1993 US Northwest Forest Plan Turns Public Forests into Carbon Sink

US Forest Management Plan has not only saved old growth forest, at has turned the forest into a carbon sink

Enacted in 1993, before climate change was so prominent in the public media eye, the US Northwest Forest Plan’s primary goal was the conservation of old growth forests on public land, and thereby also protecting threatened and endangered species, such as the northern spotted owl. Forest harvests in those public forests dropped precipitously, by 82%, the next year. Nearly two decades later, it turns out that the Plan has yielded unintended, though no less favorable results in terms of mitigating the effect of increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

Northwest forests on public lands are now taking up more carbon dioxide via photosynthesis than they put back into the atmosphere via respiration, and have become a significant net carbon sink for the first time in decades as a result, according to researchers at Oregon State University and the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.

“The original goals of the Northwest Forest Plan had nothing to do with the issue of carbon emissions, but now carbon sequestration is seen as an important ecosystem service,” OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society professor David Turner was quoted as saying in this Science Daily news report.

The researchers used a new system that included satellite remote sensing that enabled them to help better account for tree growth, decomposition, emissions from fires, wood harvest and variations in climate and, as a result, to more accurately simulate ecological processes over large areas.

Logging of old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest in the decades prior to the Plan’s passage led forestry researchers to believe that the remaining forest had lost a significant amount of potential to store carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide emissions from forest fires turned out to modest as compared to the loss of carbon storage capacity as a result of timber harvesting.

The study has been published online in Forest Ecology and Management.

Photo courtesy of Chandra LeGue for Oregon Wild

Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger
A product of the New York City public school system, Andrew Burger went on to study geology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, work in the wholesale money and capital markets for a major Japanese bank and earn an MBA in finance.

Get in Touch

  1. Trees are C3 pathway like that of rice cotton most grain vegetables taking biomass carbon from soil. A rainforest is dependant on C4 under storey to sequester CO2. When the south Americans stripped under storey to grow crops the trees died.

    The trees have stored carbon provided they stand.
    Foresters will confirm seldom can you get a second harvest of trees in same ground
    Plant out C4 I am pleased to advise
    I sat on UNCTAD UNFCCC 1996-01 setting low cost policies for nations

  2. I have just two comments.

    Firstly, I hope that am sure that Andrew Burger meant to say “forests . . . . are now taking up more carbon dioxide by PHOTOSYNTHESIS than they put back into the atmosphere via RESPIRATION, . . . (para 2 above)

    Secondly, by selective felling and re-growing, one is not automatically putting the stored carbon back into the atmosphere. It is probable and indeed preferable to use such excellent for both building and furniture, rather than burning it. In this case, the carbon captured by the tree during its life remains locked up for the life of the buildings and furniture etc. Yet another good reason to use strong, heat absorbing wood in our buildings rather than cold, by comparison short-lived, brittle UPVC into which one cannot even insert a screw without problems.

  3. I have travel the worlds deserts over some decades. Where trees are clear felled deserts follow. Once a tree is felled the carbon from the soil goes also.
    Africa China suffer from mass land clearing over past 300 years. Deserts such as Sahara expand up to 40 ks pa (see Google). To restart growing C3 trees again we need C4 photosynthesis pathway vegetation. The only assets of Mankind and living matter are soil water vegetation atmosphere all else commodities.
    The assets like Banking need replacement.
    Commercial forestry once felled the soil carbon and trace elements need C4 vegetation to rebuild soil carbon and elements.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Articles

Stay in touch

To be updated with the latest climate and environmental news and commentary. Learning to live in the Anthropocene.


Latest Posts