NCASI Review and Response

NCASI Review of Carbon Implications of Proforestation

Sustainable forest management is important for mitigating effects of climate change. Forests remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in live trees, dead wood, and harvested wood. Sustainable management of forests maintains this contribution while providing needed products and environmental co-benefits.

The value of carbon (C) storage in forests to mitigate climate change has received widespread attention. Articles in scientific publications and the popular press suggest that the primary goal of forest management should be to increase stocks of forest C, and that climate change mitigation would be supported by lengthening rotations for commercial forest harvests. The term “proforestation” refers to the practice of reducing or eliminating timber harvest to increase C storage in forests.

Many of the studies proposing such an approach are based on incomplete analyses of a baseline harvest scenario compared to a set of alternative reduced or no-harvest scenarios. Examples of incomplete analyses include: (1) considering carbon stocks in the forest without considering carbon stocks in harvested wood products; (2) reporting changes in total carbon stocks without considering costs of implementing those changes; (3) analyzing greenhouse gas emissions from harvesting forests without including emissions that result from not harvesting forests (using alternative products); and (4) acknowledging that carbon stored in wood products is not permanent without recognizing that natural disturbances can likewise result in impermanence of carbon stocks in unharvested forests.

To clarify considerations needed when discussing proforestation, this NCASI review summarizes relevant scientific literature that provides insights to these claims, lists factors that must be considered in a comparison of forest management scenarios to mitigate climate change, and demonstrates their application using a case study on Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forests in the US Pacific Northwest.