Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Vermont
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Brown, M., C. Canham, T. Buchholz, J. Gunn, and T. Donovan. 2024. Net carbon sequestration implications of intensified timber harvest in northeastern U.S. forests. Ecosphere 15(2): e4758.


U.S. forests, particularly in the eastern states, provide an important offset to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Some have proposed that forest-based natural climate solutions can be strengthened via a number of strategies, including increases in the production of forest biomass energy. We used output from a forest dynamics model (SORTIE-ND) in combination with a GHG accounting tool (ForGATE) to estimate the carbon consequences of current and intensified timber harvest regimes in the Northeastern United States. We considered a range of carbon pools including forest ecosystem pools, forest product pools, and waste pools, along with different scenarios of feedstock production for biomass energy. The business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, which represents current harvest practices derived from the analysis of U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data, sequestered more net CO2 equivalents than any of the intensified harvest and feedstock utilization scenarios over the next decade, the most important time period for combatting climate change. Increasing the intensity of timber harvest increased total emissions and reduced landscape average forest carbon stocks, resulting in reduced net carbon sequestration relative to current harvest regimes. Net carbon sequestration “parity points,” where the regional cumulative net carbon sequestration from alternate intensified harvest scenarios converge with and then exceed the BAU baseline, ranged from 12 to 40 years. A “no harvest” scenario provides an estimate of an upper bound on forest carbon sequestration in the region given the expected successional dynamics of the region's forests but ignores leakage. Regional net carbon sequestration is primarily influenced by (1) the harvest regime and amount of forest biomass removal, (2) the degree to which bioenergy displaces fossil fuel use, and (3) the proportion of biomass diverted to energy feedstocks versus wood products.