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Northwest Forest Plan helps keep planet cool

Aug 24, 2011
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An unintended, but welcome, consequence of the Northwest Forest Plan is a northwest carbon sink, according to a new study. "This report arrived just in time. Old-growth forests perform a critical role mitigating the effects of climate change. As management plans are revised over the next year, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest will need to lay out how it will protect the carbon locked in deep storage in our old-growth forests."

Northwest Forest Plan helps keep planet cool

An unintended, but welcome, consequence of the Northwest Forest Plan is a northwest carbon sink. New forest plan revisions in WA should address protecting old growth. Photo: Dave Atcheson

Wildlife and habitat conservation helps mitigate climate change through a process called carbon sequestration, according to a new study.

When The Northwest Forest Plan was enacted in 1993, its purpose was to protect old-growth forests and the endangered species within them. Logging rates on public lands fell 82 percent after the passing of the act, and researchers observed as the forests became a carbon “sink.”

A carbon sink is a place where carbon from the atmosphere is absorbed at a faster rate than it is released, via carbon sequestration; the carbon is removed from the air and stored in the bodies of the trees and plants.   

“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,” he said. “Carbon sequestration has now been added to that list.”

Scientists believe that excess carbon in the atmosphere traps thermal radiation and changes the way heat is distributed on the planet in a process called the greenhouse effect, which is cited as one of the leading causes for climate change.

The data collected by the researchers can be used to better understand carbon sequestration, and to determine the potential trade-offs in future forest management practices.

"Protecting old forests, soils, and wetlands keeps a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere. Protecting old growth provides habitat connectivity allowing wildlife to adapt to a changing climate and vegetation patterns," said Dave Werntz, Conservation Northwest science director.

"This report arrived just in time. Old-growth forests perform a critical role mitigating the effects of climate change. As management plans are revised over the next year, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest will need to lay out how it will protect the carbon locked in deep storage in our old-growth forests."

Conservation Northwest is providing a way for citizens to urge the Forest Service to consider climate change and carbon sequestration in its revised forest plan through our online action system.
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