If you have a basic knowledge of photosynthesis, you are probably aware of how forests play an important role in reducing carbon levels. Trees “breathe” CO2 in and, along with water, convert the gas to glucose which they use to grow and thrive. The by-product is oxygen, which means that green plants and trees really help clean the air, and help us all breathe easier.
Recently, the United States Forest Service published a report estimating the carbon storage capacity of forests in the country and showcasing their role in combating climate change. Consider the following facts:
- 41.4 billion metric tons of carbon is currently stored in the nation’s forests
- Carbon sequestered annually by U.S. forests offsets about 11% of the country’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions
- Each year, CO2 removed from the atmosphere by forests in America is equivalent to removing nearly 135 million vehicles from the nation’s highways.
According to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack:
“America’s forests play a critical role in combating climate change, collectively capturing and storing significant amounts of carbon that would otherwise pollute the atmosphere. Forest management on all lands can contribute significantly toward cooling a warming planet, and this new information will assist the public and policy makers as we work to address this significant issue.”
The U.S. Forest Service report contains some encouraging news when it comes to combating climate change. Overall, the amount of CO2 sequestered by American forestland has increased in the past 20 years. There are a number of reasons for this: (1) forests cover greater areas of land; (2) forest area has been increasing both by planting trees and encroaching of existing stands into non-forest areas; (3) as trees age, they can absorb greater amounts of carbon.
The U.S. Forest Service report also raises some questions for researchers and scientists. For example, do forest management practices in national forests help increase carbon storage? National forests contain about 28% more carbon per forested acre than private land. And why do forests in the Pacific Northwest absorb carbon at an 8% higher rate than other national forests?
Did you know that the average amount of carbon per acre varies regionally and by type of forest? The larger trees along the Pacific Coast have the highest average carbon per acre density. In the mid-West, forests grow in soils that already have large concentrations of carbon.
Information that confirms that forests play an important role in reducing carbon levels is based on 2010 data from forest inventories that studied federal, state and private forests. For more information, check www.fs.fed.us/rmrs/forest-carbon/