrial model. Research has found that forests in the Pacific Northwest adhering to “Forest Stewardship Council” (FSC) standards store roughly 30% more carbon than current forests practices (Diaz et al. 2018).