(Complying with President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14072 directing federal agencies to define and conduct an inventory of them for conservation purposes.) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/ffgc.2022.1074508/full
- 1Woodwell Climate Research Center, Falmouth, MA, United States
- 2The Wild Heritage, A Project of Earth Island Institute, Berkeley, CA, United States
- 3Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., Washington, DC, United States
Mature and old-growth forests (collectively “mature”) and larger trees are important carbon sinks that are declining worldwide. Information on the carbon value of mature forests and larger trees in the United States has policy relevance for complying with President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14072 directing federal agencies to define and conduct an inventory of them for conservation purposes.
Specific metrics related to maturity can help land managers define and maintain present and future carbon stocks at the tree and forest stand level, while making an important contribution to the nation’s goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
We present a systematic method to define and assess the status of mature forests and larger trees on federal lands in the United States that if protected from logging could maintain substantial carbon stocks and accumulation potential, along with myriad climate and ecological co-benefits.
We based the onset of forest maturity on the age at which a forest stand achieves peak net primary productivity. We based our definition of larger trees on the median tree diameter associated with the tree age that defines the beginning of stand maturity to provide a practical way for managers to identify larger trees that could be protected in different forest ecosystems.
The average age of peak net primary productivity ranged from 35 to 75 years, with some specific forest types extending this range. Typical diameter thresholds that separate smaller from larger trees ranged from 4 to 18 inches (10–46 cm) among individual forest types, with larger diameter thresholds found in the Western forests.
In assessing these maturity metrics, we found that the unprotected carbon stock in larger trees in mature stands ranged from 36 to 68% of the total carbon in all trees in a representative selection of 11 National Forests. The unprotected annual carbon accumulation in live above-ground biomass of larger trees in mature stands ranged from 12 to 60% of the total accumulation in all trees.
The potential impact of avoiding emissions from harvesting large trees in mature forests is thus significant and would require a policy shift to include protection of carbon stocks and future carbon accumulation as an additional land management objective on federal forest lands.