Retention of old growth forest stems greenhouse gas emissions

Passage of the Northwest Forest Plan in 1993 was designed to conserve old-growth forests and species that inhabit them, such as the northern spotted owl.

But the federal plan, which wound up reducting timber harvest by 82 percent on public lands, also had another powerful, though unintended, environmental benefit - increasing carbon sequestration.

According to a new study by Oregon State University researchers and the Pacific Northwest Research Station, stemming the cut of old-growth forest reduced carbon emissions, helping to counter the greenhouse effect.

"Forests provide many services, such as habitat protection, recreation, water purification and wood production,' says David Turner, OSU professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. 'Carbon sequestration has now been added to that list.''

Prior estimates suggested a significant loss of carbon from Pacific Northwest forests from 1953 to 1987, because of the high rate of old-growth timber harvest. But since those harvests peaked in the mid-to-late-1980s, that trend has reversed, scientists say. In effect, more carbon is being stored in trees now.

Conversely, private forest lands have become close to carbon neutral since the passage of the 1993 federal plan, as that resulted in more timber harvest on private lands.

The study was just published online in Forest Ecology and Management. It can be read at

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