Carbon Sequestration an Unintended Benefit of Northwest Forest Plan

Enacted in 1993, the Northwest Forest Plan consists of a series of federal policies and guidelines which govern the use of federal lands in the Pacific Northwest. Researchers have just concluded, however, that as a result of these same guidelines – which were initially introduced in an effort to conserve old growth forests and preserve species like the northern spotted owl – protection of the land increased carbon sequestration as well.

“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,” said David Turner, a professor in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society.

“Forests provide many services, such as habitat protection, recreation, water purification, and wood production. Carbon sequestration has now been added to that list. And our approach can provide the kind of spatially and temporally explicit data that will help evaluate the potential trade-offs associated with management activities.”

There have been previous estimates made of the amount of carbon lost as a result of logging on federally owned lands prior to the introduction of the Northwest Forest Plan. The ‘significant loss’ of carbon peaked in the mid to late 80s, as logging old-growth timber exploded.

Surprisingly, the cut in logging has done more for carbon sequestration than was previously believed possible. Even the loss of carbon from wildfires does not come close to equaling the amount of carbon lost as a result of logging. Even the Biscuit Fire in southern Oregon of 2002 released less carbon into the atmosphere than logging-related emissions of that year, said the researchers whose article was recently published online in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.

Source: Oregon State University

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