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Existing Old Growth Forests Remain Best Carbon Sequestration Resource

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

Northern Rockies mature forest photo by Eric Seibel

“Where’s The Bird?” by Eric Seibel

This what we ask ourselves at TAS when considering any initiative. It is on our minds as we begin working to increase Tacoma’s tree canopy goals. Trees are key to our future and the future of birds, and should be treated as our most precious resource when responding to our ongoing climate emergency.

When discussing trees and their climate impact, their location and growth condition make a difference. Mature old groves are the most efficient per acre at holding and removing carbon from the atmosphere. In one year, an adult tree will absorb nearly 50 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen in exchange. This means that a single acre of mature forest can absorb up to 2.5 tons of carbon per year, offsetting the annual carbon emissions from 62 vehicles.

Carbon stored in forests varies, but the US Forest Service inventory estimates that privately owned forestland sequesters approximately 77 metric tons of carbon per acre and public forestland approximately 82 Mt/A. Most of the US's high-carbon density domestic forests are in the western half of Oregon, Washington, and the Northern Rockies. When this region was evaluated for medium-to-high carbon potential by 2100, as well as resistance to fire, it was found that it currently sequesters the carbon equivalent of about 6 years of carbon emissions from our lower 48 states. We have this incredible resource in our own backyard.

We have lost an estimated 25% of the planet’s forests and approximately half of our grasslands since the Industrial Revolution. Scientists estimate that we need to protect a minimum of 30% of the world’s land and water to avoid ecological collapse and extreme weather from global climate change. More ambitiously, preserving 50% of our lands and waters will ensure that our natural world will thrive, rather than simply survive. Current international agreements the U.S. is party to strive to preserve 30-50% of lands and waters.

Good news: saving just 30 percent of our wild lands will allow us to survive. Modern agriculture is very efficient at extracting maximum food production from the land we currently use. The best climate strategy to ensure that humans will thrive is to preserve the forests we have, while also planting new trees as quickly as possible. New trees alone are not sufficient. In 10 years, the carbon sequestering effects of trees planted today will still be negligible compared to the capabilities of mature forests. As it’s been said, you can’t grow a 100-year-old forest in a decade.

More good news: Conservation is supported by a majority of people in the U. S. We need to align our actions with the health of the planet. If we can inspire and mobilize our citizens to join in preservation efforts, we still have an excellent chance of thriving, and also maintaining a balanced and healthy environment.

“Where’s the bird?” She’s there – singing in the big old tree. Counting on us to act.

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