1993 US Northwest Forest Plan Turns Public Forests into 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 respiration than they put back into the atmosphere, 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.