Carbon in Oregon's Managed Forests Science Review Co-Author

This report, Carbon in Oregon’s Managed Forests, synthesizes the current information on carbon sequestration and storage in Oregon’s working forests and in harvested wood products. I authored Chapter 3, titled “Managing Forests to Increase their Carbon Storage, Productivity, and Resiliency,” aimed to summarize the potential of Oregon’s forest lands to reduce atmospheric carbon and mitigate climate change.

As a major component of the terrestrial biosphere, the forest sector has the power to play a pivotal role in mitigating climate change. There are several ways that Oregon’s forests can help to reduce atmospheric carbon, which can be divided into two broad categories: (1) reduction of emissions, and (2) increase of carbon sequestration. 

One of the most critical strategies to reduce emissions from Oregon’s forests is to limit forestland conversion. Although the total area of forestland in the United States has been stable or increasing since the 1940’s, this trend is projected to reverse in the next several decades. Oregon has implemented some strategies to combat land conversion, such as the Oregon Conservation and Development Act of 1973 and cost share programs. However, as population growth stimulates increased land conversion, the state needs to expand preferential tax programs and incentives to encourage private landowners to conserve forestland. An additional strategy to curtail carbon emissions from forests is to implement forest management strategies that will reduce the risk of fire, disease and mortality. As climate change threatens to increase the severity of forest disturbances, it is crucial to develop forest management strategies that are tailored to the unique climatic regions across the state. Some effective strategies to decrease the frequency of severe fires include selective thinning, prescribed burns and implementation of cost-share programs to incentivize responsible land management. Disease and insect prevalence, on the other hand, can be combated by removing small diameter trees, increasing species diversity, and improving stocking methods. Although these methods can lead to an initial decrease of carbon storage in Oregon’s forest, they will allow for enhanced forest health and carbon storage in the long run. 

Increasing carbon sequestration in forestlands is another effective approach to reduce atmospheric carbon. Increasing overall forestland and focusing reforestation efforts around disturbed stands with low renergation potential can allow for significant gains in carbon sequestration within vegetation and soils. The continuation and enhancement of Oregon's current reforestation programs, such as the Emergency Forest Restoration Program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, is necessary in order to ensure that reforestation is kept in pace with the changing climate. Carbon sequestration can be further enhanced by increasing the carbon storage of existing forests through silvicultural treatments. Although appropriate management techniques vary across the landscape, some methods to boost long term carbon storage include the increase of rotation age, nitrogen fertilization, decrease in harvesting intensity, and chemical site preparation. 

Regardless of whether the reduction of atmospheric carbon is approached by decreasing emissions, increasing sequestration or a combination of both, it is clear that one common goal must be prioritized: creating and maintaining healthy and resilient forests. In order to sustainably accomplish this goal, the management strategies implemented in Oregon must be tailored to regional forest types and decisions must be made in respect to preserving biodiversity and other ecosystem services provided by forestlands.