The Role of Forests and Forest Products in Mitigating Climate Change

CO2 to O2 info graphic with tree

The carbon debate seems to be everywhere these days. Whether it is carbon storage, carbon sequestration, or even carbon offset markets, carbon-related terminology is becoming more prevalent and part of our everyday vernacular. The impacts of carbon dioxide (CO2) on our environment and how greenhouse gas emissions exacerbate climate change are daily topics in today’s society. An already grim 2021 wildfire season, extreme drought conditions and excessive temperatures in the Western U.S., flooding conditions across much of the globe, and an early start to the Atlantic hurricane season are prime examples of current media headlines. And it is no surprise that climate change is quickly mentioned as the most probable cause for each phenomenon. However, as forest managers, we also know that forest management decisions can influence the severity and extent of wildfire.

As natural resource professionals, we all have the responsibility to better educate society on the important role that forests, and forest products play in the carbon cycle process. The Forest Resources Association (FRA) has embraced this challenge and opportunity by producing several valuable tools to assist stakeholders and policymakers in making informed decisions. This is done by highlighting the critical role that the forest products sector will play in helping to reverse the adverse impacts of climate change. Last week, FRA launched a video featuring the role that forests and forest products play in sequestering and storing carbon.

Did you know:

  • Since 1990, the amount of carbon stored in our forests has increased by 11%.
  • Forestlands and harvested wood products store an equivalent of 33 years of all CO2 emissions produced across the U.S.
  • Manufactured wood products, such as paper and lumber, continue to store carbon for many years and play an integral role in the complete life cycle of sustainable forest management.
Graphic of forest life cycle

And speaking of sustainable forest management, one crucial feature of the video is the discussion of timber harvesting as a necessary and acceptable component of the complete forest carbon cycle. Natural resource professionals understand this dynamic very well; however, many people do not. The video explains the importance of a well-timed harvest, especially concentrating on the potential dangers that over-mature stands pose for overall forest health.

US map with North Carolina highlighted

Other great tools in FRA’s carbon toolbox, highlighted in the video, are the state-specific Carbon Fact Sheets. USDA Forest Service – Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program statistics are condensed into informative and convenient one-page fact sheets for state and regional advocacy efforts. A lot of vital carbon-related statistics can be found on these fact sheets. One helpful feature is a glossary for several carbon-related terms that are commonly encountered in our profession:

  • Carbon Pool – a component of the forest that can gain or lose carbon over time.
  • Carbon Storage – the amount of carbon retained in a forest and/or carbon pool.
  • Carbon Sequestration – the process by which trees and plants use carbon dioxide and photosynthesis to store carbon as biomass.
North Carolina Forest Carbon Report graphic

Let’s take a closer look at some numbers for North Carolina:

  • The state contains 18.8 million acres of forestland and is 61% forested.
  • Existing carbon stocks have increased by 20% from 1990 to 2019.
  • Average carbon density in aboveground trees is 30.2 tons per acre.
  • Forest resources, urban trees, and harvested wood products remove 26% of all CO2 emissions in the state and store the equivalent of 45 years of all CO2 emissions produced statewide.
  • As trees become older, they become less efficient at sequestering carbon.

Furthermore, land ownership is categorized to better understand the role of carbon storage on private forestland, National Forests, other federal lands, and state or public lands. The factsheets also report carbon storage in the following categories: above-ground biomass (both live and dead stems), below-ground biomass, the soil, and the litter layer.

I encourage everyone to become more familiar with FRA’s carbon resources and help spread the word that sustainably managed forests are very much part of the climate solution. We all must play an active yet positive role in the climate change debate.